NTS LogoSkeptical News for 28 November 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Some scientists don't want to hear about Creationism

http://amarillo.com/lifestyle/faith/2010-11-27/some-scientists-dont-want-hear-about-creationism

Posted: November 27, 2010 - 12:39am
- Mike Haynes

"La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la.

"My ears are covered. I don't want to hear it.

"Just shut up."

That's the reaction of many scientists to the theory of intelligent design and to explanations that ID and creationism are not the same thing.

Despite news accounts and critics who treat them as synonyms, they aren't.

Creationism means you believe literally the creation account in the Bible. Intelligent design means only that you believe the complexity of nature indicates that some form of intelligence designed the universe.

It's true that many, maybe most, ID supporters believe the intelligence that banged the universe into beginning is the Judeo-Christian God, but that doesn't mean that all those believers take the six-day creation story literally. Some of them even accept both ID and the theory of evolution.

No one better explains the logic and credibility of ID than Jonathan Witt and William Dembski in their book that debuted this April, "Intelligent Design Uncensored: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to the Controversy."

Witt, 43, is a Tascosa High School graduate with degrees from Abilene Christian University and Texas A&M University and a doctorate from the University of Kansas. He has written many papers and several books in more academic language, but this one is aimed at a general audience - such as the readers of this newspaper.

Dembski has a doctorate in math from the University of Chicago. Another Witt colleague, with whom he has authored other books, is Jay Richards, also a Tascosa graduate who has a doctorate from Princeton University.

Although Witt's and Dembski's book does discuss religion and does criticize Darwinian evolution - for example, a list shows that 32 percent of Jewish physicians, 81 percent of Protestant physicians, 78 percent of Catholic physicians, and 2 percent of atheist physicians reject Darwinism - they acknowledge you don't have to believe in the traditional God or six-day creation to support ID.

Witt and Dembski present pages and pages of scientific observations pointing toward ID, but one of the strongest arguments for me is the point that without ID, life would be meaningless.

"If humans are the mindless accident of blind nature, entering and exiting the cosmic stage without audience, in a universe without plan or purpose ... love is but a function of the glands, honor and loyalty nothing more than instincts programmed into us by a blind process of random genetic variation and natural selection."

They conclude, "The book of nature also tells a story of intelligent design, of a world charged with the evidence of a designing genius of unparalleled skill and power."

Those who believe the Judeo-Christian God created the heavens and the earth and rested on the seventh day can accept ID. So can those who believe a mysterious intelligence did it over millions of years.

I hope you'll listen to the theories of Witt and Dembski, and, in other books, of Richards. I'm proud that two of those scholars were created right here in Amarillo.

Mike Haynes teaches journalism at Amarillo College. He can be reached at AC, the Amarillo Globe-News or haynescolumn@hotmail.com. Go to http://www.haynescolumn.blogspot.com for other recent columns.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Evolution education update: November 26, 2010

A powerful op-ed on the importance of evolution in biological and biomedical education. A plethora of new videos on NCSE's YouTube channel, and a chance for Working Assets/Credo Mobile customers to support NCSE. And calls for Louisiana to approve biology textbooks despite the objections of creationists.

"BIOLOGY SIMPLY MEANS EVOLUTION"

A recent op-ed in The Scientist insists on the importance of evolution in biological and biomedical education. In his essay, published in the November 2010 issue of the magazine, Leonid Moroz observes, "[e]volutionary principles integrate all the concepts underlying cell biology, genomics, and medicine." Thus, he writes, "[e]volutionary theory, speciation, principles of biological classification, and biodiversity must be part of the required curricula not only for biologists but for medical students as well."

The op-ed concludes, "As Peter Medawar eloquently put it, 'The alternative to thinking in evolutionary terms is not to think at all.' The sooner evolution and biodiversity are inherent and required parts of every biomedical student's curriculum, the greater progress we can expect from a new generation of scientists in the clinic and the laboratory. Whether we like it or not, biology simply means evolution." Moroz is a professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville and the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience.

For Moroz's column, visit:
http://www.the-scientist.com/2010/11/1/36/1/

THE LATEST ON NCSE'S YOUTUBE CHANNEL

NCSE is pleased to announce the addition of a further batch of videos featuring NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott to NCSE's YouTube channel. From 2010, there's "Why the Fuss about Darwin and Evolution?" and "Creationism, Evolution, Law, Education, and Politics". From 2006, there's "Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction," delivered at the Loomis Chaffee School. And from 2010, there's "Is There a Need for a Climate NCSE?" -- a short interview of Scott by Flock of Dodos's Randy Olson.

There are also videos of three panel discussions in which Scott participated: "McLean v. Arkansas 20 Years Later" (in four parts); a 2001 panel with Francisco Ayala, Stephen Jay Gould, Harold Morowitz, Ronald L. Numbers, and Scott; "The Vigil after Dover" (in three parts), a 2006 panel with John F. Haught, Robert T. Pennock, Michael Ruse, Scott, Joseph Travis, and Steven Gey; and Scott's presentation to "Science and Religion: Confrontation or Accommodation?" -- a 2010 panel at the Council for Secular Humanism conference.

That's not all. Barbara Forrest, a member of NCSE's board of directors, speaks on "Back to the Future: The Louisiana Science Education Act" from 2010 and on "Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse" from 2007. There's also footage of NCSE's booth at the Science Expo of the USA Science & Engineering Festival on the National Mall in Washington DC from 2010 -- watch NCSE's Robert Luhn, Steven Newton, and Joshua Rosenau helping attendees to navigate the tree of life and to explore the concept of common ancestry!

Additionally, there are three blasts from the past: "The Case of the Texas Footprints," with John R. Cole, Laurie Godfrey, Ronnie Hastings, Lee Mansfield, and Steven Schafersman, from 1983; "Dos and Dont's Debating Creationists" (in four parts), with Fred Edwords, Jack Friedman, Ronnie Hastings, Frank Lovell, Kenneth R. Miller, Wayne Moyer, Scott, and Michael Zimmerman, from 1988; and a presentation for children on "Genes Genes Genes!" with Alan Spector and Judith Spector, featuring an interview with Scott, from 1997. Tune in and enjoy!

For NCSE's YouTube channel, visit:
http://www.youtube.com/user/NatCen4ScienceEd

NCSE AND WORKING ASSETS/CREDO MOBILE

There's still time to vote for NCSE, if you're a Working Assets/Credo Mobile customer. NCSE is slated to be a 2010 beneficiary of Working Assets/Credo Mobile, the telephone company established "to give people an easy way to make a difference in the world, just by doing the things they do every day. Each time our members use one of our services -- CREDO Mobile, CREDO Long Distance and the Working Assets credit card -- we automatically send a donation to nonprofit groups working for peace, human rights and the environment." Every year, the donation pool is allocated among the groups supported by Working Assets in proportion to the customers' votes. The more votes NCSE gets, the more money we get! If you're already a Working Assets/Credo Mobile customer, you can still vote on-line in the 2010 distribution. NCSE is currently receiving 1.3% of the pool -- please help to increase that percentage!

For the ballot, visit:
http://www.workingassets.com/Voting/Default.aspx

For information on Working Assets/Credo Mobile, visit:
http://act.credoaction.com/voting/login.html

CALLS TO ADOPT BIOLOGY TEXTBOOKS IN LOUISIANA

In the wake of a recommendation to approve new high school biology textbooks despite the ongoing complaints about their presentation of evolution, columnists and editorialists in Louisiana are both rejoicing and calling on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to heed the recommendation. As NCSE previously reported, the board's Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council voted 8-4 to recommend the textbooks on November 12, 2010; the board is expected to make its decision on the textbooks during its December 7-9, 2010, meeting.

Writing in the New Orleans Times-Picayune (November 17, 2010), columnist James Gill commented, "It no longer makes sense to suggest the creationists are making a laughing stock out of Louisiana. ... the crusade against science and reason suffered a rare defeat. Biology textbooks in public schools will not be required to serve up evolution with a dollop of religion." He added, "This is a historic moment. When the loonies on a state committee are outnumbered two to one, the future has never looked so bright."

Gill warned, however, that "[t]he final decision rests with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, where the Louisiana Family Forum and other creationist stalwarts have always found a sympathetic ear," recalling the incident in 2009 when BESE overruled the recommendation of the state's department of education and in effect allowed the LFF to dictate the procedures concerning complaints about creationist supplementary materials used in public school science classes under the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act.

In its November 18, 2010, editorial, the Baton Rouge Advocate strongly criticized the Louisiana Science Education Act, which was invoked by critics of the textbooks. "What is the spirit of the 'Science Education Act' in reality?" the editorial asked rhetorically. "It is to challenge evolution, not simply protect intellectual freedom of teachers who want to 'question' evolution's 'weaknesses.' Forgive the overuse of quotation marks, but every assertion of creationists in this debate is so fraudulent that the quote marks are necessary."

The editorial continued, "Any reputable science text should teach evolution, as that is one of the fundamentals of biological science. The fraud behind the 'Science Education Act' is that it was called a measure narrowly designed to deal with a specific problem. Rather, it is part of an anti-intellectual crusade that can serve only to hobble the education of Louisiana's children, and will have the effect of bringing ridicule on this state," and concluded by calling upon BESE to stand firm "against this campaign of ignorance."

For Gill's column, visit:
http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2010/11/science_rules_textbook_decisio.html

For the Advocate's editorial, visit:
http://www.2theadvocate.com/opinion/109093689.html

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/louisiana

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
800-290-6006
branch@ncse.com
http://ncse.com

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:
http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news

NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:
http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse
http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd
http://twitter.com/ncse

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://ncse.com/membership

When We First Undertook A Search for Life on Earth

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703326204575616994124769242.html

By MICHAEL SHERMER

One of the most enduring misunderstandings about evolution is often expressed through the question: "If humans evolved from monkeys, why aren't monkeys still evolving into humans?" Another related one is rendered thus: "If humans came from apes, why are there still apes around?" The answer in both cases is that monkeys, apes and humans are each just sprouts on a richly branching bush of evolution rather than rungs on a ladder of linear progress. The common ancestor they share existed more than seven million years ago.

Yet both questions reflect a more basic misconception: that the theory of evolution can only be proved true by documenting an uninterrupted succession of one species evolving into another, as if it were a cinematic record we could watch unfold in a theater of science. This fallacy conflates experimental sciences with historical sciences. Evolutionary theory is primarily a historical science: The four-billion-year story of life on Earth must be pieced together from merely fragmentary evidence.

Today, thanks to modern genetics, we can compare genetic sequence similarities across genomes—between humans and chimpanzees, for example—and see in this molecular data indisputable signs of our evolutionary heritage. For naturalists of the 19th century, however, the only clues to go on were the fossil record and the seeming adaptations they could observe in the diverse flora and fauna living around them. Yet the discoveries made in this manner, over the course of several generations, fundamentally altered the way humanity saw its place within nature.

Richard Conniff's "The Species Seekers" shows how a wildly disparate cast of explorers and nature lovers started systematically cataloging every living thing on earth. This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story—not surprisingly, since the author's subjects frequently risked their lives to capture exotic specimens from far points of the globe. Carolus Linnaeus's pioneering efforts at taxonomical classification, in the early 18th century, set off a two-century boom in species discovery. "Naturalists became the heroic type of the day," Mr. Coniff writes, "like knights errant in the middle ages."

Mr. Conniff chronicles the achievements of such important figures as Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, a Frenchman; Joseph Banks, an Englishman; the German Alexander von Humboldt; and the naturalized American John James Audubon. He also introduces an enormous set of eccentric supporting characters, beginning with an officer in Napoleon's cavalry named Col. P.F.M.A. Dejean—who, in the middle of the Battle of Alcañiz in Spain, took a moment to dismount his steed and stab a beetle he had spotted next to a stream.

Pinning it to a cork he had glued inside his helmet, Dejean preserved the beetle carefully throughout his service, until he could finally present it to a museum and propose a Latin name—too late, it turns out. "By the time he got around to describing his prize from Alcañiz years later, some other naturalist had already found the species," Mr. Conniff writes. "This reduced Dejean's proposed name to a synonym, an also-ran." Yet collectively men like Dejean expanded our knowledge of life on an unprecedented scale.

At the beginning of this age of discovery, there were about 4,400 known species; by the end of the 19th century the list contained more than 415,600. Today the total is in the millions, with estimates of species still to be discovered in the tens of millions.

This abundance presented a problem for pre-Darwinian creationists. Was each species really a separate divine creation? If not, how did one kind of creature change into other kinds? Several competing explanations for such diversity battled in the years before 1859, when Darwin finally pointed to the mechanism of natural selection. We've read that part of the story before, but Mr. Conniff's added context makes the transition in thought from creation to evolution unfold like a detective story.

The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth
By Richard Conniff
Norton, 400 pages, $26.95 While these species seekers were collecting specimens using butterfly nets and fishing hooks, some contemporaries were digging through rocks and thus discovering even more species—now extinct—in the fossil record. For such men, geological strata became pages from the book of life, with the embedded fossils serving as the words.

Brian Switek's "Written in Stone" picks up this story by describing the work of 19th-century fossil-finders such as O.C. Marsh and E. D. Cope (who had a famous rivalry) but swiftly brings the story up to date, incorporating later discoveries by Louis Leakey, Donald Johanson, and others. His pithy accounts explain how the fossils of everything from Archeopteryx to Tyrannosaurus to Zinjanthropus came to be discovered and interpreted.

Mr. Switek's stories of 19th-century fossil-finders often shed light on current controversies. As early as the 1830s, for instance, the unusual fossil marine reptile called the Ichthyosaur roused heated debates. This creature looked anything but "intelligently designed" (in today's parlance): The flippers resembled those of a whale; the head was crocodile-like; and the vertebrae seemed similar to those of a fish. The Oxford geologist William Buckland insisted that God had simply reused parts from his original designs. Others fondly hoped it might represent something of a transitional species.

That desire—to catch evolution in the act, to find a "missing link"—persists today. Just last year, Mr. Switek reminds us, the discovery of the 47 million-year-old fossilized primate Darwinius masillae (nicknamed "Ida") was rolled out like a Hollywood movie premiere. Billed as an important precursor to Homo sapiens, Ida turned out to be nothing of the sort. "Within a few months," Mr. Switek notes, "a new study would put Ida in her proper place"—an extinct side twig on a minor branch that leads to modern lemurs, not to apes and humans.

Despite the media's preoccupation with "missing links," there are in fact frustratingly few examples of transitional species in the fossil record. As the creationist defendants in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover (the trial that challenged the teaching of Intelligent Design in a public school) did not hesitate to point out, Darwin himself considered this deficiency in the fossil record "the gravest objection which can be urged against my theory."

"Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links?" he wrote in "On the Origin of Species." "Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain." Mr. Switek's otherwise excellent book fails to discuss the best explanation for these missing fossils: the theory of punctuated equilibrium, as proposed by paleontologists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge.

Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature
By Brian Switek
Bellevue Literary Press, 320 pages, $17.95

Inspired by the ideas of evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, they asserted that gaps in the fossil record are not missing evidence of gradual change. They are, in fact, positive evidence of rapid evolution. In this view, species change happens relatively quickly (on a geological time scale) in "a small sub-population" whose habitat is remote or unusual. Thus very few fossils exist to record the transition, and the chances may be vanishingly small that any will both survive millennia of geological forces and, eventually, be unearthed. "Breaks in the fossil record are real," Messrs. Eldredge and Gould wrote. "They express the way in which evolution occurs, not the fragments of an imperfect record."

The fossil record, in other words, overwhelmingly consists of stable species that lived in large populations and retained their phenotypes for considerable periods. The only way that we can fill in the blanks—and understand how new species evolved from common ancestors—is by analyzing living animals and the remains of dead ones. Thus we still need both fossil-hunters and species seekers.

—Mr. Shermer is the publisher of Skeptic magazine, a columnist for Scientific American and the author of "Why Darwin Matters." His next book is "The Believe Brain."


Friday, November 26, 2010

Online Audience for Hitchens vs. Dembski Debate Continues to Grow

http://www.christianpost.com/article/20101123/online-audience-for-hitchens-vs-dembski-debate-continues-to-grow/

By Katherine T. Phan|Christian Post Reporter

Online videos of the debate between renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens and intelligent design proponent William Dembski over God's existence were in such high demand Monday that the school behind the event said it had to relocate the content to another server.

Mary Carl Finkelstein, special assignments coordinator at Prestonwood Christian Academy and organizer of the debate, told The Christian Post that over 5,000 viewers accessed the online videos Monday morning, causing the school to search for a different server to better host the videos.

Last Thursday, Hitchens, author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, sparred with Dembski, research professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and senior fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, at Prestonwood Baptist Church over the question, "Does a Good God Exist?"

Despite being diagnosed with esophageal cancer this summer, Hitchens accepted the invitation by Prestonwood Christian Academy's Biblical Worldview Institute to speak at the public event.

Over 3,500 people attended the live debate in Plano, Texas, while the live streaming received over 19,000 views. Finkelstein estimated that well over 19,000 watched online since in some places schools broadcast the event to their students.

Providing one possible reason for the high interest, Finkelstein said of Hitchens, "He's canceled all his speaking engagements from here on. We may be the last engagement that he will be speaking at so that may be why there is so much interest."

She expects the video of the debate to be available by Wednesday on the school's website.

During the debate, Hitchens argued that neither the nature of the cosmos, human history, or make-up of human body offered proof for a designer or creator.

Siding with the Big Bang theory, Hitchens said it was hard for him to see any design in a universe that is "flying apart further and faster than we thought it was" and where stars randomly explode.

"I find it impossible to reconcile this extraordinarily destructive, chaotic, self-destructive process to find in it the finger of God, to find in that the idea of a design," he said.

The atheist author said he didn't think it was healthy for people to want there to be a "permanent, unalterable, irremovable, authority over them."

He said he didn't like the idea of a father who never goes away, a king who cannot be deposed or a judge that doesn't allow a jury or appeal.

Totalitarian temptation should be resisted, Hitchens asserted.

"I want you to consider emancipating yourself from the idea that you selfishly are the sole object of all the wonders of the cosmos and of nature," he urged the audience.

Dembski cited scientific evidence as he set about "deconstructing" Darwinism and the core arguments found in Hitchens' book.

"Getting from design and biology to theism is not a big stretch," he said.

The intelligent design proponent argued that most theists don't have a problem accepting some of Darwin's ideas, including small-scale evolutionary changes, but he said he objects to the "totalization of Darwin" where the theory is applied beyond its proper range.

"Natural selection certainly operates. It explains how bacteria will gain antibiotic resistance; it will explain how insects get insecticide resistance but it doesn't explain how you get bacteria or insects in the first place," said Dembski.

"That's the big claim. That's the whopper we are being asked to believe on materialistic grounds."

Dembski also addressed the debate question on God's goodness, saying that God is alone the standard of good and unable to violate that standard.

The existence of evil, according to Dembski, is one of the main challenges that most people face in believing God is good.

"Because we don't see the evil destroyed now and thus experience the suffering that evil inevitably inflicts, we are tempted to doubt God's existence and goodness."

Toward the end of the debate, Hitchens veered away from the main question of the night and went on to attack Christian theism.

He said the biblical view is that "you have to think of yourself as created incurably sick and then ordered under pain of death and eternal punishment to be well. This is no morality."

"We are sick, yes," responded Dembski. "I would say, not incurably so. The cure is there, according to Christianity: Jesus Christ."

According to Finkelstein, more than 700 students, grades 7-12, from Prestonwood Christian Academy listened to the debate. Another 1,000 students were from other schools in the area.

Finkelstein said the school believes that it is good to expose students to "conflict in a safe environment" since they will eventually encounter these issues.

"It was well worth every penny we spent," she said.

The school will follow up with students through small group sessions and use a study guide to help them address any questions that were raised during the debate, according to the debate organizer.

Finkelstein said she has received emails from people from the atheist point of view who said they were very thankful – and surprised – that this kind of forum was allowed in a Christian school.

"Their response was that we were letting Hitchens tell the truth but our response is that we are letting Dembski tell the truth."


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nigeria: Nacamp Committed to Rid the Body of Quacks

http://allafrica.com/stories/201011220459.html

Christy Ajibad
22 November 2010

The National Association of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Practitioners in Nigeria ( NACAMP) has restated its resolve to rid the body of fake practitioners.

This was disclosed by the spokesperson and the Chief Medical Director of the Federal College of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Teaching Hospital Abuja, Dr. Bode Adewole, at a press briefing on the upcoming Annual General Meeting of NACAMP, which will take place on November 25, at Three Star Hotel Limited, Utako.

According to him, NACAMP is an umbrella body recognised by the Federal Ministry of Health and empowered to regulate Complementary and Alternative Medical Practitioners because we have a lot of fake herbalists who are parading themselves and hiding under the cover of alternative medicine practitioners. So we are putting the record straight that they are not our members because any one who did not study Naturopathy, Acupunture,Omniopathy and the rest of them cannot call themselves alternative medical practitioners".

He stated that every practitioner of alternative medicine must be a registered member of this association, adding that the Dental Council of Nigeria has recognised alternative medicine in the sense that they are regulating its activities and some of us are already members.

He said the event will also feature Stem Therapy, election of its officers if possible and also sensitize Nigerians on Complementary Alternative Medicine because it is the safest way to heal and prevent all forms of ailments at affordable cost, as established under the Late Umaru Musa Yar'Adua administration.

Speaking at the occasion, Dr. Adedapo Aderele of the Naturopathy Department of the Federal College of Alternative and Complementary Teaching Hospital said, "we want you to know that practitioners of alternative medicine are nothing less than the orthodox physicians and the training we went through is not just a backyard thing. We want to use the AGM as a platform for us to come together and show how best to practice profession. That is why there are going to be lectures during the event and we will continue to train and retrain ourselves.

He stressed that when talking about complementary and alternative medicine, it is popular all over the world, in Europe, Asia, America and Brintain,so Nigeria should not be left out ,adding that they have tried to get to a level whereby the government will incorporate complementary and alternative medicine into the medical health care system of the country.

Dr Aderele said, "we have never mentioned at any time that we are the best but what we are saying is that orthodox and alternative health practitioners can work together if we really mean well for this country.

In Praise of The Creation Museum's Noah's Ark Amusement Park

http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/38014/in-praise-of-the-creation-museums-noahs-ark-amusement-park/

By Andrew Belonsky Monday, November 22, 2010

Creationism remains remarkably popular among Americans, with about 44% of the population affirming their belief that God made everything, in 7 days, and that dinosaurs were along for the ride. Now those people can take the vacation of their dreams, because Kentucky's Creation Museum will reportedly open a Noah's Ark amusement park. Amen.

Despite fifteen decades of Charles Darwin's scientific rule and more evolutionary proof, like radiometric dating fossils, an astonishing amount of people still believe that earth, the universe and everything else was erected in seven simple days.

These believers prove so powerful that some politicians candidates, most recently Kentucky's Senator-elect Rand Paul, refuse to wade into the "How old is Mother Earth" debate. The financial benefits have been plentiful, as well.

The creationist scene's peppered with similarly sounding organizations, including Texas' Institution for Creation Research, the Creation Evidence Museum, and the Center for Scientific Creation, but the group Answers in Genesis stands ahead of the pack and in 2009 had a revenue of about $20 million, with about $17 million in assets. They're also the group behind the Petersburg, Kentucky, Creation Museum.

Since its completion in 2007, the museum — of which A.A. Gill wrote, "The Creation Museum isn't really a museum at all. It's an argument. It's not even an argument. It's the ammunition for an argument. It is the Word made into bullets." — has attracted one million visitors. Now Answers in Genesis plans to expand even further into its 77 acres by opening the Noah's Ark amusement park.

"Now that God has blessed the Creation Museum with over one-million guests in three years, Answers in Genesis – operators of the museum – has been considering other capital projects on our property in Northern Kentucky," said Answer in Genesis' Mark Looy. The details remain sketchy, but insiders speculate that the endeavor could generate 900 jobs for the region.

Locals are thrilled about the news. "It will definitely increase the business. It will help the town," said a local motel clerk, while another remarked, "It's going to be very, very good for the economy here in Williamstown." Indeed, and local construction companies will certainly benefit: Answers in Genesis spent $27 million on the Creation Museum. An amusement park would cost quite a bit more, delivering some divine dough, like manna from heaven, to a recession-struck region.

Yes, some people are baffled by creationism and its massive following. They may think, "Shit, even for an almighty God, creating the universe in seven days seems like quite a feat; maybe the Biblical chronology was condensed because the book's too long," and laugh off an amusement park that recalls Ned Flanders' Praiseland from "The Simpsons."

The fact of the matter, though, is that people get into it, and if they're willing to spend their money to boost a local Kentucky, or any other, economy, that's good news for everyone. Unless, of course, this park goes bust, as happened with Flanders' fictional project.

But this is America, after all, and people can believe what they damn well please, even if it's contradicted by generations of scientific evidence.

Dover Dividends: Five Years Later, AU Challenge To 'Intelligent Design' Helps Education Evolve

http://blog.au.org/2010/11/22/dover-dividends-five-years-later-au-challenge-to-%E2%80%98intelligent-design%E2%80%99-helps-education-evolve/

November 22nd, 2010
By Rob Boston

The main problem with evolution instruction in public schools is not so much the overt teaching of creationism, it's the poor job many schools do teaching evolution.

On Dec. 20, 2005, a federal judge in Pennsylvania struck down an ill-conceived plan to teach "intelligent design" in the public schools of the town of Dover.

Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania joined forces to litigate that issue in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case. It was a great win that reaffirmed the importance of church-state separation in public education.

And here's some more good news: Five years later the case is still paying dividends.

Education Week reported Nov. 17 that in several states, public school officials are feeling emboldened by the Kitzmiller ruling and are ramping up instruction about evolution. The controversy, the story says, made many science educators realize that they need to play offense.

The result has been a spate of new curriculum materials, teacher training and activism on behalf of evolution instruction.

"What it has done is made it clearer to the scientific community that they have to come out and make a stand," said E. Margaret Evans, assistant research scientist in education at the Center for Human Growth and Development at the University of Michigan. "They can't wait in the wings and hope it all blows over."

In Massachusetts, a group of researchers at Boston College has created new curriculum materials that combine computer modeling, hands-on activities and classroom readings – all designed to give students a better grasp of natural selection.

Education Week reports that the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences and other groups have "increased research investment on identifying essential concepts for teaching evolution." In addition, they have joined forces to create an Evolution Education Researcher Centre at Harvard, McGill and Chapman universities.

The groups also recognize the teacher training is key and are focusing on that issue.

Heavy hitters like this, along with AU's friends at the National Center for Science Education, are bound to make a difference.

I've always believed that the main problem with evolution instruction in public schools is not so much the overt teaching of creationism (although that happens), it's the poor job many schools do teaching evolution. Thanks to pressure from fundamentalist religious groups, some schools relegate evolution – considered the central organizing principle of biology and other sciences – to a single unit or refuse to even mention the "e-word," using instead vague terms like "change over time."

A few years ago, I debated Charmaine Yoest, then with the Family Research Council, on CNN's "AC 360°" with Anderson Cooper. During the debate, I challenged Yoest to tell me what she believes children should be taught about the age of the Earth. She refused to answer. This is the "science" the Religious Right would have America's children taught in public schools!

And therein lies our silver bullet. Most parents want their children to do well in school and go on to college. Unless they attend Jerry Falwell, Jr.'s Liberty University, young people who have been taught discredited creationist concepts in high school will be at sea when they take introductory biology. Scientists are increasingly pitching this argument to parents: If you want your kids to do well in college, make sure they are taught evolution in secondary schools. It's long overdue.

I know we still have a long way to go on this issue. Louisiana, Texas and other states continue to flirt with creationism, and the Religious Right is still applying pressure on local school districts all over the country.

But the Education Week story (which is, unfortunately, behind a subscriber wall) provides much cause for optimism. The more the scientific community realizes that the fight against creationism is a political one – and the more they speak out and produce strong curriculum materials for our public schools – the better off our children will be.

If the Kitzmiller ruling helped sparked this evolution renaissance in public schools, AU and its supporters have reason to be proud.

P.S.: U.S. District Judge John E. Jones, who wrote the opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover, recently offered some reflections on the case at an AU event in Washington. Watch it here.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Evolution education update: November 19, 2010

Morris Goodman, a pioneer in molecular systematics, is dead. A cross-complaint in a lawsuit over the cancellation of the screening of a creationist film, and a possible sign of progress in Louisiana's textbook approval process. Plus NCSE's Facebook page breaks the 10,000-fan mark.

MORRIS GOODMAN DIES

The distinguished evolutionary biologist Morris Goodman died on November 14, 2010, at the age of 85, according to the Wayne State University School of Medicine. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on January 12, 1925, Goodman attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, before enlisting in the United States Army Air Forces in 1943. Returning to Wisconsin, he earned his bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in zoology. After a series of postdoctoral appointments, in 1958 he took a position at Wayne State University, where he remained for fifty-two years. In the late 1950s, he became interested in evolution, and swiftly became a pioneer in molecular systematics, especially as applied to primates. Describing a 1975 paper using hemoglobin sequence data, he commented, "I think we were the first to get hard evidence of Darwinian evolution." His honors included election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences and the Charles R. Darwin Award for Lifetime Achievement from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

Goodman's scientific prominence, as well as his controversial proposal that chimpanzees and bonobos be reclassified from the genus Pan to the genus Homo, resulted in his frequently serving as a target of creationists. A long-time member of NCSE, Goodman seldom bothered to rebut creationism publicly, although in his article on "Reconstructing human evolution from proteins" for The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution (edited by Steve Jones, Robert Martin, and David Pilbeam; Cambridge University Press 1992), he pointedly wrote, "If the biblical account of creation were true, then independent features of morphology, proteins and DNA sequences would not be expected to be congruent with each other. Chaotic patterns, with different proteins and different DNA sequences failing to indicate any consistent set of species relationships, would contradict the theory of evolution. However, such patterns do not exist: the molecular phylogeny of primates and of all vertebrates is remarkably similar to the picture that emerges from morphology" (p. 307).

For the obituary from Wayne State University School of Medicine, visit:
http://prognosis.med.wayne.edu/article/morris-goodman-distinguished-professor-and-groundbreaking-researcher-dies

For a 2004 interview of Goodman, visit:
http://authors.library.caltech.edu/5456/1/hrst.mit.edu/hrs/evolution/public/goodman.html

COUNTERSUIT IN AFA V. CSC

A lawsuit over the canceled screening of a creationist film took a twist recently with the filing of a cross-complaint that charges the plaintiff with breach of contract, violation of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and fraud.

In 2009, the American Freedom Alliance, a Los Angeles-based organization that describes itself as "a movement of concerned Americans advancing the values and ideals of Western civilization," arranged to screen Darwin's Dilemma -- characterized by the Los Angeles Times (December 29, 2009) as "a feature-length documentary that criticizes Darwin and promotes intelligent design" -- at the California Science Center. Helping to promote the event was the Discovery Institute, which issued a press release touting the screening. However, the terms of the rental contract provide that all promotional materials for events at the CSC have to be submitted for approval before they are disseminated; the screening was accordingly canceled. The AFA filed suit, arguing that it is unfair to hold it responsible for the actions of a third party, contending that the contract issue was a "false pretext" for cancellation of the screening, and claiming that "a broad network of Darwin advocates" conspired with the CSC to cancel the screening.

The cross-complaint was filed by the California Science Center Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that provides support for the CSC (itself a department of the state of California) and a defendant in the case; the CSCF operates the Event Service Department, through which private groups such as the AFA are able to arrange to hold private events at the CSC. The cross-complaint charges (pp. 5-6), "AFA and the Discovery Institute consistently communicated and collaborated on the Event up to, and even after, its cancellation. ... AFA was cognizant that its publicity efforts might impact[] its alleged contractual relationship with the Foundation. ... [The Discovery Institute's Robert Crowther] noted in his email to the AFA: 'Once we let the jinni [sic] out of the bottle it's likely all hell will break loose.' ... And in a later email, [the AFA's] Avi Davis admits that the Discovery Institute warned AFA that a cancellation might happen due to the Discovery Institute's publicity" (emphasis and "[sic]" in the original).

The CSCF's cross-complaint listed three causes of action. First, that the AFA "materially breached the alleged contract" (p. 7) by issuing publicity, both in coordination with the Discovery Institute and on its own, about the screening without seeking the approval of the CSCF, as required by the contract. Second, that the AFA's conduct in doing so violated "the covenant of good faith and fair dealing" (p. 7) even if it was not a material violation of the contract. Third, that because "AFA entered into the alleged agreement with the Foundation and agreed to seek pre-approval of any publicity materials, all the while coordinating with the Discovery Institute to promote the Event and never intending on planning to obtain such pre-approval and fulfill its obligations of the alleged contract" (p. 10), the AFA committed actual fraud. The CSCF is asking the court for compensatory and punitive damages. A jury trial is currently scheduled to begin on June 13, 2011.

Important documents from the case, American Freedom Alliance v. California Science Center, California Science Center Foundation, Jeffrey Rudolph, et al., are available on NCSE's website.

For the story in the Los Angeles Times, visit:
http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-et-science-center29-2009dec29,0,6400745.story

For the CSCF's cross-complaint (PDF), visit:
http://ncse.com/webfm_send/1452

For NCSE's collection of documents from the case, visit:
http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/american-freedom-alliance-v-california-science-center-et-al

PROGRESS IN LOUISIANA?

New high school biology textbooks were recommended for approval in Louisiana, reports the Associated Press (November 12, 2010), despite the ongoing complaints of creationists objecting to their treatment of evolution. As NCSE previously reported, a decision on the textbooks, expected initially in October 2010, was deferred by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which sought a recommendation from its Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council. On November 12, 2010, the council voted 8-4 to recommend the textbooks; the board is expected to issue its final decision during its December 7-9, 2010, meeting.

Before the council's meeting, in a November 12, 2010, editorial, the Baton Rouge Advocate called on the council not to compromise the treatment of evolution in the textbooks. "The committee members have a duty to reject intrusion of pseudo-science, such as creationism or its offshoot 'intelligent design,' into science classrooms," the editorial argued. "It's one thing to be different culturally, as Louisiana is in so many ways. But the facts of science and biology do not change. For Louisiana to be different in the direction of ignorance would be a humiliation in the eyes of the nation and the world."

According to the Associated Press, "Most of those who testified before the council supported the books and objected to any inclusion of disclaimers about the theory of evolution or of provisions about intelligent design, which has been barred by federal courts from being taught as an alternative to evolution." Kevin Carman, the dean of the Louisiana State University's College of Science, said that "intelligent design" "simply is not science," adding, "We need our textbooks to be focused on what is scientifically accurate and not religion." High school senior Zachary Kopplin warned of the threat to Louisiana's national reputation.

Commenting on the council's vote, Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and cofounder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science, wrote, "Past experience -- which has been utterly and entirely consistent since the introduction and passage of the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) in 2008 -- suggested that this meeting would be just another railroad job." Two of the members of the council, after all, were Senator Ben W. Nevers (D-District 12) and Representative Frank A. Hoffman (R-District 15) -- the chief sponsors of the LSEA in the Louisiana Senate and House of Representatives in 2008.

Both Nevers and Hoffman voted against recommending the textbooks, with Nevers reportedly expressing concern about the cost of the textbooks and the length of the seven-year contract with the textbook companies -- concerns that were not apparently expressed for any textbooks under consideration by the state except for the high school biology textbooks. Nevertheless, Forrest's expectations were happily confounded: she began her report by quipping, "something happened today in Louisiana that is about as common here as snowflakes at Christmas: the voice of reason prevailed at a meeting of public officials."

For the Associated Press story (via the New Orleans Times-Picayune), visit:
http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2010/11/new_high_school_biology_books.html

For the Baton Rouge Advocate's editorial, visit:
http://www.2theadvocate.com/opinion/107375348.html

For Forrest's report at the Louisiana Coalition for Science, visit:
http://lasciencecoalition.org/2010/11/13/hell-froze-over-in-louisiana/

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/louisiana

NCSE ON FACEBOOK: N > 10,000

A milestone: there are now over 10,000 fans of NCSE's Facebook page. Why not join them, by visiting the page and becoming a fan by clicking on the "Like" box by NCSE's name? You'll receive the latest NCSE news delivered straight to your Facebook Home page, as well as updates on new evolution-related scientific discoveries. Or if you prefer your news in 140-character chunks, follow NCSE on Twitter. And while you're surfing the web, why not visit NCSE's YouTube channel, one of the sixty most popular non-profit YouTube channels? It's the best place on the web to view talks by NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott!

For NCSE's Facebook page, Twitter feed, and YouTube channel, visit:
http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse
http://twitter.com/ncse
http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd

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
800-290-6006
branch@ncse.com
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Dear Oprah: Those health guests may not be so healthful

http://www.latimes.com/health/la-he-fitness-oprah-20101122,0,7511234.story

Dr. Christiane Northrup, Rhonda Byrne, Geneen Roth and Tony Robbins may be leading you astray. For better results, and to learn to love exercise, try these people instead.

By James S. Fell, Special to the Los Angeles Times

November 22, 2010

Dear Ms. Winfrey:

I get it.

I understand why you have so many guests on your show offering advice about health. I'm not a fan of alternative medicine, but I know sensationalism sells. Stuff that stands up to scientific scrutiny often lacks the pizazz that makes for scintillating television.

And just because I'm not into aligning my chi or awakening my Tony Robbins giant within doesn't mean other people don't have the right to seek alternatives to modern medicine. I know you are interested in presenting the millions of people who watch "Oprah" with different options.

However, I'm concerned that some of the people you have had as guests on your show and highlighted on your website may have led you astray when it comes to your own battles with weight, a topic about which you've been admirably frank. For instance, it might be a good idea to get advice from a doctor who doesn't say things like many women develop thyroid problems due to "an energy blockage in the throat region" that develops over "a lifetime of 'swallowing' words one is aching to say," as your frequent guest Dr. Christiane Northrup writes in her book, "The Wisdom of Menopause," which you discussed and endorsed on your show.

You're not known for swallowing words, are you?

You seem to have an affinity for the Law of Attraction — the idea that your thoughts "are sent out into the universe" and "magnetically attract" your desires, as Rhonda Byrne explains in her bestselling book "The Secret" and discussed on your show — but I don't think you believe that you can achieve your ideal weight just by thinking about it. You've proved you know that maintaining your desired weight requires a combination of exercise and eating a healthful diet. It just boils down to staying motivated to stick with it.

And that means an attitude adjustment is called for. You've repeatedly said you hate exercise, and this needs to change. It's time to feel the love, Ms. Winfrey; you need to learn to love exercise rather than just see it as a means to an end.

I'd like to introduce you to some motivation guys who are less charismatic than the aforementioned Mr. Robbins but nonetheless have great advice to offer about behavior change.

The first is the eminent psychologist B.F. Skinner, who would make a lousy guest because, well, he's dead. Nevertheless, his advice about how positive reinforcement can lead to behavior change is important. Quite simply, if exercise (stimulus) is something you enjoy (response), then you will seek to do it again and again. On the other hand, weight loss is a terrible motivator because the response takes place so long after the stimulus. So forget the focus on counting calories for now — just find something fun and get good at it.

Next is Icek Ajzen, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts who developed the theory of planned behavior, which is like a scientific version of Norman Vincent Peale's book "The Power of Positive Thinking." Ajzen determined that people who have a positive attitude about a new behavior (like finding an exercise they can fall in love with) and believe they have the wherewithal to follow through are far more likely to succeed. He also discovered it helps if you perceive that others want you to succeed. I'm guessing there are about a billion people out there who want that.

Another is Albert Bandura, the renowned Stanford psychologist whose self-efficacy theory is about having the situation-specific self-confidence to succeed. Nike says, "Just do it"; Bandura's less catchy motto would be: Learn, plan, prepare, then do it. So don't jump into a new exercise; do some research and get expert instruction. You can also draw on your track record of many other incredible accomplishments to know that you have the ability to succeed at this.

Now, I don't expect you to instantly become so in love with exercise that you start jumping on couches like Tom Cruise. It's a gradual process, like starting a fire with two sticks. Finding an exercise that you don't completely hate is an ember, which can be nurtured into a flame, which can eventually become a raging bonfire if you feed it.

Try skiing, surfing or mountain biking. Play soccer with the girls attending the school you built in South Africa. Go out and have a good time, and then do an episode in which you proudly show off all your bruises. Find your exercise bliss, and hang out with people who share your passion.

And your diet? Perhaps you can set that concern aside for a while. Researchers at the University of Minnesota's Department of Food Science and Nutrition reported in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior that exercise can prompt "older adults" to adopt good eating habits. Not to say that you're "older," but it stands to reason that increasing your willpower via exercise will make you more likely to succeed at healthful eating over the long term.

When you're ready to fuel exercise with better eating, consider hiring renowned sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, who has helped professional athletes and casual exercisers alike. You may also wish to find a trained psychologist who specializes in emotional eating, instead of relying on "Women, Food and God" author Geneen Roth, who relays hokum like "Diets are based on the unspoken fear that you are a madwoman, a food terrorist, a lunatic" in a book excerpt on your website and whose primary qualification seems to be personal experience. (Roth did not respond to questions about her credentials, and none are mentioned on her website.)

No one can question that you are an amazing and accomplished woman, Ms. Winfrey. Now it's time to turn that world-changing determination inward.

You may think you hate exercise, but I disagree. Deep down, every one of us is genetically programmed for intense activity, a trait our ancestors needed to survive. Your DNA and your spirit combined can transform you into a true workout warrior. This woman who loves exercise is inside you, somewhere.

Go find her.

Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, Canada.

james@bodyforwife.com
Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

No evidence alternative 'cures' work

http://www.montrealgazette.com/health/evidence+alternative+cures+work/3859378/story.html

By JOE SCHWARCZ, Freelance November 20, 2010

What sort of treatment do you think cancer patients would receive at the Gerson Institute in San Diego? Actually, they would receive no treatment at all, because the "Gerson therapy" is not sanctioned in the United States. But they would receive plenty of information about travelling to Gerson clinics in Mexico or Hungary, as well as about providing basic "Gerson care" for themselves at home.

The institute does not limit itself to providing information about cancer. It seems the Gerson therapy is effective against virtually every disease. How can this be? Because "it restores the body's incredible ability to heal itself with no damaging effects, and rather than treating only the symptoms of a particular disease, it treats the underlying cause of the disease." Right. And the tooth fairy leaves coins under the pillow.

Cancer is a terrible disease that often defies conventional treatment. But the failure of science-based medicine can mean success for the marketers of "alternative" therapies who are unencumbered by the need to furnish evidence. They just have to clamour about how conventional doctors slash (surgery), burn (radiation) and poison (chemotherapy) their patients, hastening their demise, while they offer kinder, gentler, life-saving "natural" treatments. Desperate patients, they well know, will do desperate things. At any cost.

The "Gerson Institute and Cancer Curing Society," as it officially calls itself, adorns its seductive brochure with the credo, "healing with nature." Aside from the absurd, but appealing notion that "nature" is more adept at healing disease (which it incidentally causes with reckless abandon through natural bacteria, viruses, fungi and moulds) than research-based medicine, one has to question the "natural" aspect of the Gerson regimen.

Is the squirting of coffee up one's rear end "natural?" What about gulping desiccated liver capsules? Or administering ozone rectally? All these have been part of the program. To say nothing of drinking several glasses of raw calf liver extract a day! That lunacy was given up after several patients' deaths were linked to a bacterial infection associated with the extracts.

The foul liver juice was replaced by a more tastebud friendly green leaf-apple juice blend, a dozen glasses of which have to be downed to "flush the toxins" responsible for cancer out of the system. Just what these toxins are is never addressed. But to make sure they are eliminated, patients are also dosed with pancreatic enzymes, iodine, vitamin B12, niacin, thyroid hormone, potassium, coenzyme Q10 and organic flax seed oil.

Of course, all of these bizarre interventions would be acceptable if the treatment worked. Let's face it, conventional chemotherapy is no picnic. But there is a difference. Chemotherapy at least, has a chance of working.

As the name suggests, there actually is a person behind the Gerson therapy. An established physician, Dr. Gerson fled his native Germany when the Nazis came to power, and eventually settled in New York in 1936. As a young doctor, he had been tormented by migraines and had sought relief by experimenting with different diets. He traded in his wursts, schnitzels and sauerbraten for a plant-based diet that apparently resolved his migraines.

Gerson theorized that contamination with artificial fertilizers and pesticides was responsible for his misery. He began to prescribe his "natural" plant-based diet to other migraine sufferers who soon claimed to experience all sorts of additional benefits, including resolution of tuberculosis. Needless to say, there was no objective evidence that any patients had actually been cured in this fashion. How could there be? TB, a bacterial infection, cannot be cured by diet.

And then Gerson had an epiphany. If TB responded to his regimen, why not cancer? By 1958, he had published his book, A Cancer Therapy, in which he described curing 50 patients of terminal cancer. That astounding claim prompted the U.S. National Cancer Institute to undertake a review of Gerson's cases with the conclusion that the validity of the cancer diagnoses and the supposed cures could not be substantiated.

Gerson retorted that the review had been unfairly influenced by the "cancer establishment," for the simple reason that his natural cure was a threat to the grotesque profits realized by the pharmaceutical industry from its expensive but useless chemotherapeutic drugs. That tired refrain has practically become the anthem of the "alternative" medicine community.

The problem with the Gerson therapy, as now promoted by his daughter Charlotte and practised in the Mexican and Hungarian clinics, is not that it is scientifically implausible, nor that it is tortuous to follow, nor that it is repugnantly expensive. The problem is that there is no evidence that it works! The Gerson clinics make all sorts of claims about euphoric patients returning home, cured of disease. But no followup is ever carried out. And whenever independent researchers have tracked Gerson patients, they have found that most had succumbed to cancer within five years of having been "cured" of the disease.

Of course, there is even less information available about the success or failure of the "home" version of the Gerson therapy. Administering coffee enemas at home may be a bit of a challenge, but the juicing can be done. Not with any old juicer, though! No siree. We are told that "Dr. Gerson's research indicates that it is imperative for cancer patients to have a two-step juicer with a separate grinder and hydraulic press. Onestep juicers generally do not produce the same quality of enzyme, mineral or micronutrient content." Really? I don't seem to be able to find that bit of research in the peer-reviewed literature.

The Gerson website actually recommends a specific juicer that will run you in the neighbourhood of $2,000. Surely, though, that's a bargain if it will help you beat cancer. Don't even think about buying a cheaper juicer, though, because as the Gerson Institute's captivating brochure tells us, "in fact some patients have failed to experience results simply by using the wrong juicer."

Yup -that must be why they failed to cure their cancer. Wrong juicer!

Joe Schwarcz is director of McGill University's Office for Science and Society (www.OSS . McGill.ca).

He can be heard every Sunday from 3-4 p.m. on CJAD radio.

joe.schwarcz@mcgill.ca

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/health/evidence+alternative+cures+work/3859378/story.html#ixzz15wDsOPlP

A Question for Gergen and Hart: Is Opposing Creationism 'Elitist'?

http://scienceblogs.com/mikethemadbiologist/2010/11/is_opposing_creationism_elitis.php

Because that's what it seems they're claiming. I'll get to that in a bit. Rolling Stone invited Matt Taibbi, David Gergen, and Gary Hart to discuss political events of the day. The subject of the Tea Party came up, at which point Taibbi said:

To me, the main thing about the Tea Party is that they're just crazy. If somebody is able to bridge the gap with those voters, it seems to me they will have to be a little bit crazy too. That's part of the Tea Party's litmus test: "How far will you go?"

Gergen and Hart both, despite their supposedly being smart people, misinterpreted what Taibbi said:

Gergen: I flatly reject the idea that Tea Partiers are crazy. They had some eccentric candidates, there's no question about that. But I think they represent a broad swath of the American electorate that elites dismiss to their peril.

Hart: I agree with David. When two out of five people who voted last night say they consider themselves supporters of the Tea Party, we make a huge mistake to suggest that they are some sort of small fringe group and do not represent anybody else.

Taibbi: I'm not saying that they're small or a fringe group.

Of course, nowhere in Taibbi's claim did he say anything about the Tea Buggers size; in fact, I doubt Taibbi would really care about them were they only a handful of people. Reading comprehension FAIL. So then Taibbi attempts to explain why he thinks they're crazy:

Taibbi: I interview these people. They're not basing their positions on the facts -- they're completely uninterested in the facts. They're voting completely on what they see and hear on Fox News and afternoon talk radio, and that's enough for them.

At this point, Gergen and Hart enter into high dudgeon (An aside: is there ever low dudgeon):

Gergen: The great unwashed are uneducated, so therefore their views are really beneath serious conversation?

Taibbi: I'm not saying they're beneath serious conversation. I'm saying that these people vote without acting on the evidence.

Gergen: I find it stunning that the conversation has taken this turn. I disagree with the Tea Party on a number of issues, but it misreads who they are to dismiss them as some kind of uneducated know-nothings who have somehow seized power in the American electorate. It is elitist to its core. We would all be better off if we spent more time listening to each other rather than simply writing them off.

Hart: I agree. The point here is that the Obama administration would be at their own peril to somehow misread this as a fringe, unacceptable group of people. This is a huge portion of the electorate, and they represent a core within the Republican Party.

Gergen and Hart seem to conflate "fringe" with "unacceptable." One can be a significant fraction of the population (i.e., not fringe) and still be utterly unacceptable (or even batshit lunatic). A huge chunk of Tea Partyers believe Obama wasn't born in the U.S. They believe that Obama/Romneycare would establish 'death panels' (no need to establish them, insurance companies seem to have this covered). They are, indeed, bugshit loony (not in a clinical sense). While it might not behoove politicians to say this--although conservatives have done rather well with aggressive tactics--journalists and other commentators have the obligation to place honesty and accuracy above comity or ersatz notions of elitism.

We have a long history of widespread lunatic beliefs: belief in the inherent inferiority of African-Americans is one good example. But I can't imagine either Gergen or Hart arguing, during the fifties and sixties, that segregation wasn't, at its core, crazy or fact-free.

Which brings me to creationism. According to Gergen's and Hart's logic, those of us who oppose creationism--and the U.S. has a lot of creationists (and there's substantial overlap between them and the Tea Buggers)--are 'elitists.' Because creationists, who are just as crazy those who believe Obama is a Kenyan-born Mussleman who wants to turn all your kids gay or whatever the daffy shit o'the week is, are also equally impervious to facts and evidence.

It's not wrong to call them out on this; in fact, it's absolutely necessary, as creationism makes no sense whatsoever. There is no evidence for it. It's not elitist to point out that someone is staggeringly wrong, and when they repeatedly hold ideas that are utterly divorced from reality, colloquially using words like insane or crazy is appropriate. Their ideas and ideology should receive the legitimacy and respect they deserve, which is to say, none at all.

Creeping Creationism in Louisiana Public Schools?

http://blogs.forbes.com/johnfarrell/2010/11/19/creeping-creationism-in-louisiana-public-schools/?boxes=Homepagechannels

Nov. 19 2010 - 2:23 pm

By JOHN FARRELL

Lauri Lebo at Religion Dispatches has been keeping up on attempts by creationists affiliated with the Lousiana Family Forum (LFF) to interfere with the inclusion of evolutionary biology in public high school science textbooks. The good news, however temporary, is that the state's textbook advisory panel decided by a vote of 8-4 to recommend the textbooks already proposed for adoption in the state by the Textbook Review Committee.

This comes as something of a nice surprise to supporters of science education. The Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), the brainchild of the LFF, with the support of the notorious Discovery Institute, and signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal in 2008, effectively allows creationists in towns and districts to introduce creation science and intelligent design theory (ID) into the public school science classes under the guise of academic freedom.

Barbara Forrest, a professor at Southeastern Louisiana University who heads the Louisiana Coalition for Science, has been following the…um, evolution of the LSEA and how its supporters hope to exploit it. And she has not been that hopeful given Jindal's support for the LFF.

The recent vote is encouraging. But the fight is not over: the books still have to survive another review by the State's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. If the books are voted down, the LFF will have an opportunity to recommend books they consider more creationist-friendly.

It's not out of the question that such a move could prompt another Dover-style trial, if enough concerned parents get together. This may not be what intelligent design supporters want.

Ever since the Dover Trial, when ID was judged to be another form of creationism, its chief proponents have concentrated on trying to insinuate books and resources that are critical of evolution into the classroom, without openly offering creationist theories as alternatives. The hope with this new tactic is to stay enough under the radar that no court case is likely–or that if one is, creationists can defend their case based on academic freedom rather than promoting a theologically based alternative to evolution.

It will be interesting to see how the textbook issue plays out in Louisiana.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In Homeopathy, Consultations Work But Not Remedies

http://www.emaxhealth.com/1275/homeopathy-consultations-work-not-remedies

Results of a new study published in Rheumatology indicate that homeopathy works—and doesn't work. That is, patients with arthritis who had consultations with a homeopath experienced relief from symptoms regardless of whether they received a remedy or placebo.

Whether homeopathy works is an age-old debate

Ever since Samuel Hahnemann first proposed the alternative medicine approach known as homeopathy in 1796, it has had its share of skeptics. Advocates claim that the highly diluted remedies prepared by homeopaths are effective because they contain the essence or memory of the compound from which they were made. Critics claim that homeopathic remedies have no pharmaceutically active ingredients and therefore cannot possibly work.

In a new study from Southampton University, Dr. Sarah Brien, a senior research fellow, and her team evaluated a group of patients with rheumatoid arthritis who had already been treated with conventional medications for their condition. The double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study was conducted from January 2008 to July 2008.

Patients were assigned to receive a series of five homeopathic consultations along with either a specially prepared homeopathic remedy for arthritis or a placebo, or to receive a remedy or placebo without consultations. The study period lasted 24 weeks, and 56 patients completed the treatment.

Overall, patients who received the consultations reported "significant clinical benefits," which included improvements in pain, inflammation, swollen joints, and mood, but it did not matter if they had also received a remedy or placebo. Patients who did not participate in consultation sessions did not report symptom improvements.

The study's authors note that their findings suggest that "talking and listening" to patients can have a dramatic impact on health. Professor George Lewith, professor of Health Research from Southampton University, indicated that although the homeopathic remedies had no benefit, conventional physicians could learn something from how homeopaths consult with their patients.

So, it appears homeopathy works, in a way. "When you place the patient at the heart of the consultation you get a powerful effect," said Lewith in a Telegraph article. Brien also pointed out that this study was the first to provide scientific evidence that any benefits from homeopathy for rheumatoid arthritis were "specifically due to its unique consultation process."

SOURCE:
Brien S et al. Rheumatology 2010; doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/keq234

SBOE Meeting Is Controversial Member's Last Stand

http://www.texastribune.org/texas-education/state-board-of-education/sboe-meeting-is-controversial-members-last-stand/

by Morgan Smith
November 17, 2010

The mustached dentist from Bryan captured worldwide attention as an unapologetic creationist and skeptic of the church-state wall during his tenure on the State Board of Education. And though today marks the beginning of Don McLeroy's final board meeting before his GOP primary opponent, Thomas Ratliff, replaces him, the 12-year board veteran says this is anything but the end of his involvement.

"I mean, golly, I love this stuff. You haven't seen the last of Don McLeroy," he says, noting that while he'll watch to see what happens during this legislative session's redistricting process, he'll likely run for his old spot on the board in two years.

At its height, media coverage of McLeroy — a self-proclaimed "religious fanatic" — included an appearance on Arab TV news network Al Jazeera, a Washington Monthly profile and a New York Times Magazine story. He lost his long-held seat by a thin margin to the more moderate Ratliff, who campaigned on taking politics out of education.

Does he have any regrets? "Oh, gosh, no," he says. "To put it in phenomenal God language, I'm thinking that maybe God's got something else for me to do."

McLeroy isn't the only board member on his way out in 2011. When the 15-person SBOE meets this week, a third of its members will be lame ducks. Democrat Rene Nuñez lost his seat to Republican Carlos Garza in the general election. Along with McLeroy, Republican Geraldine "Tincy" Miller lost her seat in the primary. Rick Agosto, a Democrat, and Cynthia Dunbar, a Republican, both decided to step down this year.

But this week's gathering offers little room for outgoing members to leave their mark. On the agenda? Developing recommendations for the 82nd legislative session; adopting textbooks for English, language arts, spelling, fine arts and speech; and reviewing bids for supplementary science textbook material.

While the upcoming meeting will be tame compared to last spring's media circus over social studies curriculum, the science textbooks could potentially produce some fireworks. The SBOE revised Texas' science standards in 2009 to include the teaching of "all sides" of evolution. But because of the state's budget shortfall, the board opted for schools to keep existing texts and use supplemental online materials with updated curriculum instead of calling for new science books. Publishers had until the end of October to submit their bids for the online materials. At this meeting, the SBOE could make a selection.

Dan Quinn, communications director of the Texas Freedom Network, says the liberal watchdog group is eager to see which vendor the board selects. He argues the process was "almost ready-made" to allow "a fringe group to sneak in materials that they otherwise wouldn't be able to get into the classroom." Quinn says it's possible that not many publishers have submitted bids — which are sealed — because of the risk that the state may not even have the money to buy the supplemental materials.

"Vendors have to decide to create materials that the state may not have the money to buy," Quinn says.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, McLeroy said that, for him, the meeting will lack the excitement of past sessions. Of the board's future work developing math standards, he said, "It's pretty blah compared to evolution. It's pretty blah compared to American exceptionalism and things like that."

After hanging up, McLeroy sent an e-mail saying he had thought more about what he wanted to say about his time in the limelight. He wrote that to understand the events of the past two years, "you need to know that for our opponents, nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution."

"The great story coming out of Texas is that their spell has been broken," he added. "We have ended the dogmatic teaching of evolution, and we have restored the founders' idea of a Creator."

Science rules textbook decision, for now: James Gill

http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2010/11/science_rules_textbook_decisio.html

It no longer makes sense to suggest the creationists are making a laughing stock out of Louisiana.

ELIOT KAMENITZ/THE TIMES PICAYUNE

They have just lost a round in Baton Rouge -- stop the presses! -- and, besides, they have been comprehensively upstaged by Catholic bishops meeting in Baltimore. It just isn't fair to mock some simple soul who believes Darwin was a hoaxer when learned prelates can forgather to confront an outbreak of demonic possession.

On the same day that the bishops were seeking ways to beef up the supply of qualified exorcists, the crusade against science and reason suffered a rare defeat. Biology textbooks in public schools will not be required to serve up evolution with a dollop of religion.

That seems fair enough. You won't find natural selection in the Bible either.

Science won out over blind faith on this occasion thanks to the Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council, which you have almost certainly never heard of, since it last met eight years ago. It resurfaced to vote 8-4 to adopt science textbooks, approved by a review committee earlier this year, that do not quarrel with the theory of evolution.

This is a historic moment. When the loonies on a state committee are outnumbered two to one, the future has never looked so bright.

The victory is a preliminary one, however, for the council merely makes a recommendation. The final decision rests with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, where the Louisiana Family Forum and other creationist stalwarts have always found a sympathetic ear.

BESE is a much more political animal than the advisory council, which is made up of principals, teachers and librarians with a couple of legislators thrown in. They are not just any old legislators, but the chairmen of the education committees, Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, and Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe.

Both of them voted not to accept the godless textbooks, although Nevers suggested he did so out of concern for the cost and the length of the contract, which, at seven years, has long been the standard. Nevers would probably have been quite happy with the cost and the length of the contract had the books been to his taste, which runs more to the miraculous. Nevers has been pushing creationism for years and trying to pass it off -- may God forgive him -- as "pure science."

Maybe we shouldn't accuse such a dedicated Christian of deception, so let us just put it down to delusion.

How deluded creationists are is not easy to tell, for they keep shifting ground as the courts block their attempts to proselytize in the public schools. Some 30 years ago, when the Louisiana Legislature passed an unconstitutional law requiring evolution to be counterbalanced with Genesis, true believers would tell you that God created the world Oct. 23, 4004 BC.

Since then the dogma has been promoted in the guise of "intelligent design," which may for all we know be true.

All we know for sure is that it isn't science. Louisiana is hardly the only state where intelligent design has made inroads, although it has enjoyed more success here than in most places. Nevers got a bill passed in 2008, humorously titled the Louisiana Science Education Act, that allowed science teachers to go beyond official textbooks and introduce "supplemental" materials. Backers of the bill claimed that they were out to promote not religion but "academic freedom," although no body with a lick of sense believed them.

When the Education Department drafted rules for implementing the act, and proposed to ban "materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind," the creationists raised holy hell. BESE was only too pleased to do their bidding and scotch the rule out.

No doubt the creationists now figure they will fare better back before BESE than when they were trying to lean on the advisory council, but maybe the advisory council vote signals that the tide has finally turned against them.

Or maybe eight of the council members had been possessed by demons. There must be a logical explanation somewhere.

James Gill is a columnist for The Times-Picayune.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Scientific support for creationism strong

http://www.cw.ua.edu/2010/11/08/scientific-support-for-creationism-strong/

Nov 8 2010

by Ben Friedman

Two weeks ago, I argued the legal and educational reasons why creationism should be taught alongside evolution. Despite any amount of legal justification, if the scientific evidence for creationism and against evolution isn't sufficient to put both theories on a reasonably level playing field, we have no reason to teach both.

One important disclaimer: I am not a scientist. I don't have a doctorate and I'm not a science major. However, there are qualified scientists who believe there are educational reasons to teach creationism.

Many problems exist with Darwin's evolution. If we accept "evolution by chance," we must also accept a scientific chance explanation for the first step in the evolutionary process, namely the hypothesis that life on earth arose from chemical reactions in inanimate matter. Darwin himself admitted the "problem with his theory of evolution was to produce life itself."

The backing for this imperative hypothesis is a 1952 experiment called the Miller-Urey Experiment. Chemist Stanley Miller recreated what he thought was an early earth environment using water, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen in glass tubes and pumping a continuous current (simulated lightning) through them and saw small organic compounds arise.

This key experiment has been found questionable and faulty. Miller himself asserted in 1996, "we really don't know what earth was like 3-4 billion years ago. There are all sorts of speculations."

Dr. Philip Abelson, a geochemist and physicist, notes, "The hypothesis of an early methane-ammonia atmosphere is found to be without a solid foundation", and that "UV light in the earth's early atmosphere would destroy ammonia more quickly than it would form."

Problems arose beyond the extremely speculative nature of the pivotal experiment. Dr. Robert Shapiro, an NYU evolutionist professor, expresses his concerns, saying, "There are over fifty organic compounds that are the building blocks (of life). Only two of these fifty occurred among the preferential Miller-Urey products."

Duke biology professors argue that we have no reason to believe lightning in pre-biotic earth would be continuous as it was in Urey's experiment.

The fossil record is also telling. If species evolved the way natural selection insists they did, we should see a plethora of "transitional fossils," yet these fossils are incredibly lacking.

Dr. David Raup, a renowned University of Chicago paleontologist who has dedicated his life to finding these very fossils admits, "120 years after Darwin, the fossil record of evolution is surprisingly jerky and ironically we have fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we did in Darwin's time."

Even outspoken atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins admitted in his book "The Blind Watchmaker," that "it is as though (Cambrian fossils) were just planted there without any evolutionary history."

Cambridge botanist and winner of the Darwin Medal and International Prize for Botany, Dr. Edred Corner, famously admitted, "I still think that to the unprejudiced, the fossil record of plants is in favor of special creation."

Dr. Duane Gish, a famous biochemist at the University of California-Berkeley, has produced massive quantities of research that support a great flood, and UCLA geophysicist Dr. John Baumgartner has created a computer program to emulate these conditions.

Award-winning geophysicist and former president of the American Geophysical Union Dr. Allan Cox has produced research on magnetism that supports a younger earth.

The carbon-dating methods used to support old-earth conclusions have been attacked from many different angles. Recognized government botanist Dr. Alex Williams alone found and published seventeen flaws in carbon dating including concrete examples of misread dates and unfounded assumptions of static carbon decay rates.

There exist thousands of counterarguments as well as thousands of counterarguments to those, so 800 words aren't nearly enough to do either side justice.

There are many scientists who support only evolution and whose lifelong research presents significant challenges to creationists. These scientists actually represent the majority. To dismiss the plethora of award winning scientists, however, who have come to opposite conclusions is both ignorant and dismissive.

These scientists have won numerous awards in their fields, have degrees from prestigious institutions, hold government positions, and head well-known scientific communities. They are not preachers who dabble in pseudoscience.

Though creation scientists (yes, they are scientists) may be working with a certain, even subconscious agenda, don't evolutionary scientists do the same? Both parties feel pressure to conform to the "accepted" notions of their fields. It is understandable that evolutionary biologists would quiet their findings if they ran contrary to accepted beliefs in the same way pastors wouldn't openly express a lack of faith.

When the former Chief Scientist and Minister of Israeli Education merely suggested, "If textbooks state explicitly that human beings' origins are to be found with monkeys, I would want students to pursue and grapple with other opinions," he was fired.

Dismissing creationism as an antiquated myth is unintelligent. Creationism has enough scientific backing and evolution has enough holes for the two to be academically juxtaposed.

Ben Friedman is a sophomore majoring in social entrepreneurship. His column runs weekly on Mondays.

Progress in Louisiana?

http://ncse.com/news/2010/11/progress-louisiana-006299

November 13th, 2010

New high school biology textbooks were recommended for approval in Louisiana, reports the Associated Press (November 12, 2010), despite the ongoing complaints of creationists objecting to their treatment of evolution. As NCSE previously reported, a decision on the textbooks, expected initially in October 2010, was deferred by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which sought a recommendation from its Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council. On November 12, 2010, the council voted 8-4 to recommend the textbooks; the board is expected to issue its final decision during its December 7-9, 2010, meeting.

Before the council's meeting, in a November 12, 2010, editorial, the Baton Rouge Advocate called on the council not to compromise the treatment of evolution in the textbooks. "The committee members have a duty to reject intrusion of pseudo-science, such as creationism or its offshoot 'intelligent design,' into science classrooms," the editorial argued. "It's one thing to be different culturally, as Louisiana is in so many ways. But the facts of science and biology do not change. For Louisiana to be different in the direction of ignorance would be a humiliation in the eyes of the nation and the world."

According to the Associated Press, "Most of those who testified before the council supported the books and objected to any inclusion of disclaimers about the theory of evolution or of provisions about intelligent design, which has been barred by federal courts from being taught as an alternative to evolution." Kevin Carman, the dean of the Louisiana State University's College of Science, said that "intelligent design" "simply is not science," adding, "We need our textbooks to be focused on what is scientifically accurate and not religion." High school senior Zachary Kopplin warned of the threat to Louisiana's national reputation.

Commenting on the council's vote, Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and cofounder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science, wrote, "Past experience — which has been utterly and entirely consistent since the introduction and passage of the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) in 2008 — suggested that this meeting would be just another railroad job." Two of the members of the council, after all, were Senator Ben W. Nevers (D-District 12) and Representative Frank A. Hoffman (R-District 15) — the chief sponsors of the LSEA in the Louisiana Senate and House of Representatives in 2008.

Both Nevers and Hoffman voted against recommending the textbooks, with Nevers reportedly expressing concern about the cost of the textbooks and the length of the seven-year contract with the textbook companies — concerns that were not apparently expressed for any textbooks under consideration by the state except for the high school biology textbooks. Nevertheless, Forrest's expectations were happily confounded: she began her report by quipping, "something happened today in Louisiana that is about as common here as snowflakes at Christmas: the voice of reason prevailed at a meeting of public officials."

Alternative medicine: why it can do more harm than good

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2010/11/16/alternative-medicine-why-it-can-do-more-harm-than-good/

By Dr George Thomas
Battle of Ideas, Eagle Eye
Tuesday, 16 November 2010 at 6:00 am

Flying from India to attend the Battle of Ideas festival last month, I spoke on the panel of a lively debate entitled "Alternative medicine: the pros and cons", where I outlined the reasons why I oppose alternative and complementary medicine.

In outlining my opposition, first let us look at the deficiencies of modern medicine. It cannot cure all illnesses. It can often take a long time to make the correct diagnosis. Sometimes it can fail to make any diagnosis at all, for example, chronic pain syndrome. Some of its treatments, especially for cancer, are very unpleasant. Many, if not the majority, of modern practitioners of medicine stress the science of diagnosis and treatment, perhaps to the detriment of the "art of healing". These are the gaps that alternative medicine claims to fill.

Unfortunately, these claims have not withstood scientific scrutiny. The scientific foundations for many of the claims such as, for example, that the dilution of a medicine increases potency (in the case of homeopathy), points for acupuncture, the four humors (in Ayurvedic medicine), do not have any basis in anatomy or physiology and are merely hangovers from a time when science had not reached its present state of advancement.

To the argument that 'alternative medicine works, so why oppose it?', I say there are many dangers, such as the exploitation of the credulous patient and the failure to treat a potentially curable condition which is life-threatening unless properly treated. There is a long history of societies being exploited by priest-doctors. We should guard against individuals who lay claim to special powers.

There are specific problems in India, although many of these are perhaps common to countries where there are a lot of poor people. Eighty percent of spending on medical treatment in India is private, out-of-pocket spending. Indeed it is the number one cause of rural indebtedness. And due to poor medical services, India has a very high rate of maternal and infant mortality. Against this backdrop of limited availability of medical care and government reluctance to spend public money on healthcare (currently less than 5%of GDP), it suits the government to suggest that "traditional healers" are an alternative source of medical care. Making a virtue out of such "traditional healers" due to the fact that there are not enough trained doctors (in India only only 7 in every 10,000 people are trained doctors) and nurses (7.85 per 10,000) is a cynical exercise of the worst kind.

Defenders of alternative medicine do a terrible disservice to the poor of the country by providing intellectual justification for the government's failure to provide quality medical care. Denying the privilege of modern medicine to a large section of our citizens by trying to convince them that traditional medicine is as effective when all evidence shows that it is not, is nothing short of criminal injustice.

A section of those who are better off can afford to dabble in alternative medicine, secure in the knowledge that they can run to the nearby modern medical centre whenever they wish. For such "faddists", alternative medicine is just one option. However, the poor of India have no such options and by forcing them to use the ineffective snake-oil of alternative medicine, the government is squandering tax-payers money and demonstrating that they are too callous to provide quality care.

Throughout October and November, The Independent Online is partnering with the Battle of Ideas festival to present a series of guest blogs from festival speakers on the key questions of our time.

Dr George Thomas is the Editor of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics. He spoke at the debate Alternative medicine: the pros and cons at the Battle of Ideas festival on Saturday 30 October.

Louisiana Panel Rejects Criticism, Recommends New Biology Texts

http://www.bjconline.org/index.php

Written by Don Byrd
Monday, 15 November 2010

After more than three hours of hearings and deliberation, Louisiana's Textbook Advisory Council voted 8-4 to adopt new Biology texts, despite an effort from Religious Right activists to convince the panel that new books should include creationist theories in the form of Intelligent Design.

Most of those who testified before the advisory council supported the books and objected to any inclusion of disclaimers about the theory of evolution or of provisions about intelligent design or creationism.

But many who submitted written comments objected to the proposed biology books, saying they should include information about intelligent design and don't offer enough questioning about certain parts of evolutionary theory.

Courts have consistently ruled that creationism - even under the guise of Intelligent Design - is an inappropriate use of religion in the science curriculum.

Louisiana Panel Votes in Favor of Science Textbooks

http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/laurilebo/3745/louisiana_panel_votes_in_favor_of_science_textbooks_/

November 16, 20106:00AM
Post by Lauri Lebo

Last week, parents in Louisiana raised objections over the fact that science books proposed for adoption in that state would teach kids about (the horror!) evolution. As Winston White, one of the residents who complained about the books, said, "It's like Charles Darwin and his theory is a saint. You can't touch it."

On Friday, Louisiana's textbook advisory panel listened to the public complaints and there's some good news. By an 8-4 vote, the panel recommended the books be adopted. This was surprising considering the fact that two of the primary sponsors of the Louisiana Science Education Act, a slippery state anti-evolution law that encourages teachers and school districts to teach creationism and intelligent design, sit on the panel. Sen. Ben Nevers and Rep. Frank Hoffman both voted against recommendation.

The Louisiana Family Forum, which calls itself a champion of "traditional values" and is affiliated with Focus on the Family, is behind the attack on the textbooks. Most of the complaints seem to have come from its membership.

Louisiana Coalition for Science and philosophy professor Barbara Forrest wrote a post about it titled Hell Just Froze Over in Louisiana. But the fight isn't over. Creationists could still win the day. The life science textbooks now go before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Dec. 7 for final approval.

Separation anxiety

http://www.cavalierdaily.com/2010/11/16/separation-anxiety-2/

Americans should be less comfortable with phrases referencing "God" in the public sphere

By Claire Shotwell, Columnist on November 16, 2010

"One nation, under God." These are words we have all grown up saying. We recited them every day for 12 years in grade school and we often recite them before meetings. But how closely do any of us really analyze what is being said? In a nation that touts separation of church and state as a fundamental tenet of government, religious phrases such as this one have no place in our Pledge of Allegiance.

The pledge was written in 1892 by minister Francis Bellamy. His oath has, for the most part, remained in its original form, but there has been one glaring addition: the non-secular words, "under God." These words were not added until 1954 under President Eisenhower at the urging of a number of religious groups such as the Knights of Columbus — a Catholic organization — and other prominent ministers such as George MacPherson Docherty.

But why does this added phrase remain in the pledge after so many court decisions have made it a policy to keep religion out of secular institutions? Prayer is not allowed in public schools; many of us grew up with a "moment of silence" instead. The debate about whether creationism should be taught alongside evolution in science classes has also been hotly debated, and most states have decided to omit school lessons on creationism. Alabama, meanwhile, has removed the Ten Commandments from courtrooms. All these rulings were made in the interest of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

Proponents of this debated phrase argue that the United States is a Christian nation based on Judeo-Christian values. And while there is no doubt that the majority of Americans are Christians, it does not follow that America is a Christian nation. The Constitution has assured this distinction through the First Amendment. Although the issue about whether the founding fathers were deists or Christians is often hotly debated, it is clear they had no intention of founding the United States on Christianity. John Adams even signed the Treaty of Tripoli, which stated that "the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion."

Actually, atheism and agnosticism are on the rise in our country. A 2008 American Religious Identification survey showed that 15 percent of Americans claim to belong to no religion. This number is up from the 8 percent who claimed to have no religion in 1990. Polls also show Christianity on the decline, from 86 percent of Americans claiming Christianity in 1990 down to 76 percent in 2008. And while many Christians see this as a reason for concern, it should be interpreted as a reason to re-evaluate some of our basic practices, such as reciting "under God" and using the phrase "in God we Trust" on U.S. currency.

Although the majority of Americans consider themselves religious, this does not mean that the nation's non-religious minority should be silenced on the issue. Alexis de Tocqueville, followed by John Stuart Mill, argued against "the tyranny of the majority," and this sentiment was further echoed in the Federalist Papers under the phrase, "the violence of faction." Clearly the words "under God" are neither tyrannical nor violent, but the premise remains. The minority's rights should not be infringed upon at the whim of the majority. And in this case, it is the Constitutional right to freedom of religion — or lack thereof — that must remain. The majority cannot insert a religious belief into secular institutions.

"Under God" and "in God we Trust" have become so commonplace in our nation that we hardly consider the fact that these words have no place in secular government. Though it seems a small issue, it is actually quite indicative of a much larger debate brewing in our country. Debates over what should be taught in our public schools and what is appropriate in our government institutions have the subjects of popular between political candidates since the evolution debate began in 1925 with the Scopes Trial. While debating these issues, it is important to keep in mind the Founding Fathers' original intent and to consider Thomas Jefferson's famous words that the First Amendment was included as "a wall of separation between Church and State."

Claire Shotwell's column normally appears Mondays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at c.shotwell@cavalierdaily.com.

Countersuit in AFA v. CSC

http://ncse.com/news/2010/11/countersuit-afa-v-csc-006300

November 15th, 2010

A lawsuit over the canceled screening of a creationist film took a twist recently with the filing of a cross-complaint that charges the plaintiff with breach of contract, violation of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and fraud.

In 2009, the American Freedom Alliance, a Los Angeles-based organization that describes itself as "a movement of concerned Americans advancing the values and ideals of Western civilization," arranged to screen Darwin's Dilemmacharacterized by the Los Angeles Times (December 29, 2009) as "a feature-length documentary that criticizes Darwin and promotes intelligent design" — at the California Science Center. Helping to promote the event was the Discovery Institute, which issued a press release touting the screening. However, the terms of the rental contract provide that all promotional materials for events at the CSC have to be submitted for approval before they are disseminated; the screening was accordingly canceled. The AFA filed suit, arguing that it is unfair to hold it responsible for the actions of a third party, contending that the contract issue was a "false pretext" for cancellation of the screening, and claiming that "a broad network of Darwin advocates" conspired with the CSC to cancel the screening.

The cross-complaint was filed by the California Science Center Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that provides support for the CSC (itself a department of the state of California) and a defendant in the case; the CSCF operates the Event Service Department, through which private groups such as the AFA are able to arrange to hold private events at the CSC. The cross-complaint charges (PDF, pp. 5-6), "AFA and the Discovery Institute consistently communicated and collaborated on the Event up to, and even after, its cancellation. ... AFA was cognizant that its publicity efforts might impact[] its alleged contractual relationship with the Foundation. ... [The Discovery Institute's Robert Crowther] noted in his email to the AFA: 'Once we let the jinni [sic] out of the bottle it's likely all hell will break loose.' ... And in a later email, [the AFA's] Avi Davis admits that the Discovery Institute warned AFA that a cancellation might happen due to the Discovery Institute's publicity" (emphasis and "[sic]" in the original).

The CSCF's cross-complaint listed three causes of action. First, that the AFA "materially breached the alleged contract" (p. 7) by issuing publicity, both in coordination with the Discovery Institute and on its own, about the screening without seeking the approval of the CSCF, as required by the contract. Second, that the AFA's conduct in doing so violated "the covenant of good faith and fair dealing" (p. 7) even if it was not a material violation of the contract. Third, that because "AFA entered into the alleged agreement with the Foundation and agreed to seek pre-approval of any publicity materials, all the while coordinating with the Discovery Institute to promote the Event and never intending on planning to obtain such pre-approval and fulfill its obligations of the alleged contract" (p. 10), the AFA committed actual fraud. The CSCF is asking the court for compensatory and punitive damages. A jury trial is currently scheduled to begin on June 13, 2011.

Important documents from the case, American Freedom Alliance v. California Science Center, California Science Center Foundation, Jeffrey Rudolph, et al., are available on NCSE's website.