NTS LogoSkeptical News for 9 December 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Good grief, but I despise the Discovery Institute


Category: Creationism
Posted on: December 8, 2010 9:59 PM, by PZ Myers

There's nothing I detest more than intellectual dishonesty, and the Discovery Institute is a world leader in that. They have a ghastly little article up on their website, "Is origin of life in hot water?", which cites a recent paper in PNAS to argue that life couldn't have evolved without the enzymes that catalyze chemical reactions. Here's what they say about it:

So it seems according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors address the conundrum of origin of life chemists between the rate of (un-catalyzed) organic reactions and the lack of time available for these reactions to occur. From the article (note: an enzyme is a biological catalyst):

Whereas enzyme reactions ordinarily occur in a matter of milliseconds, the same reactions proceed with half-lives of hundreds, thousands, or millions of years in the absence of a catalyst. Yet life is believed to have taken hold within the first 25% of Earth's history. How could cellular chemistry and the enzymes that make life possible, have arisen so quickly?" [Internal citations omitted]

Indeed this is one of the problems with origin of life scenarios, particularly those scenarios that presume a metabolism-first world (as opposed to an RNA-first world). The half-life of certain reactions without a catalyst can be millions of years, but studies show that the emergence of early bacteria could be dated as far back as 3.5 billion years (see ENV post on a cold origin of life and Schopf, J. William, "The First Billion Years: When Did Life Emerge?" Elements vol 2:229 (2006) for more on this). This means there was a limited amount of time for fundamental biological reactions to occur. Reaction kinetics can be prohibitive. However, the authors of this paper have a theory to solve the reaction kinetics problem.

No, the authors provide data to support a dramatic (and unsurprising) effect of temperature on the rate of chemical reactions, and the Discovery Institute uses a paper demonstrating the feasibility of life's early chemistry to argue the exact opposite.

It's stunningly arrogant — I guess they're used to their readers simply accepting whatever they say. They quote the first three sentences of the paper, and leave off the rest of the paragraph. Would you like to know what it says?

Do you think the DI might have accurately represented the sense of the paper?

Place your bets now. Here's the remainder of the paragraph:

Here, we show that because of an extraordinarily sensitive rela- tionship between temperature and the rates of very slow reactions, the time required for early evolution on a warm earth was very much shorter than it might appear. That sensitivity also suggests some likely properties of an evolvable catalyst, and a testable mechanism by which its ability to enhance rates might have been expected to increase as the environment cooled.

It reminds me of the infamous quote mine of the that section of Darwin's Origin on the evolution of the eye, in which he rhetorically sets up the problem and then goes on to explain exactly how it occurred…and the creationists only ever quote the part where the problem is laid out, and pretend the answer was missing. That's exactly what the creationists have done to this paper by Stockbridge et al. — they've pulled out just the few sentences at the beginning where the authors explain why this is an important problem, and then gloss over the whole point of the paper, which is to solve the problem.

Just in case you're curious, here's the abstract — there's absolutely nothing in here to provide any consolation to a creationist.

All reactions are accelerated by an increase in temperature, but the magnitude of that effect on very slow reactions does not seem to have been fully appreciated. The hydrolysis of polysaccharides, for example, is accelerated 190,000-fold when the temperature is raised from 25 to 100 °C, while the rate of hydrolysis of phosphate monoester dianions increases 10,300,000-fold. Moreover, the slow- est reactions tend to be the most heat-sensitive. These tendencies collapse, by as many as five orders of magnitude, the time that would have been required for early chemical evolution in a warm environment. We propose, further, that if the catalytic effect of a "proto-enzyme"—like that of modern enzymes—were mainly enthalpic, then the resulting rate enhancement would have increased automatically as the environment became cooler. Several powerful nonenzymatic catalysts of very slow biological reactions, notably pyridoxal phosphate and the ceric ion, are shown to meet that criterion. Taken together, these findings greatly reduce the time that would have been required for early chemical evolution, countering the view that not enough time has passed for life to have evolved to its present level of complexity.

Stockbridge RB, Lewis CA, Yuan Y, Wolfenden R (2010) Impact of temperature on the time required for the establishment of primordial biochemistry, and for the evolution of enzymes. "Proc Nat Acad Sci USA"


Is the Origin of Life in Hot Water?


Is origin of life chemistry in hot water? So it seems according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors address the conundrum of origin of life chemists between the rate of (un-catalyzed) organic reactions and the lack of time available for these reactions to occur. From the article (note: an enzyme is a biological catalyst):

Whereas enzyme reactions ordinarily occur in a matter of milliseconds, the same reactions proceed with half-lives of hundreds, thousands, or millions of years in the absence of a catalyst. Yet life is believed to have taken hold within the first 25% of Earth's history. How could cellular chemistry and the enzymes that make life possible, have arisen so quickly?" [Internal citations omitted]

Indeed this is one of the problems with origin of life scenarios, particularly those scenarios that presume a metabolism-first world (as opposed to an RNA-first world). The half-life of certain reactions without a catalyst can be millions of years, but studies show that the emergence of early bacteria could be dated as far back as 3.5 billion years (see ENV post on a cold origin of life and Schopf, J. William, "The First Billion Years: When Did Life Emerge?" Elements vol 2:229 (2006) for more on this). This means there was a limited amount of time for fundamental biological reactions to occur. Reaction kinetics can be prohibitive. However, the authors of this paper have a theory to solve the reaction kinetics problem.

A little chemistry review: Reaction kinetics has to do with the rate of a reaction, or how long a reaction takes to produce products. The products of a particular reaction may be perfectly stable, but that doesn't necessarily mean the reaction is going to proceed any faster, especially if it has a large energy barrier to overcome before getting to those stable products. So if you want to speed up a reaction, you have two options: 1) Add energy, or 2) add a catalyst which lowers the energy barrier.

This article mentions, by way of example, several biologically significant reactions. Normally, these reactions, either done in the lab or in nature, require a catalyst. Catalysts usually serve to stabilize intermediates in a reaction, which lowers the energy barrier. By lowering the energy barrier, the reaction can complete much more quickly -- as in a matter of seconds, instead of a matter of millions of years.

But we don't have the luxury of catalysts in an origin of life scenario because catalysts for many biological reactions are specific to those reactions and too complex for early earth reactions. Another way to speed up a reaction is to add energy, usually in the form of heat. The authors of this article propose that many of these biological reactions which are prohibitively slow are sped up if they are in a hot environment, such as boiling water. They justify their theory by showing how reaction rates of certain biologically essential reactions, such as OMP decarboxylation or DNA phosphodiester hydrolysis decreases significantly at 100oC compared to 25oC. Furthermore, the authors point out that the slowest uncatalyzed reactions are most sensitive to temperature. Some examples that they report from the literature:

1.Urea hydrolysis (half life of 500 years at 25oC) increases about 3,000-fold when the temperature is raised from 25 to 100oC

2.Hydrolysis of O-glycosidase bonds (half-life of 18 million years at 25oC) increases about 190,000-fold when the temperature is raised from 25 to 100oC

3.Hydrolysis of aliphatic phosphate monoester dianions (half life of 1.1 x 1012 years at 25oC) is accelerated about 10,000,000-fold when the temperature is raised from 25 to 100oC

The authors provide no explanation for their choice of reactions, only that these are important biological reactions. How these reactions contribute to the formation of a self-assembled metabolic cycle is not covered in this paper; neither is how the information system of a cell formed, for that matter. Understandably, origin-of-life chemistry has many steps, and these authors are addressing one issue, but for the most part, this article is a lot more about fundamental principles of kinetics and thermodynamics than anything that adds to the study of the origin-of-life. Yes, heat makes many kinetically prohibitive reactions speed up. Yes, enzymes operate by lowering the enthalpy of reaction which does not come into play until temperatures are lowered. As important as these things are for chemistry, where are the starting reactions, how do they assemble, what do they result in, how do the enzymes form, what about the heat degrading products or accelerating side reactions? These are important questions when the premise of a paper is that the geological clock is ticking.

The most interesting idea in this paper is the proposition that enzymes evolved to operate by lowering the enthalpy of reaction because these reactions are so temperature dependent:

From an evolutionary standpoint, it is unlikely that the common enthalpy-lowering effect of present-day enzymes is fortuitous. As the environment cooled, a primitive catalyst that reduced delta H (double dagger) would have offered a selective advantage over a catalyst that raised T(delta S) by an equivalent amount...We propose that enthalpy-lowering mechanisms became common because they are so temperature-dependent; and because there is almost no limit -- at least in principle -- to the benefit that might arise from the action of a purely 'enthalpic' catalyst. Natural selection has presumably resulted in the evolution of enzymes toward greater catalytic power and specificity...

However, there is very little specific information or data to go along with this statement. It is really speculation, which is interesting, but not compelling without additional explanation for how exactly these catalysts were formed, how the original biological reactions happened, and how the energy added through heat is harnessed and controlled in such a way as to protect the intermediates and products of the reactions from degradation or unhelpful side reactions.

Only two months ago Evolution News and Views reported on a paper that came out about a cold origin of life scenario. That article dismissed the problem of kinetics and addressed the problem of product stability and concentration, which they claimed was prohibitive in origin-of-life scenarios. If origin-of-life chemists are going to address each and every step in such a piecemeal fashion, hopefully, they will take a step back to realize that they have some competing problems in their current scenarios. Fixing one problem makes the other worse. Heating a reaction does nothing for product stability. Cooling a reaction makes the reaction rate problems worse. Furthermore, neither of these accounts for 1) how DNA became the information-carrying powerhouse that it is nor 2) how the initial cycle of a metabolic cycle came together without competing side reactions and without relying on a previous step in the cycle.

Dembski and Wells state the overall problem best in their work, Design of Life (2008):

Whenever origin-of-life researchers accept plausibility rather than evidence as their standard for scientific truth, they in effect give up the search for what really happened or for what with reasonable probability could have happened. Plausibility, as Stewart and many origin-of-life researchers understand the term, implies no effort to estimate probability. Instead, they settle for what they can imagine was possible or could have happened. In this way, they substitute opinion and prejudice for experiments and data. (241)

Posted by Evolution News & Views on December 8, 2010 7:30 AM | Permalink

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Geniality, ID Style


Category: Anti-Creationism

Posted on: December 7, 2010 11:47 PM, by Jason Rosenhouse

Discovery Institute flak David Klinghoffer is getting all misty-eyed about the tenth anniversary of Jonathan Wells' book Icons of Evolution. Doubtless you recall the book, which contained very little that was true. What struck me, though, was this statement from Klinghoffer:

When I say the book is sweetly reasoned, I don't only mean that it's well reasoned but that there's an appealing geniality, a sweetness, to the man's writing ...

Geniality? Somehow that was not the word that came to my mind. Here's Wells:

As we saw in Kevin Padian's "cracked kettle" approach to biology, dogmatic Darwinists begin by imposing a narrow interpretation on the evidence and declaring it to be the only way to do science. Critics are then labeled unscientific; their articles are rejected by mainstream hournals, whose editorial boards are dominated by the dogmatists; the critics are denied funding by government agencies, who send grant proposals to the dogmatists for "peer" review; and eventually the critics are hounded out of the scientific community altogether.

In the process, evidence against the Darwinian view simply disappears, like witnesses against the Mob. Or the evidence is buried in specialized publications, where only a dedicated researcher can find it. Once critics have been silenced and counter-evidence has been buried, the dogmatists announce that there is no scientific debate about their theory, and no evidence against it. Using such tactics, defenders of Darwinian orthodoxy have managed to establish a near-monopoly over research grants, faculty appointments, and peer-reviewed journals in the United States. (p. 235-236)

How terribly genial.

BESE panel endorses new books


Objections from creationists rebuffed

Wednesday, December 08, 2010 By Jan Moller Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE -- A majority of the state's school board recommended Tuesday that Louisiana adopt new high school biology textbooks, rejecting complaints from Christian conservatives that the books are too accepting of the theory of evolution.

The 6-1 vote by a committee of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education follows a recommendation last month by a committee of educators and legislators, and came after nearly two and a half hours of debate between supporters and opponents. While the recommendation still needs ratification by the full board Thursday, the outcome appears to be a foregone conclusion now that six of the board's 11 members are on record supporting the textbooks.

Although the vote does nothing to guarantee new textbooks in public-school biology classrooms -- the final decision is still up to local school districts -- it settles, for the time being, the long-standing debate at the state level about how evolution should be portrayed in science texts.

It's the first time since 2002 that new biology textbooks have been approved. School districts that buy new textbooks typically choose from a state-approved list, but can also use some of their state dollars to buy books that aren't on the list.

Opponents of the texts, led by the Louisiana Family Forum, said the theory of evolution is full of holes and that biology texts should encourage students to think critically about the origins of man.

The biology books "are biased and inaccurate when covering controversial scientific topics," Family Forum President Gene Mills said.

Another opponent, Lennie Ditoro, compared the support of evolution to a religion. "Secular humanists have been enjoying a monopoly on pushing their religion in the classrooms for far too long," Ditoro said. Former Judge Darrell White, another Family Forum leader, held up a T-shirt with the words "natural selection" and said a similar shirt was worn by the two Columbine, Colo., high school students who killed 12 students and a teacher in April 1999.

But supporters of the new textbooks said Charles Darwin's theories about the evolution of life on earth are non-controversial in the scientific community and form the basis of modern biology.

"Every claim you hear today from the Louisiana Family Forum and its allies -- without a single exception -- has been refuted over and over again, in state after state, and in federal court, over almost 50 years," said Barbara Forrest, who serves on the board of the National Center for Science Education. "Not a single creationist claim has ever held up under either scientific scrutiny or legal analysis."

Baton Rouge high school student Zach Kopplin said up-to-date biology texts are critical to training Louisiana students to compete in a global economy. While there are plenty of jobs for biologists, "There are zero creationist jobs. Zero," Kopplin said.

BESE Chairman Dale Bayard, of Sulphur, was the only vote against the textbooks. Voting in favor were John Bennett of Port Allen, Glenny Lee Buquet of Houma, Penny Dastugue of Mandeville, Linda Johnson of Plaquemine, Walter Lee of Mansfield and Chas Roemer of Baton Rouge.

Jan Moller can be reached at jmoller@timespicayune.com or 225.342.5207.

Monday, December 06, 2010

ID and Catholicism


Category: Anti-Creationism
Posted on: December 5, 2010 9:54 PM, by Jason Rosenhouse

Profile. Jason Rosenhouse received his PhD in mathematics from Dartmouth College in 2000. He subsequently spent three years as a post-doc at Kansas State University. Observing the machinations of the Kansas Board of Education led to his unhealthy obsession with issues related to evolution and creationism. Currently he is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, VA.

Over at HuffPo, John Farrell has an interesting post up about the dissatisfacton with ID expressed by many Catholics. He writes:

The Discovery Institute has from its beginning claimed it would in short order get actual scientists to consider intelligent design as a viable scientific theory, by publishing peer-reviewed articles in the leading science journals.

But they've failed. And no matter how much cheering the Institute Fellows get from friendly audiences at Bible schools and church socials, the reality is: this was not the way things were supposed to turn out.

And now, they're losing the Catholics.

This past year, prominent Catholic conservative intellectuals at once ID-friendly magazines and web sites, started to break their silence about the vapidity of intelligent design.

His first example is Edward Feser, a professor of philosophy at Pasadena City College. Feser writes:

The problems are twofold. First, both Paleyan "design arguments" and ID theory take for granted an essentially mechanistic conception of the natural world. What this means is that they deny the existence of the sort of immanent teleology or final causality affirmed by the Aristotelian-Thomistic-Scholastic tradition, and instead regard all teleology as imposed, "artificially" as it were, from outside.

Well, I hate to argue with a fellow ID critic, and I only vaguely understand what is meant by the "Aristotelian-Thomistic-Scholastic tradition," but I'm afraid I don't see how ID commits you to any particular view of immanent teleology or whatever. ID claims simply that there are certain features of the natural world that cannot be explained by known natural mechanisms. They must be explained by recourse to the actions of an intelligent agent. That is all. How does that entail believing that all teleology is imposed "artificially" from the outside (whatever that even means)?

Farrell supplies a link to Feser's website, which in turn contains links to essays written by both Feser and Dembski on this point. Since I cannot make head or tails out of what either one of them is saying, I think I will let this go for now.

It also comes as news to me that a mechanistic conception of the natural world is somehow at odds with Catholicism. Ken Miller and John Haught, as I understand them, and both writing from a Catholic perspective, defend just such a view. Their argument is that God established a fully natural world for us to inhabit, one that we can come to understand using the methods of science. Such detailed understanding of nature should bring us closer to God, not drive us away. The idea is that God set up the initial conditions which made evolution possible. It sounds to me like they believe that all teleology really is imposed from outside. How is this theologically problematical?

We next come to physicist Stephen Barr, who wrote:

What has the intelligent design movement achieved? As science, nothing. The goal of science is to increase our understanding of the natural world, and there is not a single phenomenon that we understand better today or are likely to understand better in the future through the efforts of ID theorists. If we are to look for ID achievements, then, it must be in the realm of natural theology. And there, I think, the movement must be judged not only a failure, but a debacle.

Now that's what I'm talking about! This came from an essay published in the journal First Things early in 2010. Alas, as I discussed at the time, Barr's essay is mostly pretty bad. I found it poorly argued and at several points highly unfair to the ID crowd. Farell quotes the opening paragraph above, but the essay was largely downhill from there.

Skipping ahead a bit, Farrell quotes Father Nicanor Austriaco, a biologist at Providence College:

"When we talk about evolution," Austriaco told me in a recent interview, "most people think that to affirm that evolution is a contingent process, is to necessarily exclude divine providence." But this is simply not the case, he argues. "The irony about the intelligent design debate today, is that the intelligent design proponents, like the Darwinists, presuppose an opposition between chance and design. They necessitate an opposition between chance and design. If it's design, it cannot be chance. If it's chance, it cannot be design. There is no option -- and there are philosophical reasons why the moderns can't come up with this -- there is no option, no one thinks about the possibility of talking about God's design working through chance, through contingency."

The problem isn't so much that the chanciness of evolution necessitates a rejection of an underlying design, it just makes design seem superfluous to our understanding of nature. You can certainly graft notions of design onto the corpus of evolutionary theory, but Austriaco will need to give some compelling reason for why we ought to do so. Moreover, the problem is not simply that God seems to work through chance. It is that evolution by natural selection is a process of singular waste and cruelty, and does not at all seem like the sort of thing a loving God would set in motion. I realize the theologians have their little arguments to offer in reply to that obvious point, but I have yet to see anything plausible from them.

Anyway, sorry to be so churlish. Perhaps I should just be happy that religious criticism of ID is becoming very common. Regardless, go read the rest of Farrell's post!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Pam Platt | A whirlwind of ignorance


Creationism park a step backward

December 5, 2010

Several years ago, on my first trip to Mammoth Cave, my fellow tourists noticed a sign on the side of the two-lane road leading to the national park. The reaction of one of them was so severe I thought I was going to have to stop and do CPR. As he clapped his hands over his mouth and flopped around in his seat, I swung the car back around to get a better look at what did this to him.

There it was:

Golgotha Fun Park.

As I recall, it was a simple sign, perhaps even hand-painted. Since we were there, we got out to take a look around and to let my friend get some air. Crickets. Golgotha looked closed for business.

No, my friend did not find anything funny about crucifixion. But he did find the idea of a putt-putt "fun park" borrowing the name of the place of Jesus' horrendous suffering and death one of the oddest things he'd seen in a lifetime dedicated to noticing the world's oddities — heck, he'd even been to Roswell — but this literally took his breath away. (I found an online review of the park, as it was in flush times .)

Having seen what was left of Golgotha and having read about its glory days, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised at the news last week that Kentucky could be the home of a real E-ticket creationism theme park, this big-budget one built around Noah, the ark and the great flood. And why not? The almost-new Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky has been a huge hit, outperforming visitor projections, never m ind how much of its information flies in the face of established science and the history of the world. (Which is changing as we speak. See NASA's breaking news from last Thursday — in which the agency announced the discovery of a microbe which "changes the fundamental knowledge about what comprises all known life on Earth," and added potential for discoveries of extraterrestrial life. Wonder how creation museums and parks and the fundamentalists who support them will deal with that?)

With Golgotha in the rearview, the Bluegrass State would seem to be fertile ground for this grander proposal. Indeed, the perfect storm of election-year pandering, hinky political wind shears and a jittery economy seems to have snatched the cloak of dignity from our governor, who banged the drum, shouted to the heavens and rolled out the welcome wagon, all spangled with tax incentives, for the project and its investors — which is pretty much the biggest problem I have with this particular project.

This is America, which means people can believe whatever they want to believe. If they want to believe that Adam rode Western on a brontosaurus and Eve rode side-saddle on a stegosaurus (hey, those pesky plates), despite the eons that science tells us separate the 'saurs from the human folk, and spend good money on going to a place that peddles this fairy tale, that's their business. Don't go if you don't like.

But using taxpayer money to support a park that might also support these same themes, well, that's a whole other story and one that surely will be taken up with lawyers representing different points of view. I say let the investors homosapien up with their own cash if that's what they're selling.

But I also have a bigger problem with what this project represents, and that problem goes beyond Kentucky and the inevitable jokes that are being made about us because of this proposed park.

As I said earlier, this is America, which is becoming fertile ground, too. When people talk about American exceptionalism, I'm sure they don't mean this:

Did you know that only 39 percent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution? That 36 percent have no opinion either way? That 25 percent don't believe in it? That 40 percent of people who go to church every week don't believe in evolution? That people with more education are more likely to believe in Darwin's theory, and those with high school educations or less are more likely to have no opinion or don't believe in it? (Gallup)

Did you know that the U.S. ranked 18th of 36 nations whose high school students graduate on time? South Korea is No. 1 with 93 percent; the U.S. is in the middle of the studied pack with 75 percent. (Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)

Did you know that, according to 2007 figures, with the half a trillion dollars spent thus far on the Iraq war, the U.S. could have provided 21.5 million full four-year scholarships to public universities, 7.6 million new public school teachers and 58.7 million chances for children to attend Head-Start? (education-portal.com)

Did you know that the American Library Association and other groups are seeing a rise in complaints about and challenges to literature used in advanced, honors or college-level courses, and that they have noticed an increase in organized, rather than solo, efforts, and that these challenges occur across the U.S.? (USA Today)

Did you know that a book that says the Grand Canyon was formed by Noah's flood and is only a few thousand years old is still on sale at Grand Canyon National Park, despite geological consensus that the canyon contains rock formations that are 2 billion years old and despite concerns raised by park staff, members of the public, scientists and geologists that the book defies the mission of the National Park Service to present accurate and scholarly information based on science? Did you know that the sale of the book at the park has been under review by the U.S. Department of Interior for the past six years? (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)

Did you know that a conservative majority of members of the Texas State Board of Education changed or amended school social studies textbooks in hundreds of ways, including: to question the American separation of church and state and whether the founders were committed to a secular society, to remove Thomas Jefferson as an influential political philosopher (he came up with "separation of church and state") for St. Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, to study the "unintended consequences" of Affirmative Action and Title IX, to replace "capitalism" with "free-enterprise system" and to describe the U.S. government as a "constitutional republic" rather than "democratic"? Did you know these changes could spread far beyond Texas, because of the number of school textbooks published in that state? (The Associated Press; The New York Times; PBS)

So let us not consider Kentucky, and its real and perceived backwardness, apart and separate from our 49 fellow states and from the whole of the country. Yes, the proposed creationism park reinforces unfortunate stereotypes about Kentucky and Kentuckians, some of them true, but the points I assembled about the United States ought to be provoking a lot of questions about who Americans are and where, exactly, we're heading.

All of which produced the occasion to re- watch the DVD I own of a movie classic, "Inherit the Wind," which basically tells the story of the trial of John Scopes, a public high school teacher who was accused of violating a Tennessee state law that forbade the teaching of evolution. The trial took place in 1925, the movie was released in 1960, and it — like its subject matter — stands the test of time as an elegant and eloquent examination of the friction between closed and open minds. It also brings great humanity to the subject, which would be welcome in today's conversation about all manner of topics. (It contains the loveliest expression I've encountered of how "God" and "evolution" or "science" do not have to be oxymoronic entities: "Man wasn't just planted here like a geranium. Life came from a long miracle … it didn't just take seven days.")

My take-away point of this movie — and all the points I assembled in pursuit of the bigger problem I have with what the creationism park represents — comes in several lines of dialogue spoken by Spencer Tracy in the Clarence Darrow role:

"Can't you understand? If you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we'll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind."

That backward march may not be the outcome we expect from underfunding education, disregarding science, shaping textbooks to reflect specific political philosophy or providing tax incentives to creationism theme parks. But we must at least consider the results we live with now.

I may be getting my gusts confused, but I believe we're sowing the wind and we will reap the whirlwind, if we aren't already.

Pam Platt is an editorial writer and columnist for the Courier-Journal. Her column appears in the Sunday Forum. Call her at (502) 582-4578; e-mail her at pplatt@courier-journal.com

Bacterium that thrives on arsenic reopens debate on origin of life


Posted on 04 December 2010

Scientists recently succeeded in manipulating a bacterium that thrives on arsenic as a replacement for phosphorus, reopening for some the debate on evolution, creationism and intelligent design.

The experiment took place as a result of a two-year study at Mono Lake, California by Dr. Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA astrobiology fellow with the U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Calif., The New York Times said.

According to the Examiner, Wolfe-Simon discovered that a bug can live and thrive in an environment containing arsenic with only a trace of phosphorus present, according to Fox News.

Phosphorus is one of six elements considered essential for life, the others being oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, sulfur and nitrogen, The Examiner said. Unlike other elements, there has never been a natural substitute for the six, The New York Times reported.

Now, a bacterium was shown to thrive in arsenic that replaced trace amounts of phosphorous. According to The New York Times, the study will likely lead to a search for other replacements.

Phosphorus vs arsenic

Phosphorus forms the backbone of DNA and when it chemically bonds one of the molecules it forms, adenosine triphosphate, stores energy in the cells, not unlike a battery, The New York Times said.

Arsenic so closely resembles phosphorus that it often slips through a cell and works its poison in, "like bad oil in a car engine," Wolfe-Simon told The New York Times.

In the experiment Wolfe-Simon's team scraped bacterium from Mono Lake and grew it in a lab containing arsenic and a trace of phosphorus. The phosphorus was gradually pulled out and exchanged with more atoms of arsenic, The New York Times reported.

In this way the bacterium was trained to eat and grow on arsenic alone, The New York Times said.


The New York Daily News said, "That's what hard research is telling an American public that's increasingly fascinated by science and skeptical about divine creation."

The New York Daily News also noted a separate discovery that "there may be three times as many stars in the universe as previously thought," viewing this as exponentially increasing the likelihood of life elsewhere in the universe. Finally, it lambasted Kentucky Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear for supporting a creationism theme park.

Implications of the study

What exactly is implied in by the study?

First, it implies a changed definition of life. Wolfe-Simon told The New York Times, "What we think are fixed constants of life are not. This is a microbe that has solved the problem of how to live in a different way."

Second, with the new definition of life, there are different expectations of what is life on other planets, whether it is an arsenic eating bacterium or something not existing on earth. Steven Benner of NASA told Fox News that there may be, "more than one recipe that makes life."

Benner told Fox News that future NASA space explorations will look for arsenic and perhaps other chemicals, especially in Saturn's moon Titan, which is known to have traces of arsenic.

Intelligent design or creationism?

Whether the new finding lends more credence to creationism, intelligent design or evolution, Gerald Joyce of Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla Calif., told The New York Times that even these bacteria come from the same tree of life.

The Examiner said the astrobiologists' views of the study lead to conclusions based on "evolutionary presuppositions." And yet, "God can choose to make a variety of life forms, just because we don't know them all does not affirm evolution."

The Examiner quotes Psalm 104:24, "How many are your works, oh Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures."

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Rift Over Climate Change Is Social, Not Scientific


November 23, 2010

Andrew Hoffman, professor, University of Michigan

According to a 2009 Pew survey, 35% of Republicans polled see solid evidence of global warming, compared with 75% of Democrats. Little debate persists in the majority of the scientific community on the subject. But like many topics, partisanship has seized the debate.

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Little debate persists in the scientific community on climate change, yet a Pew survey last month showed a major ideological rift. Seventy-nine percent of Democrats say there's solid evidence of global warming. Thirty-eight percent of Republicans agreed. When an issue becomes that polarized, discussion often turns into argument, and many decide to steer clear of the topic. Andrew Hoffman, a professor at the University of Michigan, believes his fellow social scientists have ignored this cultural divide over climate change and could contribute a lot more to the debate.

We want to know if you bother talking about climate change with friends and families who disagree, have you found productive ways to have those discussions? 800-989-82-55. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can always join the conversation on our website as well. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Andrew Hoffman is a professor of sustainable enterprise at the University of Michigan and joins us on the phone from Montreal today. Nice to have you with us.

Professor ANDREW HOFFMAN (Sustainable Enterprise, University of Michigan): Oh, it's a pleasure to be here.

CONAN: And if the public debate over climate change isn't really about the scientists - about the science, what is it about?

Prof. HOFFMAN: Well, we can say it's not about the science, but it's also a cultural issue, that the difference you described between Democrats and Republicans is a really interesting one, that there's something deeper at play here. And you can just focus on parts per million, but there's an underlying thread of issues about personal freedom, access to science, the role of big government. There's a lot of cultural underpinnings to this debate. And any kind of proposed policy changes are not - it's not politically inert. It does invoke cultural frames that are part of the debate.

CONAN: And the way you described those cultural frames, they are more or less mutually exclusive.

Prof. HOFFMAN: Well, you know, there are some that are places where people can talk about a common issue. But the one danger is a logic schism, or what Roger Pielke describes as abortion politics, where the two sides are talking about two completely separate issues and only look for information that confirms their opinion and disconfirms the other. And the danger is whether climate change will reach that level of schism.

CONAN: And it is beginning to approach that, at least according to some of your research.

Prof. HOFFMAN: Well, we're still working through the data and trying to answer that question. But there is - there are some sharp differences in terms of the logics, the frames and the culture, between the climate-skeptical, what we're describing, and also the climate-convinced.

CONAN: And the - part of the problem seems to be the attitude of some of those who argue strongly for the case for global warming. And they have the science on their side, it has to be admitted, but their attitude towards those who are skeptics suggesting that this conversation is not very productive if you begin with the attitude that your opponents are stupid.

Prof. HOFFMAN: Mm-hmm. I think that if you draw a bell curve of the debate, it's the tails that are dominating our conversation. And that's true with many debates, whether it's climate change or abortion, gun control or health care, and that rational dialogue or a thoughtful dialogue occurs in the middle. And somehow we have to get it out of the polarizing positions on the two tails of the bell curve and try to focus on what are the real issues at play here.

CONAN: And have you, in your effort to bring social science to - have you done research on this?

Prof. HOFFMAN: On the cultural frames of climate change?

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. HOFFMAN: Yes, yes. I and a few others are starting to work on it now and hope to have some results in about a month or two.

CONAN: And why is it, do you think, that you and your colleagues have ignored this up to now?

Prof. HOFFMAN: Well, I think, to begin with, a lot of social science research doesn't have a strong interest engaging in practice. The journals that we're supposed to publish in are primarily theoretical in orientation. And so issues of topical relevance, kind of get left by the wayside.

I think there's another issue, too, and that it just takes so long to publish in the academic journals. It can take, you know, upwards of three, four years sometimes. And by then the issue has passed. So I think the rules of academia encourage social scientists not to get into these kinds of debates to focus merely - primarily on the theoretical discussions in the academic journals.

CONAN: There was an interesting piece in The New York Times that quoted, among others, you. But one of the people they quoted was Christopher Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who was less than impressed by this proposed field of research. He said: From this confusion they pretend to play Jane Goodall peering in on a strange culture standing in their way. He wrote to the Times in an email: Sorry I'm too busy to give something like that a whole lot of thought right now.

Some of the skeptics' objections are that science - these are elite, elitist scientists and they would put you in that same category.

Prof. HOFFMAN: I guess they would. This is the kind of polarizing language, you know, demonizing one side versus the other. You know, the idea of studying cultures, studying values systems, studying beliefs, this is what the field of sociology and organizational theory does. And it's not, you know, to set it up as studying some culture that's standing in their way. That's not what this is about. It's about promoting understanding of the complex debate that's before us.

CONAN: Are you studying both sides or just...

Prof. HOFFMAN: Yes. Yes. We're studying the differences. We're trying to understand what frames and logic are used on one side, what frames and logic are used on the other side, and are they talking a similar language and similar frames or are they talking different frames.

CONAN: We're talking with Andrew Hoffman, a professor at the University of Michigan and one of the social scientists now getting involved in research on the cultural aspects of the climate change debate.

800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Is this something that you continue to talk about with people you disagree with? Or is this not one of those productive areas of conversation?

Let's start with Chris, and Chris joins us on the line from Modesto in California.

CHRIS (Caller): Hi. Yeah. I've heard the climate debate, sort of - it can be framed in different, I guess, ways depending on the people. Some people frame it from an economic point of view. It could be good or bad for the economy.

Political science in one way, I've recently discovered - I have some family members that live out East that some of them can be pretty religious, and I found that approaching it from a religious or spiritual frame, in the sense that, you know, we'll talk about, you know, if they believe in God or Allah or Jehovah or whatever, and you think that, you know, what he did was holy and good then, you know, if you believe in the creationist idea that he created the Earth, you know, whether you think it's evolution or creation or whatever, you have to look at the fact that you as a good Christian should look at being a good steward of the Earth.

There's even direct Bible passages, and I believe passages in the Quran and other books, and I think people find it disarming a little bit because it's a frame that really isn't (technical difficulties) much of approaching (unintelligible) some modern religious groups that do have very strong environmental bent in the, you know, far right religious areas.

And they do talk about, you know, not radical environmentalism, about - but they do address it from the spiritual view. So I think...

CONAN: And Chris, what happens when you talk to your relatives about this, in that frame? Does it work?

CHRIS: Well, I think they try to bring it back to the science, and many of them, you know, try to get a wide variety of news sources, but they will maybe comment or quote conservative, maybe comment (unintelligible) people who directly challenge the science.

But when you try to just say, okay, let's put the science on the shelf and talk about it from a pure spiritual point of view, you know, it's like, you know, if God is or Allah or Jehovah has, you know, created the Earth and (unintelligible) you know, that's it's holy and everything, then you have to look at the totality of what we're doing on the Earth. And I think that kind of takes a little while to sink in, but I think they do seem to be a little bit more open to it. Not all of them, but it's just something I think that's not tapped into as much because I think that, you know, in America we're a Judeo-Christian society.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

CHRIS: Two-thirds of the people, you know, in recent polls, will say their religion - or believe in God. I think that it's something people should be tapping into because I think there's a lot of - there's some relevance in there, I think that people who may not want to bother going through the science and the statistics may be able to sort of identify with.

CONAN: Well, that's an interesting point. Thanks very much for the phone call.

CHRIS: All right. Thank you.

CONAN: Andrew Hoffman, going back to Pew surveys, I know that one of the most reliable predictors of whether one is a Democrat or a Republican is whether one is practicing in religion or not. Have you found religion to be an interesting aspect of this conversation?

Prof. HOFFMAN: Very much so. The reader - the call-in brings up a very important part of this discussion. Mike Hume has a book, "Why We Disagree About Climate Change," and he identifies seven frames or differences that people approach the issue, and one is beliefs about ourselves, the universe that are place within it. And that really has elements of religion and spirituality and faith. And I think climate change, in this sense, really has threads of an age-old debate between faith and reason. I do see threads that connect the climate change debate with evolution versus creationism, and a real skepticism or distrust of environmentalists as focusing on the environment as god, or not having a god at all.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. HOFFMAN: So that's a very strong element of the conversation.

CONAN: And as you mentioned, personal freedom and economic liberty are - but there is anger, I think to be fair, on both sides here.

Prof. HOFFMAN: Yeah. Well, on the two tails. I think the vast majority of people are somewhere in the middle trying to figure out where to go on this, what to believe - and there's a lot static and a lot of noise. But again, if it reverts to something akin to abortion politics - and that's a loaded term, I don't mean to make comparisons to...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. HOFFMAN: ...abortion - except that in that debate, the two sides talking about two completely different things, life and choice, and only looking for information that confirms their opinion and disconfirms the other's.

CONAN: And that debate has become ossified. You don't find a lot people changing their minds.

Prof. HOFFMAN: Right. And it becomes intractable. It degenerates into something where thoughtful and - thoughtful engagement is over.

CONAN: It also plays a factor in policy. When, I think, The New York Times did an analysis of all the Republican candidates running for the Senate in this election and found that all of those running for Senate in this election were -did not believe that human activity was a cause or a significant cause of global warming.

Prof. HOFFMAN: And I think that just plays to the idea that an entire political party would have some specifically different view of scientific data or scientific process. It really comes down to deeper values and the way they perceive. Among other things, we do find that within the climate skeptical -within the country, there's a - some skepticism about the scientific process, that it's become corrupted, that reviewers and editors will only accept papers that promote the status quo, and the National Science Foundation will only fund research that promotes the logic of climate change; that's a dominant logic and frame value within the climate skeptical community.

CONAN: Our guest again, Andrew Hoffman, a professor at the University of Michigan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's go next to Bob. Bob with us from Rochester, New York.

BOB (Caller): Yes. Hi. I like to also suggest a frame that I've had partial success with. And I think I might know why it's been only partial. The frame I use in some ways is the opposite of the spiritual religious one that was just mentioned. It's the eminently practical one, framing it as a public issue, public safety issue, almost like you would look at why you have fire departments, why you have smoke detectors. In case something happens, you want to be protected, something practical, not environmental, that everybody can be - can agree upon. However, I still run into some resistance because what I think what happens is people are afraid of where it's going to lead. So if you're conservative, on one hand, and you say, okay, I know where you're going. If this means regulation, I'm going to stop right here. I think this happens on the left and the right because values do trump - and ideology do trump empiricism.

I know on the left, when some certain studies came out some times ago about maybe how - and I think the study may be debunked - how women's brains may operate differently than men, very open-minded people on the left immediately dismissed it because they were afraid of what it would lead to. So I think always on the back of everyone's mind, even if we try to frame it as I do or other do's, the question always is, is this going to mean regulation? Is this going to mean discrimination? And that's where the values kick in.

And we feel strongly about those things. We don't feel strongly about data. And we're an emotion-driven people. And I think that's where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.

CONAN: I think he's right about numbers having less impact than fears about what this may mean.

Prof. HOFFMAN: I would like to add, too, that if you think about what frames and values resonate with the American public, I think economic values or frames resonate much stronger than many others. I think that if you had scientists talking about theories till they're blue in the face, people still say do you believe that theory. But if you start to have companies paying for this, then I think you'll have people saying, well, it must be true.

CONAN: Bob, thanks very much for the call. Let's go next to - this is David, David with us from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

DAVID (Caller): Yes, Neal, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

DAVID: My comment is just about the use of the word skeptic. The way you guys are using it, you know, skeptic is a person who is looking for the right answer based on all the information available from both sides. And you guys seem to be using the word as meaning skeptic as just totally against, you know, what climate change seems to mean to mostly, you know, those people that are pushing the fact about climate change.

CONAN: And Andrew Hoffman, I must say this is the terminology that you use that I've read, anyway. Is denier a more closely, a more accurate word, do you think?

Prof. HOFFMAN: Well, that's an interesting point. You know, the climate skeptic has become sort of the vernacular. And we're trying to focus less on the climate skeptic movement, which is a self-identified group that includes, you know, specific institutes and constituencies, try to focus on climate skeptical, just people within the broader public that are generally trying to work this out and trying to figure this out. So if it at all - you know, this is such a loaded area that if this at all comes across as pejorative, my apologies.

DAVID: And myself, I read both sides, you know. And I do what I can myself to, you know, be a conservationist and, you know, not pollute and things like that, because I totally agree that, you know, when all the evidence comes out and may to point to the climate change thing. But I read both sides. And so I consider myself a skeptic, because I'm looking for the right answer. And I do that by reading what I can from both sides.

CONAN: All right, Dave.

DAVID: So I just - I do feel slightly offended by, you know, everybody using the word skeptic when I think you probably should be using the word denier instead...


DAVID: ...of skeptic.

CONAN: Thank you, David. And before we let you go, Andrew Hoffman, what kind of reaction do you get? Is this a subject that you find that people on all sides are willing to talk about?

Prof. HOFFMAN: Well, no. It has provoked a response that has caught me a little off-guard. I've gotten some pretty angry emails, some threatening emails from people that - I've been called a terrorist and a criminal for acknowledging that climate change is an issue. It's becoming very, very, very contested. It is very contested. And my hope is that, through this research, just promote more understanding to try and resolve the tensions, if it's at all possible.

CONAN: When you say email threatening - that climate change is an issue, in other words that there is another side.

Prof. HOFFMAN: Well, yeah. But even just acknowledging that climate change is real...

CONAN: Oh, I see.

Prof. HOFFMAN: ...some have suggested that I and all the other scientists at the University of Michigan are criminals for promoting such an idea.

CONAN: Well, good luck with your research. Appreciate your time today.

Prof. HOFFMAN: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Andrew Hoffman, a professor at the University of Michigan, and he joined us from Montreal.

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Compulsive centrism and science denial


Category: Creationism • Culture Wars • Policy and Politics
Posted on: November 24, 2010 1:05 PM, by Josh Rosenau

There's been a running discussion among a group of journalists about what to call folks who do not accept the scientific finding that the earth's climate is changing and has already changed because of human activities. "Skeptic," "denier," "denialist," and other contenders are all considered, and generally rejected by the journalists. "Skeptic" is the preferred self-identification, while those who accept the scientific finding tend to prefer calling their opponents "deniers."

I favor "denier." I think they fall into a broad trend of science denial which encompasses creationism and anti-vaxx and, indeed, Holocaust denial. Keith Kloor, who helped kick off the discussion, takes liberals to task for what he sees as inconsistent use of "denier". His aim, he explains, is to "discuss the intellectually inconsistent use of 'denier' as a pejorative term." As proof of inconsistency, he notes that Bill Maher is not called a "denier" often enough, and neither is the Huffington Post, for their anti-vaccine advocacy.

Let's say first that, just as "evolution denier" is a less common term than "creationist," you tend to see fewer references to "vaccine deniers" or "germ theory deniers" than to "anti-vaxxers." There's an established term of art, and it gets applied quite frequently to Bill Maher. And a search for references to Bill Maher as a denier or denialist turns up lots of results. Many of the same folks who call out creationism and global warming denial also call out antivaxx, including antivaxx by Bill Maher or the Huffington Post. Speaking for myself, I've twice organize panels at Netroots Nation to talk about science denial, and both times I treated antivaxx as part of the problem, along with creationism and climate change denial.

But that's probably the smallest reason that this is a red herring. Kloor's point is not just that "denier" is applied inconsistently (which it isn't), it's that the people referring to "global warming deniers" tend to be liberal, and that liberals are not giving enough attention to the deniers in our own midst:

Why aren't Bill Maher and the Huffington Post labeled similarly as "denialists" when they promulgate misinformation and myths that threaten public health?

Except those sources are labeled as such, and liberals do call out the public health threat posed by Maher and HuffPo. And Kloor basically closes with that thought, quoting the Hoofnagles as they call out Maher's denialism:

both liberals and conservatives alike must own up to their own extremists. Liberals must own up to the fact that they don't have a universally-solid grasp on scientific truth, and just like the right wingers, we have people and movements within the left wing that are cranky and denialist. I would say left wing crankery includes animal rights extremism, altie/new age woo, and anti-technology Luddites.

It's a fair point, and I think it misses two important things. First, that liberals do call out our extremists. We tend to call out even our not-very-extremists. The Hoofnagles write that Maher is "the left-wing version of Dinesh D'Souza or Jerry Falwell," except that he isn't nearly as rabid (has he called Republicans "the party of death"? has he endorsed al Qaeda's critique of western civilization? has he claimed his political opponents are a "domestic insurgency…working in tandem with bin Laden to defeat Bush"? has he founded a university dedicated to cranking out creationists and ill-informed lawyers?). Falwell and D'Souza succeeded by being extreme. Maher has a talk show on HBO that no one watches. Jon Stewart does for liberals what Rush Limbaugh does for conservatives, and Jon Stewart (wrongly) thinks extremism is inherently a vice.

Second, and more important, is that the assumption here is of some perfect parity between liberal denialism and conservative denialism. But Bill Maher and HuffPo's germ theory denialism have little to no impact on the public discourse, or on public policy, while nearly every Republican in Congress is a climate change denier. And even those who agree with the science won't say so or act on that knowledge, because doing so would doom them politically. By contrast, denialisms associated with the political left are political nonstarters, rejected by leaders within the liberal movement. Does anti-vaxx influence the CDC? No. Does woo influence the CDC or NIH? No (though they could always smack it down even harder). Does PETA set the agenda for NIH, HHS, or the Department of Agriculture? No, no, and no. Anti-GMO activists don't even seem effective within liberal policy circles. 9/11 truthers are mocked by liberals while "birthers" are embraced and promoted by the conservative movement. And again, it was basically impossible to win a Republican House, Senate, or Governors' primary in 2010 if you accepted that global warming is happening because of human activities. If views on vaccines were a litmus test, I'm confident that supporting vaccination would be the position demanded by liberals.

And that difference matters. We spend more time on global warming denial because global warming denial actually influences public policy, and antivaxx doesn't. Treating the two as equivalent, deserving of equal levels of activism, privileges a desire for perceived balance over any actual reflection of the significance of the two movements.

Today, unenlightenment is worn proudly, like a badge.

By Janice Kennedy, Postmedia News November 25, 2010

OTTAWA - The Flat Earth Society really exists. Who knew?

Not just a metaphor for the determinedly dumb, it actually has a website and members. Any day now, I expect one of its adherents to announce a run for the United States presidency.

Well, why not?

The world's most powerful nation is leading the way in the ignorance boom that characterizes our age. A groundswell of wilful obtuseness has spread over the land, clearing the way for people who talk (with straight face) about such causes as creationism or the global conspiracy of climate-change science.

That is the only way to explain the puzzling popularity of at least two contenders for the 2012 race.

Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and host of a Fox News talk show, is an evangelical Christian fundamentalist, and a creationist. As governor, he supported teaching creationism in schools - and not as allegory. Kids should know the world was created in six days, right?

And Sarah (``Drill-baby-drill'') Palin is also keen on creationism in schools - not to mention blurring the line between church and state, according to her new book.

Both think they have a right to occupy the most powerful office on the planet. And amazingly, large numbers of their countrymen are not mortified by the very thought.

What in the world is happening?

When did spectacular unsuitability for a job become a virtue? When did public stupidity cease to be a liability?

This aggressive ignorance is something new. (The aggressiveness, that is, not the ignorance.) A generation ago, most people didn't mount soapboxes and humiliate themselves by spouting nonsense. If they truly believed the moon landing was a hoax, secretly filmed in Hollywood with a script by Arthur C. Clarke, most of them had the sense to keep their mouths shut.

They don't today. Today, unenlightenment is worn proudly, like a badge.

All taxes are evil. So are all impulses toward social welfare and justice - that is, Nanny Statism. Immigrants and rights activists are not to be trusted. And climate change is a leftist fabrication.

In an earlier age, holders of such views would have faced a merciless barrage of hooting and derision. But not now.

The vigorous rise of the resolutely dopey did not actually begin with the creation of Fox News in 1996. The network that gives us Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck, smart guys who know how to push stupid buttons, has certainly facilitated the dissemination of benightedness. But it has done so in a complementary manner.

No, the real genesis of our ignorance boom began a few years earlier, when modern communications technology took off like a bullet. Over the two decades since its opening up, the Internet has undergone an evolution that has seen everyday people chatting in online forums, then posting commentaries on news stories, then finally spreading their word via blogs and social networks, including those networks that eschew words for video or that encourage pygmy thoughts in 140 characters. And with the proliferation of smart phones, all these broadcast platforms for Everyman have become not only universally available, but ubiquitous and instant.

The enhanced communication has been wonderful in many ways, linking friends and family, airing diverse views, encouraging healthy public debate. The downside is it has also allowed ignorance to run riot.

Mis- and disinformation, old fears and prejudices, breathtaking knowledge gaps - all share the same stage, all bathe in the same spotlight glow as thoughtful contributions and informed opinions. The Internet is the great democratizer. Everyone has a voice, and every voice can be heard. Including those that should stifle themselves.

Even standard computer programs encourage virtual democratization. Using simple tools to create professional-looking documents and websites, we can wrap the most egregious garbage in fabulous packaging, encouraging the notion that our sow's ears are really silk purses.

Add to these realities the presence of the radio and television talk show - hardly a new phenomenon, but one that has exploded in popularity, thanks to our Internet-led dumbing down - and you have the perfect complement. Shockingly ignorant things are said, repeated and, magnified a millionfold by the populist momentum of cyberspace and sensationalist talk shows, accorded a credibility once unthinkable.

The Flat Earth Society becomes respectable.

The Palins and Huckabees of the world are made possible.

The future looms as a bleak and frightening possibility.

If conservatism is characterized in part by its reverence for the past, maybe it's time for all of us, even liberals, to consider going conservative briefly - just long enough to retrieve some of the values of the good old days

We'd remember a time when thoughtfulness was appreciated. When eloquence and intelligence were qualities we valued in our leaders. When stupid people knew enough to shut up.

And when ignorance was something we did not celebrate.

Ottawa Citizen

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

Read more: http://www.canada.com/life/Today+unenlightenment+worn+proudly+like+badge/3883806/story.html#ixzz179auIi8u

Nigeria: 'Complementary And Alternative Medicine (CAM) Has Come to Stay'


Christy Ajibade 29 November 2010

Abuja — The Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu has disclosed that Complementary and Alternative Medicine has come to stay in Nigeria because of its contribution and participation in health care delivery in the nation.

This he made known at the Annual General Meeting of the National Complementary and alternative Medical Association (NACAMA) in Abuja.

The minister who was represented by the Registrar of the Federal College of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (FEDCAM), Abuja, Dr Ayodele Akindipe, said there was need for complementary Medicine practitioners to go into research and come out with solutions for major aliments starring humanity in the face and set a standard for the practice of complementary medicines.

He stated that, Complementary and Alternative Medicine has come to stay in Nigeria and all the temporary set-back experienced by the practice is only to bring out the special abilities in the profession until the desired success is achieved.

The minister said that the establishment of FEDCAM and the funding of the college has brought hope to the country as we can now confidently say that, a few years from now, it will be an establishment in various zones of the country for easy accessibility to citizens who want to make a career in complementary and alternative medicine or those who would prefer to be treated by experts in the field over experts in the field of orthodox medicine. Adding that FEDCAM projects are enormous and all hands must be on deck to enable it attain set goals.

Speaking also at the occasion was the National President of NACAMA, Chief. Dr Olufemi Bankole (Baasowan of Oge Kinddom) who said, the practice of complementary and alternative medicine started in1960 with a few practitioners in the rural areas but today has expanded in the number of areas where it is accepted as well as in the number of those who practice it. Ignorance of this practice has also faded away and the quest for this mode of health management has rapidly increased with effective results and evitable medical records.

Is Your Health on the Line?


By Sascha de Gersdorff, Women's Health

Wed, Nov 10, 2010

Unless you've had your cell phone permanently glued to your ear, chances are you've heard the recent health buzz: Mobile devices may cause cancer. While it's true that the National Cancer Institute has ruled them safe, a growing number of independent researchers disagree.

Those experts point out that the FCC wireless regulations on cell phone safety are largely based on something called specific absorption rate (SAR) levels, or the rate at which our bodies absorb radiation. Most phones do comply with the federal standards, but SAR monitors only thermal effects. (In other words, if the radiation from your phone isn't cooking your brain, it's regarded as safe.) But mounting scientific evidence suggests that nonthermal radio frequency radiation (RF)—the invisible energy waves that connect cell phones to cell towers, and power numerous other everyday items—can damage our immune systems and alter our cellular makeup, even at intensities considered safe by the FCC.

Is your body giving off important clues about your health?

"The problem is that RF can transfer energy waves into your body and disrupt its normal functioning," explains Cindy Sage, an environmental consultant in Santa Barbara, California, who has studied radiation for 28 years. "Here's why that's crucial: Overwhelming evidence shows that RF can cause DNA damage, and DNA damage is a necessary precursor to cancer."

The 2010 Interphone study, the largest to date on RF exposure from mobile phones, has spawned a quagmire of controversy, says health researcher and medical writer Kerry Crofton, Ph.D., who spent four years reviewing RF science for her book Wireless Radiation Rescue: Safeguarding Your Family from the Risks of Electro-Pollution. Many groups, including the National Cancer Institute and the telecom industry, read the results of that study as a green light for wireless calling. Others, like Crofton, point out that because it was largely based on lower cellphone usage in the '90s, the research has little bearing on today's world, in which 285 million Americans have mobile phones and 83 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are "wired" all the time and sleep with their cell phones next to their heads.

One thing the Interphone study did find? People who chatted via cell for just 30 minutes a day for 10 years saw their risk of glioma (the type of brain tumor that killed Ted Kennedy) rise 40 percent. As a result, many European countries are considering banning cell phones for children under age 6 (RF penetrates little kids' brains more easily), and France has already banned all wireless technology in some schools and many public places, notes physician and epidemiologist Samuel Milham, M.D., a leader in the growing field of electromagnetic research.

All parties agree on this: More studies need to be done. In the meantime, it's best to take easy precautions—and not just with mobile phones. "Never before in human history have we gone from one radiated environment to another," says Crofton. "We're going to wireless offices and living in wireless homes. Even beaches and parks are going wireless. We're exposed everywhere."

The good news is that you don't need to ditch your gadgets. This advice will let you stay plugged in—and keep you healthy.

Cell Phones

When your phone is on (which it probably is even as you read this) it's constantly sending and receiving RF signals to and from the nearest cell tower to keep you in service. The farther you are from a tower, the harder your phone has to work and the more RF it emits, explains David Carpenter, M.D., director of the Institute for Health and Environment at the University at Albany. The activity really amps up when you're, say, driving through rural areas. Plus, within the close confines of a car, your entire core is exposed to the radiation.

The safer solution: Keep your phone off when driving until you really need it, says Carpenter. And no matter where you are, avoid holding a cell phone directly to your noggin (the Interphone study showed gliomas were more prevalent on the side of the head people continuously pressed phones to), always keep it at least six inches or more from your body (in your purse, not your pocket), and use either speakerphone or a corded headset (not a wireless headset). Or text up a storm. If you have a smartphone that's loaded with games, music, and movies, turn your wireless settings off while playing or rocking out. Similarly, don't ever use your cell phone as a bedside alarm clock without first disabling the wireless mode.

Cordless Phones

These stealth wireless threats "have become so powerful, they're often as strong as cell phones," says Sage. "The phone base is like a mini cell tower. It radiates 24-7 and can have a range of up to 300 feet." Particularly suspect are digital enhanced cordless telecommunication (DECT) phones. Preliminary blind studies have found that, when sitting beside a DECT phone base, some people experienced arrhythmia, a troubling heartbeat irregularity that could eventually lead to stroke or coronary disease, says Sage.

The safer solution: You might feel somewhat retro, but "just get a corded phone with an extra-long cord so you can still walk around," says Crofton. "They're better, they're cheaper, and they work in a power outage. Every time you replace a DECT with a corded phone, you're cutting the RF levels in your home significantly."

Wireless Routers

Your neighborhood coffee shop's wireless Internet access may often seem like a godsend, but the router that's needed to provide the service is continuously emitting high levels of RF (up to 200 feet out), and that constant exposure has been linked to deadly diseases. "If the whole body is radiated by a router's RF emissions, the greatest concern is cancer, especially leukemia," says Carpenter. Also, be aware of your at-home router and any plug-in wireless USB cards you often use.

The safer solution: Ditch your wireless router and plug your computer directly into a cable modem, says Sage. That Ethernet technology doesn't leak RF and is often faster and more secure. If you just can't give up your wireless router (e.g., if you live in a home with a handful of computer users), make sure you sit as far away from it as possible, says Crofton, and turn it off at night and whenever you're not online. Another easy fix: Plug your router into a surge protector with a timer, and set it to go off each night so you don't have to remember to flip the switch.


"When you hold your laptop on your lap, what you're essentially doing is radiating your pelvis," says Carpenter, "so all the cancers that affect that area are of concern." Indeed, early studies point to a heightened risk of testicular cancer for men who keep RF-emitting devices close to their belts. For women, adds Carpenter, "the studies aren't quite there yet, but I think we can say that anything that might cause cancer almost always causes birth defects, so pregnant women—or those wanting to become pregnant soon—should take extra precautions."

The safer solution: Keep your laptop off your lap (if you have to rest it there, buffer it with a sturdy pillow that's at least six inches thick). Try to use a desktop computer at home and treat your laptop as an on-the-go convenience. One thing to keep in mind: Laptops are a high RF radiation risk only while connected to wireless Internet, so when you're watching a DVD, fiddling around with your photos, or writing that dissertation, just disable your connection and you'll be much safer.

Baby Monitors

"Baby monitors release more RF than cell phones do, and putting them next to a crib is very, very unwise," says Carpenter. He points to a recent University of Utah study that shows RF radiation can penetrate almost entirely through a child's brain, which doesn't form completely until nearly 20 years of age. "It's very clear from all the existing research that the younger the child is, the more vulnerable he or she is to the effects of RF radiation."

The safer solution: Consider not using a baby monitor. If you absolutely must use one, place it far from your baby's crib—at least 10 to 15 feet away.

Evolution education update: December 3, 2010

Progress toward a settlement in the Freshwater case, a new issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach, and a free webcast series on "Evolutionary Christianity."


A key part of a proposed settlement in Doe v. Mount Vernon Board of Education et al. was approved by a judge on November 23, 2010. Contrary to press reports, including NCSE's initial report of November 30, 2010, the case is not yet officially settled; what was approved was not the overall proposed settlement, but the terms of the proposed settlement as it concerns Zachary Dennis (a minor) -- the "James Doe" of the suit. The judge presiding over the case, Gregory L. Frost of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, still needs to approve the settlement.

The case centered on John Freshwater, a Mount Vernon, Ohio, middle school science teacher, who was accused of inappropriate religious activity in the classroom -- including displaying posters with the Ten Commandments and Bible verses, branding crosses on the arms of his students with a high-voltage electrical device, and teaching creationism. (Investigators commissioned by the district found various creationist literature in his classroom, including Jonathan Sarfati's Refuting Evolution and Jonathan Wells's Icons of Evolution.)

The Mount Vernon News (November 30, 2010) described the terms of the settlement: "The settlement of $475,000 to the Dennis family [who originally filed suit under the pseudonym "Doe"] includes $25,000 for attorney fees, $150,000 each to Stephen and Jennifer, and $150,000 to be used for an annuity for Zachary." A previous report from the News (October 27, 2010) indicated that the school district's insurer, Ohio Casualty, will be liable for the payment, since Freshwater was employed by the district when the suit was filed.

The district was originally named in the lawsuit, but a settlement was reached in August 2009, leaving Freshwater as the sole defendant. Freshwater filed his own lawsuit against the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education in June 2009, but then filed a notice to dismiss it in October 2010, claiming that it would have interfered with the administrative hearing on the termination of his employment with the district, which was conducted intermittently from October 2008 to June 2010. The referee presiding over the hearing has yet to release his decision.

For the stories in the Mount Vernon News, visit:

For NCSE's collection of documents from the cases, visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Ohio, visit:


The latest issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach -- the new journal aspiring to promote accurate understanding and comprehensive teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience -- is now published. The theme for the issue (volume 3, number 4) is "Teaching Phylogenetics," and articles by Edward O. Wiley, Deborah McLennan, Marcus Kumala, and Laura R. Novick, Kefyn Catley, and Daniel Funk discuss the importance of phylogenetic systematics in modern evolutionary biology and present ways of incorporating it in high school biology curricula. Articles by Anastasia Thanukos and Richard P. Meisel continue the emphasis on evolutionary trees; articles by Craig Tollini and Jess White and Allan Mazur discuss the results of surveys on "intelligent design" and modern earth science; Bartosz Borczyk reports on creationism and the teaching of evolution in Poland; Finn R. Pond and Jean L. Pond ponder "Scientific Authority in the Creation-Evolution Debates" -- and there's much more besides!

Also included is the latest installment of NCSE's regular column, Overcoming Obstacles to Evolution Education. In "Why Are There Still Monkeys?" NCSE's W. Eric Meikle and Eugenie C. Scott address the popular misconception about evolution encapsulated in the question, "If humans evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?" Diagnosing the misconception as stemming from the assumption that evolution is linear and anagenetic, they comment, "What is missing from this view of evolution is the crucial role of branching or splitting in creating the tree of life, and suggest, "Perhaps the easiest way to introduce a more accurate model of the relationships of contemporary species is through the analogy of human family categories, and especially that of 'cousins.'" Meikle and Scott add, "No one would ask, 'If you evolved from your cousin, why is your cousin still here?' ... The question 'if humans evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?' is equally absurd to an evolutionary biologist."

For information about the journal, visit:

For Meikle and Scott's article (subscription required), visit:


Interested in exploring the issues raised by science and faith? A free webcast series promises to assemble "thirty of today's most inspiring Christian leaders and esteemed scientists for a groundbreaking dialogue on how an evolutionary worldview can enrich your life, deepen your faith, and bless our world." To be broadcast throughout December 2010 and January 2011, "Evolutionary Christianity -- Conversations at the Leading Edge of Faith" includes interviews with NCSE Supporter Kenneth R. Miller, discussing "Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul," as well as Ian Barbour, John Cobb, Michael Dowd, John F. Haught, Karl W. Giberson, Owen Gingerich, Denis Lamoureux, John Polkinghorne, John Shelby Spong, Charles H. Townes, and a host of further scientists and scholars who regard their acceptance of evolution as expanding and enriching their faith.

For information about the webcast series and the companion e-newsletter, visit:

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

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

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About That Arsenic-Gobbling Microbe...Bad News for Darwinists?


NASA's discovery of an arsenic-ingesting microbe in California's forbidding Mono Lake looks, on the surface, like bad news for Darwinists hopeful to show what a no-big-deal it is for a planet to bring forth life unguided. The bacterium evidently uses arsenic for purposes that all other known organisms would use phosphorus, including incorporating it in DNA. A reporter for Nature News cites UC Santa Barbara geomicrobiologist David Valentine as observing that the discovery may mean "you can potentially cross phosphorus off the list of elements required for life."

That's interesting. Under Darwinian assumptions, the observation that such an alternative life chemistry is possible means that some planets previously assumed to be inhospitable to life, due to being poor in phosphorus, would now turn out after all to be potential theaters for life's presumed spontaneous arising. That would seem to bump up the number of possible dice rolls available out there to jump-start an unguided chemical and biological evolutionary process on some other planet. Yet we still have no indication from SETI or anything else that intelligent or complex life exists anywhere but here. Which makes the existence of life on earth look just a bit more special than it did before, right?

Well, maybe yes or maybe no. Astrophysicist Guillermo Gonzalez, a senior fellow with Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, urges caution before drawing conclusions from the find:

I think it is too soon to be sure that arsenic can replace phosphorus in all the key cellular functions from just this study. I'll be convinced when two or three additional studies by independent groups are published backing them up. Someone is going to have to prove that this organism can thrive for many generations in a completely phosphorus-free environment to show that arsenic can substitute for phosphorus. And, if it does turn out to be true, what does this cost the organism? The results from this study indicate that the bacteria don't grow as well in the arsenic-rich solution. And, more complex organisms seem to be far more intolerant of arsenic. So, arsenic-rich, phosphate-poor planets may be limited to single-celled life.

Given Dr. Gonzalez's final point, materialists may have dodged a bullet on this after all.

Gonzalez also adds this prediction:

The enhanced fitness of the organism in an arsenic-enhanced environment compared to other organisms comes from additional chemical machinery that makes the arsenic bonds more stable. This comes at an overall cost to the organism.

Posted by David Klinghoffer on December 2, 2010 6:29 PM | Permalink

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Editorial | Creationist tourism


December 2, 2010

Gov. Steve Beshear needs a vacation. Indeed, he should have taken it this week.

Other than extreme fatigue, how else can one explain his embrace of a project to build a creationism theme park in Northern Kentucky (near the Creation Museum) and the apparent willingness of his administration to offer tourism-development tax incentives to developers of the park?

Even if technically legal (in that the law allowing the tax breaks doesn't discriminate against other religious or anti-religious views), a state role in a private facility that would be built by a group called Answers in Genesis and espouses a fundamentalist view resting on biblical inerrancy indirectly promotes a religious dogma. That should never be the role of government.

Moreover, in a state that already suffers from low educational attainment in science, one of the last things Kentucky officials should encourage, even if only implicitly, is for students and young people to regard creationism as scientifically valid. Creationism is a nonsensical notion that the Earth is less than 6,000 years old. No serious scientist upholds that view, and sophisticated analysis of the Earth's minerals and meteorite deposits generally lead to an estimate that the planet is about 4.5 billion years old. Furthermore, creationism teaches that the Earth (including humans) was created in six days, thus rejecting the well-established science of evolution.

But if the Beshear administration is determined that Kentucky should cash in on its stereotypes — and wants to fight Indiana to snare the theme park — why stop with creationism? How about a Flat-Earth Museum? Or one devoted to the notion that the sun revolves around the Earth? Why not a museum to celebrate the history and pageantry of methamphetamines and Oxycontin? Surely a spot can be found for an Obesity Museum (with a snack bar).

And while we're at it, let's redo the state's slogan. Let's try: Kentucky — Unbridled Laughingstock.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Kids with Asthma Found To Be Worse Off from Alternative Medicine


Nov 30, 2010 | 7:23 PM ET | By MyHealthNewsDaily Staff

The trend toward alternative therapies for children who have asthma is leaving those kids worse off, according to a study of their parents' practices.

For parents who reported using an alternative asthma therapy, their children were twice as likely to have poor control of the asthma than the children of parents who didn't use these therapies, Canadian researchers found from their eight-year study.

The researchers from the University of Montreal said that over the study period beginning in 1999, the number of parents who reported using an alternative therapy remained stable, at about 13 percent. The rate is about five times higher in the United States, they said.

"Previous studies have shown that close to 60 percent of parents believe that complementary and alternative medicines are helpful. Yet well-designed studies have failed to show any evidence that therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic medicine or herbal therapy are effective in asthma," Francine Ducharme, a professor at the university, said in a statement.

Conventional therapies for children who have asthma include government-approved medications administered through inhalers and nebulizers.

Ducharme said parents may not be aware that the use of alternative medicines comes with risks, including adverse reactions and possible interactions with conventional therapies.

The study was based on questionnaires completed by more than 2,000 families who came to the Asthma Centre at the Montreal Children's Hospital. Parents were asked if they used any form of alternative medicine to help alleviate their children's asthma, and to specify the type of therapy they used.

It was "particularly troublesome," Ducharme said, that most of the children who received these therapies were younger than 6, because preschoolers suffer more asthma flare-ups requiring an emergency department visit than do all other age groups.

Ducharme said that parents considering alternative or complementary medicine should discuss it with their physicians, and that health care professionals should ask parents about their alternative therapy use, especially if a child's asthma is not well controlled, and should initiate appropriate counseling.

The findings, which were published in the July/August issue of the Canadian Respiratory Journal, were not widely reported. The researchers recently issued a news release about their work.

A New Author Adds A Fresh Voice That Balances Evolution Debate


December 1, 2010 · Published By Associate Editor

Laramie, WY, – In Religion Versus Science: Where Both Sides Go Wrong in the Great Evolution Debate (O-Books), Ron Frost bridges the seemingly impossible gap between evolution and creationism. Since the evolution debate is driven on both sides by misconceptions rather than by actual facts, Frost wrote an in-depth and well-researched book to quell the misconceptions on both sides.

There are indisputable facts of evolution – that the Earth is very old, that all life can be traced to one ancient progenitor, and that natural selection causes species to change; however, many scientists assume that evolution is a random, pointless process and that the only value of human life is as a carrier for all-important genes.

In Religion Versus Science Frost posits that the big mistake creationists make is to attack the evolutionary facts rather than the materialistic way that these facts are used to describe evolution. His goal in this remarkable book is to present a view of evolution that will be compatible with both the scientific evidence for evolution and the core teachings of the world's major religions.

After studying and practicing Buddhism for over twenty-five years, Frost became very aware that aspects of his mind occurred from outside his ego. He realized that acceptance of a transcendent aspect of consciousness tremendously impacts how one views the scientific evidence for evolution. Since Frost's book is written from an unbiased viewpoint, he can easily discuss the role of consciousness in evolution without worrying about the problem of a creator – resulting in a theory of evolution that can apply to both theistic and non-theistic religious traditions.

Frost has been an editor of two major scientific journals and professor of Geology at the University of Wyoming for many years. This, together with twenty-five years as a practicing Buddhist, makes the perfect combination for Frost to find a common ground between science and religion. For information on this fascinating subject, please visit Ron's website at: www.ronfrost.com and watch him on a live interview: http–geology.uwyo.edu/–Q-q–E-node/281.

Published on befalf of Ron Frost Karl Giberson, Ph.D., author of Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, and Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists Versus God and Religion with Mariano Artigas: "Frost's remarkably wide-ranging volume offers the reader a helpful survey of the troubled road that led to the current controversy over scientific theories of origins. More than just another book on creation versus evolution, Science vs. Spirituality locates the controversy in the inability of science to deal effectively with the realm of consciousness and mind, where our deepest needs and most profound experiences reside. Writing from an eastern, Buddhist perspective, Frost offers a fresh perspective on one of the deepest questions of our time."

Settlement in Freshwater case


November 30th, 2010

The judge presiding over Doe v. Mount Vernon Board of Education et al. approved a proposed settlement in the case on November 23, 2010, according to the Mount Vernon News (November 30, 2010). The case centered on John Freshwater, a Mount Vernon, Ohio, middle school science teacher, who was accused of inappropriate religious activity in the classroom — including displaying posters with the Ten Commandments and Bible verses, branding crosses on the arms of his students with a high-voltage electrical device, and teaching creationism.

The News reports, "With Judge Hoover's ruling last Tuesday, the suit against Freshwater was officially settled. The settlement of $475,000 to the Dennis family [who originally filed suit under the pseudonym "Doe"] includes $25,000 for attorney fees, $150,000 each to Stephen and Jennifer, and $150,000 to be used for an annuity for Zachary." A previous report from the News (October 27, 2010) indicated that the school district's insurer, Ohio Casualty, will be liable for the payment, since Freshwater was employed by the district when the suit was filed.

The district was originally named in the lawsuit, but a settlement was reached in August 2009, leaving Freshwater as the sole defendant. Freshwater filed his own lawsuit against the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education in June 2009, but then filed a notice to dismiss it in October 2010, claiming that it would have interfered with the administrative hearing on the termination of his employment with the district, which was conducted intermittently from October 2008 to June 2010. The referee presiding over the hearing has yet to release his decision.

Update and correction (December 1, 2010): The case is apparently not officially settled after all. What was approved was not the overall proposed settlement, but the terms of the settlement as it concerns Zachary Dennis (a minor) — the "James Doe" of the suit — and it was approved not by the judge presiding over the case, Gregory L. Frost of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, but by Licking County Probate Judge Robert Hoover, acting in his role as Juvenile Court Judge for the county. The settlement still needs to be approved by Judge Frost.

Tax evader wants sentence tossed out


From staff reports • December 1, 2010

The former head of a creationism theme park in Pensacola has asked a federal judge to vacate his sentence.

Kent Hovind, 57, filed the motion Monday in the U.S. District Court Northern District of Florida. It says that both the prosecution and his court-appointed attorney erred at various stages in his tax fraud case.

Hovind, the founder of the Creation Science Evangelism ministry, is serving 10 years in federal prison for failing to pay the Internal Revenue Service more than $470,000 in employee taxes.

A judge ordered the seizure of Hovind's theme park, Dinosaur Adventure Land, as well as two bank accounts associated with the park to satisfy the $430,400 debt Hovind owes the federal government.

A hearing date on the motion wasn't set as of Tuesday.

Hovind was found guilty in November 2006 on 58 counts, including failure to pay employee taxes and making threats against investigators.

Proposed creationism theme park to seek tax incentives from Kentucky


By Stephenie Steitzer • The Courier-Journal • November 30, 2010

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Operators of the popular Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky are seeking state tax incentives to build a creationism theme park at a nearby site — a project that Gov. Steve Beshear officially will announce Wednesday .

Mike Zovath, senior vice president of the non-profit group Answers in Genesis, one of the partners in developing the park, said Kentucky officials have told him the proposal for state tourism-development incentives "looks good."

He said the park — to be called Ark Encounter — would include a massive wooden ark that would offer educational attractions. Additional details weren't released Tuesday.

Zovath said preliminary indications are that it could draw as many as 1.6 million guests a year.

He declined to say how much the park would cost or how much is being sought in tax incentives.

Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson declined to answer questions Tuesday about possible incentives for the project.

The developers are seeking incentives under the Kentucky Tourism Development Act, which allows up to 25 percent of the cost of a project to be recovered.

Under the law, the state each year returns to developers of approved projects the sales tax paid by visitors on admission tickets, food, gift sales and lodging costs. Developers have 10 years to reach the 25 percent threshold.

Advocates for church-state separation question whether the tax incentives would raise First Amendment issues.

Louisville attorney David Tachau, who successfully sued over a state appropriation for a religiously affiliated pharmacy school, said he would have to further research the issue.

"It certainly sounds as if the mechanism for supporting a particular religious dogma would violate the establishment of religious prohibitions in the state and federal constitutions, but there may be slippery ways this could pass muster," he said.

Edwin Kagin, a Northern Kentucky attorney who is also the national legal director for the group American Atheists, said it doesn't appear to him to violate the law. If other projects with religious themes could qualify for the tax incentives, the law doesn't discriminate.

"It might not be discrimination, but it might not be a good idea," Kagin said.

The tax-incentive program has been used to help tourism projects across the state, such as the Kentucky Speedway.

Zovath said Answers in Genesis and its partner, Ark Encounter LLC, a for-profit company based in Springfield, Mo., have not finalized plans to build the park in Kentucky and are still considering locating it in Indiana.

"The state of Kentucky has great incentives for tourism and that's one of the … primary reasons we think the project should be located in Kentucky," he said. "We can't make any final decisions until we know incentives are in place."

He said project developers are interested in locating the project in Grant County but have not secured options on all the land they want there.

Indiana economic-development officials could not be reached for comment.

The Creation Museum, which opened three years ago, has drawn more than 720,000 visitors, and organizers say it has had an economic impact of more than $20 million.

Visitors to the museum learn from displays that, contrary to mainstream scientific thought, declare that science supports the biblical account of the Earth's creation in six days; that the Grand Canyon was created in Noah's flood; that dinosaurs and humans lived together; and that animal poison did not exist before Adam's original sin.

The museum has been criticized by many scientists and science organizations. The National Center for Science Education asserts that "students who accept this material as scientifically valid are unlikely to succeed in science courses at the college level."

Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for the Family Foundation, said his organization doesn't believe there would be a problem in giving a tax break to an organization that is "not explicitly religious."

"Whether you agree with them or not, they are making a claim that what they are doing is scientific and it's not necessarily the state's business to second guess that," Cothran said.

Reporter Stephenie Steitzer can be reached at (502) 875-5136.

Monday, November 29, 2010

South teacher wins 2010 Evolution Education Award


November 28, 2010

The National Association of Biology Teachers awarded South Salem High School biology teacher Jason Niedermeyer the 2010 Evolution Education Award this month. The award recognizes innovative classroom teaching and community education efforts to promote understanding of biological evolution. Niedermeyer will receive a plaque, $1,000 cash and one-year membership to the American Institute of Biological Sciences, a co-sponsor of the award along with Biological Sciences Curriculum Study.

Niedermeyer provides students with opportunities to discover natural selection the same way Darwin did by taking them through the same steps. He explores the topic through hands-on activities, class discussions, scientific articles and videos.

— Stefanie Knowlton

Read more: http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20101128/NEWS/11280351/South-teacher-wins-2010-Evolution-Education-Award#ixzz16j6NsBKV

Invitation to debate creationism becomes local's book


By Clay Evans For the Camera
Posted: 11/28/2010 07:39:01 AM MST

When it comes to taking on the logical contradictions and inconsistencies of creationism and intelligent design I can think of no more amiable, intelligent, playful writer than Boulder's Reg Saner to take the podium.

And in some ways, that's the root of his new book, "Living Large in Nature: A Writer's Idea of Creationism." When University of Colorado biologist Jane Bock was invited to "debate" a creationist at n Aurora church, she mischievously turned to her colleague Saner and asked, "How about you?"

Catholic-raised Saner accepted the invitation to face off against a man named Binford Pyle (who garners no Google hits nor a Wikipedia entry, but is described by his cheery, Darwin-admiring opponent as "a maker of Creationist videos" and teacher of up-and-coming anti-Darwinists).

And as with so many small things, Saner took the cue to become a creator himself, creating something deeper.

The book is, at heart, another of Saner's evocative meditations on nature, where he finds his own inspiration to be what he calls a "small C creationist" woven with bemused biblical criticism and argument in favor of living here and now.

"My own favorite attempts at being where and what I am come in facing sunrises. Just watching the sun's bubble ascend puts me -- body and soul -- in a cosmos. The duality in everything, however, means that the most gorgeous of dawns doesn't lessen the difference between the sun's longevity and mine, just colors the humdrum of gray matter," he writes somewhat enigmatically.

And while it may be cheap entertainment, it's always good sport to see an intellect like Saner's pick apart some of the more outrageous aspects of a literal reading of the Bible. Jepththah honors God by randomly killing his own daughter? Lot delivers his virgin daughters into the hands of a lustful mob? Jesus orders true believers to hate their mothers, fathers, siblings?

"I have no doubt that, if asked to butcher newborn babes, all but the most fanatic supporters of that persuasion would follow their own sanity and refuse," Saner writes.

This truly unusual volume is part of the Columbia College Chicago's Center for American Places' Natural History Series. So whatever Saner's cat-and-mouse theological games, he's still doing what he does so well: interweaving his joyous intellect with the wonder of the world as he experiences it, perhaps even the world as it exists with or without our knowledge or approval.

"Out here in the erosional American West, where time and land wear the same face, water's visible absence has shaped rugged summits, crags, cliffs, alluvial fans," he writes with affection. "The Southwest's buttes, hardpan, arroyos, and canyons are so many variations on time petrified. I live in a mountain region flattened epochs ago by wind and weather to a land of low relief whose summits rose no higher than dunes. As they have in the past, the Rockies will come down again. It's part of our where."

He reveals himself as an agnostic early in the book, but finally argues there is no need for a grand Creator.

"(L)ife's farthest cause and true nature," he writes, is a mystery "knowable only as forever what happens."

Read more: Invitation to debate creationism becomes local's book - Boulder Daily Camera http://www.dailycamera.com/books/ci_16694884#ixzz16j3vYSG5