NTS LogoSkeptical News for 3 February 2011

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Evolution education update: January 28, 2011

A column in Science deplores "a pervasive reluctance of teachers to forthrightly explain evolutionary biology." Meanwhile, teachers in Illinois add their voice for evolution, Darwin Day and Evolution Weekend are approaching, and the publisher of creationist textbooks indicates its plans to submit supplementary materials for state approval in Texas.


Despite the latest victories over creationism, "considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America's classrooms," according to Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer. Writing in the January 28, 2011, issue of Science, Berkman and Plutzer review the results of their National Survey of High School Biology Teachers. "The data reveal a pervasive reluctance of teachers to forthrightly explain evolutionary biology," with only 28% of teachers deemed effective educators with respect to evolution -- and with as many as 13% of teachers explicitly advocating creationism. As for the remaining 60%, Berkman and Plutzer suggest that they "may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists ... even if unintentionally."

What is the solution? While recommending continued participation in legal battles and outreach efforts, Berkman and Plutzer importantly suggest that "increased focus be placed on preservice teachers ... Requiring an evolution course for all preservice biology teachers, as well as provision of resources to provide such a course, would likely lead to meaningful improvement in secondary school science instruction." Quoting Glenn Branch, Eugenie C. Scott, and Joshua Rosenau's recent "Dispatches from the Evolution Wars" in Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics, they conclude, "focusing on the preservice stage may be 'the most effective way for scientists to help to improve the understanding of evolution' ... Combined with continued successes in courtrooms and the halls of state government, this approach offers our best chance of increasing the science literacy of future generations."

Berkman and Plutzer are both professors of political science at Pennsylvania State University. They are the authors, with Julianna Sandell Pacheco, of "Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms: A National Portrait" (published in PLoS Biology in 2008) and of Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms (Cambridge University Press, 2010), which NCSE's Glenn Branch described as "[a] tour de force," adding, "Berkman and Plutzer's analysis of who really decides what is taught about evolution in America's public schools is incisive and insightful, thorough and thoughtful. Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the evolution wars." Additionally, they chat about their Science column and their research with Yun Xie in a January 27, 2011, blog post on Ars Technica.

For Berkman and Plutzer's column in Science (subscription required), visit:

For "Dispatches from the Evolution Wars," visit:

For the article in PLoS Biology, visit:

For information about Berkman and Plutzer's book, visit

For the Ars Technica interview, visit:


The chorus of support for the teaching of evolution continues, with a statement from the Illinois Federation of Teachers, representing over 80,000 educational professionals in the state. Observing that evolution "is the foundation of biological science, is supported by a coherent body of integrated evidence from other disciplines in science and is consistent with theories from other scientific disciplines including anthropology, geology, physics, astronomy and chemistry," the statement affirms "the validity and foundational importance of organic evolution to science as a whole and biology, specifically," and calls on its members to "assist those engaged in overseeing science education policy to understand the nature of science, the content of contemporary evolutionary theory and the inappropriateness of including non-science subjects (e.g., intelligent design and creationism) in our science curriculum." The statement is now reproduced, by permission, on NCSE's website, and will also be contained in the fourth edition of NCSE's Voices for Evolution.

For the statement (#11 on the list), visit:

And for Voices for Evolution, visit:


It's time to dust off your Darwin costume again: less than a month remains before Darwin Day 2011! Colleges and universities, schools, libraries, museums, churches, civic groups, and just plain folks across the country -- and the world -- are preparing to celebrate Darwin Day, on or around February 12, in honor of the life and work of Charles Darwin. These events provide a marvelous opportunity not only to celebrate Darwin's birthday but also to engage in public outreach about science, evolution, and the importance of evolution education -- which is especially needed with assaults on evolution education currently ongoing in Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. NCSE encourages its members and friends to attend, participate in, and even organize Darwin Day events in their own communities. To find a local event, check the websites of local universities and museums and the registry of Darwin Day events maintained by the Darwin Day Celebration website. (And don't forget to register your own event with the Darwin Day Celebration website!)

And with Darwin Day comes the return of Evolution Weekend! Hundreds of congregations all over the country and around the world are taking part in Evolution Weekend, February 11-13, 2011, by presenting sermons and discussion groups on the compatibility of faith and science. Michael Zimmerman, the initiator of the project, writes, "Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. One important goal is to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic -- to move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith. Finally, as with The Clergy Letter itself, Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy." At last count, 575 congregations in all fifty states (and thirteen foreign countries) were scheduled to hold Evolution Weekend events.

For the Darwin Day registry, visit:

For information about Evolution Weekend, visit:


The Texas Freedom Network warns, in a January 20, 2011, press release, that "the war on science is officially back on in Texas." The opening salvo was the appearance of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics -- perhaps best known as the publisher of Of Pandas and People -- on a list of publishers intending to submit supplementary science curriculum material for approval by the Texas state board of education.

Of Pandas and People is the "intelligent design" textbook that was at the center of Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case in which the teaching of "intelligent design" in the public schools was ruled to be unconstitutional. During the trial, Barbara Forrest's argument that "intelligent design" was a relabeling of creationism was bolstered by the fact that in drafts of Of Pandas and People, the word "creation" was systematically replaced with the word "design" just after the 1987 Supreme Court ruling that teaching creationism in the public schools violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Before the trial, FTE unsuccessfully sought to intervene in the case by becoming a co-defendant along with the Dover Area School Board. In a July 2005 hearing, FTE's president Jon Buell told the court that FTE was not a religious organization -- only to be confronted on cross-examination with a copy of FTE's tax return, on which its primary purpose was described as "promoting and publishing textbooks presenting a Christian perspective," and a copy of its articles of incorporation, according to which its purposes include "making known the Christian gospel and understanding of the Bible."

Texas Freedom Network's Kathy Miller commented, "In 2009 the State Board of Education approved new science curriculum standards that opened the door to creationist materials in Texas classrooms. Today we saw that one prominent creationist group intends to walk through that door." Miller added, "Getting their materials in public schools has long been a top priority for creationists, and it's clear that they intend to make Texas their flagship. Teaching inaccurate information rejected by the scientific community would be a huge disservice to Texas kids and a major setback for science education everywhere."

Materials submitted for approval will be available for public review in March 2011 and will also undergo review by panels of citizens, educators, and scientists to ensure their conformity to the state's science standards and their factual accuracy. The state board of education is expected to vote on the materials in April 2011; materials approved by the board will be available for purchase by local school districts.

For TFN's press release, visit:

For information on FTE and Pandas in the Kitzmiller case, visit:

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

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

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

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

Creation vs. Evolution – The New Shape of the Debate


Wed, Feb. 02 2011 07:47 AM EDT
By R. Albert Mohler, Jr.|Christian Post Guest Columnist

The debate over Darwinism rages on, with almost every week bringing a new salvo in the Great Controversy. The reason for this is simple and straightforward – naturalistic evolution is the great intellectual rival to Christianity in the Western world. It is the creation myth of the secular elites and their intellectual weapon of choice in public debate.

In some sense, this has been true ever since Darwin. When Charles Darwin developed and published his theory of natural selection, the most obvious question to appear to informed minds was this: Can the theory of evolution be reconciled with the Christian faith?

The emergence of evolution as a theory of origins and the existence of life forms presented a clear challenge to the account of creation offered within the Bible, especially in the opening chapters of Genesis. At face value, these accounts seem irreconcilable.

There were a good many intrepid and honest souls in the nineteenth century who understood the reality that, if evolution is true, the Bible must be radically reinterpreted. Others went further and, like the New Atheists in our time, seized upon evolution as an intellectual weapon to be used against Christianity.

There were others who attempted to mediate between evolution and Christianity. In the most common form of the argument, they asserted that the Bible tells the story of the who and the why of creation, but not the how. The how was left to empirical science and its theory of evolution.

In more recent years, this argument has been made from the evolutionary side of the argument by the late Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University, who proposed that the worlds of science and religious faith were completely separate, constituting "non-overlapping magisteria." In effect, he argued that religion and science cannot conflict, since they do not address the same questions.

The problem with this argument is obvious: Darwinism and Genesis do clearly overlap. The Bible does not merely speak of the who and the why. It also makes explicit claims concerning the how. Likewise, even a cursory review of the evolutionary literature indicates that evolutionary scientists routinely make assertions concerning the who and why questions. It is just not intellectually honest to argue that evolutionary theory deals only with the mechanisms of the existence of the Cosmos and that the Bible deals only with the meaning of creation.

Another approach had been taken by some Christian theologians in the nineteenth century. In their own way, even some among the honored and orthodox "Princeton Theologians" attempted to argue that there was no necessary conflict between Genesis and Darwin. They were so convinced of the power of empirical science and of the authority of Scripture that they were absolutely sure that the progress of science would eventually prove the truthfulness of the Bible.

What these theologians did not recognize was the naturalistic bent of modern science. The framers of modern evolutionary theory did not move toward an acknowledgment of divine causality. To the contrary, Darwin's central defenders today oppose even the idea known as "Intelligent Design." Their worldview is that of a sterile box filled only with naturalistic precepts.

From the beginning of this conflict, there have been those who have attempted some form of accommodation with Darwinism. In its most common form, this amounts to some version of "theistic evolution" – the idea that the evolutionary process is guided by God in order to accomplish his divine purposes.

Given the stakes in this public controversy, the attractiveness of theistic evolution becomes clear. The creation of a middle ground between Christianity and evolution would resolve a great cultural and intellectual conflict. Yet, in the process of attempting to negotiate this new middle ground, it is the Bible and the entirety of Christian theology that gives way, not evolutionary theory. Theistic evolution is a biblical and theological disaster.

The mainstream doctrine of evolution held by the scientific establishment and tenaciously defended by its advocates does not even allow for the possibility of a divinely implanted meaning in the Cosmos, much less for any divine guidance of the evolutionary process. There has been an unrelenting push of evolutionary theory deeper and deeper into purely naturalistic assumptions and an ever-increasing hostility to Christian truth claims.

On the other side of the equation, the injury to Christian convictions is incalculable. At the very least, the acceptance of evolutionary theory requires that the first two chapters of Genesis be read merely as a literary rendering that offers no historical data. But, of course, the injury does not end there.

If evolution is true, then the entire narrative of the Bible has to be revised and reinterpreted. The evolutionary account is not only incompatible with any historical affirmation of Genesis, but it is also incompatible with the claim that all humanity is descended from Adam and the claim that in Adam all humanity fell into sin and guilt. The Bible's account of the Fall and its consequences is utterly incompatible with evolutionary theory. The third chapter of Genesis is as problematic for evolutionary theory as the first two.

The naturalistic evolutionists are now pressing their case in moral as well as intellectual terms. Increasingly, they are arguing that a refusal to accept evolution represents a thought crime of sorts. They are using all the tools and arguments at their disposal to discredit any denial of evolution and to marginalize voices who question the dogma of Darwinism. They are working hard to establish unquestioned belief in evolution as the only right-minded and publicly acceptable position. They have already succeeded among the intellectual elites. Their main project now is the projection of this victory throughout popular culture.

Among the theistic evolutionists, the issues are becoming clearer almost every day that passes. Proponents of theistic evolution are now engaged in the public rejection of biblical inerrancy – with some calling the affirmation of the Bible's inerrancy as an intellectual disaster and "intellectual cul-de-sac." Others now openly assert that we must forfeit belief in an historical Adam, an historical Fall, and a universal Flood.

Thus, the vise of evolutionary theory is now revealing the fault lines of the current debate. There can be no question but that the authority of the Bible and the truthfulness of the Gospel are now clearly at stake. The New Testament clearly establishes the Gospel of Jesus Christ upon the foundation of the Bible's account of creation. If there was no historical Adam and no historical Fall, the Gospel is no longer understood in biblical terms.

This is the new shape of the debate over evolution. We now face the undeniable truth that the most basic and fundamental questions of biblical authority and gospel integrity are at stake. Are you ready for this debate?

Adapted from R. Albert Mohler Jr.'s weblog at www.albertmohler.com.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. For more articles and resources by Dr. Mohler, and for information on The Albert Mohler Program, a daily national radio program broadcast on the Salem Radio Network, go to www.albertmohler.com. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to www.sbts.edu. Send feedback to mail@albertmohler.com. Original Source: www.albertmohler.com.

Study: Teachers hesitant to favor evolution over creationism


By Melissa Hanson
Wednesday, February 2, 2011 10:42 p.m.
Updated Thursday, February 3, 2011 3:46:11 a.m.

Despite numerous court cases that have ruled the teaching of creationism and intelligent design as unconstitutional in public schools, the majority of high school biology teachers do not advocate evolution in the classroom.

A study done by two Pennsylvania State University professors of political science, Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, showed the majority of high school biology teachers do not emphasize evolution in the classroom.

The study found 13 percent of teachers "explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design" in the classroom by spending at least one hour of class time presenting it in a positive light.

While there are teachers out there who strongly advocate creationism, there are still about 60 percent of teachers who are cautious when it comes to the evolution-creationism debate in the classroom, Berkman said.

Many of these professors are less likely to have taken a college course in evolutionary biology and are not well-versed in the topic, Berkman said.

"Our argument is that they're cautious because they essentially lack a confidence to teach the material well and stand up to conflict and contradictions," Berkman said.

Berkman said this style of teaching undermines scientific inquiry.

Many teachers tell their students it doesn't matter whether they believe in evolution as long as they know it for the test, Berkman said.

Others present all viewpoints on the topic and tell students they can choose to believe in what they want.

"Teaching that way is not an accurate portrayal of science because things like common ancestry are not based on opinion," Berkman said. "They are based on well-established concepts."

He added the cautious 60 percent may cause even more problems for students with science than the minority that teaches creationism in the classroom because they undermine the process of scientific inquiry entirely.

"(Schools) could be doing much more teaching about evolution in the classroom," said Simone Schweber, professor of education and Jewish studies, "But our teachers do an amazing job with the complex topic."

Schweber said the debate surrounding creationism and evolution is a great tool to use in the classroom.

It helps students to differentiate between what is considered a belief and what is something that actually has scientific backing by comparing the two in the classroom, Schweber said.

Former JPL employee claims he was fired for doubting Darwin


By Beige Luciano-Adams, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/02/2011 07:32:51 PM PST

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE - A computer administrator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who was laid off last week plans to add retaliation charges - and a possible free speech violation claim - to a pending discrimination suit against his former employer, an attorney said Wednesday.

David Coppedge, a specialist and systems administrator who worked on NASA's Cassini mission at the Laboratory since 1997, was terminated on Jan. 24.

A well-known figure among proponents of "intelligent design" - the proto-scientific strain of creationism that attributes life and the universe to the hand of an intelligent being - Coppedge writes the blog "Creation-Evolution Headlines."

He filed suit with the Los Angeles Superior in April of last year, claiming he was demoted at JPL for propagating his beliefs at work, citing protection under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

A JPL spokeswoman said Coppedge's "suit is without merit."

But while the original lawsuit rested on claims of discrimination under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act, Coppedge's legal team is now considering a new tactics - including taking a page from the Supreme Court's Jan. 19 in NASA v. Nelson.

Two weeks ago the high court ruled against JPL employees who sought to terminate background checks at the facility. The employees claimed those checks violated their civil rights.

"David was terminated and the NASA v. Nelson decision came down

... which changes the case in material ways," said Coppedge's attorney, Bill Becker.

Becker said he would seek to amend the complaint within the next two weeks to include a wrongful termination claim - adding that a First Amendment claim might also be on the table.

"We're also considering a First Amendment violation claim based on language contained in the Supreme Court's (NASA v. Nelson) decision, which characterizes contract employees at JPL as no different from government employees at NASA's other federally funded research centers," Becker said.

According to Becker, the new claims would use some of the Nelson language and/or draw on other Supreme Court decisions that could potentially allow Coppedge to sue JPL as a federal agency.

But UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh says NASA v. Nelson would likely be irrelevant in such a case, unless it can be proven that Coppedge's firing was a government action.

"The real question is who is making the decision - that was clear in (NASA v. Nelson), but not so clear here. Just because a research center is federally funded is not enough to make it a government actor," Volokh said of JPL, which is managed by the California Institute of Technology for NASA.

"If there's no government action here, if it's done by private contractor, the First Amendment doesn't apply."

Rather, Volokh said, state statutes provide some protection for political activity of employees - which as been broadly interpreted to include a variety of expression, and could potentially be extended to include controversial issues like intelligent design.

On the other hand, said Volokh, "If he can show that the reason they fired him was because they inferred something about his religious beliefs... then in that case, he would have a plausible religious discrimination claim."

JPL claims Coppedge was let go in a round of routine layoffs related to Cassini's budget.

"The spacecraft operational workforce on Cassini has gone down 40 percent since its prime mission ended, and it's currently in its second extended mission," said JPL spokeswoman Veronika McGregor. "During that time, this is a natural attrition of that workforce."

Becker rejected JPL's explanation Wednesday, calling the termination retaliation for Coppedge's decision to contest an earlier demotion.

Becker said JPL accused Coppedge of "pushing his religion on people simply by discussing and handling out DVDs on intelligent design," and argued that budget cutbacks should not have affected a 14-year employee with "an outstanding record."

The former JPL employee is currently getting some public relations help from the Discovery Institute, a conservative lobbying organization with right-wing Christian ties best known for their promotion of intelligent design.

"We're assisting in letting people know what's happening to him and stirring public outrage," said Discovery Institute spokeswoman Anika Smith.

Gary Williams, a professor at Loyola Law School, previously pointed out that courts tend to view intelligent design as a religious, not a scientific belief. He said that protections for religious activity have not been read to include speech during work hours.

Even if intelligent design isn't viewed as religious belief, employers still have the right to restrict what their employees discuss in a work context, Williams added.

"JPL does permit its employees to talk about intelligent design," argued Discovery Institute attorney Casey Luskin. "There are numerous examples of employees being encouraged to criticize intelligent design - and only the pro-intelligent-design view point is being shut down."

Becker is currently engaged in a separate lawsuit against the California Science Center in Los Angeles which also claims First Amendment violations related to intelligent design.


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Shockingly Simple: Science teacher leaves his mark on former student


By Andrew Shockey


Published: Thursday, February 3, 2011

Updated: Thursday, February 3, 2011 00:02

John Freshwater, a middle school science teacher from Ohio, was terminated Jan. 10 from his position two years after the Board of Education of the Mount Vernon (Ohio) City School District first began its investigation. Freshwater was accused of failing to teach the school's science curriculum while preaching young-earth creationism to his students.

Freshwater was brought before the Board of Education after nearly a decade of objections, including repeated complaints by a Mount Vernon High School teacher. The teacher claimed students had to be retaught biology and evolution after taking Freshwater's class to pass the Ohio Exit Exam. He probably could have continued neglecting his classes for years to come if he hadn't gone over the line with one student.

While demonstrating the ability of an electrostatic generator to ionize gases, Freshwater invited students to feel the effect of the handheld high voltage device. According to student Zachary Dennis, Freshwater held his arm against a table and quickly passed the generator over it, leaving a large cross shaped mark on Dennis' forearm.

The painful mark, which persisted for three weeks, compelled the Board of Education to finally take disciplinary action against Freshwater. Freshwater appealed his termination and has been in and out of courtrooms for two years before finally being fired once and for all last month.

There's a reason evolution is in the public school science curriculum and why every major university teaches evolution to its students. A comprehensive understanding of biology is impossible without understanding the unifying theory of evolution, and the evidence for evolution is so great, not teaching it would be scientifically unsound.

A recent study from Pennsylvania State University found roughly 13 percent of public high school biology teachers openly endorse creationism in the classroom. However, about 60 percent teach it as an unsettled issue. The numbers get even worse in the Bible Belt, where nearly 40 percent of public biology teachers rely on creationism to explain speciation and the diversity of life.

Louisiana is leading the charge on evolution in public schools — but in the wrong direction. In 2008, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), which allows teachers to "use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique and review scientific theories in an objective manner."

The law seems reasonable at first glance — until we realize it was co-authored by David DeWolf of the Discovery Institute (a pro-intelligent design think tank), who at the very least has a conflict of interest, because the Discovery Institute writes some of the "supplemental textbooks" allowed under the law.

Contrary to their stated goal, these supplements misrepresent basic tenents of evolutionary theory rather than teaching any of the real issues debated by biologists at the top of the field. There is debate among scientists about how best to apply evolutionary theory to certain anomalies, but the hackneyed examples given by the Discovery Institute have been explained and debunked so many times, framing them as legitimate concerns in a "textbook" intended for students is academic fraud.

If the goal of the LSEA is to allow children to improve their critical thinking skills in middle and high school by exposing them to scientific debate, why not teach students about dark matter and other problems with the theory of gravitation? Why do we bother teaching Newtonian physics when students could learn so much more by exploring the controversies of quantum physics?

Pre-university science education is intended to expose students to information supported by so much evidence most scientists treat it as fact. Most high school teachers do not have the time or expertise to teach students these issues, and most high school students lack the background to accurately frame the debate.

If our education system can't teach science properly; or even fire a wacko like Freshwater in less than two years, maybe it's time for a change.

Andrew Shockey is a 20-year-old biological engineering sophomore from Baton Rouge. Follow him on Twitter @TDR_Ashockey.

contact Andrew Shockey at ashockey@lsureveille.com

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Seralini seeks to dilute biology education


by Karl Haro von Mogel on 31 January 2011

Taking a page from the modern creationist movements that seek to weaken high school education in evolutionary biology, a French group is looking to do the same to biology classes – but now it's genetic engineering that is the target. Nature News reports in Transgenic bacterium sparks row in French schools, that CRIIGEN, led by Gilles-Eric Seralini, is advocating that useful, direct education in fundamentals of genetic transformation should be kept from high school students.

I guess it was only a matter of time. The particular brand of extreme belief about the risks of genetic engineering espoused by Seralini, who is the president of the scientific board of The Committee for Research & Independent Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN), has now spilled over into the inevitable conclusion that anything and everything GMO-like should be in advanced low-air-pressure biosafety labs only. Because simple things done a million times over such as adding a plasmid to a tube of harmless bacteria to demonstrate how basic genetic engineering works is knowledge that French high school students should not have access to. Why? Because doing a safe, controlled experiment "trivializes" a touchy subject.

[Seralini] warns against trivialization of a sensitive subject, contamination risks and possible violation of European directives on the manipulation of genetically modified organisms in confined spaces. "I am also concerned that practical classes erode the time spent imparting knowledge of biology," he adds.

We see these same arguments brought up against the time spent on evolution education. 'If only they would spend more time learning biology… and not learning this aspect of biology we have a problem with.'

As for contamination risks, the laboratory strains used for these kinds of experiments are weak non-virulent strains, and the trait being discussed is Ampicillin resistance, which occurs naturally in many bacteria. That's where the resistance gene came from. They are worried about this gene getting out into wild bacteria… which already have it. The issue of antibiotic resistance is not about the shockingly ever-present resistance genes floating around – it is about misuse and overuse of important antibiotics. As scientists they should know this.

With regard to the possible violation of European directives on handling GE organisms, I don't think this is about following the letter of the law at all. If there was a legal issue somewhere then it would be cause to revisit the directives in question – perhaps they weren't nuanced enough for all the different ways that GE organisms would be used, such as in education. But note that they say "possible" violation – as in, not actual.

As for the argument that it should not be done because it is a "sensitive" subject – I am simply surprised that this argument was used at all. This is straight out of the creationist playbook and it is not only a worthless argument for determining whether or not a subject in science is proper to be taught, it is also very revealing about motivations. The impetus seems to be that in an effort to improve biology education, French education ministers wanted to make it possible for students to learn about it at a younger age than before. And this has them riled up. I think CRIIGEN is revealing in this statement that they may be worried that a population of French students that learns about genetic engineering at a young age will become more comfortable with the idea of it then if they learned about it through CRIIGEN press releases.

Luc Chatel neatly dices apart the argument that this is detracting from other learning activities:

Luc Chatel, France's education minister, today unveiled a plan to encourage more students to opt for science and technology subjects at university by improving teaching in schools, but he told Nature that increasing the amount of compulsory practical work is not part of the scheme. Schools can choose how much time they devote to experiments, as long as students are prepared for the hands-on work that makes up 20% of marks in the scientific baccalaureate exam at 18.

The rest of the article does a good job pointing out the issues of safety, and the importance of these kinds of activities in basic biology education, everything from getting a hands-on understanding of the process, to basic lab protocols. Well framed.

The one thing they really left out is the inspirational effect that amazing science has in a high school classroom environment. My real interest in biology over other scientific subjects could be traced in part to creative and involved laboratory experiments that I had a rare privilege to have in a one-time offered AP Biology 2 class in my junior year of high school. One of the things we worked with was E. coli. We also made yogurt, measured the oxygen usage of germinating seeds, and beyond. It was a great experience, but we never got to do anything with DNA. In fact, even after two years of biology in high school, DNA seemed more theoretical than anything else. Yes, of course it existed and was real, but not doing anything with this molecule in class kept that real-because-you-can-see-or-touch-it experience from happening. I didn't realize you could do so much with it until I studied genetics in college.

But before I got into college, there were exams that were testing my knowledge of biology. The AP biology exam that year had genetic engineering and recombinant DNA as one of the essay questions. I remember they asked me to describe and to draw how to get DNA from one organism into another. I also remember my answer very clearly – even though I was not entirely sure about the process, I reasoned that since viruses could introduce their own DNA into a cell, what could keep us from using a virus to accomplish it? Not too far off, I did very well on that test, which doubtlessly helped me get where I am today. In a few short years after going to college in Davis, I heard about improvements in high school biology classes, such as doing PCR and electrophoresis gels which are the backbone of genetics research today. Students who wish to excel in biology will need these kinds of hands-on experiments, and denying them that opportunity will put them at a disadvantage compared to their peers.

Students in the US, France, India, China, and Ethiopia should have the opportunity to have the best education in biology (and other subjects) that they can get in their secondary education, which will help them decide what course to take and if they want to contribute to those fields with exciting careers. One of the strengths of science is how people from all over the world can be working and collaborating on and contributing to an advancing field on the same level. And it is not just the scientific career-bound that will benefit. We need a populace that is familiar enough with what genetic engineering is if we can ever hope to have a worthwhile discussion of this technology. Seralini and CRIIGEN are indicating that they do not believe that students in France should have this opportunity.

CRIIGEN "will urge the education ministry to impose a moratorium until a full debate on the question is organized", says Séralini. "We believe such material should not be manipulated by students before they reach university."

This puts CRIIGEN in a different light. It is looking more like they are becoming an organization akin to the Discovery Institute in the US that pressures teachers to avoid the 'sensitive' topic of evolution. I would go so far as to suggest that there may be a bit of a culture war at play in this issue – and that it is not really about safety or regulations or classroom time – but on preventing the spark of inspiration in French students that hey, I could imagine doing this in the future at college or as a career. Efforts to dilute science education to serve narrow political viewpoints must be resisted at every turn.

Sure, its just some rings of DNA and some little cells in the lab, why get passionate about this little experiment? Like it's just some silly birds on a group of islands near South America. Not that that ever amounted to anything…

Monday, January 31, 2011

Evolution, Creation and Politics


posted at 1:01 pm on January 30, 2011 by Jazz Shaw

Perhaps the most popular parlour game in American politics is for media types to generate litmus test questions which they can put to every candidate and elected official to feed the news cycle beast. These range from generic items such as asking where they stand on abortion or second amendment rights to party specific queries which include egging on Republicans as to whether or not Sarah Palin is "qualified to be President." One of the oldest and saddest ones, though, is dredged back up by Steve Benen this week, highlighting the gaudy spectacle of Bill Maher asking Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) if he "believes" in evolution.

"Real Time" host Bill Maher asked Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) a fairly straightforward question: "Do you believe in evolution?" Kingston not only said rejects the foundation of modern biology, (sic) he explained it this way: "I believe I came from God, not from a monkey." He added, "If it happened over millions and millions of years, there should be lots of fossil evidence."

Seriously, that's what he said.

First, by way of disclosure, I personally am comfortable with the theory of evolution. I am also comfortable with the fact that in most cases, religion and science are not mutually exclusive, primarily because faith and laboratory experiments have very little overlap. I can also relate to the temptation to deride those who disagree about evolution or other scientific principles because I did it myself when I was younger. It's easy, as a young man, to be not only invincible but convinced that you're smarter than everyone else on the planet – particularly those stupid old people.

But as we age, hopefully we learn a little more tolerance and realize our own limitations.

Not only are science and religion not mutually exclusive, more and more these days we see them working together. One of many examples was the discovery by archaeologists of a stone pylon with the name of Pontius Pilate inscribed on it, taking one character out of the realm of "Bible stories" and inserting his name into the history books. Additional examples abound.

Do we really need to badger office seekers and holders with this question any more? Even if some of us disagree with them, is a fixed belief in literal creation truly an indicator of some lack of "critical thinking in the Republican Party," as Benen so smugly puts it? They aren't arguing with you in favor of some different scientific theory which contradicts yours. They're promoting an entirely different belief which demands no proof from the laboratory.

If the development of the universe and our planet played out over billions of years and life "evolved" here as current theory suggests, I'm not so vain about my own intellect to claim that God couldn't have designed the entire shooting match to do just that. Matters of timelines could be nothing more than misinterpretation of scale. And what of all those fossils in the ground? Perhaps, as I suspect, they are the result of various animal and plant species rising, changing and dying off. Or, for all I know, I'm totally wrong, the planet actually is only six or seven thousand years old and God put them there on purpose for us to find. Why? I haven't a clue. You'd have to ask Him.

The point is, no matter how sound any given scientific theory turns out to be, you're never going to prove that it wasn't a flashing, infinitely divine creation. And you're never going to shake the belief of those who find it a bedrock foundation of their faith. So why should you try? And in a land founded in part on religious freedom, why would you want to try?

Just some food for thought on a chilly Sunday.

Retired Science Teacher Seeks to Bar Evolution from Classrooms


Education|Sun, Jan. 30 2011 12:56 PM EDT
By Elena Garcia|Christian Post Reporter

A retired science teacher believes the teaching of evolution is "bad science" and has asked a federal court to declare it illegal to teach the subject in public schools.

Tom Ritter, a former physics and chemistry teacher of over 10 years, filed a lawsuit earlier this month against evolution in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the same court that ruled that teaching of intelligent design in public schools is unconstitutional.

Ritter told The Christian Post this week that he didn't pay too much attention to biology before, but now in retirement he saw problems that he couldn't overlook any longer.

"It kind of got to be like picking a scab," he said.

In his one-page brief and one-page suit, Ritter argues that the Blue Mountain School District in Orwigsburg, Penn., is an illegal body because it teaches evolution.

A local resident, Ritter wants the district to stop collecting taxes from him until such teaching is halted. This is one scheme in his plan to get rid of public schools altogether, which he considers to be a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The suit contends that the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover decision forbids any teaching of evolution that includes a creator. It also argues that evolution is unscientific.

According to Ritter, evolution is unscientific for three reasons: no one has demonstrated that life can be created from non-life; no one has demonstrated that a new "sexual species" can be created; and no one has demonstrated how the human brain evolved from lower forms.

Since evolution is unscientific and teaches the absence of a creator, it is actually teaching atheism, the suit contends. Therefore, teaching evolution should be illegal in public schools because it is a religion.

"Objectively, Atheism is a religion, albeit a silly and unscientific one," the Jan. 18 suit states. "This is like teaching Jesus is Lord."

While Ritter said his court filings are really made for "popular consumption," he does expect to have his day in court.

"I think it will be taken seriously aside from the fact that I know some science," he said.

Luc Montagnier, Nobel Prize Winner, Takes Homeopathy Seriously


Dana Ullman, M.P.H.
Posted: January 30, 2011 11:49 AM Read More: Dr. Luc Montagnier , Dr. Luc Montagnier Nobel Prize , Homeopathic Medicine , Homeopathy Medicine , Homeopathy Remedies , Homepathy Treatment , Luc Montagnier , Luc Montagnier Homeopathy , Luc Montagnier Nobel Prize , Nobel , Nobel Prize 2008 , Health News

Dr. Luc Montagnier, the French virologist who won the Nobel Prize in 2008 for discovering the AIDS virus, has surprised the scientific community with his strong support for homeopathic medicine.

In a remarkable interview published in Science magazine of December 24, 2010, (1) Professor Luc Montagnier, has expressed support for the often maligned and misunderstood medical specialty of homeopathic medicine. Although homeopathy has persisted for 200+ years throughout the world and has been the leading alternative treatment method used by physicians in Europe, (2) most conventional physicians and scientists have expressed skepticism about its efficacy due to the extremely small doses of medicines used.

Most clinical research conducted on homeopathic medicines that has been published in peer-review journals have shown positive clinical results,(3, 4) especially in the treatment of respiratory allergies (5, 6), influenza, (7) fibromyalgia, (8, 9) rheumatoid arthritis, (10) childhood diarrhea, (11) post-surgical abdominal surgery recovery, (12) attention deficit disorder, (13) and reduction in the side effects of conventional cancer treatments. (14) In addition to clinical trials, several hundred basic science studies have confirmed the biological activity of homeopathic medicines. One type of basic science trials, called in vitro studies, found 67 experiments (1/3 of them replications) and nearly 3/4 of all replications were positive. (15, 16)

In addition to the wide variety of basic science evidence and clinical research, further evidence for homeopathy resides in the fact that they gained widespread popularity in the U.S. and Europe during the 19th century due to the impressive results people experienced in the treatment of epidemics that raged during that time, including cholera, typhoid, yellow fever, scarlet fever, and influenza.

Montagnier, who is also founder and president of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention, asserted, "I can't say that homeopathy is right in everything. What I can say now is that the high dilutions (used in homeopathy) are right. High dilutions of something are not nothing. They are water structures which mimic the original molecules."

Here, Montagnier is making reference to his experimental research that confirms one of the controversial features of homeopathic medicine that uses doses of substances that undergo sequential dilution with vigorous shaking in-between each dilution. Although it is common for modern-day scientists to assume that none of the original molecules remain in solution, Montagnier's research (and other of many of his colleagues) has verified that electromagnetic signals of the original medicine remains in the water and has dramatic biological effects.

Montagnier has just taken a new position at Jiaotong University in Shanghai, China (this university is often referred to as "China's MIT"), where he will work in a new institute bearing his name. This work focuses on a new scientific movement at the crossroads of physics, biology, and medicine: the phenomenon of electromagnetic waves produced by DNA in water. He and his team will study both the theoretical basis and the possible applications in medicine.

Montagnier's new research is investigating the electromagnetic waves that he says emanate from the highly diluted DNA of various pathogens. Montagnier asserts, "What we have found is that DNA produces structural changes in water, which persist at very high dilutions, and which lead to resonant electromagnetic signals that we can measure. Not all DNA produces signals that we can detect with our device. The high-intensity signals come from bacterial and viral DNA."

Montagnier affirms that these new observations will lead to novel treatments for many common chronic diseases, including but not limited to autism, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis.

Montagnier first wrote about his findings in 2009, (17) and then, in mid-2010, he spoke at a prestigious meeting of fellow Nobelists where he expressed interest in homeopathy and the implications of this system of medicine. (18)

French retirement laws do not allow Montagnier, who is 78 years of age, to work at a public institute, thereby limiting access to research funding. Montagnier acknowledges that getting research funds from Big Pharma and certain other conventional research funding agencies is unlikely due to the atmosphere of antagonism to homeopathy and natural treatment options.

Support from Another Nobel Prize winner

Montagnier's new research evokes memories one of the most sensational stories in French science, often referred to as the 'Benveniste affair.' A highly respected immunologist Dr. Jacques Benveniste., who died in 2004, conducted a study which was replicated in three other university laboratories and that was published in Nature (19). Benveniste and other researchers used extremely diluted doses of substances that created an effect on a type of white blood cell called basophils.

Although Benveniste's work was supposedly debunked, (20) Montagnier considers Benveniste a "modern Galileo" who was far ahead of his day and time and who was attacked for investigating a medical and scientific subject that orthodoxy had mistakenly overlooked and even demonized.

In addition to Benveniste and Montagnier is the weighty opinion of Brian Josephson, Ph.D., who, like Montagnier, is a Nobel Prize-winning scientist.

Responding to an article on homeopathy in New Scientist, Josephson wrote:

Regarding your comments on claims made for homeopathy: criticisms centered around the vanishingly small number of solute molecules present in a solution after it has been repeatedly diluted are beside the point, since advocates of homeopathic remedies attribute their effects not to molecules present in the water, but to modifications of the water's structure.

Simple-minded analysis may suggest that water, being a fluid, cannot have a structure of the kind that such a picture would demand. But cases such as that of liquid crystals, which while flowing like an ordinary fluid can maintain an ordered structure over macroscopic distances, show the limitations of such ways of thinking. There have not, to the best of my knowledge, been any refutations of homeopathy that remain valid after this particular point is taken into account.

A related topic is the phenomenon, claimed by Jacques Benveniste's colleague Yolène Thomas and by others to be well established experimentally, known as "memory of water." If valid, this would be of greater significance than homeopathy itself, and it attests to the limited vision of the modern scientific community that, far from hastening to test such claims, the only response has been to dismiss them out of hand. (21)

Following his comments Josephson, who is an emeritus professor of Cambridge University in England, was asked by New Scientist editors how he became an advocate of unconventional ideas. He responded:

I went to a conference where the French immunologist Jacques Benveniste was talking for the first time about his discovery that water has a 'memory' of compounds that were once dissolved in it -- which might explain how homeopathy works. His findings provoked irrationally strong reactions from scientists, and I was struck by how badly he was treated. (22)

Josephson went on to describe how many scientists today suffer from "pathological disbelief;" that is, they maintain an unscientific attitude that is embodied by the statement "even if it were true I wouldn't believe it."

Even more recently, Josephson wryly responded to the chronic ignorance of homeopathy by its skeptics saying, "The idea that water can have a memory can be readily refuted by any one of a number of easily understood, invalid arguments."

In the new interview in Science, Montagnier also expressed real concern about the unscientific atmosphere that presently exists on certain unconventional subjects such as homeopathy, "I am told that some people have reproduced Benveniste's results, but they are afraid to publish it because of the intellectual terror from people who don't understand it."

Montagnier concluded the interview when asked if he is concerned that he is drifting into pseudoscience, he replied adamantly: "No, because it's not pseudoscience. It's not quackery. These are real phenomena which deserve further study."

The Misinformation That Skeptics Spread

It is remarkable enough that many skeptics of homeopathy actually say that there is "no research" that has shows that homeopathic medicines work. Such statements are clearly false, and yet, such assertions are common on the Internet and even in some peer-review articles. Just a little bit of searching can uncover many high quality studies that have been published in highly respected medical and scientific journals, including the Lancet, BMJ, Pediatrics, Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, Chest and many others. Although some of these same journals have also published research with negative results to homeopathy, there is simply much more research that shows a positive rather than negative effect.

Misstatements and misinformation on homeopathy are predictable because this system of medicine provides a viable and significant threat to economic interests in medicine, let alone to the very philosophy and worldview of biomedicine. It is therefore not surprising that the British Medical Association had the sheer audacity to refer to homeopathy as "witchcraft." It is quite predictable that when one goes on a witch hunt, one inevitable finds "witches," especially when there are certain benefits to demonizing a potential competitor (homeopathy plays a much larger and more competitive role in Europe than it does in the USA).

Skeptics of homeopathy also have long asserted that homeopathic medicines have "nothing" in them because they are diluted too much. However, new research conducted at the respected Indian Institutes of Technology has confirmed the presence of "nanoparticles" of the starting materials even at extremely high dilutions. Researchers have demonstrated by Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), electron diffraction and chemical analysis by Inductively Coupled Plasma-Atomic Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-AES), the presence of physical entities in these extreme dilutions. (24) In the light of this research, it can now be asserted that anyone who says or suggests that there is "nothing" in homeopathic medicines is either simply uninformed or is not being honest.

Because the researchers received confirmation of the existence of nanoparticles at two different homeopathic high potencies (30C and 200C) and because they tested four different medicines (Zincum met./zinc; Aurum met. /gold; Stannum met./tin; and Cuprum met./copper), the researchers concluded that this study provides "concrete evidence."

Although skeptics of homeopathy may assume that homeopathic doses are still too small to have any biological action, such assumptions have also been proven wrong. The multi-disciplinary field of small dose effects is called "hormesis," and approximately 1,000 studies from a wide variety of scientific specialties have confirmed significant and sometimes substantial biological effects from extremely small doses of certain substances on certain biological systems.

A special issue of the peer-review journal, Human and Experimental Toxicology (July 2010), devoted itself to the interface between hormesis and homeopathy. (25) The articles in this issue verify the power of homeopathic doses of various substances.

In closing, it should be noted that skepticism of any subject is important to the evolution of science and medicine. However, as noted above by Nobelist Brian Josephson, many scientists have a "pathological disbelief" in certain subjects that ultimately create an unhealthy and unscientific attitude blocks real truth and real science. Skepticism is at its best when its advocates do not try to cut off research or close down conversation of a subject but instead explore possible new (or old) ways to understand and verify strange but compelling phenomena. We all have this challenge as we explore and evaluate the biological and clinical effects of homeopathic medicines.


(1) Enserink M, Newsmaker Interview: Luc Montagnier, French Nobelist Escapes "Intellectual Terror" to Pursue Radical Ideas in China. Science 24 December 2010: Vol. 330 no. 6012 p. 1732. DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6012.1732

(2) Ullman D. Homeopathic Medicine: Europe's #1 Alternative for Doctors. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dana-ullman/homeopathic-medicine-euro_b_402490.html

(3) Linde L, Clausius N, Ramirez G, et al., "Are the Clinical Effects of Homoeopathy Placebo Effects? A Meta-analysis of Placebo-Controlled Trials," Lancet, September 20, 1997, 350:834-843.

(4) Lüdtke R, Rutten ALB. The conclusions on the effectiveness of homeopathy highly depend on the set of analyzed trials. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. October 2008. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2008.06/015.

(5) Taylor, MA, Reilly, D, Llewellyn-Jones, RH, et al., Randomised controlled trial of homoeopathy versus placebo in perennial allergic rhinitis with overview of four trial Series, BMJ, August 19, 2000, 321:471-476.

(6) Ullman, D, Frass, M. A Review of Homeopathic Research in the Treatment of Respiratory Allergies. Alternative Medicine Review. 2010:15,1:48-58. http://www.thorne.com/altmedrev/.fulltext/15/1/48.pdf

(7) Vickers AJ. Homoeopathic Oscillococcinum for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like syndromes. Cochrane Reviews. 2009.

(8) Bell IR, Lewis II DA, Brooks AJ, et al. Improved clinical status in fibromyalgia patients treated with individualized homeopathic remedies versus placebo, Rheumatology. 2004:1111-5.

(9) Fisher P, Greenwood A, Huskisson EC, et al., "Effect of Homoeopathic Treatment on Fibrositis (Primary Fibromyalgia)," BMJ, 299(August 5, 1989):365-6.

(10) Jonas, WB, Linde, Klaus, and Ramirez, Gilbert, "Homeopathy and Rheumatic Disease," Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America, February 2000,1:117-123.

(11) Jacobs J, Jonas WB, Jimenez-Perez M, Crothers D, Homeopathy for Childhood Diarrhea: Combined Results and Metaanalysis from Three Randomized, Controlled Clinical Trials, Pediatr Infect Dis J, 2003;22:229-34.

(12) Barnes, J, Resch, KL, Ernst, E, "Homeopathy for Post-Operative Ileus: A Meta-Analysis," Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 1997, 25: 628-633.

(13) M, Thurneysen A. Homeopathic treatment of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled crossover trial. Eur J Pediatr. 2005 Dec;164(12):758-67. Epub 2005 Jul 27.

(14) Kassab S, Cummings M, Berkovitz S, van Haselen R, Fisher P. Homeopathic medicines for adverse effects of cancer treatments. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 2.

(15) Witt CM, Bluth M, Albrecht H, Weisshuhn TE, Baumgartner S, Willich SN. The in vitro evidence for an effect of high homeopathic potencies--a systematic review of the literature. Complement Ther Med. 2007 Jun;15(2):128-38. Epub 2007 Mar 28.

(16) Endler PC, Thieves K, Reich C, Matthiessen P, Bonamin L, Scherr C, Baumgartner S. Repetitions of fundamental research models for homeopathically prepared dilutions beyond 10-23: a bibliometric study. Homeopathy, 2010; 99: 25-36.

(17) Luc Montagnier, Jamal Aissa, Stéphane Ferris, Jean-Luc Montagnier, Claude Lavallee, Electromagnetic Signals Are Produced by Aqueous Nanostructures Derived from Bacterial DNA Sequences. Interdiscip Sci Comput Life Sci (2009) 1: 81-90.


(18) Nobel laureate gives homeopathy a boost. The Australian. July 5, 2010. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/health-science/nobel-laureate-gives-homeopathy-a-boost/story-e6frg8y6-1225887772305

(19) Davenas E, Beauvais F, Amara J, et al. (June 1988). "Human basophil degranulation triggered by very dilute antiserum against IgE". Nature 333 (6176): 816-8.

(20) Maddox J (June 1988). "Can a Greek tragedy be avoided?". Nature 333 (6176): 795-7.

(21) Josephson, B. D., Letter, New Scientist, November 1, 1997.

(22) George A. Lone Voices special: Take nobody's word for it. New Scientist. December 9, 2006.

(23) Personal communication. Brian Josephson to Dana Ullman. January 5, 2011.

(24) Chikramane PS, Suresh AK, Bellare JR, and Govind S. Extreme homeopathic dilutions retain starting materials: A nanoparticulate perspective. Homeopathy. Volume 99, Issue 4, October 2010, 231-242.

(25) Human and Experimental Toxicology, July 2010: http://het.sagepub.com/content/vol29/issue7/

To access free copies of these articles, see: http://www.siomi.it/siomifile/siomi_pdf/BELLE_newsletter.pdf

Dana Ullman, MPH, is America's leading spokesperson for homeopathy and is the founder of www.homeopathic.com . He is the author of 10 books, including his bestseller, Everybody's Guide to Homeopathic Medicines. His most recent book is, The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy (the Foreword to this book was written by Dr. Peter Fisher, the Physician to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II). Dana lives, practices, and writes from Berkeley, California.

US Schools Fail At Teaching Evolution


By Chelsea Hoffman
Published Jan 31, 2011

A study about biology teachers in the US reveals that many teachers fall short when it comes to educating on evolution. Many refuse to endorse it.

The Washington Post reported on January 30, 2011, that a study conducted on US biology teachers has showed the US education system is lacking in evolutionary teaching. The study reported that around 13% of educators attempt to discuss creationism in a positive light while disbelieving in Darwin's theory of evolution. It also reports that 60% of educators undermine expert references, and fail to implicate proper explanations of the basics of evolution. Part of this percentage try to sway creationist theories into their lessons.

What's most disheartening about the level of US educator's knowledge of evolution is the percentage of biology teachers that understand the topic. The study found that only 28% of biology teachers in the United States successfully and without bias teach the basics of evolution according to the standards of the National Research Council.

Miscellaneous Findings

The study, as reported by Washington Post and other sources, also addressed US biology teachers' teaching techniques. The study revealed that some teachers teach evolution as a "belief" that doesn't have to be accepted as truth. Some teachers have been found to tell students they only need to know it to pass tests and not to believe in it.

Less controversially, but all the more incorrect, some teachers have instructed their students to make up their own minds as to whether or not evolution is fact. To the contrary of this teaching technique, Evolution is universally accepted by more than an adequate number of scientists.

In fact, the National Science Teachers Association positively agrees with the validity of evolutionary science:

"The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) strongly supports the position that evolution is a major unifying concept in science and should be included in the K–12 science education frameworks and curricula. Furthermore, if evolution is not taught, students will not achieve the level of scientific literacy they need. This position is consistent with that of the National Academies, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and many other scientific and educational organizations."

Conclusion and Sources

The study in question, and its findings, were produced by Penn State professors Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer. The research was published in the latest issue of Science Magazine and has gained attention by protesters of religion in school. Those who are against the teachings of creationism in school are rightfully upset with the findings of this study, because it shows the inadequacies of the educational system when biases are present; be it human nature or not.

Just as upsetting as the recent findings of the Penn State professors' research, a former science teacher in Pennsylvania is demanding that evolution be banned from public schools. Tom Ritter, who claims to have never paid attention to biology, calls evolution junk science and declares that any public school body that teaches it is an illegal facility.

Read more at Suite101: US Schools Fail At Teaching Evolution http://www.suite101.com/content/us-schools-fail-at-teaching-evolution-a340573#ixzz1CfCr8UbW

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Italian scientists claim to have demonstrated cold fusion (w/ Video)


January 20, 2011 by Lisa Zyga Enlarge

(PhysOrg.com) -- Few areas of science are more controversial than cold fusion, the hypothetical near-room-temperature reaction in which two smaller nuclei join together to form a single larger nucleus while releasing large amounts of energy. In the 1980s, Stanley Pons and Martin Fleishmann claimed to have demonstrated cold fusion - which could potentially provide the world with a cheap, clean energy source - but their experiment could not be reproduced. Since then, all other claims of cold fusion have been illegitimate, and studies have shown that cold fusion is theoretically implausible, causing mainstream science to become highly speculative of the field in general.

Despite the intense skepticism, a small community of scientists is still investigating near-room-temperature fusion reactions. The latest news occurred last week, when Italian scientists Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi of the University of Bologna announced that they developed a cold fusion device capable of producing 12,400 W of heat power with an input of just 400 W. Last Friday, the scientists held a private invitation press conference in Bologna, attended by about 50 people, where they demonstrated what they claim is a nickel-hydrogen fusion reactor. Further, the scientists say that the reactor is well beyond the research phase; they plan to start shipping commercial devices within the next three months and start mass production by the end of 2011.

The claim

Rossi and Focardi say that, when the atomic nuclei of nickel and hydrogen are fused in their reactor, the reaction produces copper and a large amount of energy. The reactor uses less than 1 gram of hydrogen and starts with about 1,000 W of electricity, which is reduced to 400 W after a few minutes. Every minute, the reaction can convert 292 grams of 20°C water into dry steam at about 101°C. Since raising the temperature of water by 80°C and converting it to steam requires about 12,400 W of power, the experiment provides a power gain of 12,400/400 = 31. As for costs, the scientists estimate that electricity can be generated at a cost of less than 1 cent/kWh, which is significantly less than coal or natural gas plants.

"The magnitude of this result suggests that there is a viable energy technology that uses commonly available materials, that does not produce carbon dioxide, and that does not produce radioactive waste and will be economical to build," according to this description of the demonstration.

Rossi and Focardi explain that the reaction produces radiation, providing evidence that the reaction is indeed a nuclear reaction and does not work by some other method. They note that no radiation escapes due to lead shielding, and no radioactivity is left in the cell after it is turned off, so there is no nuclear waste.

Two Oklahoma lawmakers file bills encouraging creationism


By RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Published: 1/28/2011 3:37 AM
Last Modified: 1/28/2011 6:02 AM

A freshman state senator from southeastern Oklahoma and a four-term state representative from Oklahoma City are taking another run at Charles Darwin.

Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, and Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, have filed legislation designed to undermine the teaching of a fundamental of modern science, the theory of evolution.

Kern's House Bill 1551, called the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act, says students cannot be penalized for subscribing "to a particular position on scientific theories."

Brecheen's Senate Bill 554 actually encourages the teaching of evolution - but in a way his critics say is designed to tear it down rather than reinforce it.

"It's very slickly written," said Victor Hutchison, a retired University of Oklahoma zoology professor who tracks such legislation. "But it includes comments from the creationism crowd that you recognize if you're familiar with these things."

The upshot, Hutchison said, is "criticism of evolution without any scientific basis."

Brecheen does not really dispute that his bill is an attack on evolution. He promised such a measure after his election in November and said evolution is "a religion," not science.

"I have introduced legislation requiring every publicly funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution," he wrote in the Dec. 24 Durant Daily Democrat.

Brecheen would not agree to be interviewed for this story, but he said in an e-mail that "legislators have a responsibility to ensure state-supported classroom instruction is factual so, concerning evolution, ... we must fully educate using all confirmed scientific discoveries."

Kern did not respond to an interview request, but she issued a statement earlier this week denying that her bill is "anti-evolution."

"Given the impact of the theory of evolution, it is important that students be familiar with it and able to discuss it," she said. "At the same time, teachers and students should be free to discuss critiques of the theory, and no student should ever be penalized for personal views on this issue."

U.S. courts have consistently ruled that creationism and "intelligent design" are based on religion, not science.

But Kern's and Brecheen's bills state that they are not intended to promote a religious viewpoint.

"That's ridiculous," Hutchison said. "These bills come primarily from people who are biblical literalists."

He pointed out that most mainstream Christian denominations accept evolution.

"It comes down to the definition of science," Hutchison said. "Religion has no place in a science course. It can, however, be taught in courses on religion."

Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20110128_16_A15_CUTLIN39811

Evolution teaching poor in U.S. high schools


By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY

Most U.S. high school biology teachers "fail to forthrightly explain evolutionary biology," finds an educator survey. And at least 13% "strongly support" teaching creationism.

Evolution, the inheritance of changed characteristics across generations, is the fundamental unifying concept underlying biology, as a National Research Council science education standards released in 1996 noted. That report said, "... 'biological evolution' cannot be eliminated from the life science standards."

But only 28% of the 926 teachers surveyed, "unabashedly introduce evidence that evolution has occurred and craft lesson plans so that evolution is a theme that unifies disparate topics in biology," according to the Science report by Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer of Penn State. Most biology teachers belong to the "cautious 60%," who are "neither strong advocates for evolutionary biology nor explicit endorsers of nonscientific alternatives," the study says. As mentioned, 13% of respondents advocated biblical creationism or "intelligent design" creationism in biology class.

Our data show that these teachers understandably want to avoid controversy. Often they have not taken a course in evolution and they lack confidence in their ability to defend it. Their strategies for avoiding controversy are varied, but three were especially common and each has the effect of undermining science. Some teach evolutionary biology as though it only applies to molecular biology—completely ignoring macroevolution of species. At best, this approach sacrifices a rich understanding of the diversity of species. At worst it lends credence to the creationist claim that there is no evidence for one species giving rise to others.

Others defend the teaching of evolution as a necessary evil, using state examination requirements as a convenient means to disassociate themselves from the very material they are expected to teach. These examinations have only been recently introduced in most states. Yet, many teachers told us that they tell students that it does not matter if they really "believe" in evolution, so long as they know it for the test. One Michigan teacher tells students that they need to understand evolution because the biology curriculum "is organized as if evolution is true".

Finally, a sizable number of teachers expose their students to all positions—scientific or not. Students should make up their own minds, explained a Pennsylvania teacher, "based on their own beliefs and research. Not on what a textbook or on what a teacher says." Many of these teachers might have great confidence in their students' ability to learn by exploration. But does a 15-year-old student really have enough information to reject thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers? This approach tells students that well-established concepts like common ancestry can be debated in the same way we debate personal opinions.

"I think the real amount of under-teaching of evolution is likely even worse," says science literacy expert Jon Miller of Michigan State University in East Lansing. Miller published a 2007 report in Science ranking the U.S.A. 34th out of 35 developed nations (ahead of only Turkey) on public acceptance of evolution. Nearly a third of Americans said evolution was "absolutely false" in that study despite decades of evidence from genes, fossils and field observations confirming the idea. "Not many teachers have the backbone to stand up to parents and school boards for evolution," Miller says.

In particular, Miller notes, many U.S. adults dispute the notion of humans evolving from an ape-like ancestor within the last 6 million years, despite the genetic evidence showing a common ancestry with chimps, gorillas and orangutans, and a fossil record filled with precursor human species, including Neanderthals, now shown to be even more closely related to us by genes. "We can accept evolution for animals, but don't believe it about ourselves," Miller says.

"Teachers who are advocates for evolutionary biology are more likely to have completed a course in evolution than teachers who are ambivalent about evolution or who teach creationism," says the Penn State survey study. "Combined with continued successes in courtrooms and the halls of state government, this approach offers our best chance of increasing the science literacy of future generations."

Scopes Weeps: Evolution Still Struggling in Public Schools


By Lisa Grossman January 28, 2011 | 4:44 pm

Despite 80 years of court battles ousting creationism from public classrooms, most public high school biology teachers are not strong advocates for evolution.

While vocal advocates of intelligent design and similar non-scientific alternatives to evolution are a minority, more than half the teachers in a nationwide poll avoided taking a strong stance for evolution.

Such teachers "may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists," wrote Penn State political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, the poll's architects, in a Jan. 28 Science paper.

Berkman and Plutzer, the authors of Evolution, Creationism and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms, examined data from the National Survey of High School Biology Teachers, a representative sample of 926 biology teachers from across the country. They estimate that only 28 percent of those teachers consistently and "unabashedly" introduce evidence that evolution has happened, and build lesson plans with evolution as a unifying theme linking different topics in biology.

At the opposite extreme, 13 percent of teachers explicitly endorse creationism or intelligent design, and spend at least on hour of class time presenting it in a positive light. An additional 5 percent reported that they support creationism in passing or when answering students' questions.

The remaining fraction of teachers, who Berkman and Plutzer dub the "cautious 60 percent," avoids choosing sides. Often these teachers have not taken courses in evolutionary biology and lack confidence in their ability to answer questions from skeptical or hostile students and parents.

There are three popular strategies for evading controversy in the biology classroom, Berkman and Plutzer say. Some teachers focus on evolution at the molecular level, ignoring the idea that whole species of animals can evolve.

Some hide behind rigid state science tests, telling students "it does not matter if they actually 'believe' in evolution, so long as they know it for the test," Berkman and Plutzer wrote.

Others present both sides and let students decide for themselves. This strategy respects high schoolers' critical reasoning skills, but undervalues the scientific method.

"These teachers fail to explain the nature of scientific inquiry, undermine the authority of established experts, and legitimize creationist arguments, even if unintentionally," Berkman and Plutzer wrote.

The researchers offer one major solution: Focus on teacher training. Teachers who have had a course in evolution are statistically far more likely to advocate for evolution in their classrooms. Making such a course mandatory for all incoming teachers could make those teachers more likely to accept and teach evolution.

An evolution requirement could have the spinoff benefit of driving out the avowed creationists, the researchers write.

"Programs directed at preservice teachers can therefore both reduce the number of evolution deniers in the nation's classrooms, [and] increase the number who would gladly accept help in teaching evolution," they wrote. "Combined with continued successes in courtrooms and the halls of state government, this approach offers our best chance of increasing the scientific literacy of future generations."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oklahoma's New Anti-Evolution Bill


Posted on: January 26, 2011 9:00 AM, by Ed Brayton

It's the start of a new legislative session, and with Republicans in control of most state houses now you can expect a sharp uptick in the number of anti-evolution bills being submitted. Oklahoma, of course, always its share of such bills and the NCSE has the details on the first one of the session:

First, echoing the still popular "academic freedom" language of antievolution legislation, the bill provides that state and local education administrators "shall not prohibit any teacher from informing students about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses of controversial topics in sciences, when being taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula," where such topics "include but are not limited to biological origins of life and biological evolution." The bill also provides, "No teacher shall be reassigned, terminated, disciplined or otherwise discriminated against for providing scientific information being taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula."

Translation: A teacher can introduce the most egregious nonsense based on ignorance and dishonesty into their classrooms and there's nothing anyone can do about it. When the bill says teachers may introduce "scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses" that means they can introduce creationist garbage.

Second, the bill requires the state board of education to adopt "standards and curricula" that echo the flawed portions of the state science standards adopted in Texas in 2009 with respect to the nature of science and, for grades eight through twelve, evolution. For example, the content of SB 554's D1, D2, D7, D9, and D10 are identical to sections 7A, 7B, 7G, 8A, and 8B of the Texas high school biology standards -- all sections that were added or amended by antievolution members of the Texas state board of education, such as Don "Someone's got to stand up to experts!" McLeroy, in order to encourage the presentation of creationist claims in the science classroom. No fewer than fifty-four scientific and educational organizations opposed these revisions.

Yeah, copying Texas is exactly what you want to do -- assuming you have no interest in actually educating students in science. The good news is that the bill's sponsor is, like most people, too stupid to use euphemisms and he blurts out what the real point is:

The sole sponsor of the bill is Josh Brecheen (R-District 6), who announced his intention to file antievolution legislation in a column in the Durant Daily Democrat (December 19, 2010): "Renowned scientists now asserting that evolution is laden with errors are being ignored. ... Using your tax dollars to teach the unknown, without disclosing the entire scientific findings[,] is incomplete and unacceptable." In a subsequent column in the Daily Democrat (December 24, 2010), he clearly indicated that his intention was to have creationism presented as scientifically credible, writing, "I have introduced legislation requiring every publically funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution using the known science, even that which conflicts with Darwin's religion."

That's the one big advantage science has in this battle. No matter how many times the Discovery Institute says, "Don't say creation, say intelligent design theory," the school board members and legislators who push the policies they want just aren't capable of concealing their real agenda. Plus they want to be credited by ignorant voters as taking a stand for God, so they want to say such things publicly -- and they always give away the game when they do so.

New Book Shows How Evolution's Co-Discoverer Rejected Darwinism, Embraced Intelligent Design


By Discovery Institute

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011 - 12:40 pm

SEATTLE, Jan. 25, 2011 -- /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Evolutionary theory's co-founder ultimately rejected Darwinism on scientific grounds in favor of an understanding similar to modern intelligent design (ID). In a new biography published by Discovery Institute, Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life, University of Alabama science historian Michael Flannery tells how Wallace grew disenchanted with natural selection as a theory capable of explaining life's complexity. Wallace (1823-1913) concluded that many features of living organisms could best be explained as the product of design by a "directive Mind."

Critics of ID frequently attack the theory as a "science stopper." Flannery shows that on the contrary, it was Alfred Wallace's commitment to open inquiry that led him to the conclusion that far from being random and undirected, as Darwin insisted, evolution manifests scientifically detectable evidence of intelligent guidance. Biology, Flannery argues, is in the process of catching up with the prescient Wallace.

Flannery's book has received enthusiastic endorsements from scientists and historians including Philip K. Wilson at Penn State College of Medicine, John S. Haller at Southern Illinois University, and Michael Behe at Lehigh University.

Michael Egnor, professor and vice-chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Stony Brook University Medical Center, said, "Flannery's superb book provides the reader with indispensable insight into the earliest squalls in the modern tempest over Darwin's theory and intelligent design."

Along with the book, Wallace's ideas are the subject of a brand-new website, www.alfredwallace.org, replete with free resources for the public including videos, book excerpts, and additional biographical information about Wallace.

Flannery is a professor and associate director for historical collections at the Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences, University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is the editor of Alfred Russel Wallace's Theory of Intelligent Evolution (Erasmus Press, 2008).

Wallace, an English-born naturalist, conceived of his version of natural selection in 1859 while Darwin was still sitting on his own unpublished theory. On contacting Darwin and sharing the idea with him, Wallace threw Darwin into an upheaval, forcing the other man to go public with his theory so as not to be scooped by Wallace. Tension increased between the two after 1869 when Wallace publicly revealed his doubts about Darwinian evolution. He elaborated his mature theory of intelligent evolution culminating in his magnum opus, The World of Life (1910).

Unlike Darwin, Wallace was also a vocal opponent of pseudo-scientific racism and eugenics.

SOURCE Discovery Institute

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/01/25/3351022/new-book-shows-how-evolutions.html#ixzz1CCMBduJJ

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Creationists have gotten clever, but there's still no debate over evolution



Creationists and intelligent design proponents have gotten clever. Instead of pushing for creationism to be taught in science classes, they're merely asking that schools fairly present 'the scientific evidence' against evolution. The only problem? There isn't any.

By Steven Newton / January 19, 2011

Oakland, Calif.

As 2011 gets under way, those who care about the integrity of science education are bracing for the latest round of state legislation aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution in the public schools. Every year, a host of these bills are filed across the country. In 2008, one was passed in Louisiana, despite protests from scientists and educators. In Oklahoma, State Senator Josh Brecheen (R) has vowed to introduce a bill in the coming legislative session that requires schools to teach "all the facts" on the so-called fallacies of evolution.

The tactics of creationists have evolved since 1925, when Tennessee's Butler Act forbade the teaching of evolution, and high school biology teacher John Scopes was put on trial for doing so. (Creationists believe that God created the physical universe and all organisms according to the account in Genesis, denying the evolution of species.)

But creationists' tactics have also evolved since 2005, when a federal court in Pennsylvania established that teaching intelligent design (ID) in public schools is unconstitutional. The judge in the case ruled, "ID is not science" and derives instead from "religious strategies that evolved from earlier forms of creationism." (Intelligent design holds that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.")

The favored strategy of intelligent design proponents and creationists now is to try to undermine the teaching of evolution by arguing that "evidence against evolution" should be taught, in order to foster a spirit of critical inquiry among students. Arguing that students ought to be exposed to an alleged scientific debate over evolution, intelligent design proponents call for a radical rewriting of textbooks and curricula.

The new strategy is craftier – but just as bogus.

No debate on evolution

Despite the constant claims of creationists to the contrary, there simply is no debate among scientists about the validity of evolution. If you search research journals and attend scientific conferences, it becomes readily apparent that while there are controversies over the details of evolution, there is no controversy about the basic fact that living things have descended with modification from a common ancestry. Scientists argue how evolution happened, not whether evolution happened.

This doesn't stop creationists from imagining they can conjure a debate by repeating the claim that there is evidence against evolution. Intelligent design advocates claim they aren't asking public schools to teach creationism, just the "scientific debate over Darwinian evolution." The problem, again, is that there is no debate to teach. The National Academy of Sciences, the nation's most prestigious scientific organization, emphasizes, "There is no scientific controversy about the basic facts of evolution."

If there were credible scientific evidence against evolution, scientists would be the first to discover it, the first to publish it in peer-reviewed journals, and the first to debate its validity and importance. After all, discovering credible scientific evidence against evolution would be a revolutionary accomplishment, worthy of a Nobel Prize. That's why accusations from creationists and intelligent design advocates that scientists are conspiring to suppress evidence against evolution are, to put it mildly, silly.

Creationists are cutting in line

Because scientists are not debating evolution, it is wrong to teach students otherwise. In public school science classes and textbooks, the basic methods and results of the mainstream scientific consensus are presented – not untested fringe ideas, not speculations, but information fully supported by evidence. By demanding to cut in line, creationists ask to bypass the normal process of verifying scientific claims. They try to misuse public resources to foist their scientifically unwarranted denial of evolution on a captive student audience, and to force their culture war into America's classrooms.

What creationists regard as "scientific evidence" against evolution is really a collection of debunked claims circulating and persisting like urban legends. For example, from the Scopes era to today, creationists have eagerly cited the so-called Cambrian explosion, a 10-million-year period about 530 million years ago when fossils record a blossoming of animal life. Creationists claim that the standard model of evolutionary change is incapable of explaining how so many new kinds of animals could have flourished so quickly.

As Mr. Brecheen, the Oklahoma state senator, recently garbled it, "The main fallacy with Darwinian theory is the sudden appearance at about 540 million years [ago] of fossil records." (In fact, the earliest fossils were formed about three billion years earlier than that.) The Cambrian explosion, he wrote, "debunks the tree of life" – a view not shared by practicing paleontologists.

Selective quotes from real scientists

Lacking any substantive evidence to make their case, creationists offer a few selective quotes from real scientists to give their arguments authority. For example, noted National Institutes of Health evolutionary biologist Eugene V. Koonin was recently quoted by a program officer with the leading intelligent design organization (The Discovery Institute) as saying that the modern synthesis of evolution has "crumbled, apparently, beyond repair." The implication was that Mr. Koonin would agree that there is a scientific debate over evolution that deserves to be taught in the schools.

But when I talked to Koonin, he told me this interpretation was simply wrong. Creationists, he said, "delight in claiming that whenever any aspect of '(neo)Darwinism' is considered obsolete, evolution is denied. Nothing could be further from the truth." Koonin explained that what is "crumbling" in his view is a half-century-old approach to thinking about evolution. Modern evolutionary theory is "a much broader, richer and ultimately more satisfactory constellation of data, concepts, and ideas." Evolution is alive and well, while creationist understanding of it is apparently stuck in the Eisenhower era.

The top 10 monkeys

Whether by banning the teaching of evolution, or requiring the teaching of creation science or intelligent design, or encouraging the teaching of long-ago-debunked misrepresentations of evolution, creationist proposals are bad science, bad pedagogy, and bad policy. Instead of proposing scientifically illiterate and educationally harmful measures, state legislatures – and other policy-makers – should help students learn about evolution. As the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky famously said – and as Eugene Koonin explicitly agreed – "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

Steven Newton is programs and policy director for the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit defending the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Condescension, Sneers, and Outright Misrepresentations of Intelligent Design Pass For Scholarship in Synthese


Casey Luskin January 19, 2011 7:16 AM | Permalink

As I wrote about recently, in mid-2010 the philosophy journal Synthese published an excellent critique of neo-Darwinian evolution and self-organization by Richard Johns. Johns' article did not argue for intelligent design (ID), but it was critical of the sacred cow of biology.

It seems that somebody may have asked the Synthese to offer penance that sin: The latest issue of Synthese is devoted to covering intelligent design, but they strangely they published not a single article by a proponent of intelligent design. Instead they published an issue where many (though not all) of the articles are full of demeaning and condescending sneers against ID, as well as many outright misrepresentations of ID. It feels like it was scripted by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE)! Here's a review of some of the articles in the issue:

The Introduction, by NCSE's Glenn Branch

If there was any guess as to whether the NCSE was involved with this issue of Synthese, consider the fact that the introductory article is written by no other than Glenn Branch, Deputy Director of the NCSE. At worst, Branch's article stoops to making free association comparisons between Darwin-critics and geocentrists. Incredibly, however, he provides one accurate admission:

Owing to a dispute between the Discovery Institute and the Thomas More Law Center, which was representing the [Dover] school board, Dembski and Meyer withdrew from the [Dover] case.

That accurate statement contradicts a whole host of conspiracy theories from his counterpart anti-ID activists who have claimed Dembski or Meyer withdrew because from testifying in the Dover trial because, as Barbara Forrest states: "armed with my work and that of the other witnesses for the plaintiffs, halfway decent attorneys would make legal mincemeat of them." Branch just contradicted Forrest--which is good because Forrest was wrong and Branch was right.

Argumentum Ad Condescension and Sneer

A tragically amusing article in the issue of Synthese is John Wilkins' piece with the less-than-civil title, "Are creationists rational?" And of course guess what gets lumped as the same as "creationism"? You guessed it: intelligent design. Wilkins states: "Parenthetically, creationists and intelligent designists often claim that science is 'just' another religion, and so can be treated as commensurate with their theological views." He argues that "Creationism is usually regarded as an irrational set of beliefs." And what's his solution to "eliminate" creationism? Seek to gain "conversions" to the evolutionary view when they're still young! He writes:

Given that late conversions are improbable, the task is to ensure that the newer generations are better aware of the epistemic worth of science. Perturb the conceptual development in favor of experiential and experimental knowledge early and the outcomes are likely to be more effectively scientific. We will never be able to eliminate anti-science, for it is often an irrational (in the traditional sense as well as the bounded sense) choice, but we owe it to our society and culture to allow learners who do make boundedly rational choices of beliefs to be able to do so on better grounds than at present. (emphasis added)

So there you have it: That's a fancy way of saying 'convert them while they're young.' Perhaps this explains the Evolution Readiness Project.

When it comes to condescension and sneers, however, Kelly C. Smith's piece wins first prize. Full of militaristic metaphors, Smith's article laments that more scientists aren't "involved in the fight against the creationist threat." He further laments that "many of the reactions to the threat have been so unsuccessful" citing the "fight with the creationists" and the need for "combating creationism." He even makes a bizarre statement that in this debate "we should think of the creationist contest as one where the interlocutors are using blunted or padded weapon." And of course he treats ID as the equivalent creationism, by citing to a document by Eugenie Scott which says "Intelligent design creationism (IDC) is the newest manifestation of American creationism."

Smith's utter disdain for "creationists" peaks in this militaristic metaphor:

The most important element in the war is finding a venue in which we can engage the enemy on terms favorable to our side (or at least not rigged in favor of the bad guys.)

At least Smith is willing to admit that ID-critics seek to frame the terms of the debate so they can't lose.

The condescending tone of Smith's article cannot be overemphasized. He claims, "Your average creationist, however, neither understands nor cares to understand such minutia" of the scientific issues and often have "uninformed opinion[s]" or are "owefully ignorant." In fact, it gets much worse for his main thesis is that "creationism" is a "rational pathogology":

It's my view that the creationism debate is fertile ground for the study of rational pathologies. I will take it as a given that the enormous weight of both evidence and argument supports the truth of evolution over creationism.

And there's this combative statement: "Those of us who have invested time in dealing with the creationists will understand the frustration felt, not only with the adversary. ... Attempting to convince one's peers can be almost as frustrating as arguing with a creationist." Smith continues:

Arguing with creationists is like weeding a garden, to switch similes--you can pull weeds all day and do a great job, but there will soon be more weeds, just like those you removed earlier.

And what's Smith's solution to defeat this "rational pathology" of intelligent design? In his own words, "Bash Harder." Smith continues:

But now, like it or not, the days of honest combat where the loser is manifest to all (by virtue of, say, being dead) are over and done with. Now we have this circus atmosphere where the crowd is in charge and are impressed by moves worthy of professional wrestling. What reason could you possibly give under these circumstances for thinking that what didn't work last time is going to work this time if only we do it more of it?

So does Smith not recommend "honest combat"?

It also seems that Smith feels that the evidence for evolution he wants to exist doesn't exist. He thus charges that "what we need to do is develop a single example of macroevolution which presents a representative sample of the evidence behind the construction of the series in a very simple, user-friendly fashion." I guess that single example doesn't exist yet, or Smith would feel comfortable he could win all the fights. Perhaps when Smith writes, "Creationists, by and large, seem to be curiously impervious to any argumentative assault yet devised," the problem isn't with "creationists" but with the evidence for evolution.

And Smith's final proscription is like Wilkins' proscription: Again, we need to get them while they're young:

For evolution, this has to be the pre-college science classroom. This is really the only place where the average person spends a significant amount of time thinking about science, so it's the only battlefield which fits our purposes in addressing a mass audience. Now certainly it's necessary to this strategy that we not let the other side take possession of the battleground, which is why it's so important to fight attempts to inject creationism into the curriculum.

After all the condescension, Smith suggests, with a straight face, that we ought to treat creationists nicely: "There's a real tendency to view the creationists as some kind of alien other and assume, often mistakenly, that those we respect in various ways could not be like that." I suspect Smith is intimately familiar with what this is like. Smith even says that it's a bad idea to "[give] in to the frustration openly in a counterproductive rant." Ironically, a "counterproductive rant" is exactly what Smith's article appears to be.

In two further posts I'll discuss additional off-base critiques of intelligent design in Synthese.

"Strengths and Weaknesses" Bill in Oklahoma


As he announced at the end of last year, Republican Senator Josh Brecheen has, in his words, "introduced legislation requiring every publicly funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution using the known science, even that which conflicts with Darwin's religion." The bill has now been pre-filed in the Senate.

The act labels "biological origins of life and biological evolution" as "controversial topics in sciences" and would require that state educational authorities "not prohibit any teacher from informing students about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses" of these topics. (Keep in mind that evolution is not a point of controversy or debate in the scientific community.) Regular readers of this blog will recognize the bill—with its "strengths and weaknesses" language—as another attempt to undercut the teaching of evolution and bring religious ideas like creationism and "intelligent design" into the science classroom.

As the National Center for Science Education points out:

the bill requires the state board of education to adopt "standards and curricula" that echo the flawed portions of the state science standards adopted in Texas in 2009 with respect to the nature of science and, for grades 8 through 12, evolution. For example, the content of SB 554's D1, D2, D7, D9, and D10 are identical to sections 7A, 7B, 7G, 8A, and 8B of the Texas high school biology standards—all sections that were added or amended by anti-evolution members of the Texas state board of education … in order to encourage the presentation of creationist claims in the science classroom. No fewer than 54 scientific and educational organizations opposed these revisions.

Creationist kook defends his creationist crock


Category: Creationism
Posted on: January 20, 2011 2:55 PM, by PZ Myers

That loon Terry Hurlbut is irate that I mocked his "Creationist Hall of Fame" in a post the other day, so he rails against me today. It's a typical collection of squirrely non-sequiturs, but I'll address the funniest of them.

But what PZ Myers of the Pharyngula blog fails to understand is that the CSHF does not intend to limit its honors to contemporary creation-oriented scientists. He probably believes that because he is under a common misapprehension: that creation science is a new movement, one going no further back than Henry Morris and John C. Whitcomb's The Genesis Flood.

As in all things, Terry Hurlbut is mistaken and ignorant. No, I do not fail to understand that; in fact, I expect that. It's one of creationism's most common strategems, the adoption of any scientist who lived before Darwin into the ranks of anti-Darwinists. I'm sure Isaac Newton will be inducted into the Creationist Hall of Fame, despite the fact that, brilliant as he was, he was not a biologist, did not consider the problems of biological origins at all deeply, did no work in the field, and didn't even have an evolutionary theory to argue against.

Creationism is a belief born of ignorance. It depends on a lack of awareness of biological realities and knowledge of the experiments and observations in the discipline (or, alternatively, awareness of this work coupled to a malignant denial). Terry Hurlbut can go ahead and mine the human population a thousand generations back and find plenty of smart and accomplished human beings, and draft them posthumously to be part of his "creationist movement", but it doesn't change the fact that the chief criterion for membership in that movement is simply ignorance. Isaac Newton was ignorant of the facts of evolutionary biology, and so was Aristotle, and so was Thog, son of Thag, caveman. Go ahead, sign them all up, they're as much an intellectual contributor to creationism as they are spiritual members of the Mormon church…but that won't stop the Mormons from baptizing them anyway.

Still incapable of reading for comprehension, Hurlbut horks up another error.

One final word is in order: the Creation Science Hall of Fame makes no representation that it will have as many inductees as the so-called "Science Hall of Fame" of which PZ Myers is so fond. In harping on the apparent scarcity of CSHF honorees thus far (and forgetting that the CSHF is under construction in cyberspace as well as under development in brick and mortar), Myers commits a classic logical fallacy: argumentum a numeris (argument from numbers), or argumentum a multitudine (argument from the crowd). Instead, the CSHF will compete on quality, not quantity.

Heh. Right. If he read a little more closely, he might have noticed that what I thought worth noting was that the Science Hall of Fame uses an objective measurement of the recognition granted to the scientists in the literature. When those same measurements are made of their creationist heroes, they fail. The Creationist Hall of Fame is going to be populated by clowns who are selected for their adherence to the crazy notion that the Earth is 6000 years old, leavened by a small set of famous scientists who lived before the neo-Darwinian Synthesis. That isn't quality. That's lunacy.

By the way, I'm sure Hurlbut will rant some more, but I won't be replying. He gets paid for traffic to his Examiner site, and he probably simply sees this as an easy way to milk the cash cow, and I won't be helping him further.

Impending battle over supplementary material in Texas


January 21st, 2011

The Texas Freedom Network warns, in a January 20, 2011, press release, that "the war on science is officially back on in Texas." The opening salvo was the appearance of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics — perhaps best known as the publisher of Of Pandas and People — on a list of publishers intending to submit supplementary science curriculum material for approval by the Texas state board of education.

Of Pandas and People is the "intelligent design" textbook that was at the center of Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case in which the teaching of "intelligent design" in the public schools was ruled to be unconstitutional. During the trial, Barbara Forrest's argument that "intelligent design" was a relabeling of creationism was bolstered by the fact that in drafts of Of Pandas and People, the word "creation" was systematically replaced with the word "design" just after the 1987 Supreme Court ruling that teaching creationism in the public schools violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Before the trial, FTE unsuccessfully sought to intervene in the case by becoming a co-defendant along with the Dover Area School Board. In a July 2005 hearing, FTE's president Jon Buell told the court that FTE was not a religious organization — only to be confronted on cross-examination with a copy of FTE's tax return, on which its primary purpose was described as "promoting and publishing textbooks presenting a Christian perspective," and a copy of its articles of incorporation, according to which its purposes include "making known the Christian gospel and understanding of the Bible."

Texas Freedom Network's Kathy Miller commented, "In 2009 the State Board of Education approved new science curriculum standards that opened the door to creationist materials in Texas classrooms. Today we saw that one prominent creationist group intends to walk through that door." Miller added, "Getting their materials in public schools has long been a top priority for creationists, and it's clear that they intend to make Texas their flagship. Teaching inaccurate information rejected by the scientific community would be a huge disservice to Texas kids and a major setback for science education everywhere."

Materials submitted for approval will be available for public review in March 2011 and will also undergo review by panels of citizens, educators, and scientists to ensure their conformity to the state's science standards and their factual accuracy. The state board of education is expected to vote on the materials in April 2011; materials approved by the board will be available for purchase by local school districts.

Integrative medicine: Echinacea may not be worth the cost


By Drs. Kay Judge and Maxine Barish-Wreden

Published: Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 15I

It's that time of year when colds and flu set in, and we reach for the tissue box and cold products.

Herbal supplements are big sellers when it comes to colds and flu, and one of these is echinacea. However, a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that echinacea may not do a lot to reduce cold symptoms once an infection sets in.

This study – done at the University of Wisconsin and funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health – included more than 700 patients ages 12 to 80 who had reported cold symptoms.

They randomly were given either a placebo pill, an echinacea pill or no pill. Some of the people getting the echinacea knew they were getting the herb, and some did not. The echinacea groups received the equivalent of about 10 grams of dried echinacea root the first day and about 5 grams of the root for the next four days.

The researchers measured the improvement in severity of participants' cold symptoms during the study and also looked at levels of immune cells in the nasal passages.

What they found was a small benefit for the echinacea: illness duration in people getting the echinacea was about a half-day less than in people who got the placebo or no pill at all, and illness severity was reduced by about 10 percent. There was no significant change in the immune function measurements in this study.

So while there was a small benefit noted for those who took echinacea, it was not huge in terms of the amount of time saved from cold symptoms; when you couple that with the cost of purchasing echinacea, as well as potential side effects from this herb, you really have to wonder whether it's worth taking it at all.

That said, there some other things you can try when you feel a cold or flu coming on:

• Get as much rest as you can and drink lots of fluids.

• Watch funny movies – laughter seems to help stimulate the immune system and reduce physical discomfort.

• If you wish to try an herbal product, know that many are promoted for the prevention and treatment of colds and flu, but data are sparse on a lot of them.

Promising ones include Cold-FX (American ginseng), Kan Jang (a combination of Siberian ginseng and andrographis) and Sambucol syrup (elderberry).

Keep in mind that some of them take several days before they start to help.

• If you need something for a nighttime cough, try taking one to two teaspoons of honey before going to bed. It soothes irritated tissues in the back of the throat that can lead to cough, and it actually seems to work better than over-the-counter cough syrups (caveat: honey should not be given to any child under age 1).

Of course, prevention is always the best bet.

Thorough hand washing with lots of soap and water is considered the single most important thing you can do to stop the spread of infections, including colds, flu and infectious diarrhea. Alcohol-based hand rubs can also be effective, but they don't eliminate all bacteria from the skin.

Finally, don't forget to get plenty of rest, exercise regularly, keep your stress levels down, eat a super-healthy diet and get enough vitamin D – all of these things will help to keep you healthy and happy as well.

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/01/23/3339855/integrative-medicine-echinacea.html#ixzz1BsCqQTvI

Kate Middleton shares Prince Charles' alternative medicine passion


2011-01-22 17:50:00

The Prince of Wales, who has been slammed for his passionate advocacy of alternative health treatments, may have found a kindred spirit in his prospective daughter-in-law, Kate Middleton.

Prince William's fiancee is considering becoming the patron of a new charity offering alternative therapies, it has emerged.

Kate Hudson Hall, the co-founder of the charity, Changez, said she has received a letter from Kate confirming her interest.

"I am very excited. The letter said she was considering us as a charity to support. I am hopeful," the Telegraph quoted her as saying.

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, is already a patron of the organisation, which is based in his Twickenham constituency in southwest London.

The charity aims to offer confidential and impartial support for people experiencing feelings of distress or suffering trauma.

A spokesman at St James's Palace said it is too soon to say which charities will enjoy the patronage of the future princess.

The only charity with which Kate has been actively involved is the Starlight Children's Foundation, which aims to brighten the lives of seriously ill children. (ANI)

Of Pandas and Texas


By Ryan

Breaking news from today's State Board of Education meeting. The long and short of it — the war on science is officially back on in Texas.

See TFN's press statement for the basics. And watch TFN Insider for more in the days to come.


Texas SBOE Asked To Consider Materials from Fringe Anti-Science Group

January 20, 2011

In a move that should not surprise anyone, a well-known creationist/"intelligent design" group appeared on a list of publishers that have indicated an intent to submit science curriculum materials for approval by the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) later this spring. The formal inclusion of this creationist group means Texas will once again be ground zero for creationist attacks on 21st-century science, TFN President Kathy Miller said.

"In 2009 the State Board of Education approved new science curriculum standards that opened the door to creationist materials in Texas classrooms. Today we saw that one prominent creationist group intends to walk through that door," Miller said. "Getting their materials in public schools has long been a top priority for creationists, and it's clear that they intend to make Texas their flagship. Teaching inaccurate information rejected by the scientific community would be a huge disservice to Texas kids and a major setback for science education everywhere."

Among the dozens of publishers who notified the SBOE of their intent to submit science materials for approval was a Richardson,TX-based group called the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE). Approval of materials published by FTE, a self-described promoter of "intelligent design," would create several serious problems for the board, including:

•FTE's troubled legal history – FTE published the "intelligent design" textbook (Of Pandas and People) that was ruled to be unconstitutional for use in public schools in the landmark decision Kitzmiller v. Dover (PA).
•FTE's well-established record of religious proselytizing through its textbooks – As recently as 2002, the group described its mission on IRS tax returns as "promoting and publishing textbooks presenting a Christian perspective of academic studies."
The actual materials submitted for approval by FTE and other publishers will not be available to the public until March. The State Board of Education, however, has already begun appointing review panels – made up of citizens, educators and scientists – that will evaluate all materials for conformity to the state's new curriculum standards as well as for factual accuracy.

There will be a public hearing on these materials at the board in April. The board will take a final vote on approval or rejection of these science materials at the conclusion of that April meeting. All materials approved by the board are available for purchase by local school districts for use in science classrooms.