NTS LogoSkeptical News for 10 March 2011

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Behe's Critics Use Faulty Logic to Allege Creationist Connections to the Origin of Irreducible Complexity


Casey Luskin March 9, 2011 9:32 AM | Permalink

Quarterly Review of Biology (QRB) published an error-filled article attacking Michael Behe and intelligent design (ID) as penance for publishing Behe's article. So much for the claim from critics that Behe's QRB paper had nothing to do with ID.

In any case, the critical article by Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke, and Johan Braeckman uses fallacious logic to attempt to connect Michael Behe's arguments from irreducible complexity to young earth creationism. There argument seems to be that if anyone anywhere who is a creationist has ever talked about an idea that sounds like irreducible complexity, then that was necessarily one of Behe's sources for his ideas. Behe's critics thus quote Henry Morris and other creationists talking about how some biological features require many parts to function. The critics then assert--without any proof whatsoever to back their claim--that "Behe has simply adapted these creationist notions to his own ends. Consider his definition of IC in Darwin's Black Box." Boudry, Blancke and Braekman then quote Behe's definition of IC from page 39 of Darwin's Black Box, confidently bluffing that it settles the argument that Behe got all his ideas from young earth creationists.

On the contrary, the critics haven't even made an argument.

Behe's words are very different from those of Morris and other creationists. As noted, Behe's critics present zero -- literally zero -- evidence to back their claim that Behe derived his ideas from those creationists. (My guess is that Behe's critics think their criticism is true because they hear it commonly repeated. Eugenie Scott often makes that argument, and they probably heard her make it at some talk they attended, and they trusted her contrived attacks as gospel.)

Rather, if you read Darwin's Black Box it becomes quite clear where Behe got his ideas from--and it wasn't a young earth creationist. Boudry, Blancke and Braekman leave off the first part of Behe's quote, which shows Behe got his ideas about weaknesses in Darwinian evolution from Darwin himself. Behe's actual quote reads:

Darwin knew that his theory of gradual evolution by natural selection carried a heavy burden:
If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.
It is safe to say that most of the scientific skepticism about Darwinism in the past century has centered on this requirement. From Mivart's concern over the incipient stages of new structures to Margulis's dismissal of gradual evolution, critics of Darwin have suspected that his criterion of failure had been met. But how can we be confident? What type of biological system could not be formed by "numerous, successive, slight modifications"?

Well, for starters, a system that is irreducibly complex. By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly (that is, by continuously improving the initial function, which continues to work by the same mechanism) by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition non-functional. An irreducibly complex biological system, if there is such a thing, would be a powerful challenge to Darwinian evolution. Since natural selection can only choose systems that are already working, then if a biological system cannot be produced gradually it would have to arise as an integrated unit, in one fell swoop, for natural selection to have anything to act on.

(Michal Behe, Darwin's Black Box, p. 39 (Free Press, 1996).).

So it seems very clear where Behe got his ideas about problems with Darwin's theory -- he got them from Darwin. And Behe cited other scientific authorities who see merits to such challenges to Darwinian evolution -- including George Mivart (a 19th century evolutionist and a Catholic ) and Lynn Margulis (a leading evolutionary biologist of the modern day). Perhaps some creationists picked up similar ideas along the way. So what? That doesn't mean anything unless you use a "correlation equals causation" fallacy a la Barbara Forrest. Of course, Lynn Margulis and George Mivart are no latter day young earth creationists. As Mivart stated:

The higher the organization, whether of an entire organism or of a single organ, the greater is the number of the parts that cooperate, and the more perfect is their cooperation; and, consequently, the more necessity there is for corresponding variations to take place in all the cooperating parts at once, and the more useless will be any variation whatever unless it is accompanied by corresponding variations in the cooperating parts; while it is obvious that the greater the number of variations which are needed in order to effect an improvement, the less will be the probability of their occurring at once...the improbability of obtaining an improvement in an organ by means of several spontaneous variations, all occurring together, is an improbability of the same kind.
Or as Margulis has stated:

We agree that very few potential offspring ever survive to reproduce and that populations do change through time, and that therefore natural selection is of critical importance to the evolutionary process. But this Darwinian claim to explain all of evolution is a popular half-truth whose lack of explicative power is compensated for only by the religious ferocity of its rhetoric. Although random mutations influenced the course of evolution, their influence was mainly by loss, alteration, and refinement. One mutation confers resistance to malaria but also makes happy blood cells into the deficient oxygen carriers of sickle cell anemics. Another converts a gorgeous newborn into a cystic fibrosis patient or a victim of early onset diabetes. One mutation causes a flighty red-eyed fruit fly to fail to take wing. Never, however, did that one mutation make a wing, a fruit, a woody stem, or a claw appear. Mutations, in summary, tend to induce sickness, death, or deficiencies. No evidence in the vast literature of heredity changes shows unambiguous evidence that random mutation itself, even with geographical isolation of populations, leads to speciation.
(Lynn Margulis, Dorion Sagan, Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of the Species, pg. 29 (Basic Books, 2003).)

Those sound a lot like Behe's criticisms, but clearly they are not "creationist notions." The fact that Behe makes similar arguments doesn't mean he's borrowed his arguments from creationists.

Apparently Boudry, Blancke and Braekman felt that if anyone was talking about an idea like "irreducible complexity," then they necessarily were Behe's source for his ideas. Such slippery logic was tolerated by the reviewers. Why didn't QRB's editors hold Behe's critics to the same high standards to which they held Behe?

Selective Sources If, as the slippery logic of Boudry, Blancke, and Braekman would suggest, anyone anywhere who has ever talked about an idea like irreducible complexity is fair game to identify as a source for Behe, then why not consider the fact that the very term "irreducible complexity" was used by non-creationist biologist Micahel J. Katz in his 1986 Cambridge University Press book Templets and the explanation of complex patterns? Katz suggests that cells are "irreducibly complex," and that this bears an impact on the question of origins:

Sound kind of like Behe's ideas? Yeah, it sure does. But of course Katz is no creationist. He's a theoretical biologist at Case Western Reserve University. Perhaps that's why Boudry, Blancke and Braekman ignored the fact that his ideas, too, bear some similarity to Behe's.

In a third commentary I will discuss how Boudry, Blancke and Braekman make Darwinian evolution unfalsifiable.

District 128 teacher accused of teaching creationism in class


March 10, 2011

By STEPHANIE KOHL skohl@pioneerlocal.com

Community High School District 128 is investigating a claim that one of its science teachers brought up creationism in the classroom.

Buffalo Grove Activist Rob Sherman spoke during the public comment section of the district's Feb. 28 school board meeting. He indicated that a student contacted him regarding a science teacher at Libertyville High School who was either teaching or raising the issue of creationism, according to Superintendent Prentiss Lea.

Creationism is the belief that humanity, life, the Earth and the universe are the creation of a supernatural being. Illinois law prohibits schools from teaching creationism as a theory within science class.

Sherman presented the board with information he received from the student, including papers the teacher allegedly provided students. The district has not released the teacher's name.

"Anytime those questions are raised, we thoroughly look into the question that was raised," Lea said.

The district hoped to have its investigation wrapped up within a week's time. Lea added that had the student raised his or her concerns directly to the district, it would have been handled the same way.

"At the end of the day, we would take the appropriate steps to make sure we are not teaching creationism in any District 128 classrooms," Lea said.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Homeopathic Remedies: Natural Miracle Cures, "Faith-Based Medicine," or Plain Old Scam?


Or are alternative homeopathic treatments—which produce no provable results according to science, yet which are still recommended by some doctors—some combination of natural remedy and mind game?

"Ultimately, who gives a damn whether it's scientifically proven if it works? … There are very valid questions about how it works, but whether it's my mind or the product, it's working and it's working without side effects."

That's the argument for homeopathic remedies presented by Anthony Qaiyum, the co-owner of a large homeopathic pharmacy in Chicago, quoted in a recent Chicago Tribune story. He has a point. If you feel that some vitamin or herb is helping, then it's helping. Then again, I'm sure that centuries ago, people genuinely felt that leeches helped ease their arthritis or chronic back pain.

For some doctors and scientists, the prospect of unproven, scientifically unfounded treatments is borderline insulting. The Tribune sums up the sentiment of homeopathy critics here:

Few things rile scientific skeptics more than homeopathy, a baffling form of alternative medicine in which patients are given highly diluted and vigorously shaken preparations to trigger the body's natural healing ability. Though it has been used for centuries and some studies have reported positive findings, the practice has no known scientific basis. Most analyses have concluded there's no evidence it works any better than a sugar pill.

Who needs evidence? Not the growing number of American consumers who in 2009 bought into homeopathic treatments to the tune of $870 million—up 10% from the year before.

Cough and cold medications—which include some homeopathic remedies—are a $4 billion-a-year business in the U.S., even though, to quote an Infectious Disease Society spokesman, "there's nothing that works."

Why do we waste money on products with no provable effects?

Life is full of mysteries, and doctors and scientists don't always have all the answers. After all, these were the folks prescribing leeches a few centuries back.

Most likely, however, the most powerful all-natural cure is the one provided by the human brain. When you're sick or in pain, doing nothing but waiting feels like you're almost giving up. You have to do something, and taking action—almost any sort of action—brings a degree of comfort. That comfort alone may be worth the cost of whatever homeopathic remedy or cold medicine you're taking.

Now if only you could convince your brain to make you feel better without having to spend lots of money or gulp sugar pills …

That'd be a true miracle.

Read more: http://money.blogs.time.com/2011/03/08/homeopathic-remedies-natural-miracle-cures-faith-based-medicine-or-plain-old-scam/#ixzz1G9k1rV5I

If You Think Evolution Has It Tough In America, Visit Britain


By Hank Campbell | March 8th 2011 09:50 AM

Hank Campbell

Self-loathing Americans occasionally get concerned about evolution acceptance in America - like with Republicans who accept climate change but not global warming, the issue is more one of nuance and some don't like any nuance at all. Leaving the possibility open that some divine entity may have created the spark of life and man evolved from there gets people lumped in as 'creationists' with the kookier 'young earth creationism' minority by angry atheists, so people shut down when a hot button question like evolution is asked - they are looking for the linguistic catch.

American skepticism is legendary and its our freedom-loving nature that makes it possible, even if it can be irritating when it comes to anti-vaccination, anti-agriculture or anti-climate change believers. Imagine the icy chill in a place like Britain, where an imam of an east London mosque has received death threats for supporting the science of evolution.

Dr. Usama Hasan, vice-chairman at Leyton mosque and a Middlesex University lecturer in engineering, ran for the hills when protesters disrupted his talk and began shouting for his execution - inside the mosque. The mosque's response? Not supporting Hasan or calling for moderation or peace, they suspended him for antagonizing the community.

An online petition against Hasan has apparently attracted 1,100 signatories, although they are not listed publicly. The petition says they are "horrified" by his views on evolution and call for him to be removed before the mosque becomes a "hotbed of modernist extremism".

Hasan is a brave, brave man. "I'm not leaving," he said. "I've been here for 25 years and I fear that the mosque could fall into the hands of extremists. There are plenty of other mosques in the country that have gone that way. My supporters [at the mosque] don't want that and are encouraging me to stay to fight our corner."

Evolution has some detractors on the religious fringe in the US but professors are not forced to leave their house with bodyguards - so biologists will continue to fight for science but at least have the comfort of knowing they are not fighting for their lives.

Doubting Darwin


by David Deming

Recently by David Deming: Global Warming and the Age of the Earth: A Lesson on the Nature of Scientific Knowledge

Some time ago I received an email asking how, as a scientist and geologist, I could associate myself with the Discovery Institute by signing their Dissent from Darwinism statement. The statement reads, in toto, "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."

My critic seemed to think that anyone who would agree with this statement was necessarily a creationist, if not a Biblical fundamentalist that believed the Earth was 6,000 years old. On the contrary, I'm an evolutionist. I'm committed to naturalism in science, and I believe that radioactive dating and other evidence shows the Earth to be about 4.6 billion years old. The reason I'm an evolutionist is that science is based largely on empirical evidence. The fossil record shows progressive change in life through time. The farther back we go in time, the more that life diverges from present day forms. If we do nothing but look at the fossils, we see a process of natural change, or evolution.

There is no scientific reason that one-hundred percent of biologist and geologists should not sign the Dissent from Darwinism statement. Who can disagree that "careful examination of the evidence" is indicated for every scientific theory? And there is plenty of skepticism in the scientific literature regarding the ability of natural selection alone to account for the changes we infer from the fossil record. A 2009 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science began with the words "I reject the Darwinian assumption...[of] a single common ancestor." A 2005 review paper published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution noted that "the many intermediate forms hypothesized by Darwin" were "missing." These are but two examples that illustrate a pervasive theme of skeptical deliberation.

With the possible exception of global warming, I am not aware of any other area in science where scientists can be so unscientific, close-minded, and dogmatic. Darwin is a sacred cow that cannot be questioned. Especially in the field of zoology, there is a fanatical core of atheists and materialists who have created a false dichotomy. One must either accept Darwinian evolution as dogma or risk being labeled as a Biblical fundamentalist. But in fact there are alternative theories of evolution that do not rely primarily upon natural selection.

The single largest problem with Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is that it contradicts the fossil record. The theory predicts uniform, gradual, and continual change. If Darwin's theory were correct, every fossil would be a transitional form. But transitional fossils are rare. As early as 1812, Georges Cuvier (1769–1832) documented that the fossil record shows stasis punctuated by rapid change. Organisms suddenly appear and disappear. Transitional fossils are not unknown, but they are scarce. A 2009 paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society noted "the relative rarity of truly informative fossil intermediates."

If one should happen to mention that transitional fossils are uncommon, Darwinists typically respond that is it not true that there are no transitional fossils. But no one ever said that transitional fossils don't exist, only that they are rare. Distorting an opponent's position into a straw-man that is easily knocked down is a classic intellectual fallacy. Debating a dogmatic Darwinist can be frustrating, because it's like arguing with a twelve-year-old child that has no critical thinking skills.

If Darwinists are oblivious to the empirical data, they're only acting in the best tradition. It was Darwin himself who initiated the practice of explaining away the evidence. But in fact the story begins much earlier.

In the sixth century BC what we know today as science began when the Greek natural philosophers rejected supernatural explanations and invoked naturalism. The necessary corollary to naturalism is uniformity, the supposition that nature acts uniformly and predictably throughout both space and time. Without uniformity, naturalist explanations are no better than supernatural. Unless nature acts according to uniform and invariant law, its acts are as capricious as those of the gods. With naturalism and uniformity, the universe became a cosmos, an ordered place that could be understood through observation and reason.

In Principia Mathematica (1687) Isaac Newton characterized uniformity as the "foundation of all philosophy." Newton was not only the greatest physicist of all time, he was also a Biblical fundamentalist who believed that the Earth was no more than a few thousand years old. Newton advocated intelligent design, and wrote that "the true God is a living, intelligent, and powerful Being," not an abstract spiritual principle. But ironically, Newton was also the godfather of Charles Darwin.

The line of academic descent from Newton to Darwin is unmistakable. The Scottish mathematician, Colin Maclaurin (1698–1746), was a protégé of Isaac Newton. At the University of Edinburgh, one of Maclaurin's students was the geologist, James Hutton (1726–1797). In the English and American tradition, Hutton is recognized as the founder of the modern science of geology because he was the first to insist on uniformity.

But James Hutton had little contemporary influence because his writing was terribly prolix. The person who really founded uniformitarian geology was Charles Lyell (1797–1875). Lyell wrote Principles of Geology as an exposition of Hutton's uniformitarian geology. The book was published in twelve editions from 1830 through 1875. Enormously influential, Lyell's Principles virtually created the modern science of geology. Among Lyell's readers was the young Charles Darwin. Darwin took a copy with him on the voyage of the Beagle, and later wrote "I studied [Principles] attentively; and the book was of the highest service to me in many ways."

Lyell was the single largest influence on Darwin. Darwin dedicated his book, Voyage of the Beagle (1839), to Lyell. In his autobiography, Darwin confessed "I saw more of Lyell than any other man." After Darwin published Origin of Species (1859) he was warmly congratulated by Lyell.

But Charles Lyell was largely a polemicist and scientific fraud. It was Lyell who taught Darwin to ignore evidence that contradicted theory. Lyell's Principles was not so much a textbook on geology as a polemical argument for an extreme form of uniformity. Lyell went far beyond Newton and the ancient Greeks. He espoused a radical uniformitarianism that relied not just upon invariant natural law, but invoked, without justification, uniform causes, processes, and rates over geologic time. These were Lyell's "principles" of geology.

In a letter written shortly before the first edition of Principles was published, Lyell admitted that "all my geology will come in as illustration of my views of those principles." In other words, Lyell frankly admitted his intention to reverse the normal scientific process. Instead of collecting facts and inductively inferring a plausible and testable theory, Lyell intended to start with a theory and then selectively search for facts that supported his preconceived idea.

Lyell worked overtime at torturing the evidence to fit into his theoretical framework. If the geological facts appeared to contradict absolute uniformity, Lyell's favorite trick was to dismiss the evidence as inconclusive. In the nineteenth century geologists found fossilized ferns on the frigid island of Sptizbergen, north of Iceland. If tropical plants once grew north of the Arctic Circle, it was evidence of dramatic or even catastrophic climate change. But such change was antithetical to Lyell's rigid uniformitarianism. Confronted with apparently irrefutable evidence of climate change, Lyell confessed "I have tried in all my travels to persuade myself that the evidence was inconclusive."

Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is nothing but the uniformitarian geology of Hutton and Lyell applied to biology. No one questions natural selection. The fact that those organisms who are best adapted to their environment are the ones that survive and reproduce is a virtual tautology. But that doesn't answer the critical question. Does natural selection have the creative power to account for the dramatic changes we see in the fossil record?

Darwin himself was aware of the problem. He characterized the lack of intermediate forms in the fossil record as "the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against the theory." Following Lyell's example, Darwin argued that if the geologic evidence failed to match his theory, it was because the fossil record was too fragmentary to be conclusive. He devoted an entire chapter of Origin of Species to what he termed the "imperfection of the geological record."

The fossil or geological record is indeed incomplete. In the year 1859, Darwin's argument was plausible. But more than a hundred and fifty years of fossil collecting has not produced the missing fossils or corroborated Darwin's theory. Transitional fossils remain rare. Life on Earth for the last several hundred million years has been characterized by stasis punctuated by episodic and rapid change.

None of this is an argument for supernaturalism. There are many scientific alternatives to natural selection. Endosymbiotic theory proposes that multi-celled organisms arose not through natural selection, but through the interaction of single-celled bacteria. We beginning to become aware that horizontal gene transfer may have played an important role in evolution. We don't know how life began, and we don't understand all the mechanisms by which life evolved on Earth. And we most certainly are not aware of what we don't know. It is relatively easy for us to assess the extent of our knowledge, but impossible to fathom the extent of our ignorance.

Instead of dogmatically insisting that we have all the answers, we ought to be highlighting gaps in our knowledge. And there are many. Thomas Kuhn wrote that discovery in science "commences with the awareness of anomaly." By "anomaly," Kuhn meant an area where facts do not match theory. We can't make positive progress unless we first focus on the negative. This is the lesson that Socrates taught in the fifth century BC.

In 2008, I published a critique of intelligent design theory in the peer-reviewed journal Earth Science Reviews. I concluded that intelligent design cannot be construed as a scientific theory, and that the apparent goal of the intelligent design movement was to restore Christian theology as the queen of the sciences.

But I also argued that to the extent creationists were highlighting areas in which scientific theory was inadequate they were doing better science than biologists. We ought to stop pretending that science has all the answers. Science is an empirical system of knowledge, and we never have all the data. It is the fate of every scientific theory to be superseded. Even the invincible edifice of Newtonian mechanics crumbled before the onslaught of relativity theory.

And that's why I signed the Discovery Institute's Dissent from Darwinism. Not because I'm a creationist, but because I'm a scientist. Religion is conservative and dogmatic. But science is progressive and skeptical. We can't save science by turning it into religion.

March 9, 2011

David Deming [send him mail] is associate professor of arts and sciences at the University of Oklahoma, and the author of Science and Technology in World History, Vols. 1 & 2.

Copyright © 2011 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

Florida bill may rekindle debate over evolution


By Ron Matus, Times Staff Writer
Posted: Mar 08, 2011 10:55 AM

Florida science teachers must offer a "thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution" under a bill (SB 1854) filed by a key state senator.

Evolution supporters say the language is another attempt by Florida lawmakers to undermine the teaching of evolution, introduce the faith-based concepts of creationism and intelligent design, and water down state science standards that were narrowly passed by the state Board of Education in 2008.

"We at Florida Citizens for Science oppose this theocratic attempt to introduce creationism into the Florida schools," group member Jonathan Smith said today. "We will be mounting a campaign to fight this in every way possible."

The bill was filed Saturday by Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, who chairs the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee. He has said in the past that both evolution and intelligent design must be taught in order to foster critical thinking.

Wise filed similar legislation in 2009, but it died in committee. So far this year there is no House counterpart bill that includes similar language on evolution, but such language could be introduced to other bills. Today is the last day for bill filing.

Wise's bill would also require teaching about the history and content of the Declaration of Independence, the history of the Holocaust and the history of African-Americans, "including the history of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery." It mandates a "character-development program" in K-12 that emphasizes "honesty, virtue, moral courage, dignity of honest labor" and other values.

The evolution language is already drawing fierce criticism from scientists and science support groups. The National Center for Science Education, a watchdog on evolution issues, has a blurb about it on its website.

People opposed to Wise's bill don't have a problem with "critical analysis," wrote Wesley Elsberry, a scientific engineering programmer in Palmetto, on his blog last night. "They are opposed to using the power of government to force teachers to tell lies to students."

[Last modified: Mar 08, 2011 05:33 PM]

Copyright 2011 St. Petersburg Times

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The fight over teaching evolution, climate change


Posted at 8:30 AM ET, 03/ 1/2011
By Valerie Strauss

This was written by educator Anthony Cody, who taught science for 18 years in inner-city Oakland and now works with a team of science teacher-coaches that supports novice teachers. He is a National Board-certified teacher and an active member of the Teacher Leaders Network. This post appeared on his Education Week Teacher blog, Living in Dialogue.

By Anthony Cody

Newsflash: American science teachers are so afraid of controversy, so intimidated by students and parents who dispute the theory of evolution, that, according to this recent survey, more than half do not even take a stand on the issue with their students. And one in eight actually promote creationism. Only about 28% consistently teach evolution.

And from Tennessee comes the news that conservative lawmakers there are working on a law that will require science educators there to "teach the controversies" regarding evolution and climate change.

An article in Mother Jones describes the bill:

"The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy," the bill states. Further, the state will not prohibit any teacher from "helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught."

I taught science for 18 years, and have some strong feelings about this. Evolution is the central organizing principle that guides our understanding of the entire field of biology. We understand modern species based on their history and genetic relationships to one another. This allows us to understand why we have so much in common with other forms of life -- even ones that seem very different.

When I taught Life Science to 7th graders in Oakland, I found that evolution allowed us to make sense of the wonderful variety of animals that we studied. Before we went on field trips to the aquarium, we studied the fish we would see. Why do some have markings that look like eyes near their tails? Why are some flat like a pancake, and others shaped like sleek cigars? Each of these adaptations helped one or another species to survive and reproduce, by providing a competitive advantage.

This was not without controversy in my classes. I had students and parents alike challenge me. So I developed an approach that I described here a couple of years ago. In my science class, I explained, we base our understandings on evidence. Whatever we believe can be challenged by new evidence, and is always open to question. This is a different set of ground rules from those in effect at church. There, faith is the basis of understanding. And faith is not about evidence, and not open to question.

I think our students need a scientific understanding of the world, including the theory of evolution. To be clear, while evolution may be "controversial" in the public square, it is by no means controversial among scientists. The theory of evolution is central to understanding how species have changed over time, and is crucial in our understanding of physiology and medicine as well. Even practical sciences such as agriculture rely heavily on evolution to understand how crops and livestock have been bred, and how they interact with pests and pathogens.

What is more, students need to understand the rules by which science operates. Science does not have all the answers, by any means, but it gives us a way to accumulate evidence, test out new ideas, and predict what will happen in the future. This is extremely useful in this world in which our species has become so dominant and destructive as to threaten even the viability of life itself.

But we are seeing a political movement that wishes to misinform the next generation regarding these basic things. It is more than inconvenient to have a climate that is growing dangerously warmer. It threatens the market-based system that drives production ever forward. In the US the output of the economy is expected to grow by 2% to 5% per year - indefinitely! This is absolutely unsustainable given current modes of energy and resource uses, but any scientific data that contradicts this must be undermined and declared "controversial," even if it is completely factual.

The theory of evolution undermines another core value held by some conservatives, who believe that the Christian bible is literally true and ought not to be contradicted. They are entitled to their beliefs, and I respect those beliefs -- but they have nothing to do with science. If we, as teachers, tell our students that there is genuine scientific controversy over the theories of evolution and global warming, we are misleading them about the facts, and also creating confusion about the way science works.

Science is not determined by a popular vote. Scientists work very hard to not only investigate nature, but also to share their discoveries, challenge one another, and build consensus around ideas that have sufficient evidence. There are legitimate controversies in science -- based on disagreements about what the evidence shows. Challenges rooted in religious beliefs are not in this category. The theories of evolution and global warming have both endured rigorous scrutiny - and the scientific consensus is clear.

The proposed law in Tennessee, the state where the Scopes trial occurred 86 years ago, will require science teachers to inject controversies into science that do not belong there. This is a reminder of another reason teachers need protection for their ability to teach their subjects based on their expertise. Our unions are one of the best ways to protect this freedom.

Imam who believes in evolution retracts statements


An imam has retracted statements about evolution and the right of Muslim women not to cover their hair after death threats were made against him.

Dr Usama Hasan, a science lecturer, has voluntarily suspended his role in taking Friday prayers at Leyton Mosque in east London.

He said he went too far in the way he defended the theory of evolution.

He acknowledged many British Muslims believe in creationism, adding that he intended only to begin a debate.

Dr Hasan - a senior lecturer at Middlesex University - used an opinion piece on the Guardian newspaper's website in 2008 to suggest Darwin's theory of evolution was not incompatible with the teaching of Islam.

He wrote that there were many Muslim biologists who had no doubt about the essential correctness of evolutionary theory and he added: "Many believers in God have no problem with an obvious solution: that God created man via evolution."

'Obscuring clear scientific thinking'

Dr Hasan wrote: "Snazzy websites, videos and books produced by fundamentalist Muslim 'creationists' such as those at www.harunyahya.com, are obscuring clear scientific thinking."

He also wrote: "One problem is that many Muslims retain the simple picture that God created Adam from clay, much as a potter makes a statue, and then breathed into the lifeless statue and lo! it became a living human.

"This is a children's madrasa-level understanding and Muslims really have to move on as adults and intellectuals."

In a separate article he claimed the requirement for women to cover their hair in public was cultural in origin, and that British Muslims should have the choice.

The BBC's Religious Affairs Correspondent Robert Pigott said his remarks three years ago have led to fatwas denouncing him from Muslim scholars in several countries.

More recently, it was reported that he was subjected to death threats when he delivered a lecture in January and that a leaflet campaign had been mounted against him.

Dr Hasan, who is vice chairman of Leyton Mosque - which houses one of the country's largest sharia courts - has agreed he went too far in suggesting that the Adam of the creation story would have had human parents.

From prayer to herbs: Alternative medicine goes mainstream


March 8, 2011

Alternative medicine is looking more mainstream than alternative. According to a new government survey, over a third of American adults use some form of nontraditional medicine.

What the researchers wanted to know: How many Americans use complementary and alternative medicine? What therapies do they use? And why?

What they did: This is government work, so there are a lot of long titles involved. Researchers at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (part of the National Institutes of Health) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed part of the 2002 data from the National Health Interview Survey, for which more than 30,000 adults answered questions about their health and healthcare.

The survey, which is designed to get a representative sample of Americans, has been going on for decades, collecting reams of data on the health of Americans.

What they found: Over a third of adults had used some form of nontraditional medicine in the previous 12 months. If you count people who use prayer specifically for better health, the proportion goes up to 62 percent.

Forty-three percent of adults pray specifically for their own health, and nearly 25 percent have someone else pray for them. After prayer, the most commonly used therapies were natural products (including herbs), 19 percent; deep breathing, 12 percent; taking part in a health prayer group, 10 percent; meditation, 8 percent; chiropractic, 8 percent; yoga, 5 percent; massage, 5 percent; and diet-based therapies (including Atkins and Zone diets), 4 percent.

Most people who use complementary and alternative therapies say they do so because they think that combining those therapies with conventional medicine will help; half of all people try alternative medicine because they think it's interesting to try.

Who cares: I do. Don't you? Doctors should care that nearly 20 percent of U.S. adults are taking ""natural products""—and remember to ask their patients if they're taking any dietary supplements, which may interact with prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

The caveats: The data come from a survey, so people could be lying about the treatments they've tried. Also, these data are only about one point in time; they don't say anything about how alternative medicine usage is changing over time.

Find out more: The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (http://nccam.nih.gov) has this study and health resources on complementary and alternative medicine.

Media play down fear of teaching evolution


Cindy Merrick, March 7, 2011

A study shows many high school science teachers lack confidence when it comes to teaching evolution; but that's not how the media framed it.

Somewhere in America, two hard-working social scientists are smacking their foreheads. Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer just published the results of a far-reaching survey of U.S. high school biology teachers in Science Magazine. They report that as many as 60 percent of them are inadequately teaching evolutionary biology. In fact, the authors say, this group plays "a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists."

After administering their wake up call, Berkman and Plutzer wake up themselves to this headline of coverage of their study: "13% of High School Biology Teachers Advocate Creationism in Class." This is thanks to the infinite story-making wisdom of news agencies like MSNBC, LiveScience, and Yahoo News. They know that, all things being equal, we're more likely to be stopped in our tracks by that headline. And that may be true. But it is not, unfortunately, the story they are reporting on. In fact, the headline is a nice example of bait and switch, for, the reader finds, the real story is not about creationism in the classroom. It's about the missing science.

The study collected information from a nationally representative sample of 926 high school biology teachers, asking them about what they taught and how much time was spent on different topics. What they found, the authors say, is "a pervasive reluctance of teachers to forthrightly explain evolutionary biology."

They estimate that 28 percent of biology teachers follow the National Research Council's recommendations by consistently teaching according to the National Science Education Standards. This is to say that these mainstream science teachers teach the evidence science has accumulated showing that evolution has occurred, and they use evolution as a theme among their lesson plans that unifies various topics in biology. These mainstream science teachers, plus the 13 percent or so of teachers who advocate creationism, only account for roughly 40 percent of all science teachers. The rest are what the authors call the "cautious 60%."

The "cautious 60%" provided evidence, via a "free-response" section of the survey, of broad use of risk-averse behaviors in relation to communities not in agreement about evolution. But they did this not because they hold any belief in the "young-earth" theory of creationism; rather, many have never taken a course in evolution, and lack the confidence to defend its scientific veracity. Some admit to being inhibited by the prospect of confronting parental complaints and student questions regarding their teaching of evolution. Many develop diversionary tactics, such as presenting, to the best of their ability, the controversy over evolution and inviting the students to make up their own minds whether to accept it.

The problem is that it's not a scientific controversy. When it comes to evolution and evolutionary biology, there is scientific consensus. The National Academy of Sciences' publication Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science states that "evolution is the central organizing principle that biologists use to understand the world." Evolution explains the extraordinary variety of life on earth. It explains through the notion of common ancestry why such a diversity of organisms all pass through many similar developmental stages from embryo to egg. It explains why all living things, which compete with each other for limited resources, use the same biochemical machinery to carry out the basic processes of life, and pass genetic information from one generation to the next. According to the National Academy of Science, "to teach biology without explaining evolution deprives students of a powerful concept that brings great order and coherence to our understanding of life."

Really, isn't it of greater journalistic value to tell America that the problem is worse than we think? The real conclusion of the research is that a full 72 percent of American children are not being taught evolution in a forthright fashion as a scientific theory. We're not talking about a 13 percent minority of extremists, but rather about the majority that display a fundamental ineptitude. The shock of a mere 13 percent pales in comparison to the real story.

Panspermia hypothesis renewed


Terry Hurlbut Creationism Examiner

March 7th, 2011 2:11 pm ET

The recent publication of the finding of fossilized bacteria in rare meteorites has the scientific world buzzing about a theory once thought discredited: panspermia. But, as ever, most commentators ignore the real answer: life began on earth and drifted from earth into space, not the other way around.

In the March 2011 issue of the Journal of Cosmology appeared this article by Richard B. Hoover of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL. It describes the finding of filamentous proteins within freshly fractured CI-1 carbonaceous meteorites. Those filaments are definitely consistent with a type of germ called "trichomic cyanobacteria" (literally, "hairy blue rod-shaped life") but are not consistent with any modern example. Hoover concludes that these CI-1 meteorites harbor ancient bacterial flora, and raises the possibility that such germs might be growing on, or at least associated with, comets, the Galilean moon Europa, and the large moon Enceladus of Saturn.

Hoover's latest findings certainly appeared well-documented and well-supported. (More on that below.) But Hoover went on to support a theory that he readily avows that he has propounded before: panspermia, or the "everywhere seeding" of life. That theory holds that life did not begin on earth, but was deposited on earth, either in a comet's tail, or, as Hoover now suggests, in a meteorite blasted loose from Europa or Enceladus or both and carried to earth.

Hoover acknowledged to Fox News correspondent Garrett Tenney last Saturday that he had a hard sell:

I interpret it as indicating that life is more broadly distributed than restricted strictly to the planet earth. This field of study has just barely been touched—because quite frankly, a great many scientist[s] would say that this is impossible.

Perhaps—or perhaps not. The editors of J. Chronol. shared review copies of Hoover's paper with many other scientists, opened a comment thread, and invited them to comment. Most comments enthusiastically embraced panspermia and said that in fact life definitely did not begin on earth, but began on ethereal clouds. Typical was this comment by Rhawn Joseph, who has his own agenda for pushing the notion of panspermia:

Consider, by analogy, a life-less desert island; and then one day, a blade of grass, or a bacteria, emerges on the surface. We wouldn't conclude that some god had come down and created life on this island. Nor would we believe these life forms emerged from an organic soup. We'd conclude this life must have washed to shore, or fell from the sky. Earth, too, is an island, swirling in an ocean of space, and life has been washing to shore, and falling from the sky, since the creation.

But Professor (and former Apollo 17 LM Pilot) Harrisson Schmitt begged to differ:

I will let others more expert than I comment on Dr. Hoover's evidence of life forms in CI1 meteorites. I only wonder why many do not seem to want life to have originated independently on Earth?

M. A. Line took issue with some of Hoover's evidence, and then made this interesting claim: that perhaps

life on Earth did not originate from a single cell; representatives of all three domains ([Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukaryota]) must have arrived from space.

Patrick Godon went further: he suggested that life began on earth, was somehow ejected into space, and now, in the form of these meteorites, is occassionally falling back to earth. He pointed out that Hoover's own evidence shows that CI-1 meteorites are quite similar in composition to terrestrial soil.

In summary, we have a possible finding of bacteria that were frozen in time from an era long past, in meteorites that strongly resemble terrestrial soil or similar material. Though most commentators are not willing to believe that any of this material came from earth, at least one commentator says that it very likely did. (And this same commentator admits that this begs the question of how that life came to be.)

Joseph, in trying to use Hoover's work to promote his own, uses a very weak argument. His analogy fails by assuming without warrant that an extraterrestrial origin for life is established. Earth was never a "desert island," but is the original cradle of life. The comets (like Hartley 2), asteroids, and meteoroids are the "islands," and thus Joseph has it backwards.

Godon has it right, though only in part: the CI-1 meteorites, like all meteorites, did come from earth. He did not say how, but Walt Brown has already said how: the outbreak of the earth's original subcrustal ocean ejected large quantities of soil, much of it laden with bacteria, into space. That some of it is falling back should surprise no one. So what Hoover actually has is not evidence of panspermia, but rather of a literally cataclysmic event that launched material from earth into space.

UPDATE: Today NASA specifically disavowed Hoover's claim. Furthermore, Discover correspondent Phil Plait published this compendium of reactions asserting that Hoover's organisms are contaminants, or at least can never be shown to have a genuine otherworldly origin.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

My humble little blog is found by the discovery institute


Alison Campbell Mar 04

This post is syndicated from BioBlog – Original Post

Well, colour me startled! It seems that some of the things I said in a recent blog post & its associated comments thread have attracted the attention of the Discovery Institute. They don't appear to be particularly happy with me. I don't think that I've ever been called "dishonest" and "a liar" before, had my teaching methods impugned, or been described as stifling free speech and academic freedom. I must have reached the big time!

But seriously. As one commenter has noted on that thread (& on his own blog), the writer of the DI piece seems to have merely skimmed the original piece - how else could he have missed my comment that discussion of 'intelligent design' would be quite appropriate in a class on the philosophy & nature of science, for example? He does, however, show a certain ability in quote-mining.

And the supreme (and hilarious) irony: to be accused of trampling on students' rights to free speech by someone who does not allow comments on his own blog.

Want a Good Grade in Allison Campbell's College Biology Course? Don't Endorse Intelligent Design


Casey Luskin March 2, 2011 11:30 AM | Permalink

Why do we need academic freedom legislation like Tennessee's HB 368? In case biology lecturer Allison Campbell decides to relocate to the United States. Sadly, even if she remains in New Zealand, there are already people here who don't allow for the free flow of ideas, especially when it comes to discussion of evolution.

Biology lecturer Allison Campbell at the University of Waikato in Hillcrest, New Zealand, exemplifies a mindset that is tragically common in academia. She openly boasts that if a student were to use standard ID arguments such as the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum, that student would be "marked down":

If, for example, a student were to use examples such as the bacterial flagellum to advance an ID view then they should expect to be marked down; that particular creationist trophe has been well & truly discredited.

Campbell of course doesn't give any hint as to why this supposed "creationist trophe has been well & truly discredited"--but my guess is that she gets her information from Judge Jones (who made lots of mistakes regarding irreducible complexity and the flagellum). Her post is basically a recapitulation of the Dover ruling, and it's a 100% "Judge Jones Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It" 'analysis' of intelligent design. I don't want to belabor her misunderstandings, but as a quick rundown:

Dr. Campbell isn't interested in tolerating other perspectives. Her mind is made up, as she says: "ID is not science (no matter its protestations to the contrary) & I don't expect to see explanations from that quarter in science class."

So if you're a student at the University of Waikato taking biology from Allison Campbell, beware: don't talk about intelligent design, and you probably also shouldn't admit if you believe in God. Unless, of course, you don't mind being "marked down."

Homeopathy prospers even as controversy rages


Critics say there's literally nothing in the medicine

March 6, 2011

A popular homeopathic flu remedy boasts that it comes with no side effects, no drug interactions and won't make you drowsy. But the product also lacks something most people expect to find in their medicine: active ingredients.

Oscillococcinum (O-sill-o-cox-see-num), a tongue-twisting concoction used to treat flulike symptoms, is a staple in many European homes. Sales are steadily growing in the U.S., where it can be found everywhere from storefronts to major retailers.

Homeopathy critics, however, derisively call the product "oh-silly-no-see-um," a reference to the absence of active ingredients. It's products such as Oscillococcinum that have placed homeopathy in an awkward position: popular among holistic-minded consumers but scorned by scientists and most Western-trained doctors.

The British Medical Association vehemently objects to national funding for homeopathy treatment, considering any effect to be placebo. Around the world, activists have staged mass public "overdose" events outside pharmacies to demonstrate there's literally nothing inside the small white pills. One U.S. group, meanwhile, has offered $1 million to anyone who can prove homeopathy works and has challenged major drug retailers such as CVS, Rite-Aid and Walgreens to stop selling the products.

"Nobody, not even homeopaths have an idea how the remedies work," said Dr. Edzard Ernst, a longtime critic of homeopathy and professor of Complementary Medicine at Peninsula Medical School at the University of Exeter in the U.K.

Few things rile scientific skeptics more than homeopathy, a baffling form of alternative medicine in which patients are given highly diluted and vigorously shaken preparations to trigger the body's natural healing ability. Though it has been used for centuries and some studies have reported positive findings, the practice has no known scientific basis. Most analyses have concluded there's no evidence it works any better than a sugar pill.

Yet homeopathy hasn't just survived the years of scathing criticism; it's prospering. In the U.S., consumer sales of homeopathic treatments reached $870 million in 2009, growing 10 percent over the previous year, according to Nutrition Business Journal estimates.

For Oscillococcinum, sold in 60 countries, estimated annual retail sales in the U.S. are more than $20 million, according to the manufacturer, Boiron. It ranks 49th out of 318 cold and flu brand products that do more than $1 million in sales. Other popular homeopathic products include arnica gel for bruises and strains and diluted zinc remedies for colds.

"Some people feel these products shouldn't work due to the dilution level," said pharmacist Christophe Merville, director of education and pharmacy development for Boiron, the world's leading manufacturer of homeopathic medicines. But he said basic science studies have shown "that highly diluted solutions have biological properties that are different than water."

Ernst, who calls homeopathy the "worst example of faith-based medicine," said that even if the solution is structurally different, it doesn't matter. "After doing my washing up, the water in my sink is very different from pure water," he said. "Yet it would be silly to claim it had therapeutic effects."

Homeopathy is one of the most polarizing forms of complementary and alternative medicine in part because it's based on principles that defy the laws of chemistry and physics. One pillar is the assumption that "like cures like." Chopping a red onion, for example, can make your eyes tear and nose run. Seasonal rhinitis can trigger the same symptoms, so a homeopathic treatment derived from a red onion — Allium cepa — may be a possible remedy.

The second assumption proposes that diluting and violently shaking (or "succussing") the remedies makes them more effective, even if — and this is the part most scientists find hard to swallow — the final preparation no longer contains a single molecule of the original ingredient. The final product usually is a tiny ball of sugar the patient swallows, though homeopathic products also are sold as gels.

The mechanism behind the diluting and shaking remains a mystery. Some say homeopathic medicine may stimulate the body's natural defenses; others suggest homeopathic medicine retains a "memory" of the original substance in the water and the effect is due to nanoparticles.

Regardless, proponents say it shouldn't be discounted simply because it can't be explained. For years, no one knew how aspirin worked. And scientists still don't fully understand the mechanism behind a conventional drug such as Ritalin, argued Dr. Tim Fior, director of the Center for Integral Health in Lombard.

"Homeopathy challenges the belief in the molecular paradigm of medicines," said Fior, who on Wednesday will deliver an introductory lecture on homeopathy to medical students at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "Conventional pharmacology is based on — and profits immensely from — the idea that you can synthesize a molecule, patent it and produce it in bulk and then have a monopoly selling it. Homeopathic medicines are so dilute that they work more according to a biophysical or energetic paradigm."

People often use homeopathy to treat chronic pain, digestive issues, colds, influenza and allergies when they're not getting relief from conventional medicine. Homeopathic practitioners tend to spend more time with patients than regular doctors. The products also appeal to those looking for a "natural" or holistic product or who can't tolerate the side effects of conventional drugs.

Warrenville's Mona Grayson, 35, turned to homeopathy for chronic digestive issues after her insurance expired and she could no longer cover the cost of her conventional treatment: $4,000 every eight weeks. Though she was tolerating her pricey medication, she had concerns about the long-term effects.

After an initial two-hour consultation with Fior, Grayson was given a remedy of phosphorus; she said she hasn't had problems since. "What matters to me is that I feel good," said Grayson, a raw food chef and happiness coach.

But does homeopathy provide anything beyond a placebo effect? Overall, many of the studies are small, of poor quality and funded by homeopathic manufacturers.

Dr. Iris Bell of the University of Arizona, one of the few homeopathy researchers to get federal funding, said the highest quality trials — double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies — have had both negative and positive results. Her own work on fibromyalgia has shown individualized homeopathy did work better than the placebo.

Researchers also have shown that arthritis patients significantly benefited when they received homeopathy in conjunction with conventional treatment over six months. But the study, published in the journal Rheumatology, found the improvement was due to homeopathy's consultation process rather than its remedies.

"It has been a big problem bringing science to homeopathy," said Dr. Josephine Briggs, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. With only a few exceptions, the center, a federal agency, hasn't funded any studies on homeopathy in the past five years. "On the other hand, the historical tradition has some real insights to treating humans in an individualized way," said Briggs, who said it might be appropriate to study the doctor-patient interaction.

At Merz Apothecary in Chicago, one of the largest homeopathic pharmacies in the country, president and co-owner Anthony Qaiyum summed up the thoughts of many homeopathic supporters. "Ultimately, who gives a damn whether it's scientifically proven if it works?" he said. "There are very valid questions about how it works, but whether it's my mind or the product, it's working and it's working without side effects."

Others see homeopathy as a safe way to complement treatment choices. "We don't always know why things work, but sometimes they do," said Freeport podiatrist Roland Tolliver, who uses it with his children and occasionally recommends arnica for patients with musculoskeletal issues.

"Regular medicine doesn't always work either," he said. "The most important thing is to leave all options open."

Critics say there's a risk in perpetuating the notion that homeopathy is equivalent to modern medicine, in part because people may forgo or delay conventional treatment. Moreover, it's unethical for pharmacists to prescribe placebos, said W. Steven Pray, a professor of pharmacy at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.

"You don't need placebos to generate placebo effects," Ernst has written. "Furthermore, if we allow the homoeopathic industry to sell placebos, we must do the same for Big Pharma. Imagine a world in which pharmaceutical companies could sell us placebos for all sorts of conditions just because some patients experience benefits through a placebo response."

Copyright © 2011, Chicago Tribune

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Holistic healing on last legs?


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Some question Forbes magazine's listing of acupuncturists and other alternative medicine practitioners as endangered careers.

Tell Joel Thielen that alternative medicine practitioners are a dying breed, and the Dubuque acupuncturist points to the growing number of patients seeking his help.

"The demand for acupuncture services in the tri-states area seems to be at an all-time high," said Thielen, who started his Elements Acupuncture & Pain Clinic in 2006.

Forbes magazine recently listed holistic healers -- including acupuncturists -- among America's most-endangered careers, backing up that assertion with career field data purported to show the field of alternative medicine specialists declining 44 percent between 2004 and 2009, and losing about 26,000 jobs.

Authors of the report theorized that the lack of health insurance coverage during a recession caused alternative medicine to become more of a niche service. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' outlook includes alternative medicine practitioners in the "Offices of other health practitioners" category, a group expected to grow 41.3 percent by 2018.

Demand for the services of this segment is related to the ability of patients to pay, either directly or through Advertisement

health insurance. But Thielen said his experience shows Americans are willing to spend out-of-pocket money for alternative care.

"I can tell you from my experience that not having the business infrastructure available to acupuncturists on a large scale makes getting started difficult," Thielen said.

Thielen said that doesn't mean no work for acupuncturists.

"We are seeing hospitals across the country and here in Iowa add acupuncture to medical treatment," he said.

Patrick Sterenchuk, a Dubuque holistic healer whose practice includes the fields of laughter yoga and reiki (an ancient Japanese healing technique), theorizes any drop in holistic health numbers could reflect areas of the country saturated by practitioners.

"Especially in Dubuque, you would think there would be fewer people (interested in the field)," Sterenchuk said. "But I don't see a decrease, I see an increase."

Sterenchuk thinks some of the decline in holistic healing jobs cited by Forbes could result from alternative medicine's increasing acceptance by the public.

"It is being integrated into mainstream medicine, which is not being reported on," Sterenchuk said.

Sterenchuk points to the emergence of the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center, in Baltimore.

Part of the Johns Hopkins medical system, the center combines the work of board-certified physicians with the likes of licensed massage therapists, acupuncturists, psychotherapists and nutritionists.

Reiki is included among the center's therapeutic massage services, which providers use when treating conditions that include depression, fibromyalgia and chronic lung disease.

"Reiki is becoming one of those things that is just expected," Sterenchuk said.

Does lack of insurance coverage impact Sterenchuk's practice?

"On occasion it does," he said.

The lack of coverage hasn't stopped clients from coming, though.

"I've noticed an uptick in business over the last couple years," Sterenchuk said. "When the economy went to hell in a hand basket, I had people asking me if this was the best time for me to be doing this, but my own business has actually grown."

Sharron Angle Will Teach Your Kids Creationism


3/2/11 at 12:53 AM

Failed Nevada Republican Senate candidate and tea-party darling Sharron Angle loves a little creationism. Angle's been on tour in New Hampshire to promote the new conservative film The Genesis Code — a conservative documentary that advocates teaching creationism in schools. Angle admitted that when she was a public-school teacher, she taught her students both creationism and evolution. "Why can't we present both theories to our children and let them choose?" she said to a group of conservatives gathered in Nashua for the screening.

But! As much as she's fighting the good fight on behalf of creationism, Angle did concede that she didn't make much difference to her Senate race opponent Harry Reid. "Harry Reid has not changed because of the challenge I mounted, and he is the same as he was before," she said. And while Angle's not exactly clear on whether she'll run for president, she's definitely going to take Reid down — she referred to Reid as "public enemy number one," and promised, "I have not stopped my pursuit or my original intent to remove him from his office of leadership." Oof.

Activist says creationism is being taught in science classroom


By Amy Alderman TribLocal reporter Wednesday at 11:45 a.m.

An activist claims that a Libertyville High School teacher has been violating state board of education standards by comparing creationist beliefs to evolution in the classroom.

Buffalo Grove based activist Rob Sherman told the Community High School District 128 school board this week that a student's older sibling e-mailed Sherman, alleging that a biology and human genetics teacher has been promoting creationist beliefs while discrediting evolution.

"A teacher is teaching that creationism and intelligent design is more relevant than evolution," Sherman said. "You cannot compare and contrast creationism and evolution in a public classroom. If the facts bear out that he is teaching this, I'm asking you to determine the appropriate response. Maybe you need to get someone else in there to unteach everything (the teacher) has taught them."

Sherman, who is also working to garner support for a state law repealing the Moment of Silence, said he raised the issue in District 128 out of the concern that young minds may be influenced by an authority figure.

"I am expressing grave concern and frustration that this is going on in a class," Sherman said. "There's a perception among students that it's okay if a teacher is doing something in a classroom."

For example, in a quiz allegedly assigned by the teacher, Sherman claims some questions lead students to creationist beliefs, swaying them toward the notion that evolution is not scientific. That goes against the Illinois State Board of Education's 11-th grade science assessment framework, Sherman said.

Superintendent Prentiss Lea said he plans to investigate the matter.

"I would first talk with the teacher," Lea said. "If we know who the student is, we may talk with the student and possibly the student's parents, but we may not need to."

School Board President Pat Groody agreed that the district should look into Sherman's request.

"If any resident or parent in our community comes to the board with a concern, we have to follow up," Groody said.

Evolution Abroad: Creationism Evolves in Science Classrooms around the Globe


Education experts suggest that in some cultural contexts one way to encourage acceptance of evolution is by not shunning religious beliefs

By Katherine Harmon | March 3, 2011

New Challenges for Evolution Education
Five years after the Dover trial pushed intelligent design out of public school classrooms, how has evolution instruction fared?
February 28, 2011

TEACHING THEORY: In some schools across the world, separating belief from scientific reasoning can be a difficult assignment.

In-Depth Report: New Challenges for Evolution Education .As the familiar battles over evolution education continue to play out in U.S. state legislatures and school boards, other countries are facing very different dynamics. Much of the world lives outside of any law that requires separation of church and state, making creationism trickier to disentangle from public school curricula.

Many countries have only recently started taking a systematic look at how the topic of evolutionary theory and biology is addressed in classrooms. Early research suggests that not only does anti-evolution instruction make its way into science classes worldwide—from the European Union to Southeast Asia—but in many regions, it also seems to be on the rise.

In some parts of the world, such as countries in northeastern Asia, evolution has had a relatively solid toehold in curricula for decades. But even in the U.K. the rise of publicly funded free schools allow alternatives to state-approved science curricula. And in some Muslim-majority countries, such as Pakistan, many teachers tell students to disregard the evolution unit entirely because the theory is incorrect.

Allowing creationism into schools in the U.S. or beyond, many argue, does not just undermine educational integrity but also threatens to "hamper the advancement of science and technology as students take their places as leaders of future generations," as the Geological Society of Australia asserted in its 2008 statement on science education. Member states of the E.U. have cited the need to effectively tackle medical problems rooted in the process of evolution—such as AIDS treatment and antibiotic resistance—as real-world reasons to bolster its instruction in biology classrooms.

"We've got to have teachers who understand the nature of science—what makes science a science and what makes theories so strong and robust," says James Williams, a science education instructor at the University of Sussex in England.

When evolution is challenged as "just a theory," he notes, even well-informed teachers and curriculum designers sometimes neglect to counter that theories (such as the theory of gravity or electromagnetic theory) are not hypotheses in want of further evidence, but rather the sturdiest truths and descriptions of how the material world works that science has to offer. In many places, though, the rise of more fundamentalist belief systems—and the politicization of those beliefs—is jeopardizing progress toward stronger science instruction. The landscape of evolution instruction around the globe is a varied and rapidly changing one, impacting students from Canada to China. Here is a look at where the issue stands in the U.K. and E.U., and in some countries with majority Islamic populations.

A late introduction to Darwin in the U.K.

Even as the home country of Charles Darwin, the U.K. leaves formal evolution education until ages 14 to 16, which, Williams says, is "very late to start thinking about it." And when evolution is introduced in biology classes, it is kept as a relatively separate topic. "To me that's odd—it's like trying to teach chemistry but not putting atoms at the center," he notes.

Introducing the concepts of evolutionary theory at an earlier age and keeping them more central to the curriculum could help to solidify the topic in students' minds and minimize the opportunity for misconceptions to arise, he notes. "When somebody has a misconception in science, if it's embedded, it's incredibly difficult to change."

Williams says that he has noticed a slow increase in the quantity of creationist teaching in the U.K., but it is still mostly at parochial schools and newer "free schools" (which are similar to U.S. charter schools in that they are government-funded but free from many of the regulatory strictures applied to public schools). But that does not mean that the issue does not come up in the public school classroom. In one survey around 40 percent of teachers reported being challenged by students about evolution, suggesting that there needs to be solid training for U.K. teachers whose general "understanding of evolution is very, very poor," Williams says.

Some U.K. pro–intelligent design (ID) groups are also pushing to include "alternatives" to evolution in the country's national curriculum. One group, known as Truth in Science, calls for allowing such ideas to be presented in science classrooms—an angle reminiscent of "academic freedom" bills that have been introduced in several U.S. states. A 2006 overhaul of the U.K. national curriculum shifted the focus of science instruction to highlight "how science works" instead of a more "just the facts" approach. Although the update has been positive in some respects, it also creates more room for purportedly science-based groups that back ID to try to introduce alternative viewpoints of life's origin—in the name of critical thinking and classroom analysis. A healthy classroom debate about alternative energy sources or even the mechanisms of evolution, Williams suggests, is a great use of the newer approach to teaching science. But framing a biology classroom discussion about whether evolution occurs should not be allowed, he says.

Say it ain't so, Dr. Pho! Credulity towards alternative medicine on KevinMD


Who (or what) is Orac?. Orac is the nom de blog of a (not so) humble pseudonymous surgeon/scientist with an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his miscellaneous verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few will. (Continued here, along with a DISCLAIMER that you should read before reading any medical discussions here.)

Category: Alternative medicine • Medicine • Quackery
Posted on: March 1, 2011 3:00 AM, by Orac

Say it ain't so, Dr. Pho!

Back when I first started blogging over six years ago, one of the first medical blogs I came across was KevinMD, the weblog of one Dr. Kevin Pho. Back then, of course, Dr. Pho's blog wasn't anywhere near the medblogging juggernaut that it is now, a part of Medpage Today. Indeed, Kevin was one of my early influences, although, as you can see, I never managed to get the whole brevity in writing thing down. Or the whole commercial savvy thing, either. Or the team blogging thing, either. Respectful Insolence was and remains a one man operation (or one Plexiglass box of multicolored blinking lights operation).

In any case, I always thought that Dr. Pho was one of us, at least when it comes to opposing the pseudoscience in medicine that goes under the name of "complementary and alternative medicine" (i.e., CAM) or "integrative medicine" (i.e., "integrating" quackery with science-based medicine). Yet lately the inimitable Dr. Pho seems not to be guarding the chicken coop. There have been some posts by guest bloggers that not only show a disturbing credulity towards pseudoscience in medicine but pretty fuzzy "reasoning." For example, in this post by Roberta Bivins, we find this pearl:

For example, in contemporary biomedicine, it is conventional to separate the mind and the body when designing a medical experiment: hence the rise of the double-blinded random controlled trial as medicine's 'gold-standard' of proof. Yet physicians and researchers simultaneously acknowledge the impact of the mind on bodily processes. They call it the 'placebo effect'. As understandings of the mind-body relationship become more sophisticated, it is possible that the blinded RCT will fall from favor, as a limited test of therapeutic activity which obscures an important variable.

Uh, no. The rationale for using placebo controls is not because we "separate the mind and the body." What utter twaddle! Indeed, this is the same sort of nonsense that Mike Adams regularly parrots. The rationale for using placebo controls is because there is a large body of evidence supporting the existence of placebo effects and nonspecific effects that need to be controlled for. It is not necessary to posit that there is a separation between the "mind" and the body to accept and control for placebo effects in randomized clinical trials. Far from it! After all, recent advances in brain imaging and functional MRI have allowed neuroscientists to visualize the regions of the brain that are involved in placebo effects with no need to invoke mind-body dualism at all to account for them. Let's just put it this way. Double-blind, randomized clinical trials are not likely to be going anywhere any time soon.

I also note that Bivins is known for being very sympathetic to unscientific medical modalities. Indeed, a recent NEJM review of Bivins' book concluded that Bivins characterizes "Western" physicians past and present as "mostly predatory and misguided" and "questions why researchers continue to assess treatments from other cultures in a Western framework." Silly me! I always thought that there was no "Eastern" or "Western" medicine; there's just science.

For shame, Dr. Pho, for letting such a person blog for you!

Unfortunately, last week, I saw the worst example in a long time of a post utterly lacking in skepticism towards CAM in the form of a post by guest blogger Dr. Peter J. Weiss entitled Why alternative care seems to work. Of course, this could be the topic of a very good post. In fact, I've written about this very topic many times before. Confirmation bias, confusing correlation with causation, regression to the mean, all these things lead to a mistaken impression that CAM modalities such as homeopathy "work." If Dr. Weiss could have concisely explained these factors and how they can contribute to the illusion that CAM "works," then he would have done Dr. Pho's readers a service. He didn't. What he did instead is to invoke some of the hoariest pro-CAM canards out there. In essence, his article is based on the all-too-often used premise of CAMsters that just because we don't understand the mechanism by which various CAM modalities "work" does not mean that they aren't valid. It's kind of sad, because Dr. Weiss starts out reasonably:

Suppose I believe that light is a liquid, and it travels in pipes in the wall. And I believe that when you turn on the light switch, the light travels up the pipes in the wall, over the ceiling, and comes out of the light bulb and radiates/evaporates light into the air. Is that true? Is that a good explanation of light? Probably not! But that doesn't mean that the light switch doesn't work for me. If I turn on a light switch it's going to work no matter what I believe about how the light comes out of the fixture in the ceiling.

And it's true. Scientific medicine works whether you believe in it or not. the prototypical example of this is the observation that antibiotics will treat infections quite effectively even in comatose patients. They'll also work in patients who believe that their infection is a result of evil humors or miasmas. That's because antibiotics have a defined mechanism of action. We understand it. We know how antibiotics work. We know which bugs they kill. We know what proteins or molecules in the bugs they target. In brief, science, it works, bitches! Unfortunately, Dr. Weiss draws precisely the wrong conclusions:

The same is true, I think, of acupuncture, which is another common modality -- increasingly common in the western world -- that was really developed in ancient China in a prescientific era. The Chinese developed these theories of energy flow (or Ch'i) in the body, along channels related to meridians; and all of that define the practice of acupuncture.

There's no scientific basis for any that. None of it can be measured as far as we know, in our scientific world today. That's a totally separate question than, "Will the practice of acupuncture help my pain get better?" or help me feel better, or help me with my problem. And many, many people are accepting that acupuncture works for them. It doesn't mean necessarily that it works in the way that it has been traditionally explained for thousands of years.

Except that acupuncture, as it is practiced today, is not really thousands of years old or steeped in antiquity. More importantly, Dr. Weiss puts the cart before the horse. Yes, there are a number of science-based medical interventions for which we don't know the mechanism of action. However, in general, before seeking out a mechanism of activity for an effect of an intervention we first make sure that there actually is an effect due to that intervention. For acupuncture, as I've described time and time again, the better the clinical trial, the more rigorously controlled it is, the smaller the apparent effect is, until that effect disappears in the largest, best-controlled acupuncture trials. After all, it doesn't matter where you put the needles or even if you put them in at all. In fact, you can even twirl toothpicks against the skin, and acupuncture "works." In other words, acupuncture is placebo medicine.

Dr. Weiss takes this gambit to an annoying extreme when he mentions the drug Lunesta and how at the end of Lunesta commercials there is one of these disclaimers: "The mechanism of action of Lunesta is unknown" or "How Lunesta actually works is unknown." He then likens this to acupuncture:

Or, "We just don't know how this stuff works basically." So, this is a widely prescribed drug, market leading drug, many many doctors are writing for it, the drug company is making it, the FDA has approved it, and no one knows how it really works! We just know it helps people sleeps. That's okay.

Transfer that theory into alternative care. We don't know how all those practices work either but they seem to work to help people. So free up your mind a little bit. Don't get hung up by explanations that don't make sense to you. If you think the practices are safe and they might help you, open your mind a little bit give them a try. Leave the explanation behind and do what works for you.

I suppose I should be grateful for small favors in that Dr. Weiss spared me the the usual example preferred by CAMsters, namely aspirin. The usual story goes that doctors knew that aspirin worked to relieve pain and decrease fever but didn't know the mechanism, which wasn't worked out until long after aspirin use had become widespread. The Lunesta spin is a different one than the ones I've heard. In any case, here's the difference. Even when we don't know the exact mechanism, in general we know that there is a plausible scientific mechanism for drugs like Lunesta. They are, after all, chemicals and presumably they bind to some receptor or other protein or intracellular molecule and thereby exert their effects. Also, we aren't entirely in the dark about the mechanism of Lunesta, even if ewe don't know the exact mechanism, and we do know that they work.

In marked contrast, for the vast majority of CAM modalities, including acupuncture, the mechanism proposed is, as Dr. Weiss points out, completely unfounded in any science. Homeopathy, for instance, violates numerous well-established principles of physics and chemistry, and, for it to work, science would have to be not just wrong but spectacularly wrong about much of what we understand about physics and chemistry. In other words, for drugs like Lunesta there are scientifically plausible mechanisms by which they work. For something like homeopathy or acupuncture, not so much, and likening highly implausible CAM modalities to science-based medical interventions in terms of a lack of a known mechanism is fundamentally deceptive. His argument is, in essence, "We don't know exactly how Lunesta works. We have no idea how acupuncture 'works.' They're alike! So let's use both of them!"

Moreover, Dr. Weiss seems completely oblivious to something as obvious as placebo effects. In essence, he is advocating placebo medicine. Who cares whether acupuncture or other CAM really works or not, as long as it appears to work? He is also advocating "opening your mind" to the point where your brains fall out.

I have to say, I never would have expected to find a post like this on KevinMD. I had always thought that Dr. Pho was a proponent of science-based medicine (or at least evidence-based medicine), and it's exceedingly disappointing to see this sort of nonsense on his blog. Normally, I view KevinMD as a reliable source of medical information and a good place to go for medical commentary. I have to wonder if, in his expansion to a multi-blogger medical social media juggernaut, Dr. Pho isn't minding the store the way he should. The result are posts like those by Weiss and Bivins.

ADDENDUM: Kevin has responded in a comment.

I posted a response, but thought of a little more after I hit "submit," so I expand slightly here:

Post pieces you don't necessarily agree with myself to promote discussion and debate? Give me a break! I didn't want to believe it, but one of my readers commented that it looks like you've become all about the page views, traffic, and advertising. Your comment makes me think he might well have been correct.

You appear to have lost your way from way back when six years ago. Whether or not CAM modalities are scientific or whether patients should be encouraged to be "open minded" (i.e., to try them even though they are pseudoscience) goes beyond being something that you just "disagree with." It goes to the heart of practicing science- and evidence-based medicine, which you apparently have forgotten or abandoned in your search for ad revenue.

As a result, sadly, I can no longer recommend your blog to my readers as a source of reliable medical information and will be removing it from my blogroll the next time I revamp it (soon).

Perhaps some additional opinions from my readers would persuade Dr. Pho that he has strayed into dubious territory.

Either what the Bible says is true or it's a lie


Oklahoman Published: March 4, 2011

The Rev. Deborah Meinke (Your Views, Feb. 26) wrote that intelligent design theory is "a thinly disguised representation of creationism, which has been discredited many times by evolutionary science" and that her God "works through the evolutionary process." Either the Bible is true or it's a lie. Genesis says God created (called into existence, out of nothing) man in His own image. If you can't believe that God created man out of nothing, you probably don't believe many other events in the Bible are factual.

Jesus and the writers of the New Testament treated Genesis as literal, factual and historical. If you can't believe Genesis as the true account of creation, then it's a lie and therefore the whole Bible is questionable. I believe the Bible is God's word and God doesn't lie. If any part of God's word isn't true, then none of it's true. Our nation is on the road to ruin because so many Americans don't believe the Bible is true.

Charles D. Harris, Oklahoma City

Read more: http://newsok.com/either-what-the-bible-says-is-true-or-its-a-lie/article/3545630#ixzz1FjORhLCj

Commentary: Creationism debate: Let curricula evolve


By Paul James Posted: 6:54 p.m. Wednesday, March 2, 2011

In response to my column in February on teaching evolution and creationism in the classroom, Gary Hurd wrote "Evolution is a fact, no matter how the universe was created," which ran in The Post on Monday. According to his blog, Stones and Bones (stonesnbones.blogspot.com), Dr. Hurd became involved in the "creationist anti-science debate" while he was curator of anthropology and director of education for the Orange County (Calif.) Museum of Natural History. Now steeped in the evolution-creationism debate, he writes commentaries in an effort to debunk creationists who he feels are attacking science education.

Referring to "Defeating creationism in the courtroom, but not in the classroom," the article published in the Jan. 28 edition of Science magazine about which I had written, Dr. Hurd wrote, "That research, by Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer, found that only 28 percent of U.S. teachers are competent to teach basic biology, another 18 percent personally support creationism, with 13 percent who actively encourage students to reject science." What the Penn State researchers actually wrote was, "We estimate that 28 percent of all biology teachers consistently implement the major recommendations and conclusions of the National Research Council They unabashedly introduce evidence that evolution has occurred and craft lesson plans so that evolution is a theme that unifies disparate topics in biology." While they found that 18 percent personally endorsed creationism, "13 percent of the teachers surveyed explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design by spending at least one hour of class time presenting it in a positive light." That does not mean that the majority of science teachers are incompetent, nor does it mean that those who don't believe in evolution encourage students to reject science. However, because Dr. Hurd believes that "it is the biblical literalists who have a religiously motivated rejection of not only evolution but all sciences," as he posted on his blog on Feb. 23, I believe he misrepresented Messrs Berkman and Plutzer's conclusions to buttress his opinion.

Dr. Hurd claimed that I spent the bulk of my column "ironically demonstrating why we are locked into a 'cycle of ignorance.' " Actually, it was Messrs Berkman and Plutzer's thesis that teaching which reinforces community anti-evolution attitudes perpetuates a cycle of ignorance in which students are predisposed to share the anti-evolution views of their parents. Mine was that the entirety of a student's high school science education is not undermined just because a teacher presents creationism as an alternate theory. Dr. Hurd also wrote "Creationists, like Mr. James, commonly object that evolutionary theory lacks a definitive answer for the origin of life, or for the origin of the universe." I can't speak for all creationists, but I actually don't object to the lack of a definitive answer. What I do object to, however, is the continual litigation proposed by the researchers to ensure that evolution be the sole theory to which public school students are exposed.

Interestingly, while the federal courts have mandated for the past 40 years that creationism be kept out of public school curricula, Dr. Hurd wrote on his blog that, "Militant, atheist evolutionary biologists are every bit as religious as a sweating, hollering young Earth creationist preacher from south Alabama." Why, then, doesn't he also see teaching evolution as a violation of the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause?

According to Dr. Hurd, we are entering the age of the biologist. We also happen to be in the Information Age. Teaching creationism does nothing to undermine a high school student's science education. Censoring it does.

Paul James' e-mail address is paulsteven


Friday, March 04, 2011

Evolution education update: March 4, 2011

Opposition to Tennessee's House Bill 368 is mounting. In the meantime, Scientific American offers a detailed report on new challenges for evolution education, and NCSE presents a sample chapter from a new biology textbook, Principles of Life.


As a second subcommittee hearing on Tennessee's House Bill 368 approached, the author of The Evolution Controversy in America and the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee were speaking out against the bill.

Writing in The Tennesseean (March 1, 2011), George Webb commented, "I find the most recent effort to compromise the quality of science teaching in the public schools ... both curious and disquieting." Acknowledging that it is useful to discuss historical scientific controversies in science classes, he emphasized that the "controversial" topics itemized in HB 368 -- including evolution -- are not scientifically controversial; to claim otherwise "reveals an inadequate grasp of the history and practice of science." Moreover, he argued, "If teachers are expected to examine these so-called controversies in the science classroom, they will obviously have less opportunity to discuss the topics included in the Tennessee Science Framework." Observing that the Framework reflects the consensus of the scientific and science education communities, he remarked, "It is difficult to imagine how teaching less science so that so-called controversies may be included in the curriculum will result in greater scientific knowledge." Webb is professor of history at Tennessee Tech University and the author of The Evolution Controversy in America (University of Kentucky Press, 1994).

In a press release dated February 28, 2011, available at the Tennessee Report, Hedy Weinberg wrote, "Eighty-six years after the famous Scopes 'Monkey Trial' in Dayton, Tennessee, anti-evolution forces continue their attempt to entrench creationism in our state's science classrooms," and urged her fellow Tennesseans, "Let's let our lawmakers know that it's not 1925 anymore." She explained, "While at first glance [HB 368] may not appear to promote creationism, the bill's intent is actually to enable creationist teachers to create doubts in their students regarding evolution, doubts which are not scientifically justified. These alleged weaknesses come not from the scientific community but from creationist advocacy organizations. The National Academies of Science and the National Science Teachers Association unanimously agree that evolution needs to be taught straightforwardly and without compromise." Encouraging Tennesseans to express their concerns about HB 368 to their representatives, she concluded, "Tennessee lawmakers need to know that we want Tennessee to move forward, not backward." Weinberg is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee.

The House General Subcommittee of Education will have its third hearing on the bill at 3:00 p.m. on March 16, 2011; e-mail NCSE's Joshua Rosenau or Steven Newton if you're able to attend.

For Webb's column, visit:

For Weinberg's press release, visit:

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


In a new in-depth report, Scientific American asks, "Five years after the Dover trial pushed intelligent design out of public school classrooms, how has evolution instruction fared?" Featured are a new article by Lauri Lebo on how "creationists are co-opting some old heroes of the fight to teach evolution in the classroom for their anti-science campaign" and a new interview of Jennifer Miller, one of the science teachers at Dover Senior High School who were affected by the antievolution policy enacted by the Dover Area School Board in 2004, as well as classic articles from previous issues of Scientific American, including "The Latest Face of Creationism in the Classroom," by NCSE's Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott.

In "The Scopes Strategy: Creationists Try New Tactics to Promote Anti-Evolutionary Teaching in Public Schools," Lauri Lebo discusses the latest manifestation of the campaign to teach, in lieu of creationism, the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution: House Bill 368 and Senate Bill 893 in Tennessee, which a lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association described as a "lawyer's dream" containing "some of the most convoluted language I've ever seen in a bill," and which Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, described as "the latest line of attack against evolution in a long-standing campaign," according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel (February 27, 2011).

Would the Tennessee bills protect the teaching of "intelligent design"? Lebo reports that their House sponsor, Bill Dunn (R-District 16) claimed that they would not. But their chief lobbyist, David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, claimed that they would -- although a federal court ruled the teaching of "intelligent design" in the public schools to be unconstitutional in Kitzmiller v. Dover. Alluding to Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer's recent commentary in Science, NCSE's Joshua Rosenau observed that in any case, with 60 percent of public high school biology teachers already reluctant to present evolution forthrightly in their classrooms, the bills send a message to teachers to avoid the subject.

In "The Education of Jennifer Miller," Nina Bai interviews Jennifer Miller, who still works at Dover Senior High School in Dover, Pennsylvania, where she teaches honors biology and anatomy and physiology. Since the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, Miller explained, "I've definitely changed how I teach. The biggest thing is probably that evolution used to be the last thing we got to in the semester. ... Now I put evolution first, and I refer back to it to show how important it is to all topics of biology. ... I'm no longer afraid to cover it in depth and to have in-depth conversations about evolution. ... Now I do cover intelligent design, why it is not science, and why it should not be taught in a science classroom."

Miller also highlighted the need for increased coverage of evolution in the training of preservice teachers, saying, "There needs to be a lot more education about how to teach to evolution. ... Maybe as we train new biology teachers -- make sure that we give them what they really need to know -- new teachers can arm themselves with the evidence that's out there. There is tons and tons of evidence for evolution, and it keeps piling up. As a teacher it's hard to stay on top of that." She added, "Teachers must stay on top of this in case there is ever a school board member or community member who tries to institute the 'teach the controversy' rhetoric in their classroom. I think that would be helpful. I hope in five years that people aren't so afraid of the topic, but I'm not optimistic."

For the introduction to the report, visit:

For Lebo's article, visit:

For the article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, visit:

For NCSE's coverage of the Berkman and Plutzer column, visit:

For the interview with Miller, visit:


NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of David M. Hillis, David Sadava, H. Craig Heller, and Mary V. Price's new textbook Principles of Life (Sinauer Associates and W. H. Freeman, 2010). The excerpt constitutes the whole of chapter 15, "Mechanisms of Evolution," and offers as seven "key concepts" the principles that evolution is both factual and the basis of broader theory; that mutation, selection, gene flow, genetic drift, and nonrandom mating result in evolution; that evolution can be measured by changes in allele frequencies; that selection can be stabilizing, directional, or disruptive; that genomes reveal both neutral and selective processes of evolution; that recombination, lateral gene transfer, and gene duplication can result in new features; and that evolutionary theory has practical applications.

The publishers proclaim, "Numerous recent studies ... confirm what a growing number of educators already know: the typical majors biology textbook has become too long, too detailed, and too expensive. ... Written in the spirit of the reform movement that is reinvigorating the introductory majors course, Principles of Life cuts through the thicket of excessive detail and factual minutiae to focus on what matters most in the study of biology today. Students explore the most essential biological ideas and information in the context of the field's defining experiments, and are actively engaged in analyzing research data. The result is a textbook that is hundreds of pages shorter (and significantly less expensive) than the current majors introductory books."

For the preview of Principles of Life (PDF), visit:

For information on the book from its publishers, visit:

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


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

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Legislation may hurt science studies


1:00 AM, Mar. 1, 2011
Written by
George Webb
Opinion Tennessee Voices

As a historian of science, I find the most recent effort to compromise the quality of science teaching in the public schools (House Bill 386) both curious and disquieting.

Such bills have been introduced in nearly 40 states in the past seven years and are patterned on model legislation developed by anti-evolution organizations such as the Discovery Institute. Louisiana remains the only state to have enacted a statute of this type, but scientific organizations were harshly critical of this action.

A comparison of HB 386 with such legislation reveals many identical statements and ideas. Despite this bill's inclusion of such phrases as "critical thinking skills'' and its focus on the examination of controversies in science, HB 386 seeks to marginalize certain topics in the science curriculum.

To be sure, history reveals many examples of controversies that could be used in science classes to illustrate the scientific pursuit.

One of the most dramatic is the long debate between supporters of the Earth-centered and sun-centered universe.

When Copernicus announced his sun-centered system in 1543, he provided a slightly simpler model, but it was no more accurate than competing Earth-centered systems.

The key to the solar system puzzle came more than 70 years later, when Johannes Kepler showed that more accurate descriptions of planetary motion required a system based on elliptical rather than circular orbits around the sun.

Until Kepler's work, supporters of Earth-centered and sun-centered planetary systems could claim equal accuracy, thus creating a dramatic astronomical controversy.

TN students face setbacks

Such controversies are not the ones addressed by HB 386, however. Rather, it focuses on scientific topics — evolution is listed first in the bill — that "can cause controversy.''

These topics do, indeed, precipitate heated debates and discussions, but primarily within the context of politics, economics or religion.

As such, the "controversial'' nature of such topics would be an appropriate and valuable addition to classes in history, social studies, government or comparative religions.

But to argue, as this bill does, that similar controversies exist among scientists reveals an inadequate grasp of the history and practice of science.

House Bill 386 also presents practical difficulties for science teachers and their students.

If teachers are expected to examine these so-called controversies in the science classroom, they will obviously have less opportunity to discuss the topics included in the Tennessee Science Framework, the document that guides science teaching in the public schools.

This document reflects the science education consensus in the United States, which has been developed by leading educational and scientific organizations. As a result, Tennessee students will be subjected to a flawed science education.

American students consistently perform at an embarrassingly low level in international studies of science and mathematics education.

The solution to this difficulty must be found in improving science education.

It is difficult to imagine how teaching less science so that so-called controversies may be included in the curriculum will result in greater scientific knowledge.

Surely, Tennessee students deserve better.

George Webb is professor of history at Tennessee Tech University and the author of The Evolution Controversy in America.