NTS LogoSkeptical News for 14 June 2011

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, July 02, 2011

How the Texas Board of Ed. misrepresented a Nobel Prize winner: a repost


Profile. Joshua Rosenau spends his days defending the teaching of evolution at the National Center for Science Education. He is formerly a doctoral candidate at the University of Kansas, in the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. When not battling creationists or modeling species ranges, he writes about developments in progressive politics and the sciences.

The opinions expressed here are his own, do not reflect the official position of the NCSE. Indeed, older posts may no longer reflect his own official position.

Category: Creationism • Culture Wars • Policy and Politics • Repost
Posted on: June 29, 2011 1:05 PM, by Josh Rosenau

Because Nobel laureate Werner Arber is addressing evolution at the Landau meeting of Nobel laureates, I thought I'd repost this piece from January 21, 2009, which was first posted from the Texas Board of Education meeting room. Enjoy.

In November, the Texas Board of Education met to consider their new science standards. As I've mentioned a major point of contention is a reference in the current standards to "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific explanations, a concept only ever applied to evolution, and without any clear explanation of what it means.

In the course of 6 hours of testimony, witnesses constantly asked what these "weaknesses" were, and got no clarity. Finally, at an ungodly hour, Cynthia Dunbar (the one who thinks public schools are evil and that President Obama is a s3kr1t Mussulman) gave her explanation. In the course of doing so, she perpetuated blatant falsehoods about a Nobel Prize-winning doctor.

A concerned teacher observed that:

[During the 2003 textbook hearings in Texas] Much of the testimony given in support of 3A, the strengths and weaknesses, was given by the Discovery Institute, who were here, giving presentations on that. In that case, they were using this as a strategy for keeping open the idea of "teaching the controversy," which doesn't seem to be as prevalent within the scientific community as it does within our community at large.

Dunbar replied:

D: OK, but the last testimony heard was that science is not something that's determined by majority vote, there is a scientific method.

I would like to have someone of the magnitude of Dr. Werner Abner [sic] here. I don't know if you know who he is. Are you familiar with him?

A: Not right off the top of my head, no.

Dunbar: He is a Nobel laureate. He spent his life doing studies in evolution and genetics. I don't think we could get him here, I think he's in Switzerland. But his, his years and years and years and years of research in genetics and evolution are very, very credible, and his end result recently, I think it was in September, was that the genetic code, and genetic mutations are actually built in to a limitation that they can only go so far, which is contrary to the ultimate result of natural selection and all of that. But that would not be someone outside of the scientific community…

At which point the discussion proceeds to whether she wants religious taught in science class

Later, Dunbar and a student from UT got into the same discussion:

A: My question would be: Where's the data to prove the, I believe it's four weaknesses, four limitations. Where's the data for that? It's my understanding that the entire scientific community doesn't believe that they exist.

D: First of all, science is not based on majority rule,

A: Right

D: And there's lots of data. Do you know who Werner Arber is? He's a PhD and a Nobel laureate.

A: I believe I heard you talking about him earlier.

D: And do you know who he is.

A: Not extensively.

D: Go Google him. Because he spent his life on evolution and genetics. So there is data out there [on the weaknesses of evolution], we don't want that squelched. We want to be able to discuss it. And as a political science major, I would hope that you of all people would want there to be open discussion these types of issues within the classroom.

A: You keep talking about the scientific method. When these four weaknesses are applied to the scientific method and they fail– I don't understand –

D: His documentation, if you go read it, I mean it's very clear as to the geneticists and the documentation of the mutations and all that. I mean it's not anything that fails, it's testable, it's observable, it's right there. But those are the types of the things that we want the students to be able to discuss …

So Dunbar wants Arber's response, eh? Taking her advice, I did Google him. One thing I learned is that he did not publish anything in September, but an article by Jerry Bergman was published about him in that month's issue of Acts & Facts, the newsletter of the young earth creationist Institute for Creation Research.

Setting aside everything I will lay out from this point forward, it is important to note that, based on Dunbar's comments and the ICR article, she clearly based her understanding of this scientific matter on a single article in a creationist magazine, and is ignoring the testimony and guidance not only of the AAAS, the NAS, and her own committee of experts, but Texan Nobel Prize-winners. Educational policy should never be made on the basis of creationist publications, especially when those publications make demonstrably false statements. The references to a publication in September alone demonstrate that she is relying on the ICR piece, and various shared misinterpretations confirm this.

In the article, ICR's Jerry Bergman insisted that Arber is an ID supporter, largely on the basis of an interview from the early 1990s, collected by Ray Varghese. Varghese is at the center of a controversy over Anthony Flew's conversion from atheism to deism, and is accused of passing his own words off as Flew's in order to make him seem more Christian than he is.

Arber also co-organized a conference on evolution for the Pontifical Academy of Sciences last November, at which he firmly stated his support for evolution as science and his belief that it is compatible with religious faith.

His own research shows no signs of doubts about evolution, and indeed he has published work with such luminaries of evolutionary biology as Richard Lenski, and his own Nobel-winning work on restriction enzymes has been powerfully useful to evolutionary biology.

Certain that ICR had misrepresented Dr. Arber, I contacted some of his professional colleagues to see if they could make him aware of this apparent error in the ICR's article, and in Dunbar's mangled repetition of the same points. One colleague replied that "That certainly seems to me to be a misrepresentation of Prof. Arber's views on the matter, and quite amazing."

Dr. Arber also wrote back, with thanks for alerting him to the problem. He included a statement he had sent to ICR refuting the article and Dunbar's interpretation of it, adding that I was "welcome to make use of this statement in relevant situations." He also pointed out a common problem in dealing with creationists: "I slowly learn to write my papers by taking care to reduce the chance of misinterpretation, but this is not easy." Given creationists' propensity for misrepresentation and quotemining, it is indeed difficult to prevent such misinterpretation.

Dr. Arber's response to the ICR is below the fold. English is not his native tongue, so the language is a bit stilted at times. There should be no doubt, though, that Dr. Arber was misrepresented by the ICR and by Cynthia Dunbar. Had he been at the hearings, as Dunbar wished, he would surely have denied that evolution is riddled with weaknesses, and indeed affirms that "I stand fully behind the NeoDarwinian theory of biological evolution and I contributed to confirm and expand this theory at the molecular level so that it can now be called Molecular Darwinism."

Statement on my view on biological evolution


I recently got aware of an article entitled "Werner Arber: Nobel Laureate, Darwin Skeptic" that was published in September 2008 by the Institute for Creation Research and that is authored by Jerry Bergman, Ph.D. This article completely misinterprets my general conclusions that I base on several decades of studies in microbial genetics. A number of citations are taken out of their original context and surrounded by comments and misinterpretations by the author of the article.

The truth is that I have contributed to advance scientific knowledge on biological evolution by studying molecular mechanisms of genetic variation. Genetic variation is clearly the driving force of biological evolution. A number of different specific molecular mechanisms contribute to spontaneous genetic variation. Together with non-genetic elements specific gene products are thereby involved as variation generators and as modulators of the rates of genetic variation. These are established facts that are based on experimental evidences and that are valid for the course of biological evolution as it works today in living organisms. Theoretically, one can extrapolate into the past history of life development on Earth. One can, e.g., postulate how the genes involved in biological evolution may have become fine-tuned to insure to living organisms a comfortable genetic stability and at the same time to the populations of living organisms an evolutionary development, including adaptability to changing living conditions and an expansion of biodiversity. In contrast, there is, so far, neither satisfactory scientific knowledge nor theory on the origin and early evolution of life on our planet.

On solid scientific grounds one cannot expect to discover if a Creator as defined by religious beliefs and sometimes referred to as intelligent design or God's Will, could be responsible for the origin and subsequent evolution of life. Serious scientific investigations can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God or a possible impact of God on evolutionary processes. In our civilization, both scientific knowledge and religious beliefs contribute essentially to our orientating knowledge, but these two sources of our worldview should not be intermingled.

In conclusion, I am neither a "Darwin skeptic" nor an "intelligent design supporter" as it is claimed in Bergman's article. I stand fully behind the NeoDarwinian theory of biological evolution and I contributed to confirm and expand this theory at the molecular level so that it can now be called Molecular Darwinism.

Werner Arber Professor emeritus for Molecular Microbiology, University of Basel. Nobel Laureate Medicine/Physiology 1978

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Evolution education update: June 24, 2011

A new batch of videos on NCSE's YouTube channel and a preview of Francisco J. Ayala's Am I a Monkey? And a pair of antievolution bills looms on the horizon in the Granite State.


NCSE is pleased to announce the addition of a further batch of videos to NCSE's YouTube channel -- bringing the total number of videos available there to over two hundred! Featured is NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, explaining "Why evolution is difficult" at the QED conference in Manchester in 2011 and again at the Orange County Freethought Alliance Conference in Irvine, California, in 2011. And departing from the creationism/evolution controversy for a change, Scott discusses "Bigfoot and other wild men of the forest" for "Ask a Scientist" in San Francisco in 2009.

From NCSE's staff, Joshua Rosenau discusses "Controversies, scientific and otherwise" at the University of West Virginia in 2011, and Scott, Rosenau, and Glenn Branch team up to address "Creationism vs. evolution ... and global warming: An update" for the SkeptiCal conference in Berkeley, California, in 2011. "The story of NCSE," produced in 2001, celebrates a grant awarded to NCSE by Working Assets/Credo Mobile, the telephone company established "to give people an easy way to make a difference in the world, just by doing the things they do every day."

And from NCSE's Supporters and friends, there's Niles Eldredge -- NCSE Supporter and recipient of NCSE's Friend of Darwin award for 2011 -- presenting "The case for evolution" (in two parts) at Hillsdale College in 2002, and footage (in three parts) from the 2011 rally in Baton Rouge organized by Zack Kopplin in support of the effort to repeal Louisiana's antievolution law enacted in 2008. Is it any wonder that NCSE's YouTube channel is consistently in the top fifty most-viewed and most-subscribed non-profit channels? Tune in and enjoy!

For NCSE's YouTube channel, visit:


NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Francisco J. Ayala's Am I a Monkey? Six Big Questions about Evolution (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010). In the excerpt, Ayala addresses the title question, writing, "I am a primate. Monkeys are primates, but humans are not monkeys. Primates include monkeys, apes, and humans. Humans are more closely related by descent to apes than to monkeys. That is, the apes are our first cousins, so to speak, while the monkeys are our second or third cousins," before proceeding to review the evidence -- from comparative anatomy, the fossil record, and comparisons of DNA -- for the common ancestry of the primates.

Ayala, a Supporter of NCSE, was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2001. Reviewing Am I a Monkey? for RNCSE, Joel W. Martin wrote, "The book is well-written, accurate, and concise, and it covers the main points of biological evolution likely to be questioned by non-specialists. More importantly, it is accessible and easy to digest for the audience for whom it is written. Because of that strength, I suspect that it will, in the long run, play a larger role in promoting the acceptance of evolution than so many contemporary but longer and more detailed treatises."

For the preview (PDF), visit:

For information on the book from its publisher, visit:

For Martin's review in RNCSE, visit:


Antievolution bills are on the horizon in New Hampshire. Included on a list of legislative service requests dated June 14, 2011, are two requests to have antievolution bills drafted for the 2012 legislative session. LSR 2012-H-2176-R, submitted by Jerry Bergevin (R-District 17), asks for a bill "requiring the teaching of evolution in public schools as a theory"; LSR 2012-H-2320-R, submitted by Gary Hopper (R-District 7), asks for a bill "requiring instruction in intelligent design in the public schools." No bills mentioning evolution or "creation science" or "intelligent design" have been introduced in the New Hampshire legislature from 1989 to 2011. For what it's worth, in the recent Miss USA pageant -- in which competitors were asked, "Should evolution be taught in schools?" -- Miss New Hampshire endorsed teaching evolution but added, "it shouldn't be the only point of view taught." For a discussion of the range of answers, see the report on USA Today's Faith & Reason blog (June 20, 2011).

For the list of legislative service requests, visit:

For the Faith & Reason blog post, 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 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

Read Reports of the NCSE on-line:

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Skeptics: Psychic's show no salve for grief


Thursday, June 23, 2011
Staff Writer

The "bingo card" handed out by Granite State Skeptics before the John Edwards show on Wednesday night, filled with terms and scenarios that regularly come up in psychic "readings".

This pamphlet, describing how people can pretend to be psychic, was made available after the John Edwards show by Granite State Skeptics on Wednesday. The "bingo card" handed out by Granite State Skeptics before the John Edwards show on Wednesday night, filled with terms and scenarios that regularly come up in psychic "readings". MANCHESTER – Christa Grant was at the Palace Theater on Tuesday night hoping to talk to her late husband, who died unexpectedly a year ago.

Travis Roy and his band of disbelievers were there hoping to convince her to save her money.

John Edward – the psychic who claims to communicate with the dead, not the beleaguered former senator with similar name – filled the 840-seat Palace Theater on Tuesday at $125 a pop, with the message he could "bring comfort and hope" to people by reuniting them with their dearly departed.

Roy and other members of the Granite State Skeptics group said this is, at best, hogwash. At worst, they say, Edward and his clairvoyant ilk are bilking mourners out of their money and causing emotional damage by preventing people from properly dealing with their grief.

"I think he's taking advantage of people," Roy said. "We're talking about someone who's charging $120 a ticket, and the idea is to get them hooked. We don't think that's emotionally healthy or appropriate."

Roy and about 10 other volunteers flanked the theater's entryway before Edward's 7 p.m. show, handing out small blank envelopes with tiny pencils and "psychic bingo" cards inside. The cards had a five-by-five grid of vague "hot words" and scenarios that often come up in cold reading, a term used to describe how it's possible to elicit information from people without their knowing it.

Roy, who told the Palace Theater that the skeptics group would be outside before the show, said he hoped people would mark each square as they heard Edward mention that term, and think critically about the predictability of the act and what it said about his message.

Hopefully, he said, this would get them interested in the pamphlets about cold reading, confirmation bias and other psychological phenomena that Roy said psychics use to impress their audiences.

"What we're trying to do is to get people to think about what psychics are saying and to understand the concepts of cold reading," Roy said, "and to think rationally about what they're doing."

Things such as a daily horoscope in the newspaper are harmless, Roy said, but when people start spending hundreds or thousands of dollars, or relying on psychics instead of dealing with their grief, they can get hurt, just as when they rely on bogus alternative medicine and ignore needed treatment. That's why the group looks at a lot of what it does as consumer protection.

The 2-year-old Granite State Skeptics has explored reported hauntings and alternative medical practices, as well as wristbands that claim to give a bevy of benefits, including power and balance boosts. The group has more than 100 fans on Facebook and 15-30 active members who attend bimonthly meetings at Wings Your Way restaurant on Elm Street in Manchester, Roy said.

On Tuesday, the skeptics were quietly handing believers the blank envelopes and making it clear they weren't affiliated with the show. Even so, a few customers didn't appreciate them. One woman stormed back out of the theater and thrust a handful of the envelopes into a volunteer's hands. Others just wished the skeptics would leave them to their own devices.

Grant said she has been to a John Edward show before and liked his message about grief and loss as much as any conversations with the dead.

"I liked his message, when he talked about death and grieving," she said. "It was uplifting, and the help he can provide for someone who's stuck in grieving. I'm not going to write a check based on what some medium says. It's just the experience itself and his message."

"Everyone has the right to believe what you want to believe," said Grant's sister, Lisa Ciarcia, of Punta Gorda, Fla."I think you have a personal experience, it changes you forever. I also think a healthy dose of skepticism is great."

Deering resident Lauren Lucius was at the theater for her first show. She said she absolutely believes Edward and others can communicate with the beyond.

"I don't know," she said. "If they're skeptics, they should just keep it to themselves and not try to pass it on to people who are going in to hopefully enjoy the show."

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, check out Cote (@Telegraph_JCote) on Twitter.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally misspelled John Edward's last name as "Edwards". It has been corrected.

America, Land of the Health Hucksters


David Colquhoun, Ph.D., FRS - David Colquhoun is a British pharmacologist who held the A.J. Clark Chair of Pharmacology at the University College London for 19 years. His blog, DC's Improbable Science, regularly critiques alternative medicine.

By David Colquhoun, Ph.D., FRS
Jun 23 2011, 8:00 AM ET

This post is part of our forum on David H. Freedman's July/August story, "The Triumph of New Age Medicine." Follow the debate here.

David Freedman's article starts by admitting that most alternative treatments don't work, and ends by recommending them. Freedman takes a lot more words to say it, but that seems a fair synopsis. It is the sort of thing you might expect in a cheap supermarket magazine, not in The Atlantic.

The article is a prime example of rather effective sales technique, much beloved of used car salesmen and health hucksters. It's called bait and switch.

It's true that medicine can't cure everything. That's hardly surprising given that serious research has been going on for barely 100 years, and it turns out that humans are quite complicated. But the answer is not to invent fairy stories, which is what the alternative medicine industry does. There is no sensible option but to keep the research going and to test its results honestly.

It's sad but true that Big Pharma has at times corrupted medicine by concealing negative results. But that corruption has been revealed by real scientists, not by health hucksters. In the end, science is self-correcting and the truth emerges. Health hucksters, on the other hand, seem incapable of giving up their beliefs whatever the evidence says.

The idea of patient-centered care is fashionable -- and care is great, if you can't cure. But there's a whole spectrum in the wellbeing industry, from serious attempts to make people happier to the downright nuts. The problem is that caring for patients makes a very good bait, and the switch to a sales pitch for mumbo jumbo tends to follow not far behind.

I write from the perspective of someone who lives in a country that achieves health care for all its citizens at half the cost of the U.S. system, and gets better outcomes in life expectancy and infant mortality. The view from outside is that U.S. medicine rather resembles U.S. religion. It has been taken over by fundamentalists who are becoming very rich by persuading a gullible public to believe things that aren't true.

One of Freedman's problems is, I think, that he vastly overestimates the power of the placebo effect. It exists for sure, but in most cases, it seems to be small, erratic, and transient. Acupuncture is a good example. If you do a non-blind comparison of acupuncture with no acupuncture, there is in some trials (not all) a small advantage for the acupuncture group. But it is too small to be of much benefit to the patient.

By far the more important reason why ineffective voodoo like acupuncture appears to work is the "get better anyway" effect (known technically as regression to the mean). You take the needles or pills when you are at your worst, and the next day you feel better. It's natural to attribute the fact that you feel better to the needles or pills when all you are seeing are natural fluctuations in the condition. It's like saying echinacea will cure your cold in only seven days when otherwise it would have taken a week.

If the article itself was naïve and uncritical, the follow up was worse. It is rather surprising to me that a magazine like The Atlantic should think it worth printing an advertorial for Andrew Weil's business. Surely, though, Josephine Briggs, as director of an NIH institute, is more serious? Sadly, no. Her piece is a masterpiece of clutching at straws. The fact is that her institute has spent over $ 2 billion of US taxpayers' money and, for all that money it has produced not a single useful treatment. If I were a U.S. taxpayer, I'd be somewhat displeased by that.

Dean Ornish sounds more respectable. He bases his arguments on diet and lifestyle changes, which aren't alternative at all. He's done some research, too. The problem is that it's mostly preliminary and inconclusive research, on the basis of which he vastly exaggerates the strength of the evidence for what can be achieved by diet alone. It's classic bait and switch again. The respectable, if ill-founded, arguments get your foot in the door, and the switch to make-believe follows later.

This is all very sad for a country that realized quite early that the interests of patients were best served by using treatments that had been shown to work. The Flexner report of 1910 led the world in the rational education of physicians. But now even places like Yale and Harvard peddle snake oil to their students through their "integrative medicine" departments. The "integrative medicine" symposium held at Yale in 2008 boggled the mind. Dr. David Katz listed a lot of things he'd tried and which failed to work. His conclusion was not that they should be abandoned, but that we needed a "more fluid concept of evidence."

Senator Tom Harkin's promotion of NCCAM has done for the U.S. reputation in medicine what Dick Cheney did for the U.S. reputation in torture. It is hard to look at the USA from outside without thinking of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. One had hoped that era was over with the election of Obama, but the hucksters won't give up without a fight. They are making too much money to do that.

Children of Military Personnel Receive Massage and Other CAM Therapies



The benefits of complementary health care, including massage and chiropractic, to military personnel is garnering increasing attention. Some massage therapists even provide massage to personnel on military bases.

New research indicates children of military personnel receive complementary health care, including massage, at a rate higher than that of the general population.

The objective of the study was to evaluate the prevalence, types, perceived effects and factors that influence the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) by military children, according to an abstract published on www.pubmed.gov.

A survey was administered in two military general pediatric clinics from June to September 2009. Parents completed surveys about their children including the following items: demographic information, a list of specific CAM therapies, family CAM use and child health status. Caregivers completed 278 surveys. The overall use of CAM was 23 percent.

Among the results:

• The most common type of CAM used was herbal therapy (34 percent).

• The CAM therapies most commonly reported to be very helpful were special diets (67 percent), melatonin (57 percent), vitamins and minerals used at doses higher than the recommended daily allowance (50 percent), and massage therapy (50 percent).

• The majority of users reported no side-effects (96 percent).

Among CAM users, 53 percent had discussed their CAM use with a physician and 47 percent had seen a CAM practitioner.

• Factors associated with CAM use in multiple regression analysis included chronic conditions, parent-and-sibling use of CAM, and parent age over 30 years.

• Primary sources of CAM information were friends and family (68 percent) and doctors (44 percent).

• Common reasons for using CAM were to promote general health (70 percent), to relieve symptoms (56 percent), and to improve quality of life (48 percent).

• Eighty percent (80 percent) of all respondents indicated they would use CAM if recommended by a physician.

"In this military population with access to universal health care, CAM use is higher than the U.S. national average and nearly double that of the 2007 National Health Interview Survey study," the researchers noted. "Pediatricians should inquire about CAM use and be prepared to provide guidance on this topic."

"Complementary and alternative medicine used by children in military pediatric clinics" was conducted by investigators at Madigan Army Medical Center in Fort Lewis, Washington, and published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in June 2011.

Sick Russians prefer Crystal Ball gazers and Magic Spell workers to Medical Doctors says Government Statistics

June 23, 2011 By johnthomas didymus

A recent study based on statistics released by the Russian government has revealed the overwhelming popularity of Faith Healers in Russia. Faith healers who use herbs, gaze at crystals, and device spells to cure illness are better trusted by Russians than orthodox medical practitioners in hospitals.

According to the statistics released by the Russian government, only about 44% of Russians who need medical services actually went to see a doctor last year with the rest preferring the services of faith healers. And many of those who see doctors do still go to see faith healers when they are dissatisfied with treatment received. In the city of Moscow alone, about 300,000 Muscovites used the services of faith healers and crystal ball gazers. According to the government statistics, Russia, with 800,000 faith healers, has more alternative medicine practitioners than doctors.

Marina Beloryosova, a school teacher in Moscow, says that most Muscovites "use ladies who cast spells for different sickness. They (faith healers) know a lot of recipes of how to use herbs and so on. Those who grow up in the village it's very popular there. My mom still uses this kind of medicine, like a healing cuff of herbs."

Daria Minerova, a faith healer, whose consultation office is stocked with crystal balls, white owls and candles, says doctors often refer patients they are unable to cure to her.

The irony of the situation is that, in Russia, orthodox medical service in hospitals is essentially free, and thus, cheaper than the services of faith healers who operate mostly on profit motive. According to Marina Beloryosova, this is because the standard of service in government hospitals is very low.

Beloryosova says, "Medicine is very poor in Russia. It is very bad. At least they know when they use alternative medicine nothing really bad will happen. When they go for a surgery, they don't know whether they will live or not. If they do alternative medicine, that maybe it won't help, but nothing bad will happen."

The evidence is that faith healers are cashing in on the poor state of Russian health service to make money from gullible Russians, and Dania Minerova's claim that doctors do refer patients they cannot handle to faith healers may be tru, because a doctor, a certified neurologist, identified simply as Malkina claims she has combined her practice with alternative medicine. she explains that she did so because:

Russian people like it because it is very safe and very comfortable for people. The crystal is very clean and makes very big and powerful energy. It heals people and gives people energy. Gives people a better feeling.

Healers who claim supernatural powers and advertise themselves as witches, magicians, and psychics, are doing big business in Russia, and the Russian government worried about the trend is considering, in the parliament, a bill that would restrict healers who claim supernatural powers in their healing practice from advertising their claims in the mass media. A popular TV program some time ago featured a mystic healer who claimed that his patient had some spirit or "gnomic entity" inside her causing her symptoms and that he could get rid of it and heal her. He summons up "cosmic energy" and his patients admits feeling a coldness in her indicating that the psychic "cosmic energy" of the healer was working on her.

A scene such as this might ring comic but that is the reality of health service in Russia.

The Man Who Invented Medical School


Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is an Atlantic senior editor.

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, an Atlantic senior editor, began her association with the magazine in 2002, shortly after graduating from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. An early highlight of her Atlantic career was a visit with Harold Bloom, during which the renowned literary critic addressed her as "my little bear."
In January 2006, Jennie joined the Atlantic staff full time. In early 2007, she created the first Atlantic slideshow with James Fallows, and later in the year, she began producing the first videos for the site. She now films and edits several videos features each month. She is also the editor of the National channel.
Before coming to The Atlantic, Jennie was senior editor of Moment, a national magazine founded by Elie Wiesel, where she remains a contributing editor. Her writing has also appeared in The Chicago Tribune and in the book The Kindness of Strangers, a Lonely Planet travel writing anthology.

By Jennie Rothenberg Gritz
Jun 23 2011, 12:00 PM ET

Elsewhere on our site, there's a lively debate raging around David H. Freedman's recent Atlantic magazine story about alternative medicine. Today, we're featuring a response by David Colquhoun, an acerbic British pharmacologist who bemoans the decline of The Atlantic, the folly of his fellow panelists, and the crumbling of the entire U.S. health care system.

Writing about the growing number of American doctors who support alternative medicine, Colquhoun laments:

This is all very sad for a country that realized quite early that the interests of patients were best served by using treatments that had been shown to work. The Flexner report of 1910 led the world in the rational education of physicians. But now even places like Yale and Harvard peddle snake oil to their students.

As it happens, the author of that report, Abraham Flexner, was an Atlantic contributor. In 1910, the magazine published "Medical Education in America," an excerpt from his landmark report on America's 155 medical schools. "Not a few so-called university medical departments are such in name only," Flexner wrote, explaining how a loose apprenticeship system turned into an unregulated industry that churned out "rapidly made doctors."

Flexner himself wasn't a physician, but his critique had a sweeping influence on the way medicine was taught. After his report, about half the medical schools in the United States closed their doors forever. Those that met Flexner's strict empirical standards were rewarded with plentiful foundation money from John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie.

It's hard to guess what Flexner would have thought of our current article, in which doctors from America's most reputable medical institutions praise alternative therapies they don't fully understand. ("Who cares what the mechanism is?" a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist asks author David H. Freedman. "The patient will be healthier.")

But there's reason to think Flexner would have approved of doctors like Dean Ornish, who, in our debate, argues that inspiring patients to eat vegetables and reduce stress does more to prevent heart attacks than bypasses or angioplasties. As Flexner wrote in his 1910 report:

The physician's function is fast becoming social and preventative, rather than individual and curative. Upon him, society relies to ascertain, and through measures essentially educational to enforce, the conditions that prevent disease and make positively for physical and moral well-being. It goes without saying that this type of doctor is first of all an educated man.

What's Eating the Small, Loud Band of Alt-Med Critics?


David H. Freedman - David H. Freedman is the author of Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us—And How to Know When Not to Trust Them. He has been an Atlantic contributor since 1998.

By David H. Freedman
Jun 23 2011, 11:00 AM ET

This post is part of our forum on David H. Freedman's July/August story, "The Triumph of New Age Medicine." Follow the debate here.

I give credit to the enthusiasm and passion of the small band of deeply anti-alternative-medicine warriors who have voiced their displeasure with my article. And let's be clear, this is a very small band. As I think was made plain in my article, most mainstream physicians and physician researchers pretty much agree with my basic argument. When I set out to interview mainstream experts, I expected to get a range of reactions to alternative medicine, but almost to a person they felt it was just fine, as long as patients seemed to benefit. On the other hand, I had to purposely hunt down the three articulate and respected critics I quote in the article. (I only quote one phrase from David Gorski, but he's made up for it and more since the article came out.)

Now, with Colquhoun (who's a respected researcher, but not a physician) weighing in, we've got almost all the usual suspects in the world of full-out, well-credentialed alternative-medicine haters rounded up to express their displeasure. Were we to get most of the prominent physicians and physician-researchers who are open-minded about alternative medicine for this debate, on the other hand, we'd need several years and new servers.

Anyway, just because they're in a tiny minority doesn't mean they're wrong. And honestly, I wish these folks would give me more to sweat over -- I love a good argument. But, disappointingly, Colquhoun sticks to the same tired, limp story to try to discredit the article, as do most of the others who have complained.

The story is this: I am an apologist for pseudoscience. Alternative-medicine treatments don't work, and these sleazy huckster homeopaths and acupuncturists and chiropractors pretend that they do in order to snare helpless patients who could have their ailments effectively treated by mainstream medicine. What could be more nefarious than preying on sick people with fake cures? And here I am, with the weight of The Atlantic behind me, defending this despicable practice, and helping these villains fool even more people with my tricky journalistic techniques. Oh, the shame of it.

I'd hate myself, if it weren't for the fact that I don't do any of this in the article. Rather, I point out high up in the piece, and with no bones about it, that science has pretty clearly shown that the core treatments of alternative medicine don't provide the direct physical effects that they are claimed to provide by practitioners. They work via the placebo effect. Now could someone please explain to me how it is that I could be defending pseudoscience in an article in which I so clearly say it's pseudoscience, and that it doesn't provide the claimed benefits? I do suggest there's a placebo benefit -- but so do my critics. We're in perfect agreement.

Given that I'm completely on his side with regard to the central issue that he and his fellow alt-med detestors spend all their time arguing with others about, what is Colquhoun so unhappy about? Well, I do document in the article some of the failings of mainstream medicine. But this doesn't seem to much bother him. I claim that mainstream medicine also relies on the placebo effect, but he doesn't quibble with that. I note that having practitioners spend time and energy getting patients to adopt healthier behaviors and attitudes can have an enormous impact on health and quality of life, lowering the risk of serious disease, and I observe that mainstream practitioners are on average less likely to do so than alternative practitioners. But he doesn't seem to take issue with that, either. And, well, that's just about it for the claims in my article. If you buy all that, you buy everything I've got to say.

OK, so what's really eating him? Why does he go through all this trouble to make it sound like I'm defending pseudoscience and backing the claims for these treatments when I so clearly do not, and when my entire argument is based on rather uncontroversial points that are ripped from the pages of mainstream medicine, and that are explicitly backed by a pretty impressive cast of mainstream characters?

Well, I can't read his mind, but I think I have a pretty good guess. The basic problem is that in the end, I leave the reader with the impression that there are aspects of alternative medicine that are actually pretty helpful, and that even compare favorably with mainstream medicine. I think the fact that I reach this conclusion based on individual points that are more in less in line with what Colquhoun and others critics say themselves in other contexts is irrelevant to them. The issue to them is that I reach it at all. It's an unacceptable conclusion. To them, alternative medicine isn't merely ineffective -- it's evil. They've invested a good chunk of their careers and reputations on attacking the claims for its treatments, and they're not about to stand around and let some journalist say something kind of nice about the purveyors of these treatments, no matter how reasonable are the points around which he builds his case.

Of course, the only weapon they really have to wield against alternative medicine is that its core treatments don't work as advertised. That, I believe, is why they keep pounding on this point in their critiques, and acting as if it justifies their accusing me of a shameful pandering to fairly tales, voodoo and pseudoscience. They are apparently hoping that readers will forget that their dismissal of the treatments' mechanisms only backs up what I say myself in the article.

Well, if you'd forgotten, hopefully you remember now, and we can all let this handful of never-say-die voodoo-killers move on to arguing with someone who actually disagrees with the one valid point they have to make. It would be kind of nice if they'd admit I was right about the rest of it, too. But I guess their enthusiasm and passion just don't seem to make room for it.

Answering the Dreaded 'Evolution' Question


Political Hay
By Jay Richards & David Klinghoffer on 6.24.11 @ 6:09AM

It's a question every presidential candidate must dread, one that promises to come up repeatedly as the political season advances: "Do you believe in evolution?"

Evolution is the speed trap of presidential campaigns. Though a president doesn't have much influence over state and local science education policy, reporters lie in wait for the unwary candidate, ready to pounce with a question he's poorly prepared to answer yet that is important to millions of voters. Fortunately, there's a reply that not only avoids the trap but helps advance public understanding.

Rep. Michele Bachmann is the latest to get pulled to the side of the road, lights flashing in her rear-view mirror. Talking with reporters in New Orleans following last week's Republican Leadership Conference, she said "I support intelligent design," referring to the theory that nature gives scientific evidence of purpose and design.

She continued: "What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don't think it's a good idea for government to come down on one side of a scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides."

Government neutrality would be welcome, as Bachmann rightly notes. But unfortunately the candidate's statement generated headlines ("Bachmann: Schools should teach intelligent design," as CNN.com summarized) that made her sound like she was ready to go a lot further than the intelligent design (ID) movement, which merely advocates that Darwinian theory's weaknesses be taught along with its strengths. Allowing teachers to discuss ID in class would be much more appropriate and advisable than requiring them to do so.

In the Republican debate last month in South Carolina, Juan Williams asked Tim Pawlenty, "Do you equate the teaching of creationism with the teaching of evolution, as the basis for what should be taught in our nation's schools?"

Creationism usually refers to the belief that God created the universe in six, twenty-four hour days just a few thousand years ago -- often called young earth creationism. Governor Pawlenty answered by confusing the term with intelligent design:

"Well, Juan, the approach we took in Minnesota is to say that there should be room in the curriculum for study of intelligent design. Didn't necessarily need to be in science class, it could be in a comparative theory class. But we didn't decide that at the state level. We left that up to the local school districts, and the communities, and parents in that area."

That sounds nice and federalist till you think about it for a moment. In not challenging Williams's use of the scare word "creationism," Pawlenty seemed to accept the media's misleading equation of young earth creationism with intelligent design, a much more modest and defensible claim.

At another recent press conference, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, dream candidate for many conservatives, fielded a question about whether he believes in evolution. He responded indignantly -- "That's none of your business!" -- as if someone had inquired about his intimate relations with Mrs. Christie.

He tried to clarify, saying that "evolution is required teaching. If there's a certain school district that also wants to teach creationism, that's not something we should decide in Trenton."

The problem is that the Supreme Court has declared (Edwards v. Aguillard) that teaching creationism in public school runs afoul of the First Amendment's establishment clause. So Christie failed to avoid the trap even while refusing to answer.

It falls, in general, to a candidate's staff to prepare him to answer any question so that he neither embarrasses himself nor needlessly alienates any constituency. Yet evolution lies outside the expertise of most political professionals, including those behind the scenes.

Fortunately, there's an easy way to answer that takes account of the dilemma. Asked about evolution, here's what Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, or Chris Christie could have said:

"Life has a very long history and things change over time. However, I don't think living creatures are nothing but the product of a purposeless Darwinian process. I support teaching all about evolution, including the scientific evidence offered against it."

Dogmatic neo-Darwinians won't like that answer (they admit of no scientific arguments against their theory, unlike in any other area of scientific inquiry). But some other scientists will be fine with it, and, according to Zogby polling data, so will the 80 percent of Americans who favor allowing students and teachers to discuss evolutionary theory's strengths and weaknesses.

Such a formulation, true to the scientific evidence and to the Constitution, would also be devilishly hard for rival candidates to disagree with. Campaign staff and advisors would do well to commit something like it to memory.

Letter to the Editor

Jay Richards is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and the author most recently of Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem (HarperOne).
David Klinghoffer is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. His new book, with Senator Joe Lieberman, is The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath (Howard Books/Simon & Schuster).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Two by two: A real-life Noah's Ark


Wed Jun 22, 6:17 pm ET
By Mike Krumboltz
By Mike Krumboltz – Wed Jun 22, 6:17 pm ET

An hour outside of Amsterdam in Dordrecht, Netherlands, a ship is under construction. But this ain't your typical sailboat, bub. Johan Huibers is building a full-scale replica of Noah's ark.

Yes, that Noah's ark. And Johan, an expert builder, isn't skimping on the details. The ship, which he's been constructing for the past three years, is built to biblical specs. Johan culled information on the ark's size and shape directly from the good book. In the end, the ship is four stories high and the length of a football field. And yes, it's seaworthy.

The result is an incredibly impressive ship, especially considering it was realized simply by a man with a dream--or, perhaps, a nightmare. According to an interview with NBC's "The Today Show," Johan dreamt that Holland suffered a great flood. The next morning, he woke up determined to start preparing for that worst-case scenario.

The ship, which is not to be confused with the theme park in Kentucky that also honors Noah's ark, is generating a lot of interest in the search box. Over the past 24 hours, online lookups for "noah's ark photos" and "noah's ark real ship" have surged.

As for the craft proper, it's not complete yet, but it's getting close. The master plan is to sail the ship up the Thames in time for the London Olympics next year. Expect to see plenty of life-size plastic animals aboard (two of each type, of course).

You can check out the video below for an inside look.

Colliding With the Pharyngula: My Encounter With PZ Myers


Jonathan M. June 16, 2011 6:00 AM

On the sixth of June, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture presented by PZ Myers (of the University of Minnesota Morris) to Glasgow Skeptics in the Pub. PZ Myers is probably best known for his popular blog, Pharyngula (which bears the tag line, "Evolution, Development, and Random Biological Ejaculations from a Godless Liberal"). He has also acquired somewhat of a reputation for his militant and aggressive stances on evolution and religious belief. The topic of Myers' presentation was the embryological / developmental evidence for evolution.

Accompanying me at the event were Dr. Alastair Noble (the director of the Centre for Intelligent Design UK) and David Swift (author of what is, in my opinion, one of the best books on the subject of the debate over ID and evolution, Evolution Under The Microscope).

A week prior to the lecture, I had published a short article on Uncommon Descent issuing a series of questions for PZ Myers, all of them pertaining to developmental biology. PZ Myers responded dismissively on his blog, ridiculing the list and promising answers to the questions the following week. So far, they haven't been forthcoming: In view of a similar situation involving Paul Nelson, perhaps Sunday 12th June should be denoted "PZ Myers Sunday."

Myers did mention the questions at the beginning of his lecture (describing yours truly as a "flaming moron"). He did not, however, despite promising to do so, provide satisfactory rebuttals to the questions at all during the course of his presentation (though he did attempt a response to one of the ten questions).

During the course of the Q&A, I raised a question concerning the lack of congruence between homology and developmental pathways, citing several papers to substantiate my claims (which I gave to PZ following the talk). What ensued was an eruption of jeering and mocking from the floor. It became so loud at one point that it was difficult to audibly articulate the point. A few people apologised afterwards.

One atheist sent me a message afterwards saying, "I went along with a sense of fun thinking that there'd be a few jokes on either side, but it got a little like playground bullying there. I suppose that's what you'd expect since PZ acquired his reputation partly by taking aggressive stances." A friend wrote to me following the event, commenting "Obviously things were quite heated the other night. I couldn't believe how hostile the room got to you asking a question. A lot of emotion but no arguments." David Swift said of the event, "I think PZ's behaviour last night was outrageous. Just not sure how to respond, if at all. I think any response would just be scoffed at in the same way as any dissenting voice was treated last night. ... [T]here was no attempt whatsoever to engage in discussion, not even any acknowledgment that there was any question to answer."

Homology and Development

The point which I had raised in the Q&A concerned the fact that there exists widespread variation in embryological processes and genetic mechanisms giving rise to apparently homologous organs, and there is also the related problem of homologous structures arising from different embryological sources. I provided several examples of this which have been documented in the literature. Remarkably, Myers seemed to contest my claim that this was actually the case, and I delivered a few papers to him afterwards in support of this contention, and I would also direct my readers to these papers to verify that my claim is both true and very well documented (e.g. Alberch 1985; Scholtz 2005). According to the Alberch paper (the claims of which remain true to this day), it is noted that it is "the rule rather than the exception" that "homologous structures form from distinctly dissimilar initial states."

Moreover, as noted by the preface of the textbook, Gastrulation -- From Cells to Embryo (editor Claudio Stern),

Perhaps the most remarkable lesson to come out of this volume concerns the great diversity of strategies that are used by different species to do what appears to be the same thing. Thus, one species forms its mesoderm by ingression of individual cells, another species generates it by involution, yet another by a combination of the two. Genetic pathways are also conserved, but how they are deployed (if at all) to control particular events differs very greatly among different groups of animals. (page x)

Furthermore, David Swift (whom, as I mentioned, was also present at the event) has noted,

Notably, in view of the importance attached to the apparent homology of the vertebrate skeleton, and the weight given to embryology for identifying homology, it is especially relevant that vertebrae - a major component of the vertebrate skeleton - form embryologically in significantly different ways for different classes of vertebrate (such as mammals, birds, amphibians and fish), and even from different groups of early embryonic cells. (For example, see Vertebrates: Comparative anatomy, function, evolution by K. Kardong.) This clearly shows that the vertebrae of these different vertebrate classes are not, in fact, homologous - and hence that these different groups of vertebrate do not in fact share a common vertebrate ancestor, despite their superficial similar appearance and contrary to the commonly held view.

For further discussion, please see Casey Luskin's comments here.

The only way, it seems to me, to get around this apparent paradox is to postulate that substantial changes in development have occurred -- and at very early stages of development. But there seems to be two main problems with this proposal, both of which I mentioned in the Q&A:

1. These changes in very early development would need to have occurred in organisms which were very advanced (i.e. where there was a lot of development following the point at which development changed). But given that it is the final form which is the primary object of natural selection, it is difficult to conceive of what might have led to such changes in early development.

2. Even more damning is the fact that changes in early development , far from being advantageous, are likely to be seriously detrimental if not lethal.

Is There A Conserved Embryonic Stage?

As for the substance of Myers' talk, there was nothing new. The main thrust of his argument was the apparent similarity of vertebrate embryos at the pharyngula ("phylotypic") stage of development. Putting up a slide displaying three tetrapod embryos, he announced, "This is a pharyngula," inviting the audience to try to tell him what species of embryos were being displayed -- which turned out to be a human, a dolphin and a cat. His point was that the embryos look so similar at that stage of development that it is difficult to tell them apart without specialised knowledge of embryological anatomy. While Myers is absolutely correct that some vertebrate embryos appear to resemble each other somewhat at the pharyngula stage, one of the main shortfalls of the argument is that the case is only particularly persuasive when you take into account only a very narrow range of species (this was, incidentally, one of the many problems with Haeckel's notorious depiction as well). The problem is that when you expand the data set to include a much larger sample, the case quickly becomes far less convincing. In the case of Haeckel, the embryos portrayed in the four right-hand columns of his depiction are all from the same order of mammals. Haeckel omitted embryos from the other two orders of mammals which include platypuses and kangaroos. He also omitted the two classes of vertebrates which include lamphreys and sharks, and the order of amphibians that includes frogs. All of these look very much different from the groups portrayed by Haeckel.

Indeed, in 1997, Michael Richardson and his colleagues published a very famous paper in the Journal of Anatomy and Embryology, which bore the title, "There is no highly conserved embryonic stage in the vertebrates: implications for current theories of evolution and development." The paper reported,

In view of the current widespread interest in evolutionary developmental biology, and especially in the conservation of developmental mechanisms, re-examination of the extent of variation in vertebrate embryos is long overdue. We present here the first review of the external morphology of tailbud embryos, illustrated with original specimens from a wide range of vertebrate groups. We find that embryos at the tailbud stage - thought to correspond to a conserved stage - show variations in form due to allometry, heterochrony, and differences in body plan and somite number. These variations foreshadow important differences in adult body form. Contrary to recent claims that all vertebrate embryos pass through a stage when they are the same size, we find a greater than 10-fold variation in greatest length at the tailbud stage. Our survey seriously undermines the credibility of Haeckel's drawings, which depict not a conserved stage for vertebrates, but a stylised amniote embryo. In fact, the taxonomic level of greatest resemblance among vertebrate embryos is below the subphylum. The wide variation in morphology among vertebrate embryos is difficult to reconcile with the idea of a phyogenetically-conserved tailbud stage, and suggests that at least some developmental mechanisms are not highly constrained by the zootype. Our study also highlights the dangers of drawing general conclusions about vertebrate development from studies of gene expression in a small number of laboratory species. [emphasis added]

In a more recent (2003) paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, titled "Inverting the hourglass: quantitative evidence against the phylotypic stage in vertebrate development," Richardson and his colleagues report,

... [T]he phylotypic stage has never been precisely defined, or conclusively supported or disproved by comparative quantitative data. We tested the predictions of the 'developmental hourglass' definition of the phylotypic stage quantitatively by looking at the pattern of developmental-timing variation across vertebrates as a whole and within mammals. For both datasets, the results using two different metrics were counter to the predictions of the definition: phenotypic variation between species was highest in the middle of the developmental sequence. This surprising degree of developmental character independence argues against the existence of a phylotypic stage in vertebrates. Instead, we hypothesize that numerous tightly delimited developmental modules exist during the mid-embryonic period. Further, the high level of timing changes (heterochrony) between these modules may be an important evolutionary mechanism giving rise to the diversity of vertebrates. The onus is now clearly on proponents of the phylotypic stage to present both a clear definition of it and quantitative data supporting its existence. [emphasis added]

Recapitulating Haeckel

Of particular astonishment to me was Myers' attempt to defend Ernst Haeckel's famous embryo diagram, noting that "creationists" (I guess by that he means anyone who disagrees with Darwinism) take strong exception to the inclusion of these diagrams in biology textbooks. He stated that the charge of forgery is somewhat unfair, and -- while conceding that Haeckel had a tendency to exaggerate the similarities -- also noted that "This diagram is an honest illustration of the developmental stages."

This claim surprised me. Criticism of these drawings is not limited to creationists and proponents of ID. As I have noted previously on this site, Haeckel's diagrams have also been criticised by people such as Stephen Jay Gould and Michael Richardson (see also Casey Luskin's comments here and here). Stephen Jay Gould called Haeckel's embryo drawings "fraudulent" and wrote: "We do, I think, have the right to be both astonished and ashamed by the century of mindless recycling that has led to the persistence of these embryo drawings in a large number, if not a majority, of modern textbooks."

And these drawings have been withdrawn from many textbooks -- even by notorious ID-critic Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller. In August 2008, The New York Times claimed that Haeckel's "longdiscredited drawings" of vertebrate embryos have not been used in textbooks since "20 years ago" (a claim which is, by the way, absolutely false). The anti-ID film "Flock of Dodos" made a similar claim. Why bother to remove them from textbooks if they are "an honest illustration of the developmental stages"? Moreover, given that Haeckel's drawings were intended to demonstrate recapitulation, it does seem somewhat disingenuous that he omitted the earliest stages in development, at which the various classes of mammals are strikingly different.

Hox Genes

Myers then progressed into a discussion of Hox genes, and their role in the regulation of Drosophila development, pointing out that one can find homologous Hox genes ordered in the same way in the chromosome of the mouse and Drosophila fruit fly. I have always tended to view the argument for common ancestry as being quite weak here. Such instances of similarity can surely be explained with reference to common design. And, at any rate, the conservation of these Hox genes and their utilisation in different ways in different organisms perhaps ought to be taken as suggestive of teleology or some kind of front-loaded design (e.g. Sherman 2007).

Moreover, the argument seems to be guilty of cherry-picking. In many cases, similarities are found which are too close for an evolutionary explanation! One particularly clear example is the embryological development of the eye. Back in the 1970s, biologists categoried the eyes of different groups of organisms according to embryonic origin and final structure, and thus determined where it was reasonable to infer that an eye had been inherited from one group to another. They concluded that the eyes must have evolved independently at least 40 different times.

However, we have now learned that in species as different as insects and mammals (which possess compound and camera eyes respectively) -- the common ancestor of which, according to evolutionary reckoning, lived so long ago that it did not have eyes -- the embryological formation of the eyes uses remarkably similar genes (e.g. eyeless and Pax6 respectively). This becomes particularly problematic for the Darwinist when one considers that the respective developmental mechanisms utilise similar genes (e.g. sine oculus and Six) in later stages of development (rendering implausible the thesis that the common ancestor had some sort of rudimentary eye that used the common gene in its development, the use of which has persisted through the evolution of the different types of eye structure).

For further discussion of this topic, see here, here, and here.

Distortions Caused By Yolk?

PZ Myers also claimed that many of the differences we observe during various stages of development can be accounted for in terms of distortions caused by yolk. This claim, however, is incorrect, as a reading of any text on development will highlight. The differences go well beyond the amount of yolk. Actually, as documented by Kalinka et al. (2010), even the patterns of gene expression are very different at the early stages.

Is Jonathan Wells "The Most Contemptable, Despicable, Cruel, And Vicious Evil Liar In The Creationist Movement Today"?

PZ Myers projected a slide displaying a portrait of Jonathan Wells, noting that "I have to single out this man, whom I consider the most contemptable, despicable, cruel, and vicious evil liar in the creationist movement today," apparently spitting the words out one by one. He paused. And then, as if to emphasise the point, said, "Yes. He's a nasty, nasty person." This was met with rapturous applause.

Myers then put up a slide headed "Creationist Claims." These were:

Myers then noted that we have known for more than a century that Ernst Haeckel was wrong about his principle of recapitulation, and thus Jonathan Wells has got it all wrong.

Generally, when you are claiming that an opponent is misreprseenting literature (as Myers subsequently did), it pays to ensure that you are not guilty of the allegation yourself (though, admittedly, Myers does have a bit of a history of that).

A casual reading of chapter 3 of Wells' The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (which was cited by Myers) reveals that Wells, in fact, tells us that "Haekel's fakery was exposed by his own contemporaries, who accused him of fraud, and it has been periodically re-exposed ever since."

Myers then put up a slide containing a section clipped from page 35 of Wells' The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, containing a quotation from William Ballard:

It is "only by semantic tricks and subjective selection fo evidence," by "bending the facts of nature" that one can argue that the early embryo stages of vertebrates "are more alike than their adults."

Myers then noted that nobody thinks that the earliest stages of development are similar. He then put up a slide with the complete quotation which Wells attained from William Ballard, which said,

Before the pharyngula stage we can only say that the embryos of different species within a single taxonomic class are more alike than their parents. Only by semantic tricks and subjective selection of evidence can we claim that "gastrulas" of shark, salmon, frog and bird are more alike than their adults.

Myers thus claimed that Wells has "butchered a quote in order to make this point for himself," noting that Ballard was talking about the gastrula stage of development. But this seems to me to be disingenuous on Myers' part, because the gastrulation stage of development is a very early stage. Wells' point was that, in the context of Darwinism, one would expect to see strong conservation of early developmental stages. Myers also alleged that Wells quoted Ballard in order to argue that "there is no uniform stage in vertebrates." But if you read the quote from Wells' book again, you will find that that's not what Wells was saying at all -- he was saying that the early stages are very dissimilar.

When Myers briefly mentioned my set of questions at the beginning of his presentation, he attempted to address the first question which concerned these stark differences. In response, he claimed that Darwinian evolution does not predict that these stages should be highly conserved, thus claiming that such an answer constitutes a satisfactory rebuttal to the question I posed. But it seems to me that Myers is dead wrong here. The reason for this is that modifying the early developmental stages is known to be uniformly detrimental -- more often than not lethal -- to the organism.

Summary and Conclusions

PZ Myers concluded his talk by alleging that ID proponents never do experiments in order to gather evidence for their theory. Clearly, he hasn't been paying much attention to the Biologic Institute and Evolutionary Informatics Lab. All in all, it was a rather disappointing event. Myers presented absolutely nothing which was news to me. He claimed towards the end that "you have to be both ignorant and stupid to believe in intelligent design." But Myers' presentation was barely about intelligent design. At best, all his case demonstrated was common ancestry -- a proposition which is perfectly compatible with intelligent design. It is regrettable that PZ Myers should, in spite of his good intellect and scholarly credentials, distort the facts in such a way. As one person said to me following the event, PZ Myers is another example of a growing band who deliberately plough ahead with their own agenda irrespective of the conclusions suggested by the evidence. And it is not scientific.

You can now watch the full presentation (minus the Q&A) here:

Debate over Theistic Evolution Heats Up, as Does Interest in the God & Evolution Anthology


Robert Crowther June 21, 2011 6:00 AM

The debate among evangelical Christians over Darwin's theory of evolution has returned to front stage this summer with the publication of two separate cover stories on the issue by leading Christian magazines. Christian news magazine World has announced that it will name two books critiquing "theistic evolution" as its "Books of the Year" in its upcoming July 2 issue. World called the evolution debate in churches and religious colleges "the biggest current battle both among Christians and between Christian and anti-Christian thought." And, in its June cover story, Christianity Today reported on how Christian proponents of Darwin are challenging historic beliefs about Adam and Eve.

One of the two books honored by World is God and Evolution: Protestants, Catholics, and Jews Explore Darwin's Challenge to Faith (Discovery Institute Press, 2010). The other is Should Christians Embrace Evolution? edited by noted British medical geneticist Dr. Norman Nevin (published first in England, republished in the United States in May).

God & Evolution's editor, Dr. Jay Richards, commented, "We wanted to clear away the fog and fuzzy-thinking on this issue. Our book makes clear that to the degree theistic evolution is theistic, it will not be fully Darwinian. And to the degree that it is Darwinian, it will fail fully to preserve traditional theism."

God and Evolution features essays by Protestant, Catholic and Jewish scholars critical of the growing effort by advocates of theistic evolution such as Francis Collins to persuade leaders of the faith community to change their theology without hearing from scientists who are skeptical of the claims of unguided Darwinian evolution.

Here is the beginning of the book's introduction, penned by Richards:

When someone asks me: "Can you believe in God and evolution?," I always respond: "That depends. What do you mean by 'God' and what do you mean by 'evolution'?" No one seems to be very satisfied with this retort, which seems evasive; but it's the honest answer, since the initial question, as it stands, is hopelessly ambiguous. Without more detail, it's susceptible to almost any answer.

Asking whether one supports so-called "theistic evolution" has the same problem. Unless you define "theistic" and "evolution" very carefully, it might refer to positions that, on closer inspection, are more different than they are alike. One version might be an oxymoron, one a triviality, one an interesting proposition, and another, a complete muddle.

Besides being vague, these questions, and practically every answer to them, are controversial. Perhaps no subject now inspires more heated arguments at family reunions and cocktail parties. Whether in religious or secular, scientific or literary circles, giving the "wrong" answer can put you on the fast track to being labeled a heretic. A scientist in an academic setting who expresses any doubt about Darwinism, for instance, may find himself in a battle for tenure and funding. In his church, the same scientist may be suspected of creeping liberalism because he doesn't think the word "evolution" means atheism. Or he may be thought a "fundamentalist" because he thinks his faith has something to do with his science, and vice versa.

Such countervailing social pressures don't encourage clear thinking or clear speaking. So when they encounter the question, many people, especially academics, choose obfuscation over clarification. If pressed, they may attempt to stake out a moderate both-and position: "I think evolution is God's way of creating." For the conflict-averse, this may be a reassuring response, but what does it mean?

In the century and a half since Charles Darwin first proposed his theory of evolution, Christians, Jews, and other religious believers have not only pondered its truth--or lack thereof--they have grappled with how to make sense of it theologically. So far, they haven't reached a consensus and tend, instead, to argue among themselves. It can be quite confusing. In fact, the whole subject of God and evolution, and especially what is called "theistic evolution," is an enigma wrapped in a shroud of fuzz and surrounded by blanket of fog.

The purpose of this book is to clear away the fog, the fuzz, and the enigma.

You can download the entire introduction as a PDF here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

La Sierra says resignation of biology professor not linked to evolution dispute


June 18, 2011 10:11 am PT
Trudy Sassaman Riverside Atheism Examiner

Top officials at La Sierra University assert that the forced resignation of a part-time biology professor had nothing to do with the controversy over the teaching of evolution at the Seventh-day Adventist institution.

Dr. Gary Bradley, who has been on the university faculty for 39 years, was among four people associated with the university who submitted their resignations after an accidental recording of a private conversation emerged that included foul language, references to drinking alcohol and disparaging remarks about university and church officials, according to Spectrum Magazine, a magazine that covers the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Bradley had been under attack for more than two years by a group of alumni and others who objected to his presentation of evolution as a scientific fact.An Inside Higher Education article eported in 2009 that Bradley says he wasn't going to present the theory of evolution only to dismantle it for students. Bradley called those who believe God spoke things into existence only a few thousand years ago the "lunatic fringe."

An LSU news release did not explain the circumstances of the resignations, but it noted that they "have no connection to the biology controversy. There is also no connection with students."

Besides Bradley, the others who resigned, following a request by Board Chair Ricardo Graham, were Dr. Jeff Kaatz, from his position as Vice President for University Advancement, Dr. Jim Beach from his position as Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, and Lenny Darnell from the Board of Trustees.

The conversation took place at a private home while the four were watching a basketball game. They had just come from a meeting of faculty and church administrators about the Adventist Accrediting Association board's vote to revisit LSU in 2012 rather than granting them a five-year term of accreditation. The refusal of the longer term was directly linked to the evolution controversy and came after an investigation prompted by Bradley's rejection of a student paper on the grounds that it did not show an understanding of scientific evolution, but pushed creationism instead. Darnell recorded the meeting but forgot to turn off the recorder at the end of the meeting and it captured the private conversation that followed. Darnell then passed the recording on to others, unaware of the inadvertently recorded extra content.

On June 12, Bradley sent an email admitting that he participated in the recorded conversation, "and agreed with much, but not all, of what was ascribed to me." He said he signed the resignation because he believed that "the best way for La Sierra University to come through this fiasco is for a 'head to roll.'" He also admitted to consuming a small glass of an alcoholic beverage for which he added "mea culpa." Drinking alcohol is against church rules.

"Needless to say, I am devastated. I feel like my very soul has been ripped from my body. My entire life since I began teaching 46 years ago has been dedicated to Adventist education. I'm not ready to quit and I grieve the loss of the classroom where I have had such rewarding interactions with the wonderful people who are my students. I have many important projects underway here now and many other people will be inconvenienced by my sudden departure. I can only say that I am deeply sorry and will try my utmost to earn redemption.

"If you are among those who welcome this transition, I request that you celebrate with dignity. If you are among those who find this transition upsetting, I ask that you not turn it into a war, " he said.

See also: Darwin losing to Adam and Eve as Adventist board pressures LSU on creationism


Continue reading on Examiner.com La Sierra says resignation of biology professor not linked to evolution dispute - Riverside atheism | Examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-riverside/la-sierra-says-resignation-of-biology-professor-not-linked-to-evolution-dispute#ixzz1PlDzUZPp

Bachmann doubts evolution, wants intelligent design in schools


June 18, 2011 3:50 pm ET

Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has once again expressed doubts about the validity of evolution, and her support for introducing creationism, also known as Intelligent Design, into the public school science classroom.

Friday, speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, Bachmann reiterated her suspicions about evolution and her support for evolution. This is not the first time Bachmann has made such claims.

In 2006, Bachmann claimed "there is a controversy among scientists about whether evolution is a fact… hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel prizes, believe in intelligent design."

Needless to say, for the vast majority of educated individuals, Bachmann's claim about a scientific controversy is false to the point of being ludicrous. Evolution is accepted science, and the foundation of modern biology. The only real controversy about evolution is religious. The theory makes certain religious claims, like the fundamentalist Christian claim that the earth is only 6,000 years old, simply untenable.

Perhaps more disturbing than Bachmann's doubt concerning the validity of evolution and her support for intelligent design, is the fact that many Republicans support her position, a position that critics find to be indicative of a severe intellectual disconnect with reality.

For many, Bachmann and her fellow Republicans' disdain for science is appalling. For many to teach intelligent design side by side with evolution in a science classroom is nothing short of child abuse, and a clear attempt at religious indoctrination.

Bachmann, speaking to reporters in New Orleans following her speech to the Republican Leadership Conference, made the following statement:

"I support intelligent design. What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don't think it's a good idea for government to come down on one side of scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides."

Advertisement Bachmann seems to be confused. There are some things students don't get to decide. Many things are not up for debate: 2 +2= 4; the earth is not flat, but shaped like a globe; and evolution is the foundation of biology, providing a coherent and unifying explanation for the history and diversity of life on Earth.

While creationism dressed up as intelligent design may comfort those clinging to a religious myth originating over 2,000 years ago, it is not, and never will be, science.

As one might expect, reaction to Bachmann's remarks were met with much disdain and disapproval. The following is a sample of relevant tweets from Saturday's Twitter stream:

Michelle Bachmann recommends teaching of Intelligent Design, alienating all those not ignorant of science

Ms. Bachmann, let me explain it quickly. Evolution = Science.Intelligent Design = Philosophy. Thank you, and good night.

Every time @Michele Bachmann supports teaching "intelligent design" in school I will donate to @Barack Obama 's campaign. #SCIENCE not Magic

How can you support putting "all science on the table" when intelligent design is not science?

Michele Bachmann believes in Intelligent Design even though she's living proof against it.

Michelle Bachmann wants Intelligent Design taught in schools. That's what the Taliban teach.

Bachmann wants schools to teach Intelligent Design. Sure! Let's also teach pre-Copernicus geocentrism w/Earth at center of universe ..

Continue reading on Examiner.com Bachmann doubts evolution, wants intelligent design in schools - National Humanist | Examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/humanist-in-national/bachmann-doubts-evolution-wants-intelligent-design-schools#ixzz1PjhYlesy

Louisiana Legislature deserves an F in science: James Gill


Published: Sunday, June 19, 2011, 6:58 AM Updated: Sunday, June 19, 2011, 7:08 AM
By James Gill The Times-Picayune

Let's get it over with and just ban the teaching of science in Louisiana.

How happy future generations will be, free of all curiosity about the nature of the world they inhabit. Universal ignorance must be our beneficent legacy.

Perhaps that is asking too much, but the Legislature continues to lead us in that direction by beating up on Charles Darwin at every opportunity. Its assault on evolution and scientific method, continued last week, may seem a modest start, but it will undermine education in other disciplines too. Bliss cannot be far behind. The creationists who control state government would remove evolution from biology class if they could, because they will forever deny the plain truth, however many times it is proven with mountains of evidence. There is no arguing with the believer who avers fossils were put there by a larky God before he took the seventh day off.

The Senate Education Committee, which operates as a subsidiary of the evangelical Louisiana Family Forum, was at it again Thursday, approving a bill that will severely curtail scientific oversight of official biology textbooks and allow local school boards to spend all they want on whacky material of their own choosing.

If it weren't for a lonely representative of the Louisiana Coalition for Science, the committee hearing could have passed for a revivalist meeting.

The bill, pushed by the Family Forum, was authored by that tireless proponent of creationist dogma in public life, Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe. Chairman of the committee is Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, author of what is known as the Louisiana Science Education Act. That act, approved by a near-unanimous Legislature a couple of years ago, makes clear that science education, Louisiana-style, means justifying creationist propaganda by prostituting the principle of academic freedom. It gives teachers license to trump textbooks with religious dogma. The bill that passed the committee Thursday will make it even easier to subvert scientific principle in the classroom.

Why legislators refuse to let faith and science rule in their proper spheres is a mystery. That the two can co-exist in harmony is obvious when the pope accepts evolution and nobody would bat an eyelid to see a paleontologist kneeling on a hassock.

But Louisiana creationists apparently see themselves as soldiers in an epic battle between righteousness and heresy. If this really were a conflict that one side had to win, the smart money would be on the one backed by demonstrable fact and not just blind faith.

Since it is not possible to rid the curriculum of evolution, creationists for decades have sought ways to undermine it by foisting their beliefs on kids. At first they were quite open, requiring that evolution and creationism be taught simultaneously on the fraudulent premise that they are competing theories of equal scientific validity.

The real purpose, of course, was to advance the proposition that Genesis is real and evolution a hoax, but such naked proselytizing fell foul of the First Amendment and the courts intervened before a cloud of superstition could envelop the state. Creationists are in it for the long haul, however, and they have tried various dodges over the years to sneak their ideas into the curriculum. They have grown more subtle and nowadays conceal religious motive with weasel words.

Thus the Louisiana Science Act contains a clause prohibiting the advancement of religion, but that became meaningless when the Board of Secondary and Elementary Education rejected a proposal to ban creationism and intelligent design. Thursday's vote was unanimous, which came as no great surprise, the same committee having a few weeks earlier given the forces of reason short shrift when it tried to repeal the Science Education Act. Louisiana is the only state in the union with such a backward law on the books.

Right now a few safeguards remain. Although teachers are free to supplement them, official textbooks and other materials are prescribed by BESE. They are also subject to scientific review by Department of Education staff. That all goes out the window under the new bill, which cuts out the Education Department, and allows BESE only to make recommendations. Local boards, moreover, can spend all they want outside the recommended list.

The kingdom's coming.

Evolution education update: June 17, 2011

NCSE's Steven Newton reports in the pages of Earth on a creationist field trip conducted during a geological conference. A new issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach is published, Steven G. Gey is dead, and the Tennessee Academy of Science adds its voice for evolution. And The Rap Guide to Evolution opens in New York City.


"Creationism creeps into mainstream geology," a report by NCSE's Steven Newton, is the cover story of the July 2011 issue of Earth, published by the American Geological Institute. In his article, Newton discusses a geological field trip conducted during the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in 2010. He explains, "it was an example of a new strategy from creationists to interject their ideas into mainstream geology: They lead field trips and present posters and talks at scientific meetings. They also avoid overtly stating anything truly contrary to mainstream science. But when the meeting is over, the creationist participants go home and proudly proclaim that mainstream science has accepted their ideas."

"During the trip," Newton relates, "the leaders did not advertise their creationist views, but rather presented their credentials in a way that minimized their creationist affiliations," adding, "the field trip leaders were careful not to make overt creationist references. If the 50 or so field trip participants did not know the subtext and weren't familiar with the field trip leaders, it's quite possible that they never realized that the leaders endorsed geologic interpretations completely at odds with the scientific community." But clues -- such as referring to Cambrian outcrops as rocks that are "called Cambrian" and hinting at the continental extent of a "massive marine trangression" -- were abundant "if you knew what to listen for."

Creationists love to boast about their participation in scientific meetings, Newton observed, even when it consists only of conducting field trips or presenting unrefereed papers and posters. But he suggested that it would be counterproductive for societies such as the GSA to exclude creationists from participation in their meetings, however, arguing, "We let a thousand flowers bloom, weeds and all. The best ideas from the meetings are further subjected to peer review in journals, which is where theories are built; conferences are more freeform. Geology will not suffer if creationists participate in our meetings, but the public relations damage from the misperception that we are systematically hostile to any view -- especially religious views -- is real."

For Newton's article, visit:


The latest issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach -- the new journal promoting the accurate understanding and comprehensive teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience -- is now published. The theme for the issue (volume 4, number 2) is Evolutionary Theory and its Application to New World Settlement Studies, edited by Rolando González-José. Articles include "The Prehistoric Colonization of the Americas: Evidence and Models"; "Following the Tracks of the First South Americans"; "The Theory of Evolution, Other Theories, and the Process of Human Colonization of America"; "Social Dimensions of Evolutionary Research: Discovering Native American History in Colonial Southeastern U.S."; "Integrating Different Biological Evidence Around Some Microevolutionary Processes: Bottlenecks and Asian-American Arctic Gene Flow in the New World Settlement"; and "Contradictions and Concordances in American Colonization Models." Plus there are various articles on the teaching of evolution, book reviews, and commentaries.

Also included is the latest installment of NCSE's regular column, Overcoming Obstacles to Evolution Education. In "Misconceptions about the Settlement of the Americas," NCSE's Glenn Branch and Eric Meikle interview Kenneth L. Feder, the author of the standard textbook on the subject, Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology, now in its seventh edition. "How could it not be important to truly understand a crucial part of the human past: the discovery and populating of two continents?" Feder asks. "In essence, the exploration of, migration to, settlement of, and adaptation to the many and diverse environments of the New World provides anthropologists, historians, cultural geographers, human ecologists, demographers, etc., with what amounts to a laboratory in which they can study the myriad ways in which people create ways to live. Understanding the timetable for these adaptations, the source populations, and the environmental changes these people faced can help to illuminate the human condition and, if we're lucky, remind us in the present about ancient responses to the sometimes remarkably similar challenges we face today."

For Evolution: Education and Outreach, visit:

For Branch and Meikle's interview with Feder (subscription required), visit:


Steven G. Gey, a nationally recognized scholar of constitutional law, died on June 9, 2011, at the age of 55, according to Florida Today (June 10, 2011). Born in Pensacola, Florida, on April 6, 1956, Gey earned a B.A. in philosophy from Eckerd College in 1978 before receiving his J.D. at Columbia University, where he was articles editor of the Columbia Law Review, in 1982. After a brief stint at the New York City law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison, he became a professor of law at Florida State University in 1985; he became the David and Deborah Fonvielle and Donald and Janet Hinkle Professor of Law in 1999. A specialist in religious liberties and free speech, he compiled the casebook Religion and the State (2001, second edition 2006), coauthored The First Amendment: Cases and Theory (2008), and wrote dozens of articles on religious liberties, free speech, and constitutional interpretation. In a tribute to Gey published in the Florida State University Law Review in 2008, Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, described his work on the Establishment Clause as "among the best scholarship in the area in recent years."

While at Paul, Weiss, Gey helped to litigate Edwards v. Aguillard, which ended in 1987 when the Supreme Court ruled that teaching creationism in the public schools is unconstitutional. His concern with the constitutional issues surrounding the teaching of evolution continued, culminating in the law review article "Is It Science Yet? Intelligent Design, Creationism, and the Constitution," coauthored with Matthew J. Brauer and Barbara Forrest, published in the Washington University Law Quarterly in 2005. Citing "the absence of objective scientific support for intelligent design, evidence of strong links between intelligent design and religious doctrine, the use of intelligent design to limit the dissemination of scientific theories that are perceived as contradicting religious teachings, and the fact that the irreducible core of intelligent design theory is what the Court has called the 'manifestly religious' concept of a God or Supreme Being," the article concluded that "intelligent design theory cannot survive scrutiny under the constitutional framework used by the Court to invalidate earlier creationism mandates." A member of NCSE's legal advisory committee, Gey received NCSE's Friend of Darwin award in 2007.

For the obituary in Florida Today, visit:

For "Is It Science Yet?" (PDF), visit:


The chorus of support for the teaching of evolution continues, with a statement from the Tennessee Academy of Science, "providing a forum for science education and research in Tennessee since 1912."

Emphasizing that "the theory of evolution is a fundamental concept of science, and thus must also be a cornerstone of science education," the statement endorses the teaching of evolution, and adds, "non-naturalistic or supernatural explanations, often guised as 'creation science,' 'scientific creationism,' or 'intelligent design theory,' are not scientific in nature, do not conform to the scientific usage of 'theory,' and should not be included in Tennessee's science curricula."

The Tennessee Academy of Science's statement is now reproduced, by permission, on NCSE's website, and will also be contained in the fourth edition of NCSE's Voices for Evolution.

For the Tennessee Academy of Science's statement, visit:

For Voices for Evolution, visit:


If you live in or plan to visit New York City soon, consider checking out The Rap Guide to Evolution, written and performed by Baba Brinkman.

A smash hit at the Edinburgh Fringe and around the world, The Rap Guide to Evolution is at once provocative and scientifically accurate, hilarious and intelligent. Brinkman performs his clever reworkings of popular rap singles as well as his own originals to illustrate natural selection, sexual selection, evolutionary psychology and much more. As Edinburgh's Scotsman newspaper said, "you'll never look at a hip-hop music video in the same way again."

The Rap Guide to Evolution will be playing at the Soho Playhouse, 15 Van Dam Street (between Varick Street and 6th Avenue), starting on June 17. And there's a special discount for NCSE members: whether you buy your ticket online at www.RapGuidetoEvolution.com, by calling 212-352-3101, or at the box office, mention code NCSE611. You'll receive a $10.50 discount from the regular $39.50 price for performances June 17-25, and a $16.00 discount from the regular $55.00 price for performances beginning June 26.

For further information about The Rap Guide to Evolution, 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 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bachmann: Teach Intelligent Design In Schools


June 17th, 2011 at 9:15 pm
The Huffington Post reports:

Michele Bachmann expressed skepticism of evolution at the Republican Leadership Conferencein New Orleans, Friday.

"I support intelligent design," Bachmann told reporters following her speech at the conference, CNN reports. "What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don't think it's a good idea for government to come down on one side of scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides."

"I would prefer that students have the ability to learn all aspects of an issue," Bachmann said. "And that's why I believe the federal government should not be involved in local education to the most minimal possible process."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

They're ba-ack! Creationists launch new attack on science education


Written by: Walter Pierce Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Louisiana's science community is sounding the alarm over a Louisiana Family Forum-backed (need we say more?) bill in the Legislature that would compromise oversight of textbook adoption and the use of taxpayer money in purchasing textbooks.

House Bill 580, according to the Louisiana Coalition for Science, is another "stealth creationism bill" that attempts to do an end run around the state Board of Elementary & Secondary Education's lawful oversight of the textbook-approval process. The bill, the LCFS asserts, also expands the reach of the Louisiana Science Education Act "by removing from current law crucial protections that ensure quality science education materials.

The LCFS goes on, saying HB 580:

Replaces BESE's power to "prescribe and adopt" textbooks and instructional materials with the power merely to "recommend." This will gut the board's power to protect the quality of science textbooks and learning materials. Students could end up using substandard materials that teach pseudoscience.

Allows local school boards to adopt and purchase — at taxpayer expense — textbooks and other materials that are not on the state list, without proper screening by scientists, educators, and curriculum experts, and with no spending limits. This blank check for bogus materials comes during a severe recession when schools face stiff budget cuts and teacher layoffs.

Eliminates the Department of Education's crucial role in (a) screening and reviewing textbooks and instructional materials to ensure their quality and (b) assuring that textbook adoption committees are composed of properly qualified members, as currently provided for under current law.

The bill will likely be heard by the Senate Education Committee on Thursday. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe, made a name for himself promoting creationist "academic freedom" while serving as an assistant superintendent in Ouachita Parish a few years ago.

"HB 580 is a bad law that threatens the quality of learning materials on which Louisiana students depend at a time when they need the highest quality science education possible," the LCFS concludes. "It is also a disaster for school budgets."

Read an analysis of the bill here. http://lasciencecoalition.org/docs/LCFS_Analysis_HB_580_6.13.11.pdf

Critics: "Stealth creationism" bill nears final OK


Posted by Will Sentell | Capitol News Bureau | on June 14, 2011 | 7:25 p.m.

Legislation nearing final approval is a "stealth creationism" measure that would undermine science education in public schools, critics said Tuesday.

"There doesn't appear to be any real need for the bill," said Barbara Forrest, co-founder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science.

Forrest and others contend the bill would damage the quality of science textbooks, and open the way for those that promote the view that life began about 6,000 years ago in a process described in the Book of Genesis - creationism.

But state Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe and sponsor of the bill, disputed the criticism.

Hoffmann said the bill is aimed in part at giving local school districts a bigger say in which textbooks their schools use.

"It basically moves some of the authority from the state level to the local level," Hoffmann said in an interview on Tuesday.

"Most people think that is a good idea," he added.

The proposal is House Bill 580, which passed the House 87-5 on June 8 and is expected to get a hearing in the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.

The session ends on June 23.

Current rules require the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or BESE, to prescribe and adopt textbooks used in elementary and secondary schools.

Local school districts face restrictions on the use of state funds they can use to purchase traditional books not on the state list.

Hoffmann's bill would lift those book-buying restrictions on local districts, regardless of whether they are on the state-approved list.

Under his plan, BESE would only recommend textbooks.

"This will gut the board's power to protect the quality of science textbooks and learning materials," Forrest's group said in a prepared statement.

"Students could end up using substandard materials that teach pseudoscience," it says.

Ian Binns, who teaches science education at LSU, said the bill would remove BESE and state Department of Education oversight from the textbook process.

While the change applies to all subjects, injecting creationism into science classes "is our main concern."

Hoffmann said his bill carries no such aims.

"That is not the point here," he said.

Erin Bendily, chief of support for the state Department of Education, said even if the bill becomes law, textbooks adopted by local school districts would have to meet state content standards.

"We still want to make sure students are being taught materials aligned with the standards, which they will eventually be tested on," Bendily said.

The issue involves many of the same players involved in a bid to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act.

Backers contend that 2008 law allows freewheeling classroom discussions on evolution and other topics.

Critics contend it is aimed at permitting creationism and other religious issues into science classrooms.

The Senate Education Committee killed the repeal bill on May 26.

Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum, said Tuesday his group mostly agrees with Hoffmann's bill, including its bid to widen the use of electronic textbooks.

The Family Forum says it promotes traditional family values.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Expelled's Creationism is Bankrupt but Persistent (and Politically Connected)

By John Rennie
Posted: June 13, 2011

Consider it proof that the opponents of evolutionary science are not just intellectually bankrupt.

Imagine my delight upon learning this news from the National Center for Science Education:

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed — the 2008 creationist propaganda movie fronted by Ben Stein — is scheduled to be auctioned, lock, stock, and barrel, pursuant to the bankruptcy proceeding of Premise Media Holdings LP. According to a document (PDF) filed in the United States Bankruptcy Court of the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division, on May 31, 2011, the trustee of the bankruptcy estate is seeking to auction "[t]hat certain feature-length motion picture ('Picture') 'Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed' and all collateral, allied, ancillary, subsidiary and merchandising rights therein and thereto, and all properties and things of value pertaining thereto." The auction is scheduled to take place on-line from June 23 to June 28, 2011.

The high bidder will become the owner of the movie that The New York Times (2008 Apr 18) described as "[o]ne of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time … a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry … an unprincipled propaganda piece that insults believers and nonbelievers alike"….

It's music to my ears because back when Expelled debuted, I put no little effort into documenting its various assaults on science and truth. Here's an essay I wrote about Expelled's odious attempts to blame the Holocaust on Darwin; here's a piece with Scientific American's Steve Mirsky about some of the other misleading parts of the film; here's a podcast in which Eugenie Scott, the NCSE's director, Mirsky and I discuss the film, and here's a recording of the bizarre roundtable discussion that SciAm's editors and I had with Mark Mathis, an associate producer who screened the movie for us. Many others on the Web also rallied against the film, of course, and the NCSE's Expelled Exposed site features links to a number of those resources, too.

Putting so much effort into rebutting Expelled seemed worthwhile at the time because it seemed all too plausible that if the film became a popular success, it might further energize the creationists' efforts to compromise the teaching of evolution in public schools. In the end, Expelled grossed about $7.7 million, which isn't bad for a documentary—more than Tupac: Resurrection but less than Hoop Dreams—but if it turned a profit, it wasn't enough to keep the holding company that owned it afloat, which is why the movie is now scheduled for the auction block. The schadenfreude doesn't come any schadenfreude-ier.

The news also elicited an intriguing suggestion to Craig Good, which he shared at Skeptoid:

Perhaps we (the skeptical community) should buy it and, assuming the assets include all the raw footage, re-edit it using only their footage to let Dawkins, Myers, et al have their say.

Indeed! Given that the scientists in the film were interviewed thinking that they were participating in a different type of documentary, there would no doubt be wonderful footage useful not only for explaining evolution but for demonstrating how unfair Expelled's makers were in their editing and narrative. If I owned the film, I would be tempted to turn it into a Mystery Science Theater 3000-style lampoon of itself, but this idea seems more substantial (and nothing would stop the owners from doing both).

We supporters of good science education should take satisfaction in these victories when we can… but the war is far from over. As Robert Luhn of the NCSE summarizes the situation:

This has been a busy year for creationists. Since January, anti-science legislators in seven states have proposed nine bills attacking evolution and evolution education. Many are so-called "academic freedom" bills, like Tennessee's HB 368, which allows teachers to "help 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." (For general background on academic freedom acts, go here.

But that's not all. Some of these bills also target such "controversial" theories as global warming, the chemical origins of life, and human cloning.

Fortunately, of those nine proposed bills, seven died in committee. Tennessee's HB 368 passed, but the identical bill in the state senate (SB 893) was tabled until 2012. Next year it will return to haunt us.

"Academic freedom" is the latest Orwellian perversion of sense that the creationists are using to undermine the teaching of evolution and other inconvenient scientific truths now that the previous disingenuous strategies built around "creation science" and "intelligent design" have lost in the courts. (If you have time, watch Eugenie Scott's talk on "Not Over after Dover: Kitzmiller Trial and the Aftermath," which discusses this point in more detail.) The creationists arguing for academic freedom say they merely want to be able to teach students about "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution as part of an unbiased "critical analysis." Superficially, it sounds fair and reasonable, but as the NCSE puts it, "This is a strategy of teaching students what we don't know, rather than what we do, and leaves students ill-prepared to learn new information as science progresses."

Expelled was a relatively early effort in the academic freedom campaign. Notwithstanding all of its attempts to pin the Holocaust on the theory of evolution and to criticize evolutionary science, Expelled's central argument was that not allowing creationist ideas into classrooms was unfair, and that allowing students to hear them would leave them better educated. This is nonsense, of course, but it is powerful nonsense because it wraps itself in principles that proponents of science believe in.

If you want an example of the kind of idiocy to which it opens the doors, consider the recent statements of the evangelist minister and rightwing activist David Barton, a former co-chair of the Texas Republican Party. As Tim Murphy at Mother Jones reports:

On Wednesday, Right Wing Watch flagged a recent interview Barton gave with an evangelcial talk show, in which he argues that the Founding Fathers had explicitly rejected Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Yes, that Darwin. The one whose seminal work, On the Origin of Species, wasn't even published until 1859. Barton declared, "As far as the Founding Fathers were concerned, they'd already had the entire debate over creation and evolution, and you get Thomas Paine, who is the least religious Founding Father, saying you've got to teach Creation science in the classroom. Scientific method demands that!" Paine died in 1809, the same year Darwin was born.

Some of Barton's defenders point out that ideas about evolution did pre-date Darwin, but of course that can only mean that the Founding Fathers were debating ideas no longer relevant to evolution science. Murphy's retort puts it perfectly:

[Barton]'s conflating pre-Darwin and post-Darwin evolutionary theory in order to make a point about teaching Creationism in schools. My point isn't that he doesn't know the difference; it's that he doesn't mind blurring the difference.

We can laugh about Expelled being on the block now. But Tennessee's SB 893 will be back soon enough, and the advocates for creationism who put bills into consideration in Florida, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Oklahoma and New Mexico haven't given up. Ben Stein may yet have a shot at a sequel.

P.S. I'm not sure that this is strictly a matter of pseudo-academic freedom, but it does mark an odd defeat of sorts for good science. Over at Retraction Watch, Ivan Oransky writes that "Elsevier, the publisher of Applied Mathematical Letters, which retracted a paper questioning the second law of thermodynamics earlier this year, will issue an apology and pay $10,000 in legal fees" to mathematician Granville Sewell. Last year the journal had somehow published a paper by Sewell in which he argued that the evolution of life must be violating the second law of thermodynamics. The journal retracted the paper in response to criticisms that the earth is an open system, which renders the relevance of the second law moot, notwithstanding Sewell's arguments to the contrary. For whatever reasons, Elsevier is now apologizing to Sewell—though I can't see why. Publishing the paper in the first place was an idiotic move; now this apology will give some kind of encouragement to the creationists. [Update added minutes after posting: And here is the apology itself. Make of it what you will.]