Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
LAWSUIT AGAINST SCIENCE CENTER SETTLED
A lawsuit against the California Science Center for canceling a screening of Darwin's Dilemma was settled in July 2011, the Associated Press reported (August 29, 2011), with neither side admitting wrongdoing. As NCSE previously reported, the lawsuit was filed by the American Freedom Alliance, which arranged to screen the film -- described by the Los Angeles Times (December 29, 2009) as "a feature-length documentary that criticizes Darwin and promotes intelligent design" -- at the CSC in October 2009. After the Discovery Institute issued a press release touting the event and implying that the Smithsonian Institution, with which the CSC is affiliated, was involved, the CSC canceled the screening on the grounds that the press release violated the terms of the rental contract, which provides that all promotional materials for events must be approved beforehand by the CSC. The AFA then sued in Los Angeles Superior Court on October 14, 2009, charging that the CSC's actions violated both the First Amendment and the terms of the rental contract.
In what the Los Angeles Times (August 29, 2011) described as "an unusual provision," the settlement "called for Science Center officials to invite the Freedom Assn. to show the film and for the association to immediately turn them down, a statement from the center said." Additionally, the AFA is to receive $110,000 as part of the settlement, of which $100,000 will be paid by the CSC's insurer and $10,000 by the California Science Center Foundation, a separate entity. In a statement dated August 29, 2011, the CSC Foundation emphasized that the settlement was intended to "avoid the expense of further litigation." The statement added, "The cancellation was never about the content of the program, as indicated by the fact that the Foundation was willing to have the event in the first place. It was about the false and misleading press releases that the Discovery Institute and AFA issued. Unfortunately, it appears that neither the Discovery Institute nor AFA have learned their lesson," alluding to a string of triumphal press releases about the settlement.
NCSE's Steven Newton, a geologist, told the Associated Press that Darwin's Dilemma is "a distortion of what real scientists think about the Cambrian Period ... The way the film does this is by showing snippets of real paleontologists next to people who have never published a paper on paleontology talking about creationism," adding that showing it in a science museum would be like showing a film about the Civil War that credited the South with victory in a history museum. Speaking to ScienceInsider (August 31, 2011), Newton said that because the settlement involved no admission of wrongdoing, the case was "without clear victors," but regretted the expense and distraction to the CSC: "It cost CSC a fair bit of money, and was time away from the core mission." ScienceInsider reported, "NCSE had urged CSC not to cancel the screening, says Newton, to avoid creating any martyrs for the ID movement. Instead, NCSE had sent e-mails to California area science professionals, encouraging them to 'show up and ask difficult questions.'" Documents from the case, AFA v. CSC et al., are available on NCSE's website.
For the Associated Press story (via the Washington Post), visit:
For the 12/29/2009 story in the Los Angeles Times, visit:
For the 8/29/2011 story in the Los Angeles Times, visit:
For the CSC Foundation's statement (PDF), visit:
For the story in ScienceInsider, visit:
And for NCSE's collection of documents from the case, visit:
STEVE RANDAK DIES
Steve Randak, a biology teacher highlighted in 2001's Evolution series on PBS, died on August 23, 2011, according to the Lafayette, Indiana, Journal and Courier (August 26, 2011). Born in Chicago, Illinois, on April 26, 1945, Randak received his B.S. in biology and psychology from Wabash College in 1967, and his M.S. in biology and education in 1973. He was a biology teacher from 1967 to 2009, spending the last twenty years of his career at Jefferson High School in Lafayette, Indiana. He was active in helping his fellow teachers to teach science effectively, including through the Evolution and the Nature of Science Institutes, for which he was a Lead Teacher. Among the awards and honors he accrued were the Outstanding Biology Teaching Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers in 1990, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching in 1993, the first Evolution Education Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers in 2002, and an honorary Ph.D. from Wabash College in 2003.
Ironically, as Randak noted in his 2001 article "The Children's Crusade for Creationism" (published originally in The American Biology Teacher and reprinted in Reports of the NCSE), it may have been his high school's emphasis on the effective teaching of evolution that provoked students to launch a campaign calling for creation science to be added to the biology curriculum -- a campaign that was documented in chapter 5 of show 7 of the Evolution series broadcast on PBS in 2001. The result was ideal, Randak explained: "At its public meeting, under the glare of local and national television lights, the school board was told politely that the curriculum would not be altered." But he worried about what might happen in districts with a less supportive administration, writing, "Children crusading for creation science or 'intelligent design' in the name of fair play is a compelling idea to an unaware public. If the tactic is used successfully in school districts less ideal than ours, it will surely meet with success -- and science education will suffer."
For the obituary in the Journal and Courier, visit:
For "The Children's Crusade for Creationism" as reprinted in RNCSE, 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.
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
Read Reports of the NCSE on-line:
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A VISIT TO THE EVOLUTIONARY WORLD
NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Geerat Vermeij's The Evolutionary World (Thomas Dunne Books, 2010). The preview consists of chapter 9, "Dispatches from a Warming World," in which Vermeij discusses the evolutionary consequences of a warming world. He concludes, "Whether warming is a curse or a blessing thus depends entirely on whether living systems subjected to it can adapt or move. If they can, warming presents an opportunity, especially if the surroundings are healthy and productive. If they cannot, warming becomes a hardship, an insuperable challenge. Humanity should do what it can to limit the rate at which the world is heating up, but above all we must adapt to a warming world. If we want to maintain some semblance of wild nature in the fact of warming and habitation fragmentation, we must preserve -- or, better yet, enhance -- opportunities for species to adapt. We must give them wiggle room, not box them in. We must allow evolution and adaptation to do their work."
Neil Shubin, the author of Your Inner Fish, describes The Evolutionary World as "[a] bold, brash, and magisterial account of the fundamental mechanisms that built our bodies, our genes, and our society. A culmination of decades of thinking by one of our leading scientists, this is a book that is sure to stir the pot." Nick Lane, the author of Life Ascending, adds, "Combining an exhilarating zest for life with unusual and acute powers of observation, Geerat Vermeij is also a refreshingly original thinker. His insights into the processes of evolution and their relevance to science and society are striking and thought-provoking." And Michael Ruse, the author of Defining Darwin (and a Supporter of NCSE), writes that Vermeij's book "will be read with delight by all who love science and should be read for instruction by those who think that an evolutionary world picture in any way detracts from our true understanding of ourselves and the planet on which we all live."
For the excerpt, visit:
For information about The Evolutionary World from its publisher, visit:
VINDICATION FOR CORBETT
Was it unconstitutional for a teacher to describe creationism as "superstitious nonsense"? In 2009, a federal district court ruled that it was, in C. F. et al. v. Capistrano Unified School District et al. But the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in a decision issued on August 19, 2011, overturned the district court's decision "to the extent it decided the constitutionality of any of Corbett's statements" while upholding its grant of qualified immunity to James Corbett, the teacher in question.
As NCSE previously reported, the case originated when Corbett, a twenty-year history teacher at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, California, was accused by a student, Chad Farnan, of "repeatedly promoting hostility toward Christians in class and advocating 'irreligion over religion' in violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause," according to the Orange County Register (May 1, 2009). Farnan cited more than twenty offending statements of Corbett's in his complaint.
In the district court's decision, however, only one of the statements was identified as constitutionally impermissible. In 2007, while describing to his class his involvement in the 1994 case Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District -- in which a teacher unsuccessfully contended that it was unconstitutional for the school district to require him to teach evolution -- Corbett characterized creationism as "superstitious nonsense."
The district court wrote, "The Court cannot discern a legitimate secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context. The statement therefore constitutes improper disapproval of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause." But the district court also ruled that because there was no clear precedent establishing that Corbett's comment would have been unconstitutional, Corbett was entitled to qualified immunity, shielding him from liability.
Both Farnan and Corbett appealed the decision. As the Orange County Register (February 11, 2011) summarized in its story on a February 11, 2011, oral hearing before a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit, "Corbett is seeking to be vindicated; Farnan is seeking a stronger ruling against Corbett, and for Corbett's qualified immunity to be tossed out." The panel was reportedly "skeptical and critical of arguments from both sides."
In its decision, however, the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court's grant of qualified immunity to Corbett, writing:
In broaching controversial issues like religion, teachers must be sensitive to students' personal beliefs and take care not to abuse their positions of authority. ... But teachers must also be given leeway to challenge students to foster critical thinking skills and develop their analytical abilities. This balance is hard to achieve, and we must be careful not to curb intellectual freedom by imposing dogmatic restrictions that chill teachers from adopting the pedagogical methods they believe are most effective. ... At some point a teacher's comments on religion might cross the line and rise to the level of unconstitutional hostility. But without any cases illuminating the "'dimly perceive[d] . . . line[ ] of demarcation'" between permissible and impermissible discussion of religion in a college level history class [Corbett was teaching Advanced Placement European history], we cannot conclude that a reasonable teacher standing in Corbett's shoes would have been on notice that his actions might be unconstitutional.
The decision added, "Because we do not reach the constitutionality of any of Corbett's statements, we vacate the district court's judgment in that respect."
The Orange County Register (August 19, 2011) reported, "Robert Tyler, a lawyer with the Faith and Freedom legal organization who represented the student, said he would ask the appeals court to reconsider its decision [presumably en banc, i.e., with eleven judges from the circuit hearing the appeal]. Tyler also said he would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case if the appeals court doesn't change its ruling."
For the Ninth Circuit's decision (PDF), visit:
For the Orange County Register's 5/1/2009 story, visit:
For information on the Peloza case, visit:
For the district court's rulings about Corbett's statement and his
qualified immunity (PDF), visit:
For the Orange County Register's 2/11/2011 story, visit:
For the Orange County Register's 8/19/2011 story, visit:
And for NCSE's collection of documents from the case, visit:
RNCSE 31:4 NOW ON-LINE
NCSE is pleased to announce the fourth issue of Reports of the National Center for Science Education in its new on-line format. The issue -- volume 31, number 4 -- features a pair of articles on surveys of attitudes to evolution among preservice teachers: Hasan Deniz, Faruk Cetin, and Irfan Yilmaz's "Examining the Relationships among Acceptance of Evolution, Religiosity, and Teaching Preference for Evolution in Turkish Preservice Biology Teachers" and Hasan Deniz and Lisa A. Donnelly's "Preservice Secondary Science Teachers' Acceptance of Evolutionary Theory and Factors related to Acceptance." For his regular People and Places column, Randy Moore discusses Cerro Tijeretas, Isla San Cristóbal -- where Darwin first set foot on the Galápagos.
Plus a host of reviews of books on Darwin and evolution aimed at children, as well as a novel: Scott Hatfield reviews Jay Hosler's Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth; David C Kopaska-Merkel reviews Sandra Dutton's Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth; Stephanie LaMassa reviews Dean Koontz's Breathless; Louise S. Mead reviews two books on evolution (John Long's The Big Picture Book and Robert Winston's Evolution Revolution) and, separately, two books on Darwin (Mick Manning and Brita Granström's What Darwin Saw and Alice B. McGinty's Darwin: With Glimpses into his Private Journal & Letters, and Ben Roberts reviews Sandra Markle's Animals Charles Darwin Saw.
All of these articles, features, and reviews are freely available in PDF form from http://reports.ncse.com. Members of NCSE will shortly be receiving in the mail the print supplement to Reports 31:4, which, in addition to summaries of the on-line material, contains news from the membership, a regular column in which NCSE staffers offer personal reports on what they've been doing to defend the teaching of evolution, a new regular column interviewing NCSE's favorite people -- members of NCSE's board of directors, NCSE's Supporters, recipients of NCSE's Friend of Darwin award, and so on -- and more besides. (Not a member? Join today!)
For the table of contents for RNCSE 31:4, visit:
For information about joining NCSE, 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.
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
Read Reports of the NCSE on-line:
Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:
NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:
NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
By Kate Alexander | Thursday, September 1, 2011, 10:27 AM
As Gov. Rick Perry chats up potential donors for his presidential campaign in Midland today, he might want to avoid talking about creationism with his host, 1990 GOP gubernatorial nominee Clayton Williams.
The two appear to have divergent views on how the theory of evolution and the origins of humans should be taught in Texas classrooms, according to a 2008 Williams letter to Perry released to the American-Statesman in response to a public information request.
Two weeks ago, Perry told a young boy in New Hampshire that the theory of evolution has some gaps in it, so in Texas "we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools — because I figure you're smart enough to figure out which one is right." Politifact Texas ruled Perry's statement was false.
Williams, a wealthy Midland oil man, wrote to Perry as the State Board of Education was starting the debate over new science curriculum standards. He warned Perry to stop any effort by the board to include creationism or intelligent design in those standards.
"If Texas enters into a debate on the teaching of fundamental religious beliefs in public schools, it will tarnish our strong academic reputation, set our ability to attract top science and engineering talent to Texas back decades and severely impact our reputation as a national and global leader in energy, space, medicine and other high tech fields," Williams wrote.
He continued: "Governor, this is a very important issue for Texas. I urge you to quell this issue quietly, firmly and permanently."
The board proceeded with a loud and high-profile fight over the teaching of evolution that became national news and continued this summer when the board adopted online science materials based on the new standards.
Since the board is made up of 15 independently elected members, could Perry have stopped the evolution debate in its tracks? Probably.
Perry appoints the chairman from among the members. He had the opportunity in the midst of the debate in 2009 to name someone other than then-Chairman Don McLeroy, who was leading the effort.
Instead, Perry nominated McLeroy for a second term as chairman in early 2009; the board gave final approval in March 2009. A couple months later, Democrats in the Texas Senate blocked McLeroy's appointment as chairman largely because of the board's battle over science.
The next year, McLeroy was defeated in the Republican primary by a more moderate opponent, Thomas Ratliff.
Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol
By Ann Coulter
Amid the hoots at Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry for saying there were "gaps" in the theory of evolution, the strongest evidence for Darwinism presented by these soi-disant rationalists was a 9-year-old boy quoted in The New York Times.
After his mother had pushed him in front of Perry on the campaign trail and made him ask if Perry believed in evolution, the trained seal beamed at his Wicked Witch of the West mother, saying, "Evolution, I think, is correct!"
That's the most extended discussion of Darwin's theory to appear in the mainstream media in a quarter-century. More people know the precepts of kabala than know the basic elements of Darwinism.
There's a reason the Darwin cult prefers catcalls to argument, even with a 9-year-old at the helm of their debate team.
Category: Environment • Politics
Posted on: August 31, 2011 10:21 AM, by PZ Myers
There's a reason I really despise Libertarianism…but still find them hilariously twisted. Here's a case of a columnist defending the science of Rick Perry. You know that evolution stuff? It's not that important. Creationism is a waste of time and it makes Perry look "unsophisticated"…but so what? There's a real problem here, and it is all those liberals who've fallen for the junk science of "global warming".
It is interesting watching the nation's defenders of reason, empirical evidence, and science fail to display a hint of skepticism over the transparently political "science" of global warming. Rarely are scientists so certain in predicting the future. Yet this is a special case. It is also curious that these supposed champions of Darwin don't believe that human beings--or nature--have the ability to adapt to changing climate.
Like 99 percent of pundits and politicians, though, I have no business chiming in on the science of climate change--though my kids' teachers sure are experts. Needless to say, there is a spectacular array of viewpoints on this issue. The answers are far from settled. There are debates over how much humans contribute. There are debates over how much warming we're seeing. There are debates over many things.
But even if one believed the most terrifying projections of global warming alarmist "science," it certainly doesn't mean one has to support the anti-capitalist technocracy to fix it. And try as some may to conflate the two, global warming policy is not "science." The left sees civilization's salvation in a massive Luddite undertaking that inhibits technological growth by turning back the clock, undoing footprints, forcing technology that doesn't exist, banning products that do, and badgering consumers who have not adhered to the plan through all kinds of punishment. Yet there is no real science that has shown that any of it makes a whit of difference.
It's perfect: the author is trying to set himself up as a defender of good science, but he does it by 1) trivializing the importance of the most fundamental concept in biology, and 2) being a denialist about climate change. Scientists are certain (to a reasonable degree) about predicting the future in this case because all the data points in this direction — you have to willfully reject the evidence in order to disagree. Maybe if he were a little less blasé about evolution he'd also realize that this isn't an issue of capacity to adapt — trust me, you don't want to live under an intense selection regime that changes the population's mean physiology in a few generations — but of a common sense recognition that rapid climate change will be disruptive and have a severe economic cost.
And the answers are settled. Ongoing climate change is a fact. Pretending there is a serious debate about it is what the creationists do.
I suppose one solution would be to blow up all the factories and return to a 15th century lifestyle…if we didn't mind killing a few billion people in the process, and wanted to live lives of hard labor in squalor. I don't see anyone on the left advocating that, though. Instead, I see advocacy for sustainable energy policies and a demand that industry factor in all of the invisible, long-term costs that they've been hiding — which is, of course, anathema to Libertarians who believe in giving corporations a free ride at the expense of human beings.
Category: Alternative medicine • Antivaccination lunacy • Autism • Medicine • Quackery
Posted on: August 31, 2011 3:00 AM, by Orac
Sometimes I feel a little bit guilty when I'm writing a post deconstructing anti-vaccine nonsense, "alternative medicine" quackery, or some other form of pseudoscience. This guilt usually derives when I end up picking a target that's just too easy, a study that's just so mind-numbingly, brain-meltingly awful that it's not much of a challenge, even though at the time I perceive that it needs to be done. I suppose it's like the feeling that a professional sports team might feel if it were ever paired with a high school team--or even a junior high--team for a game. In fact, I was half-tempted just to post the link to the "study" (which it really isn't, not really) and let you, my readers, have some fun. I'd consider it an exercise in seeing just how much regular readers have learned, or even how much newer readers have picked up. At the very least, it'd be a nice new chew toy for you all.
But what fun would that be for me, other than sitting back like a proud papa and chuckling as I watch you guys rip into the study in a manner that makes a starving cheetah ripping into its prey look downright restrained by comparison? If I get the first chomps in, I can still sit back and watch you all have at it, as long as I leave just a bit left over for you. But, before I do, a wee bit of history.
Ever since the anti-vaccine movement started backing away the now thoroughly discredited claim that the thimerosal in preservatives cause autism and the even more thoroughly discredited claim that the MMR vaccine causes autism and pivoted to readjust its reality to embrace the idea that it's all about "too many too soon" and "toxins" in vaccines (even though that's scientifically unsupported too), they've been clamoring for what they like to call a "vaxed-unvaxed study." Basically, this is a study of vaccinated children versus unvaccinated children. At first, having no concept of medical ethics, anti-vaccine activists demanded a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, apparently not realizing how utterly unethical such a study would be, given that it would leave the placebo control group unprotected against potentially dangerous childhood illnesses. Eventually, it started to sink in that such a study is neither feasible nor ethical (although sadly this wasn't the case for all anti-vaccine loons). When that finally happened, it was so cute to see anti-vaccine activists try to propose epidemiological studies. Basically, it's painfully obvious that anti-vaccine activists don't understand the issues involved, particularly the size of the study that would be required, the difficulty in controlling for confounding factors in the sorts of designs that would be required (such as case-control, for example), and how expensive such a study would be. Also, to meet ethical standards, such a study would have to have a decent amount of preliminary data to support its hypothesis that vaccines cause autism (or whatever), and there is none, at least none not coming from anti-vaccine loons or investigators somehow associated with anti-vaccine loons.
Not that that's totally stopped anti-vaxers from trying to do such a study.
For example, four years ago, J.B. Handley's (now Jenny McCarthy's) anti-vaccine propaganda group Generation Rescue did what was billed as a "study" of vaccinated versus unvaccinated children. It was nothing of the sort. Rather, it was a poorly designed phone survey whose results in some groups suggested that vaccines protected against autism, although Generation Rescue spun it as supporting the vaccine-autism hypothesis. Of course, the whole survey was so ridiculously badly designed that you really couldn't tell anything from it at all, given its selection bias and failure to control for confounders, but that doesn't stop it from periodically rising from the grave and shambling off to feast on the brains of antivaxers, who then cite it as though it's evidence of anything other than the incompetence of Generation Rescue at any sort of research.
Now they're at it again, although it's not Generation Rescue who did this new "study." Even so, not surprisingly, the anti-vaccine propaganda blog Age of Autism is nonetheless promoting it under the title Vax UnVax Study Results, as is the one anti-vaccine website that can challenge NaturalNews.com for the sheer intensity of its burning stupid, Child Health Safety, which is promoting the study/survey breathlessly as New Survey Shows Unvaccinated Children Vastly Healthier - Far Lower Rates of Chronic Conditions and Autism.
It does nothing of the sort.
In fact, looking at the actual survey used, although it pains me to say so, Generation Rescue comes out looking more competent than VaccineInjury.info, the English-language version of Impfschaden.info, a German anti-vaccine website run by a homeopath named Andreas Bachmair, who conducted the survey. You'll see what I mean in a minute. The survey begins with this introduction:
For statistical evaluation of the state of health of entirely unvaccinated children we request you to fill out the following form. The data will be published anonymously and handled with utmost confidentiality. The results help us to acquire accurate information about the health of unvaccinated children.
Does anyone see a problem here? Well, actually, does anyone see several problems, but one glaring problem besides the problem of this being an anonymous Internet survey that anyone can fill out? Let's just put it this way. Even Generation Rescue tried to have an actual control group, namely vaccinated children. Indeed, although Generation Rescue did a crappy and arbitrary job of it, its survey company at least tried to stratify respondents into different dose levels of vaccines, to produce three groups: unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, and fully vaccinated. What does Bachmair do? Nothing of the sort! He only collects data on "entirely unvaccinated children." He even puts it in bold! Let's just say that the construction of this survey demonstrates in this survey all the scientific understanding and rigor that I would expect from a homeopath, given that homeopaths believe that magic water cures people.
Before I come back to the horrendously bad methodology, why don't we just summarize some of the results of this survey and then look at some of the reactions? There were a total of 7,762 children whose information was provided to the survey, and the general results are summarized as the state of health of unvaccinated children. Before we get to the "money results," let's take a peak at some anomalies that suggest that this particular group might not be--shall we say--strictly comparable to children in the population at large. For example:
The parents stated that their preferred treatment was naturopathic and homeopathic. Less than 10% said they preferred conventional medicine. Treatment in the "other" column was mainly chiropractic and supplemental.
So, right away, this survey demonstrates that the parents who filled it out were a self-selected, biased sample, the vast majority of whom favor alternative medicine and are hostile to scientific medicine. Indeed, 99.69% of the respondents report being happy that they did not vaccinate their children. One thing that this love of woo and hostility towards scientific medicine can mean is that a lot of these children could have subclinical or mildly clinical disease that goes undiagnosed because they never take their children to a real doctor, preferring instead homeopaths, naturopaths, and chiropractors.
To get a flavor of the health results, let's look at the part of the report that asks about asthma and atopic diseases:
Asthma, hayfever and neurodermatitis are seen very frequently today. A recent German study with 17461 children between 0-17 years of age (KIGGS) showed that 4.7% of these children suffer from asthma, 10.7% of these children from hayfever and 13.2% from neurodermatitis. These numbers differ in western countries, i.e. the prevalence of asthma among children in the US is 6% whereas it is 14-16% in Australia (Australia's Health 2004, AIHW) The prevalence of asthma among unvaccinated children in our study is around 2.5%, hayfever 2.5% and neurodermatitis 7%. According to the KIGGS study more than 40% of children between the ages of 3 and 17 years were sensitized against at least one allergen tested (20 common allergens were tested) and 22.9% had an allergic disease. Although we did not perform a bloodtest, around 10% stated that their children had an allergy.
One wonders how, if these parents chose homeopaths, naturopaths, and chiropractors over real doctors, they had any idea whatsoever whether or not their children actually had asthma. One of the most common presentations of asthma is cough alone. In fact, milder cases of asthma can be difficult to diagnose in children; so once again, what the parents report probably doesn't tell us much. Neither does the claim that far fewer of these children had allergies.
Which brings us to autism.
If you scroll down to the graph looking at autism and various other problems, such as ADHD, you'll find that the overall prevalence reported in these children was 0.57%. In terms of raw numbers, that's 44 children, which makes this statement rather puzzling:
There are also autism cases in unvaccinated children. However over 80% stated, that it is only a mild form or a high functioning form of autism. Among all participants there were 4 severe autism cases.
Apparently, basic math isn't a homeopath's strong suit, which probably explains why they can't understand the concept of Avagadro's number. Be that as it may, if 20% of autistic children equals four, then there could only be 20 autistic children, but the survey suggests that there were twice that many in unvaccinated children. (One wonders what Tony Bateson would say.) In any case, a prevalence of 0.57%, even if this survey were accurate, would be within the range of estimated prevalences found in various studies. Perhaps Bachmair knows that, which is why he tried to emphasize "severe" autism and then came up with those additional factoids about some of these four to suggest that they had been exposed to mercury or heavy metals. Even worse for Bachmair, if you look at the graph of autism by age range in these children, depending on the age range it ranges from 0.37% to a whopping 2.36%, the latter of which is almost as high as a recent study in Korea found. In fact, if you look at the age range of the responses, nearly half of the responses (3,075) were for children under two years old, which is young enough that autism might very well have not been diagnosed yet, and in this group the reported prevalence was 0.37%, while in the 11-12 year range the prevalence was highest, at 2.36%. In fact, autism prevalence is so obviously not appreciably different in the unvaccinated in this survey compared to reported prevalence numbers that even a commenter at Age of Autism wrote:
If you look at all the age groups >2 years old the autism incidence ranges from 0.63 to 2.36%, with most being in the range 1-2%, the population size was about 3500 replies. My main criticism is a self selected population with potentially varying diagnostic criteria, but on these data the incidence of autism in unvaccinated children seems to match vaccinated children.
There's no "seems" about it. The prevalence of autism in unvaccinated children in this survey does closely match reported numbers for overall population prevalence in populations where the vast majority of children are vaccinated. This result is an unmitigated disaster for Bachmair and his groupies, which is why I couldn't stop laughing when I read this from ChildHealthSafety:
It is interesting neither the US National Institutes of Health [US$30.5 billion annual budget on medical research] nor the US Centers for Disease Control [US$11 billion budget annually] could find the time or money to fund this kind of research but instead waste US tax dollars on a great deal of pointless medical research and promotion of iatrogenic [man made] disease causing agents [modern drug company "treatments"].
No, it's not really that interesting. Say what you will about the NIH, it does have a pretty rigorous peer review process, which means that it doesn't (usually) fund crap. In fact, this survey was so poorly designed and analyzed that I doubt even the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) would fund it. Unfortunately, now this "study" will no doubt join the Generation Rescue "study" in the annals of crap vaccine/autism science, to circulate around Whale.to (where it belongs) and be dredged up as "evidence" periodically. Old, refuted anti-vaccine studies never die, alas.
In any case, I take some comfort in the hilarious result of this survey that demonstrates that autism prevalence in the unvaccinated is similar to autism prevalence among the vaccinated, no matter how much anti-vaccine activists try to spin it otherwise. I realize that this survey is in fact so poorly designed that it really doesn't tell us much of anything, but it is fun watching anti-vaxer brains explode trying to spin this result as supporting the vaccine/autism hypothesis.
The enjoyment I get watching that assuages my guilt for picking on homeopaths so.
NOTE: I notice that the total number of children is increasing. It's now up to 7,799 at this moment, suggesting that 30 people have filled it out since last night. Given that Child Health Safety lists it as 7,724 five days ago that suggests that the surveys still open and is automatically updating totals.
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 29, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The California Science Center Foundation has settled a long-running legal dispute with the American Freedom Alliance ("AFA"). The settlement agreement explicitly states that no party admits fault or liability, and the settlement is a means to avoid the costs of further proceedings. As part of the settlement, the Foundation and AFA agreed to a joint statement that the Foundation would invite the AFA back to hold its private event, and the AFA would decline that invitation. The Foundation is satisfied with the terms of the settlement, which includes a cost of defense payment from the Foundation's insurer, to avoid the expense of further litigation.
The dispute arose out of unapproved press releases that had been issued relating to a private event that the AFA had intended to hold at the California Science Center's IMAX Theater. The press releases, for which AFA was responsible, falsely implied that the Foundation or the Science Center were sponsors of the AFA's event. They were not, and as a result of these false and misleading press releases, the Foundation cancelled the AFA's event.
The AFA then sued the Foundation and the Science Center for breach of contract and violation of the First Amendment, claiming that the Foundation's cancellation was based upon the purported content of the AFA's program. This was not the case, and the evidence demonstrated that the Foundation was right. Indeed, the fact that the Foundation booked the AFA's event in the first place affirmatively demonstrated the lack of merit to AFA's argument.
Through discovery, the Foundation also discovered other evidence that undermined AFA's claims. For instance, although the AFA asserted that the offending press releases were issued by an entirely independent third party (the Discovery Institute), it was uncovered that the AFA and the Discovery Institute actually had been secretly coordinating the publicity efforts and were intentionally trying to make the publicity that led to the cancellation as provocative and controversial as possible. One email among Discovery Institute individuals talked about "letting the jinnie out of the bottle" when "all hell will break lose." The Foundation was certainly entitled to cancel the AFA's private event.
The Foundation also brought cross-claims of its own against AFA, asserting breach of contract and fraud, and claiming that the AFA entered into their agreement with the Foundation without any intent on ever complying with the agreement and seeking Foundation approval prior to issuing any press releases (which was a term of the contract). Quite the contrary, the Foundation alleged, the AFA was actually coordinating with the Discovery Institute to issue offending press materials the whole time.
In July 2011, after almost two years of litigation and fending off numerous frivolous positions by AFA and its counsel, the Foundation and AFA settled the matter. In addition to the payment by the Foundation's insurer, the settlement also includes a small payment by the Foundation, to again avoid further proceedings and return the Foundation's focus to the important work that it has at hand – rather than be distracted by AFA's meritless litigation.
Unfortunately, it appears that neither the AFA nor the Discovery Institute have learned from their mistakes and false and misleading press releases continue to be issued. For instance, although the Discovery Institute's August 29, 2011 press release states that the "state-run Science Center" paid a settlement amount, the reality is that the Science Center did not pay a dime. Likewise, although the Discovery Institute contends that it was "dragged into the case," the fact of the matter is that the Discovery Institute knowingly and inappropriately issued offending and false press releases leading to the lawsuit. The court in Seattle agreed with the Foundation's discovery position, and forced the Discovery Institute to turn over its embarrassing emails. And although the Discovery Institute touts the fact that the joint statement includes the Foundation's inviting AFA back to hold its event, they ignore the fact that AFA declined such invitation.
The cancellation was never about the content of the program, as indicated by the fact that the Foundation was willing to have the event in the first place. It was about the false and misleading press releases that the Discovery Institute and AFA issued. Unfortunately, it appears that neither the Discovery Institute nor AFA have learned their lesson.
Contact: Shell Amega, email@example.com
SOURCE California Science Center Foundation
August 29, 2011 3:59 PM
Congressman Ron Paul, who is campaigning for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, says that the theory of human evolution is just a theory - and one that he does not accept.
In a YouTube video of Paul addressing what appears to be a town hall meeting in 2007, the Texas representative let listeners know where he stood on the issue.
"Well, first i thought it was a very inappropriate question, you know, for the presidency to be decided on a scientific matter," he said. "I think it's a theory...the theory of evolution and I don't accept it as a theory. But I think the creator that i know, you know created us, every one of us and created the universe and the precise time and manner and all. I just don't think we're at the point where anybody has absolute proof on either side."
A spokesman for the Paul campaign did not immediately respond to calls for comment.
Evolution News & Views August 29, 2011 1:00 AM | Permalink
The state-run California Science Center (CSC) has paid $110,000 to settle a lawsuit by American Freedom Alliance (AFA) against CSC for violating AFA's First Amendment free speech rights to advocate intelligent design (ID). As part of the settlement, the CSC also has invited AFA to present the ID event it previously cancelled.
CSC rented its IMAX theater to AFA to show Darwin's Dilemma, a science documentary advocating ID. However, when CSC learned the film would portray ID favorably, CSC cancelled AFA's event. AFA filed suit in California Superior Court alleging viewpoint discrimination and breach of contract.
"This is an historic victory for the ID movement," said Casey Luskin, an attorney and policy analyst with Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture. "The First Amendment forbids government preference for one viewpoint over another, yet evidence disclosed in this case shows the CSC, Smithsonian Institution, and LA County Museum of Natural History attempted to stifle dissent from Darwinism. The result was illegal state-sponsored suppression of protected speech."
AFA was represented by William J. Becker Jr., of the Becker Law Firm, who was supported in the case by the Rutherford Institute. The case number is BC 423687.
"This is the first free speech case for the ID movement, and its first victory in that field," said Becker. "This settlement represents an acknowledgement that a state-owned science institution sought to censor an event solely because it related to ID. It's a vindication for ID, and First Amendment guarantees of free speech."
This case reflects the ongoing trend of discrimination against intelligent design. In January, the University of Kentucky paid $125,000 to settle a lawsuit by astronomer Martin Gaskell who was wrongfully denied employment because he was perceived to be skeptical towards Darwinian evolution. (Gaskell actually considers himself a "theistic evolutionist," but he stated "there are significant scientific problems in evolutionary theory" and respectfully cited the work of intelligent design proponents Michael Behe and Phillip Johnson in online notes for one of his talks.) Soon after the settlement of Gaskell's case, Applied Mathematics Letters paid $10,000 and publicly apologized to avoid litigation after it wrongfully withdrew mathematician Granville Sewell's paper critiquing neo-Darwinism.
"Although Discovery Institute did not host the event, and was not a party to this lawsuit, we were dragged into the case when CSC sought to compel disclosure of thousands of pages of internal documents," said Joshua Youngkin, Discovery Institute's Program Officer in Public Policy and Legal Affairs. "This case warns bullies in the Darwin Lobby there will be consequences for trying to suppress free speech on evolution."
By Alice Park Thursday, August 25, 2011
In a new report investigating adverse events caused by vaccines, a panel of experts says there are relatively few health problems caused by the most commonly recommended immunizations, which public health experts advise that all children receive.
The conclusions, issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in its latest report, "Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality," represent the most comprehensive review of the available literature on the potential side effects of eight vaccines — for mumps, measles and rubella (MMR); chicken pox; influenza; hepatitis A; hepatitis B; human papillomavirus (HPV); diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTAP); and meningococcus.
The committee responsible for the IOM report included experts in pediatrics, immunology, neurology, epidemiology and statistics, who analyzed more than 1,000 studies published in peer-reviewed journals concerning the health consequences of the eight immunizations.
MORE: Bruesewitz v. Wyeth: What the Supreme Court Decision Means for Vaccines
Of note, they conclude that there is no evidence to support a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, as many parent groups continue to believe, spurred on by the claims of British physician Andrew Wakefield, who lost his medical license last year when his findings were found to be fraudulent. The committee's report joins many other past studies that have come to the same conclusion that vaccines and autism are not related.
The committee members also decided that there isn't evidence at this time to link the flu shot to episodes of asthma. They did, however, report that the HPV vaccine, the most recent shot added to the immunization schedule, may cause anaphylactic shock in some people, and that the MMR shot can trigger joint pain.
"This is the most comprehensive, most careful analysis of all of the literature looking at these eight vaccines that has ever been done," Dr. Ellen Clayton, chair of the IOM committee that authored the report and professor pediatrics at Vanderbilt University, told TIME. "It is state of the art."
The 18-member committee looked at two kinds of studies concerning adverse events of vaccines. First they analyzed epidemiological, or population-based studies that track reports of health problems following vaccinations. Then they reviewed biological data that detailed individual reports of adverse events after immunizations and provided information on how the innoculations may have contributed to whatever health problems that were associated with them. The committee's task, says Clayton, was simply to document whether any adverse effects were associated with vaccines, in order to be able to present to doctors, parents and public health experts the latest data on what to expect when people receive the shots.
The committee did not assess how frequently the negative health effects occurred, however, nor did they conduct an analysis of risks versus benefit to determine how any potential side effects measured up against the benefits of being protected from infection.
MORE: Autism, Vaccines and Fraud: Q&A With Author Seth Mnookin
Overall, the committee made 158 conclusions that fell into one of four categories:
Not surprisingly, the vast majority of their decisions — 133 — fell into the inadequate category, including many concerns associated with the HPV vaccine. But that doesn't mean that the data is simply inconclusive, says Clayton. In fact, that category is quite diverse, encompassing cases in which studies show both a potential connection or no connection between vaccines and an adverse event; it also includes cases in which the information simply doesn't exist — yet —to make a sound scientific conclusion. That's the case with HPV, which hasn't been used long enough in enough people to generate robust data on many of the potential side effects, such as neurological conditions that have been linked to the vaccine in some.
For many of the cases in which it's not clear whether a vaccine can cause a specific health problem, Clayton says she hopes more information will become available in coming years to address those gaps. "If we think about what was known 20 years ago when the last studies were done about how adverse events could occur, our understanding of the biology and what the mechanisms of adverse events might be paled in comparison to what we know now," she says. "One hopes that in the future our current state of knowledge will pale in comparison to what we know in 20 years."
MORE: Vaccination Rates Drop in Wealthier Kids: The Autism Rumors Take a Toll
Because the report does not weigh the benefits and risks of getting vaccinated, but simply lays out the latest data on any potential side effects associated with the inoculations, parents who are struggling with concerns about getting their children vaccinated may not find the answers they are looking for in this review.
For one, the report did not consider the question that many moms and dads are currently asking: Is giving multiple vaccines so close together, or even in one day, harmful? The committee could only review studies of people who were vaccinated according to the currently recommend schedule, which does indeed advise multiple vaccines on a single day, so they did not have data on people who might have received their shots separately.
But the report will become a valuable resource for doctors who need to address parents' questions, by giving them the most comprehensive data available on the adverse events linked to these eight vaccines. In addition, the data will also be useful for the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, a no-fault alternative for compensating individuals who may have been harmed by vaccines.
MORE: The Dangers of the Antivaccine Movement
"As a practicing pediatrician, the ready availability of a report like this specifically identifying each vaccine and specifically identifying each adverse event that summarizes the world's literature objectively is extraordinarily valuable," Dr. Douglas Barrett, a pediatrician at University of Florida College of Medicine and a member of the IOM committee, told reporters during a telebriefing.
It's certainly not the last word on vaccines and adverse events — as the large number of 'inadequate information' conclusions demonstrates, but it's an important step in helping to inform physicians and the public about the latest scientific knowledge on how vaccines affect all of us.
Alice Park is a writer at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @aliceparkny. You can also continue the discussion on TIME's Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.
August 25, 2011 5:12 pm ET by David Shere
In her latest syndicated column, Ann Coulter launched an attack on Darwin's theory of evolution. She argues that "[m]odern science has disproved Darwinian evolution" because biologists now know that many features of organic life, such as complex cell structures, DNA, blood clotting, molecules, and "the cell's tiny flagellum and cilium" are extraordinarily complicated. From this, Coulter makes the leap that such things couldn't possibly have evolved through natural selection and random mutation, claiming this shows that evolution is "mathematically impossible."
Not only is that false, it's yet another example of Coulter's longtime war on science.
The concept Coulter is describing -- originated by intelligent design proponent Michael Behe -- is called "irreducible complexity." The basic idea is that "that there are in organisms 'irreducibly complex' systems that cannot be explained by random mutation and natural selection. These 'irreducibly complex' systems would cease to function if any one part fails -- which Behe claims rules out evolution and leaves only design."
Coulter devoted a significant portion of her 2006 book Godless: The Church of Liberalism to an attempt to disprove evolution. She similarly touted Behe and his "irreducible complexity" theory, claiming it "disproved evolution." Media Matters thoroughly addressed the issue at that time, noting several deep flaws in her reasoning:
The first is that, contrary to Behe's argument, irreducibly complex systems can evolve. Because an irreducibly complex system is defined as one that fails if any one part ceases to function, the concept indicates only that the addition of single parts did not evolve the system. Therefore, other mechanisms of evolution are still left, including deletion of parts, duplication of the system, change of function, addition of a second function to a single part, and gradual modification of parts. Additionally, when two mechanisms that are particularly common -- gene duplication and deletion of parts -- happen together, irreducible complexity is an expected result. This was discovered in 1918 by Nobel prize-winning geneticist Hermann Muller, who referred to the phenomenon as interlocking complexity. Furthermore, there are irreducibly complex systems whose evolutionary origins have been described in detail, such as the Krebs citric acid cycle.
One of Behe's examples that Coulter touts, the flagellum, further calls Behe's assertions into question. On Page 204, Coulter repeats the false claim that "[t]he absence of almost any one of the parts would render the flagellum useless." In reality, the flagellum still functions as either a simpler flagellum or a secretion system if certain parts are lost. Additionally, there are dispensable proteins found in the eukaryotic flagellum.
The idea of irreducible complexity has also been rejected by a federal judge as a basis for including intelligent design theory in public school science curriculum. Finally, the theory has also been rejected by the National Academy of Sciences and "the scientific community in general through peer-reviewed papers."
So the idea that evolution can't be true because living organisms are too complicated to have evolved naturally is, to put it mildly, not a slam dunk.
Running with crazy pseudoscientific theories is well-trodden territory for Coulter, who has a long history of making outlandish statements about the scientific community. She has:
By George Lundberg, MD, Editor-at-Large, MedPage Today | August 23, 2011
Hello and Welcome. I'm Dr. George Lundberg and this is At Large at MedPage Today.
Dr. Phil Fontanarosa and I published that statement in JAMA on Nov. 11, 1998, in a theme issue devoted to the scientific study of "Complementary and Alternative Medicine." The statement still remains true today.
Do you know about Therapeutic Touch (TT)? It is actually about Therapeutic Non-Touch. The theory holds that the human body emits energy fields of a type for which no physical, electronic, chemical, or other scientific modality has yet determined its existence.
It further holds that trained practitioners of this craft can detect and manipulate this "Human Energy Field," thereby promoting healing, by passing their hands at some non-touching distance away from the body and molding the energy to a good effect.
Sound good to you?
In 1998, we published a paper in JAMA entitled "A Close Look at Therapeutic Touch" by four authors, lead author Emily Rosa, at that time 9 years old. The study was for a fourth grade science project. JAMA had no policy as to whether authors needed to be above or below any particular age, of a certain gender, skin or eye color, place of birth or sexual orientation. It was the quality and relevance of the science that mattered to us. After a few rounds of peer review and revision, we published it on April 1, 1998.
By theory, TT practitioners should be able to detect while blinded an energy field 100% of the time. In this experiment, the investigators demonstrated that trained practitioners of TT, when blinded, had a 50% chance of detecting an energy field. Pure chance; bah, humbug.
Needless to say, there was not a uniform reader response. But Emily received the 1998 Ig Nobel Award at Harvard, and delivered the Ig Nobel address at MIT.
The science in that article has so far stood that test of time for 13 years.
Of course, some of the "alties" and the SCAM...ers (Supplements, Complementary, Alternative, Medicine) still practice Therapeutic Touch; patients ante up good money to pay for it; fancy medical centers give in to their marketing departments to pander to their local markets by providing TT; some medical school professors earn big TV bucks pushing such.
And the arbiter, Mr. Google, reports 2,210,000 results when the words "Therapeutic Touch" are entered.
Such are the ways of the world. There ain't no justice. They know not what they do.
Viewed another way, even the non-touch of an individual believed by a sick person to be a healer can heal.
That's my opinion. I'm Dr. George Lundberg, At Large for MedPage Today.
Thomas Mangan, Rochester Independent Examiner
August 22, 2011
175 years ago yesterday, the H.M.S. Beagle, carrying Charles Darwin and all of the specimens he had collected on the Beagle's voyage around the world, crossed the equator homeward bound for England.
But now some Republican politicians, and their Tea Party supporters, want you to believe that the Voyage of the Beagle never happened, and that the scientific discoveries Darwin made cannot be proved.
For people who believe in science fact rather than science fiction, the possibility of a Tea Party candidate becoming President is a truly scary proposition.
Four Tea Party favorites have publically taken a stand in favor of ignorance over knowledge..
In recent statements, Tea Party favorites Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Ron Paul have all med it perfectly clear that they don't believe in evolution and that they want to be confused by the facts.
According to a report in USA Today, last Thursday, Texas governor Rick Perry answered a question about evolution from a boy in New Hampshire, by saying, "That's a theory that is out there -- and it's got some gaps in it."
Brilliant! The biggest gap in the theory of evolution is how Americans evolved to the point where they will vote for an ignoramus like Rick Perry.
Perry then told the boy that, "In Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution. I figure you're smart enough to figure out which one is right."
That isn't exactly true. Texas schools don't teach creationism because in 1987 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard that teaching creationism is unconstitutional.
However, Perry doesn't seem to care.
Last Wednesday, Perry also stated that he doesn't believe that global warming is caused by human activity and that scientists have been manipulating the data about climate change.
What scientific fact is Perry going to doubt next, gravity?
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is another Republican presidential candidate whose rejection of scientific evidence should disqualify her for public office.
On June 17th, Bachmann talked to reporters in New Orleans after her speech to the Republican Leadership Conference. According to CNN, during that interview Bachman said that she supports teaching Intelligent Design in schools because she thinks there is "reasonable doubt" about evolution.
Intelligent Design is an unproven theory, as unproven as the creation myths from every culture on the face of the earth.
The Incas believed that the god Con Tiqui Viracocha emerged from Lake Titicaca bringing the first human beings with him. The Mayans, on the other hand, believed that the first humans were created from corn dough.
But Bachmann and Perry would scoff at those theories of creation.
In 21st Century China, the Taoist view of creation is still popular. Tao is the ultimate force behind the creation. Nothingness gave rise to existence, existence gave rise to yin and yang, and yin and yang gave rise to everything.
Since both Bachmann and Perry seem to favor importing everything from China, maybe they should support importing the Chinese view of creation too.
Tea party favorite Sarah Palin doesn't believe in evolution either. In her 2009 book, Going Rogue, Palin wrote that she not only believes in creationism, but that she does not believe in evolution because she "didn't believe in the theory that human beings —thinking, loving beings — originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea."
Ron Paul is as scientifically loopy as Perry, Bachmann and Palin.
On September 11, 2009 Paul responded to a question about evolution by saying, "it is a theory, nobody has concrete proof of any of this… because we don't know the exact details and we don't have geologic support for evolutionary forms."
Right! Maybe Ron Paul needs to take a short trip to Natural History Museum and talk a look at the fossil record.
The four leading Tea Party favorites have publically abandoned scientific knowledge, and this leaves Americans who aren't thrilled with the policies of the Democratic Party caught between a rock and a hard place.
No wonder so many Americans don't bother to vote.
By Cherlyn Gardner Strong – August 22, 2011
Posted in: Extraterrestrials, UFO News, UFOs
UFO researcher Budd Hopkins has passed away. He was 80 years old.
Hopkins investigated the UFO abduction phenomenon, which led to the eventual publication of three books: Missing Time, 1981, Intruders, 1987, and Witnessed, 1996.
He was born in 1931 and raised in Wheeling, West Virginia. In 1953, he moved to New York City. In 1964, Hopkins and two others witnessed a daytime UFO. The sighting led him to join the UFO research group, NICAP. After investigating cases involving "missing time", Hopkins associated these gaps in memory with alien abduction.
Hopkins will be greatly missed.
Author and journalist Leslie Kean has released a statement regarding his passing:
I'm very sad to announce that Budd Hopkins died today, August 21, at 1:35 pm. Budd had been under hospice care for about three weeks, at his home in New York. The combination of liver cancer and pneumonia led to his death. His daughter Grace Hopkins-Lisle and I were with him almost continuously during these past weeks. Read more.
By Joel Achenbach and Juliet Eilperin, Published: August 19
Four years ago in New Hampshire, campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, John McCain said to voters, "I do agree with the majority of scientific opinion, that climate change is taking place and it's a result of human activity, which generates greenhouse gases." He made global warming a key element of every New Hampshire stump speech.
This week in New Hampshire, the governor of Texas and newest presidential contender, Rick Perry, said scientists have manipulated data to support their "unproven" theory of human-influenced global warming. He said increasing numbers of scientists have disavowed the theory altogether.
This is not simply a case of two very different politicians saying two very different things. The political discussion about global warming has lurched dramatically in four years — even as the scientific consensus has changed little. McCain's 2007 description remains the scientific consensus: Human activity, including the burning of fossil fuels, is pumping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and warming the planet.
But that scientific conclusion has become a lively point of debate in the GOP presidential campaign. Joining Perry on the skeptical side, for example, is Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who suggested Wednesday that "manufactured science" underpins what a questioner called the "man-made climate-change myth."
The nominal GOP front-runner, Mitt Romney, drew sharp fire from conservatives when he said in June that he accepts the scientific view that the planet is getting warmer and that humans are part of the reason. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. (R) on Thursday tweeted: "To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."
"Climate change has become a wedge issue," said Roger Pielke Jr., a University of Colorado professor who has written extensively on the climate debate. "It's today's flag-burning or today's partial-birth-abortion issue."
Historically, climate change has ranked near the bottom of issues that voters care about as they evaluate presidential candidates. It wasn't a factor in 2008's primary season or general election. The major parties' nominees endorsed the scientific consensus and believed that the government should curb carbon emissions.
But even as it appeared that the government might take sweeping action on climate change, the political opposition intensified. President Obama favored a nationwide system in which industries would have to cap their carbon dioxide emissions and trade pollution allowances with one another. The then-Democratic-controlled House passed this "cap-and-trade" system in June 2009, but the plan stalled in the Senate after Republicans and major industries criticized it as a "cap-and-tax" system that would escalate energy costs.
The battleground shifted to the Environmental Protection Agency, which in December 2009 determined that greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health and welfare. That "endangerment finding" paved the way for regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. GOP lawmakers and industry groups fought the plan, calling it a job-killing tax and an example of government overreach.
During this period, Americans — particularly conservative Republicans — became less convinced about global-warming science.
Some in the tea party seized on the issue as a rallying cry in last year's election, which brought dozens of new members to Congress who reject a connection between human activity and climate change.
Missteps by scientists have given critics ammunition. Most notorious were "Climate-gate" e-mails hacked from computers at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Britain in 2009. The e-mails showed scientists being combative and clubby, but multiple investigations in both the United States and Britain cleared the researchers of scientific misconduct, concluding that there was no evidence they tried to cook the books, as critics had alleged.
Embarrassing errors were also found in a seminal 2007 report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was supposed to establish, beyond question, the scientific consensus. One passage in the 3,000-page report, for example, stated that massive glaciers in the Himalayas would vanish by 2035 — which isn't true.
Such missteps revealed that the scientific establishment does not always function like a well-oiled machine and that climate science in the raw is a more contentious enterprise than the average academic news release might suggest. But the errors did not change the basic science behind the theory of anthropogenic, or human-caused, global warming.
That the planet has warmed is a fact hardly anyone disputes — it has been measured with instruments on land and sea and in space. That humans have contributed to the warming through industrial activities is a theory supported by multiple scientific organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA.
"Ultimately, we go back to physics. If you burn fossil fuel, you make CO2," said Richard B. Alley, a geophysicist at Penn State University and author of "Earth: The Operator's Manual." "You can do this with bookkeeping. How much did we burn? How much CO2 does that make? Where is it? There it is."
One of the twists in the debate is that the data that show the planet warming over the past century — data that skeptics often deride as untrustworthy — also show that the rate of warming has slowed in the past decade or so. "The warming has slowed since 1998," said Tom Peterson, chief scientist for NOAA's National Climatic Data Center.
The most recent decade is still the warmest on record — warmer than the 1990s, which were warmer than the 1980s. And NOAA and NASA rate 2010 as tied with 2005 as the warmest year ever measured.
But the flattening of the trend has inspired skeptics to declare that global warming is over or that these are natural fluctuations not driven by human activity. Scientists say that's hardly the case, noting that multiple factors are dampening the warming trend, including sunlight-blocking volcanic aerosols and soot emitted from China's proliferating coal-fired power plants. And they stress that the effects of greenhouse gases build over time.
"The full impact of the greenhouse gases that we've already added to the system today won't be felt for 20 or 30 years," said Bill Chameides, dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University and co-author of a recent National Academy of Sciences report, "America's Climate Choices."
When Chameides and his colleagues began their research in 2008, they assumed they'd have to rush to finish before the government took action on climate change. Instead, they watched the political landscape change as "Climategate" and other controversies incited public doubts about climate science. They delayed their report to take a fresh look at the research in its totality.
Their conclusion is stated in the report's first sentence: "Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems."
There are dissenting scientists, but they're a small minority within the climate-science community. A 2010 study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences surveyed 1,372 climate scientists and found that 97 to 98 percent agreed that humans are contributing to global warming.
The general public is far more divided. A Pew Research Center poll published in October 2010 showed that over the previous four years, the number of respondents believing there is "solid evidence" that the Earth is warming dropped from 79 percent to 59 percent. There was a striking divide along partisan lines: Some 79 percent of Democrats believed in global warming, compared with 38 percent of Republicans.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll in November 2009 found conservative Republicans were least likely to believe global warming was occurring, with 45 percent saying it was happening. That represented a 20 percentage-point drop from the previous year.
Influential conservatives have pushed climate science to the fore of Republican politics. When Romney endorsed the consensus scientific view, talk-radio titan Rush Limbaugh immediately declared: "Bye-bye, nomination. Another one down."
Climate change, said Marc Morano, publisher and editor of the skeptical Web site Climate Depot, is "a litmus test, pure and simple, for the presidential race."
© The Washington Post Company
Edzard Ernst, the world's first professor of complementary medicine, is on a crusade to stop the NHS wasting money on unproved remedies.
By Cassandra Jardine
7:30AM BST 22 Aug 2011
Fortified with a nip of papaya leaf extract – the latest essential ingredient for boosting the immune system – I meet Prof Edzard Ernst. As Britain's foremost "quackbuster", I feel sure he will have views on such elixirs. I am right.
The world's first professor of complementary medicine looks at me despairingly as I admit to taking unproven remedies. I may be gullible, but I am not alone. Roughly 100 per cent of cancer patients (I have lung cancer) use alternative therapies, and so do millions of others, including the Prince of Wales. Almost invariably, we are wasting our money, in his opinion.
"If there was good evidence that the immune system was depleted by the cancer or the treatment, there might be a case for something like papaya leaves," he sighs. "But it is naive to think that the immune system fights the cancer cells, and naive to think that boosting the immune system is the answer to everything."
What about the Bemer pulsating magnetic field machine, which I used for a while to boost my microcirculation and hence, the manufacturer claims, my ability to fight cancer? "Magnetic treatments are mainstream for non-healing bone fractures, but where is the placebo trial evidence for other applications?"
Small companies say they cannot afford to fund such trials. He snorts. "A trial like that could be done for less than £100,000."
OK, then, what about the use of cannabis to alleviate the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and other illnesses? "There are better ways to alleviate pain and nausea, so anyone who takes it probably likes the cannabis effect."
Prof Ernst's soft voice and teddy-bear appearance give the impression of a charming, elderly academic who is happy to be spending more time in his Suffolk garden since he retired in May. It is a false impression borne, he says, of German being his first language. "I don't shout because I can't express myself in English as I should like to. I may appear calm, but I get terrifically angry."
In the past 18 years, while he has been running the complementary medicine research group at the Peninsula Medical School in Devon (a partnership between Exeter and Plymouth Universities and the NHS), he has often been angry. He has had public run-ins with many alternative therapists – homoeopaths, chiropractors, herbalists and acupuncturists. But the juiciest chapter in the autobiography he is currently writing will cover his feud with the Prince of Wales.
It began in 2005 when he rubbished a report, sponsored by the Prince, which supported the idea that the NHS would save up to £3.5?billion a year if it spent more on alternative therapies. "I knew the facts extremely well as I had done a similar report for the World Health Organisation, and didn't mince my words."
Sir Michael Peat, the Prince of Wales's private secretary, complained that Prof Ernst had breached confidentiality by speaking to a newspaper. "There was a 13-month investigation and I was shown to be innocent, but all fund-raising stopped. After that, I was persona non grata." This, he believes, led to the funding crisis that forced him into early retirement, aged 63.
"Both the vice-chancellor of Exeter University and the dean of the Peninsula Medical School were knighted." For taking the Prince's side? "Cause and effect are not proven."
Last month, Prof Ernst told a conference in London that he considered the Prince "a snake-oil salesman" for supporting "unproven and disproved" remedies and for selling a £10 Duchy Herbals Detox Tincture. The range, he said, should be renamed "Dodgy Originals".
The battle between the two men is one of principle, he says. "We urgently need to focus on the safety of alternative treatments, of which there are about 400.
People think natural equals safe, but it is a misconception. If there is an adverse reaction to medication, a doctor fills out a yellow card, sending a signal that can be investigated. There is no such system for herbal medicines. I also know of 30 to 40 cases of serious neurological damage after spinal manipulation, none of them formally reported."
Fortunately for those who share his concern, the arrival of a new dean of the Peninsula Medical School, Professor Steve Thornton, has led to a reprieve for his research group. Prof Ernst still had to go, but he is helping to appoint his successor. The advertisements for the post of professor of complementary medicine call for "a rigorous scientist". If this requirement is not stated clearly, he fears, the job could attract promoters of alternative therapies.
The British, who spend around £2 billion a year on unproved therapies, need sceptics to investigate on their behalf, he believes. Individuals can then decide whether to waste their money.
He is, unequivocally opposed to the NHS funding alternative therapies at a time when money is tight and patients are being denied treatments of proven worth.
"I have an advertisement on my desk from an NHS hospital looking for a reiki healer. I'm sure the money could be better spent. Recently, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) decided that acupuncture and chiropractic are good treatments for recurring back pain. They have underestimated the risks."
Those two alternative therapies were among those assessed in Trick or Treatment?, the 2008 book that he co-authored with the eminent science writer, Simon Singh. Ironically dedicated to the Prince of Wales, it examines the case for the safety and effectiveness of various therapies, and finds them mostly wanting.
"There are some positive conclusions about acupuncture, nothing on homoeopathy, almost nothing on chiropractic (a type of manipulation), and some positive findings on herbal medicine. The therapies for which there are strong evidence are supportive rather than curative: hypnotherapy, massage, autogenic training and other relaxation therapies."
Prof Ernst seems almost surprised that he has become known as the scourge of the alternative medical world because in southern Germany, where he was brought up, it was part of normal life.
"My father practised homoeopathy. I was exposed to herbal remedies, acupuncture and massage, as everyone in Germany is. My first job on qualifying as a doctor was in a homoeopathic hospital."
Initially he was impressed by how patients recovered after homoeopathy. Now he believes that is because of the placebo effect and the psychotherapeutic benefits of an hour's consultation. By 1993, he held a professorship in recuperative medicine at the University of Vienna, but later seized an offer from the University of Exeter to set up the world's first department dedicated to research into complementary medicine. At its peak, Prof Ernst was running 20 research projects. It will take time for his successor to build back up to that level, but he believes it must be done to prevent quackery.
His own health regime is simple. "I eat oily fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids and lots of salad. I drink green tea, which reduces the risk of gastric cancer, lots of water, and rather more red wine than I should because I like it." He and his French wife, Danielle, keep fit by walking their Welsh terrier.
If he were diagnosed with cancer, what would he do? "I wouldn't take aspirin [thought to prevent cancer].
I might have a look at selenium [supposedly a tumour suppressor] but, most importantly I would find a good health care team and trust them. You can't go around torturing yourself with believing every nonsense on the internet."
I am sure he is right, but I might just finish the papaya leaf extract first.
'Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial' by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst (Corgi, £8.99)
Posted on: August 21, 2011 9:49 AM, by Ed Brayton
At least for now, the battle over the science textbooks in Texas has been won by the good guys. The Texas Freedom Network reports that there was one bit of unfinished business that had to be cleared up:
As we told you late last month, the State Board of Education approved instructional materials in science that could be used in Texas public schools for the better part of the next decade. In all, the board approved materials from nine publishers. But in the case of one of those publishers, Holt McDougal, it did so on the condition that it make changes of so-called "errors" that were based on the objections of a well-known creationist who reviewed the materials.
Holt, of course, tried to hold the line in support of sound science and argued against tainting its product with creationist arguments attacking evolutionary science, and so did TFN, the National Center for Science Education and other mainstream scientists. As a compromise, the board agreed to let Holt work with Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott on any needed changes.
And here's the result:
Well, those changes are now in (click here to download a PDF) and so are the reviews. TFN, NCSE and other scientists have reviewed the changes and have found them to be in line with established, fact-based science.
Here's the head-exploding part for the creationists. Not only does the final version of Holt not include creationist arguments against evolution, but they also include language explicitly affirming Darwin's theories.
With Holt's materials finalized, we can now say with certainty that all of the materials approved from the nine publishers are in line with fact-based science and free of creationist attacks seeking to undermine science.
This is very good news. Of course, it's also temporary. The creationists will never, ever give up. They'll be back the next time the curriculum and the textbooks are up for revision and they'll have some new way of phrasing creationism, which they'll claim is totally different and not at all creationism even though the substance is all the same.
And there's still the problem of individual teachers using supplemental creationist materials, the way John Freshwater did. This is quite routine. That's why I think everyone with kids in school should put in a Freedom of Information Act request with their local schools to get all the supplemental materials used in biology classrooms. I bet we'd find out about a whole lot of places where it's being taught and continues because no one has ever complained about it.