Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
Sep 28, 2011 1:10 PM
Doctors and nurses are more likely than patients to turn toward alternative therapies than patients. Yet health professionals, as well as patients, are concerned about the safety and efficacy of alternative medicine. Those are the somewhat contradictory findings of two recent studies that crossed my deskfindings that are mirrored in our own recent survey on alternative medicine.
The first study, in the journal Health Services Research, suggests that health professionals are far more open to alternative therapies such as acupuncture and chiropractic care than I would have guessed. Most turned to them mainly for general wellness.
But in the other report, in the Annals of Family Medicine, researchers interviewed 44 patients and 32 clinicians about alternative medicine. The health professionals mainly worried about safety, and said that more research was needed to prove effectiveness.
Our recent survey of some 45,000 readers reflected similar ambivalence. It found that many patients turn to alternative therapies, and say their doctors often seem open to the treatments as well. But they also often had concerns about safety, trust, choice, and effectiveness.
When it comes to dietary supplements and alternative treatments, patients clearly want better, more evidenced-based advice. One source of that information can be physicians trained in Integrative Medicine, a specialty that tries to combine the best of modern medicine with proven alternative therapies. It also tries to look at the patient's whole lifestyle, including mind, body, and spirit.
You can find a list of such physicians at the website for the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.
In addition, check out our guide to 200 commonly used supplements and our other information on natural health.
Personal Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) by U.S. Healthcare Workers [Health Services Research]
Patient and Clinician Openness to Including a Broader Range of Healing Options in Primary Care [Annals of Family Medicine]
Joseph Mosquera, M.D.
Richard Dawkins and Sir David Attenborough want the Government to ban creationism and Intelligent Design (ID) theory from the classroom. Such a move shows a disturbing lack of understanding of both the nature of scientific theory and of science education, responds the Centre for Intelligent Design.
"If this was about the integrity of science education," says Dr Alastair Noble (pictured), director of the Centre, "then they would be campaigning for students to have access to all the scientific evidence about evolution and origins including the positive evidence for design in nature and the evidence both for and against evolution.
"Scientific theories are only credible if they take account of all the evidence. Science always moves on. The 30 scientists who have signed up to the 'Evolution not Creationism' statement are attempting to prevent students from hearing the rational, well-evidenced arguments that cast doubt on neo-Darwinism."
He went on to say that the proposition that a scientific curriculum should be the subject of legal or quasi-legal enforcement is based on a failure to recognise that all scientific theories are ultimately tentative, and may be updated or amended in light of fresh evidence. No scientific theory needs or should have the compulsion of law. And no programme of science education can afford to rule some questions illegal.
"That is a complete denial of scientific method and a dreadful example to commend to aspiring science students. If creationism and ID are unscientific, pupils should be allowed to explore the evidence if they wish to see why.
"Students also need to understand the provisional nature of the scientific consensus. Science is not done by consensus. Indeed, students should be aware that some crucial scientific discoveries were made by individuals who challenged the consensus. The reality of science is that one individual scientist with sound evidence can trump the consensus."
John Walton, Professor of Reactive Chemistry at the University of St Andrews, agrees: "There are many doubtful passages and leaps of faith in the molecules-to-man evolutionary narrative scenario. The authoritarian attempts by old generation scientists to suppress discussion of alternatives are ill-advised and go against the open spirit of enquiry science should foster."
The Centre for Intelligent Design notes that it is no coincidence that both Richard Dawkins and David Attenborough are prominent atheists. The Centre believes that the introduction of religious or philosophical ideas into the debate is contrary to the spirit of science which should not be exploited in pursuit of a secular or atheistic agenda.
All attempts by Richard Dawkins to indoctrinate children with an 'evolution only' education spring from a secularising agenda. As he himself admits, Darwin made it possible for him to be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist. Professor Dawkins thus has a vested interest in promoting evolution, and therefore cannot be taken seriously as an objective voice on this matter.
"Dawkins argues that ID should not be taken seriously because its main protagonists are theists," says Dr Noble. "But we don't hear him arguing that by the same token evolution should not be taken seriously because its main protagonists are atheists."
Posted on: September 25, 2011 3:07 PM, by PZ Myers
This is some unbelievably obtuse commentary on creationism from Andrew Brown. After noting that the proportion of creationists in the population is very large, and that many people will assent to the proposition that the earth is around 10,000 years old, he proceeds to place the blame.
This is quite clearly not a problem caused by religious belief. Even if we assume that all Muslims are creationists, and all Baptists, they would only be one in 10 of the self-reported creationists or young Earthers. What we have here is essentially a failure, on a quite staggering scale, of science and maths education. The people who think the Earth is 10,000 years old are essentially counting like the trolls in Terry Pratchett: "one, lots, many". Ten thousand is to them a figure incalculably huge.
We're to excuse religion when people dumbly parrot religious dogma? That number of 10,000 years isn't just a random choice; it's not arbitrary; it's not a familiar, convenient, nice round number (why don't they say it's a million, or a billion, if it's simply an ignorant guess?). Somehow, large numbers of people echo the specific claims of a narrow religious belief a young earth, a worldwide flood, a six-day creation, and all that other foolishness and somehow they just spontaneously, out of some peculiarly synchronistic ignorance, tend to give just these answers and it's not religion's fault? This is an amazing example of plagiarized errors if two students turned in exams with wrong answers that were identical to this degree, I'd nab 'em for cheating.
It also ignores the reality of the responses. It's not just ignorance, I've seen that plenty of times, and usually when you teach a student something they didn't know before, they react with please surprise the lightbulb goes on above their heads. When I teach genetics or physiology, for instance, there's hard stuff to master, but the students aren't closed off to it: they're signed up to learn it. Evolution is different. There are always some students who hear you tell them the earth is 4½ billion years old, we're descended from other apes, we have fossils of intermediate forms all wonderfully cool stuff that they should be thrilled to learn about who resist and deny.
That's the unique thing about evolution and a few other subjects. It's not just that they've been in the dark about these controversies, it's that they come into the classroom preloaded with dogma in opposition. Where does that problematic opposition come from?
I really don't mind and I certainly don't belittle students who come in to the classroom unaware of the science they're being taught that's the whole raison d'etre of having the classroom in the first place! What Brown is missing is the qualitatively different nature of the creationism argument: it's an active and malicious anti-science promulgated in defense of religious myths. It clearly is a problem caused by religious belief.
Categories: Science and Society
September 25, 2011
by Adam Frank
The news traveled at ... well ... light speed. On Thursday afternoon the AP reported scientists' claim of a possible violation of Einstein's famous second postulate: nothing travels faster than light. Within hours every news outlet had a piece running on their homepage. I did an early version of the reporting for NPR, punching the story together before I went to teach my Milky Way course. This news was that big, that important.
Now the world is waiting for science to do its thing. We wait for more experiments; we wait for the checks, the double check and the triple checks. In the end the process will shine a brighter light on the world's foundations just as it did when Einstein overturned centuries of Newtonian physics.
All of us are waiting together: Republicans and Democrats; evangelical Christians and the "spiritual but not religious"; economic doves and social policy hawks. We are all waiting for science to answer the question. We are all waiting for the process of science to run its course and we all trust science to determine the right answer.
So why then are we sill arguing about climate change, where science has already answered the question? Likewise, how can any presidential candidate still publicly challenge Evolution and not be booed off the stage? The same process we all agree will get us closer to the truth for relativity lies at the root of our understanding of climate and evolution.
Yes, the science of oceans and atmosphere has a more complex system to deal with than relativity. But the methods, checks and balances are all the same. Ditto for evolution. Science works because over the last 500 years we have learned how to enter into an authentic discussion with nature. It does not matter whether the topic is relativity or ribosomes, climate change or the change of moving reference frames.
As I have written before, there is a difference between skepticism and denial. Unless the climate deniers and the evolution deniers want to claim this whole "speed of light" thing is just another hoax then they are changing their tune depending on their audience.
So how should we think about climate, evolution and relativity? To paraphrase the great philosopher Muddy Waters (though he wasn't talking 'bout science) "Its all that same ol' thing."
A CALL TO BAN CREATIONISM IN BRITISH SCHOOLS
A group of scientists in the United Kingdom is calling for a "statutory and enforceable" ban on teaching creationism in Britain's publicly funded schools, as well as for evolution to be included "at both primary and secondary levels in the National Curriculum and in all schools." Among the signatories to the statement are David Attenborough, Richard Dawkins, Steve Jones, Harold Kroto, Paul Nurse (the president of the Royal Society of London), Michael Reiss, and Lewis Wolpert, as well as the Association for Science Education, the British Humanist Association, the British Science Association, the Campaign for Science and Engineering, and Ekklesia.
In 2007, after a series of controversies about the place of creationism in the science classroom in Britain, the Department for Children, Schools, and Families issued "Guidance on the place of creationism and intelligent design in science lessons," which stated, "Creationism and intelligent design are sometimes claimed to be scientific theories. This is not the case as they have no underpinning scientific principles, or explanations, and are not accepted by the science community as a whole. Creationism and intelligent design therefore do not form part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study."
But not all concerns were allayed. Creationist organizations such as Truth in Science and Creation Ministries International continued to circulate material to teachers and to present their views at schools. And according to the Guardian (September 19, 2011), "There is no definitive data on the number of UK schools which teach creationism. ... A 2006 survey by Opinionpanel found that nearly 20% of UK students said they had been taught creationism as fact by their main school." (Creationism was defined in the Opinionpanel report as the view that "God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years.")
Moreover, there were concerns that "free schools" -- a relatively new phenomenon, resembling charter schools in the United States -- planned to teach creationism. Although the Department for Children, Education, and Schools promised to reject any free school proposing to teach creationism in the science curriculum, the group of scientists calling for the ban observed that there is no way to keep the department to its promise or to ensure that a free school, once approved, would not change its mind and begin to teach creationism. Since such schools do not need to follow the National Curriculum, they could also neglect the teaching of evolution.
The call for the ban on teaching creationism is not without precedent. As NCSE reported in May 2011, a new campaign -- Creationism In Schools Isn't Science, or CrISIS -- petitioned the government to enforce its stated position on the teaching of creationism, arguing, "that creationism should not be presented as a valid scientific position, nor creationist websites and resources be promoted, in publicly funded schools or in any youth activities run on publicly funded school premises." Endorsed by the National Secular Society, Ekklesia, and the British Centre for Science Education, CrISIS garnered over 5000 signatures to its petition.
For the statement calling for the ban on creationism, visit:
For the article in the Guardian, visit:
For the Opinionpanel poll, visit:
For the CrISIS petition, visit:
And for NCSE's previous coverage of events outside the United States
and Canada, visit:
A NEW CNN/ORC POLL ON EVOLUTION
A new CNN/ORC poll included a question about evolution, with few surprises in the results. Asked "Do you believe that the theory of evolution is definitely true, probably true, probably false, or definitely false," 21% of respondents favored definitely true, 36% favored probably true, 16% favored probably false, 25% favored definitely false, and 3% offered no opinion, the poll report (p. 6) indicated. The report also indicated (p. 15) that evolution was more popular among Democrats than Republicans (with 67% versus 35% regarding it as definitely or probably true), among the college-educated than the non-college-educated (64% versus 46%), and among those under 50 than those 50 and older (60% versus 52%). The poll was conducted by telephone among 1038 adult Americans from September 9 to September 11, 2011; the margin of sampling error for results based on the total sample is +/- 3%.
For the poll report (PDF), visit:
CANADIAN FEDERATION OF EARTH SCIENCES ADDS ITS VOICE FOR EVOLUTION
The chorus of support for the teaching of evolution continues, with a statement from the Canadian Federation of Earth Sciences, "the unified voice for earth science in Canada."
"Creationism and ["intelligent design"] do not qualify as science, because the scientific method is not deployed and these ideas are therefore not theories or hypotheses in universally accepted scientific sense," the statement explains. "Hence, Creationism and ID do not belong in any K-12 science curriculum."
The Canadian Federation of Earth Sciences'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 CFES's statement (PDF), visit:
For Voices for 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.
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11:00 PM, Sep. 23, 2011
Written by Ned Myers Guest Columnist
Filed Under Opinions Columnists - Opinion
On Aug. 30, a column written by Charles C. Haynes, entitled, "Schools can't teach religion as science, even in the Bible Belt" appeared in The DNJ. In his column, Mr. Haynes points out that American public school students place 23rd in scientific literacy when compared to 34 other developed nations.
A strong case can be made that one reason for this poor showing is that we teach evolution as science. Webster's dictionary defines science as, "Knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws, especially as obtained and tested through scientific method." Macro evolution, whereby one species evolves into another, falls short of this definition. Evolution cannot be considered a general truth because it cannot be experimentally tested or proven by using scientific methods. Anyone who doubts this is encouraged to research for themselves the so called 'evidence' for evolution. (The book "Icons of Evolution" by Dr. Jonathan Wells would be an excellent place to start.) The 'evidence' is littered with misinterpretations of data (Miller-Urey) and out-an-out fakes (Haeckel's embryos and the so-called 'peppered moths') are typical examples.
True science is the noble pursuit of truth no matter where the evidence leads. However, evolution presupposes that there is no Creator. Therefore, any evidence that refutes evolution is either ignored or forced to fit the presupposition. Charles Darwin in his 1859 book "The Origin of the Species by Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life" (Sounds a bit racist doesn't it?) states, "I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings." Or, as believed by current evolutionists: all plant and animal life, including humans, is descendant from a single ancestor.
Darwin did not have sufficient scientific evidence to make this statement. Therefore, he is stating his philosophy about the origin of life and not a scientifically proven fact. However, to his credit, Darwin did admit that, "No one ought to feel surprise at much remaining as yet unexplained in regard to the origin of species and varieties, if he makes due allowance for our profound ignorance in regard to the mutual relations of all the beings which live around us." One hundred and fifty years later, this is still a true statement. Many people, including many scientists, believe that much evidence points to a Creator.
How foolish we are! We admire and acknowledge the design and engineering evident in our computers and smart phones while ignoring the design and engineering evident in our brains which are much more powerful! We admire and acknowledge the creative beauty of a painting or sculpture and yet ignore the Creator in the beauty of flowers and sunsets!
Make no mistake the argument isn't about natural selection or descent with modification. These processes are scientifically observable within individual species. The argument is whether these mechanisms brought about the vast diversity of plant and animal life, including humans, from a single living ancestor. Many think not.
The Darwinist's have gained control of our educational system. It is their desire to indoctrinate our children and young people with a Godless philosophy regarding the origin of life. This is why our public schools teach evolution as science. The result is that children and young adults are not taught to think critically or to think outside the evolutionary box. Their First Amendment freedom of speech and freedom of religion rights are also violated on a daily basis.
If we as a nation hope to improve our science education, we must replace the current failed educational leadership and begin to focus on real science such as biology (unencumbered by Darwinian dogma), botany, physics, astronomy, chemistry, and engineering.
Ned Myers is a resident of Blake Court in Murfreesboro.
September 24, 2011 9:00 AM
To the editor:
Rick Perry, in response to a question about evolution from a 9-year-old, responded: "That's a theory that is out there and it's got some gaps in it."
Upon hearing of his response, Richard Dawkins (a foremost atheist and ardent defender of the theory of evolution) decided to write a response to Rick Perry's statement.
Dawkins responds by demeaning not only Rick Perry but all of the Republican candidates by calling them uneducated fools and uneducated ignoramuses. When someone has to resort to name-calling in order to make a point, I always wonder why such vitriol could emanate from the mouths of such civilized, educated intellects as a Richard Dawkins.
Be that as it may, it is interesting to note that not only did he demean Rick Perry and all the Republicans since Theodore Roosevelt, he also demeaned anyone that would support such candidates and anyone who would have the audacity to question his theory of evolution.
He goes even further by belittling our system of electing our representatives. "There is surely something wrong with a system for choosing a leader when, given a pool of such talent and a process that occupies more than a year and consumes billions of dollars, what rises to the top of the heap is George W. Bush. Or when the likes of Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin can be mentioned as even remote possibilities."
Maybe he knows of some better system than ours, such as the parliamentary system of election practiced in his home country. I for one would not trade our system for theirs even though ours, just as theirs, has flaws as any human institution would have.
Perhaps he should check on some of these uneducated fools and ignoramuses and he would find that among the candidates running some have doctorates, others have masters and others have law degrees (at least one has two law degrees). I hardly would refer to such a group as this as being uneducated.
Dawkins must also be aware that there are many scientists holding Ph.D.s in various sciences including biology that agree with Perry on the fact that there are gaps in the theory of evolution. If Dawkins does not know that there are gaps in this theory, then one would wonder who is the uneducated ignoramus.
Note that nowhere in his response does he address these gaps and defend his position, he just seeks to berate anyone who opposes what he believes. Would that be because he knows there are gaps in the theory and he is incensed at anyone who would have the temerity to question the supposed fact that evolution is true?
Anyone who has studied evolution on any level should know that there are vast gaps in the theory. For one where is the un-broken chain of transitional forms that must have existed in order to get from one species to another, i.e. from a lizard to a chicken. This lack of fossil or living record is missing on every level whether from ape to man or from bear to whale.
How about the transitional forms that would have to have existed in order to evolve into an eye that works with its infinite complexity and dependence upon each part in order to work. They simply do not exist or have not been discovered in the 100-plus years that they have searched diligently to find, but to no avail.
Dawkins' assertion that not accepting evolution as truth would hamper science is ludicrous. I personally support scientific research, but when you hamstring said research by accepting as fact a theory that most definitely has gaps in it without questioning those gaps, and requiring everyone in science to do so without open and honest discourse, then who is it that is doing damage to science?
I do believe in God and that he created all that exists in our world. I also support the continued research in various scientific fields to help us understand more completely this complex and wonderful universe in which we live.
Close-mindedness exists on both sides of this debate, and open and honest dialog and research is the only way to learn the truth.
Posted: 9/23/11 10:56 AM ET
Author, The Day Without Yesterday: Lemaitre, Einstein and the Birth of Modern Cosmology
Not two pages into Jonathan Wells' new book, The Myth of Junk DNA, the reader comes across the bold statement that speciation by natural selection has never been observed, and a few pages later that Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, "found Darwin's theory unpersuasive, and Darwinists ignored his theory for half a century."
In fact, Mendel was not at all unpersuaded by Darwin's arguments for the fact of evolution ("descent with modification") or his theory of natural selection to explain it. As geneticist Daniel J. Fairbanks wrote in his book Relics of Eden, he not only read Origin of Species, he was aware of the significance that his own studies on garden peas meant for the evolutionary theory. What Mendel did find unpersuasive was Darwin's later enthusiasm for pangenesis as a mode of inheritance. Wells seems to have misread his history.
As for speciation never being observed, this, too, would come as a shock to anyone familiar with the extensive work being done in the field by H. Allen Orr and by Matthew L. Niemiller, for two examples. But Wells is being very selective in this book, defining evolution by natural selection alone. As we will see, he is quite careful to avoid discussing the other mechanisms of evolution.
So, the reader is not encouraged by inaccuracies like this so early on in the book.
The Myth of Junk DNA is published by Discovery Institute Press, a branch of the Discovery Institute, the creationist-funded organization in Seattle for which Wells works. The book makes two claims. The first is that since the 1970s, avid "Darwinists" have assumed that all non-coding DNA was functionless junk, and that this was further evidence for a notoriously "unguided" process of evolution. But now, to everyone's surprise, Wells argues, researchers are finding that much of the non-coding sequences in the human genome turn out to have interesting functions after all.
In Chapter 5, for example ("Pseudogenes -- Not So Pseudo After All"), Wells cites recent research showing that some pseudogenes, no-longer functional duplicates of coding genes, are turning out to have real functions. This is fine. But -- he fails to point out what a trivial percentage this represents against the 20,000 other pseudogenes (and transposable elements) littered throughout the genome for which scientists have found no apparent functions. Pseudogenes themselves are in the genomic minority: nearly half of the human genome consists of "transposable elements", DNA sequences that can make copies of themselves. One such transposable element, called Alu, is present in more than 1 million copies in each human genome. At the end of this chapter, the reader is left with the misleading impression that biologists are well on their way to finding functions for the entire human genome.
Secondly, Wells claims that because of his first point, that uncritical "Darwinists" were wrong about the non-functionality of so many genes for so long, there is good reason to believe that Darwin's theory itself is in serious dispute.
In contrast, as genomic specialists like T. Ryan Gregory (whose work on genome size Wells walks around very gingerly indeed) have long pointed out, scientific views on the proportion of the genome that is functional are diverse, and that discussions about functions for all sorts of DNA elements have been prominent in the scientific literature for decades. You would never learn this from Wells' book.
Genomes with no junk, for example, do not necessarily imply intelligent design; they would fit quite well with the view of those biologists, like Richard Dawkins, who argue that natural selection really is the prime driver of evolution -- because if junk DNA really were functionless, presumably natural selection would have weeded out those organisms that have too much of it. Indeed, this has been the default assumption for many biologists since the discovery of DNA that does not encode proteins.
On the other hand, the presence of copious amounts of junk DNA fits well with those biologists who think the other mechanisms of evolution, such as genetic drift or the spread of transposable elements, are major drivers of genome evolution, and that much apparently useless DNA would pass on from one generation to the next, as long as it was not overly harmful to reproductive fitness.
This is not a trivial point. Wells never discusses anything other than natural selection. He carefully avoids the other mechanisms of evolution. One looks in vain, for example, of any account of genetic drift or neutral theory. It's not even listed in the index. Why? Perhaps because both of these mechanisms are highly stochastic, or random: the really unpredictable, chancy mechanisms of evolution that creationists object to the most. And pseudogenes are generated randomly.
To his credit, Wells often points out that the authors of the large number of papers he cites are themselves not moved to doubt evolution because of their work.
That said, it's simply bizarre to read an author who rejects one of the bedrock principles of Darwin's theory -- common ancestry, but is nevertheless happy to cite evidence for common ancestry when it's convenient to his argument. In chapter 4, ("Introns and the Splicing Code", p. 42), we're told that "In 2007, Europeans scientists found eleven sequences in the introns of a gene involved in organ development that were conserved from pufferfish to humans."
Conserved from pufferfish to humans. That is: gene sequences preserved across quite a stretch of the tree of life and across many species -- being cited favorably by a creationist who... rejects common ancestry. But perhaps Wells doesn't think his readers will notice the irony.
Finally, there is throughout the book a distracting anti-science rhetoric and attacks on scientists who have provided some of the nicest confirmations of predictions based on evolutionary theory.
In the appendix, for example, "The Vitamin C Pseudogene", Wells attacks both University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne and Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller for citing the GULO gene as evidence for evolution.
The so-called GULO sequence codes for an enzyme that, along with three others, helps many animals synthesize vitamin C. Humans, and several relatives on the primate tree, have an inactivated version of the gene, with the result that we can't synthesize our own vitamin C, and we need to eat foods with the vitamin to make up for what would be a crippling deficiency.
How is this related to evolution? We share this inactivated gene with our closest relatives. Not only do chimpanzees have the same inactivated gene, it lies on the same corresponding chromosome. Coyne and Miller have rightly pointed out that this is powerful evidence of common ancestry. Miller also pointed out in his book Only a Theory, that the inactivation of this gene in some but not all animals poses a puzzle to ID theorists. Wells takes exception to this, claiming, implausibly, that ID would be fine with a random scattering of mutated genes in some species but not others. He justifies this by citing an idea he himself does not take seriously: the fanciful speculation of ID proponent Michael Behe that life started with a single cell that was front-loaded with all the genetic code needed to produce all descendant organisms on Earth. (Wells, Casey Luskin, William Dembski, and other leading figures at the Discovery Institute all reject common ancestry.)
He further writes: "In addition to mischaracterizing ID, Miller went well beyond the published scientific evidence available at the time. For example, as of 2008 (when Miller's book appeared), there were no published data on the gorilla's need for dietary vitamin C."
This is false. Wells may not have been able to find any published evidence on the need for vitamin C in the diet of the gorilla, but it exists.
Linus Pauling wrote about this in 1970 ("Evolution and the Need for Ascorbic Acid," PNAS 67: 1643), and cited an earlier 1949 paper by G. H. Bourne in support of the observation that gorillas do indeed have a need for significant amounts of vitamin C in their diets.
Further, it was, in fact, general knowledge that humans' primate relatives also need vitamin C when Ohta and Nishikimi published their 1999 paper (Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1472: 408) in which they noted that "humans, other primates, and guinea pigs" cannot synthesize vitamin C. In their study they noted that their results "provide molecular evidence that the primates' loss of GLO which resulted in the incapability of vitamin C synthesis goes back to dates at least before separation of apes and old world monkeys."
In other words, Miller's statement that gorillas do indeed need vitamin C -- just as would be predicted by evolutionary theory -- was well-established in the literature when Miller wrote his book.
To close: The Myth of Junk DNA cannot be recommended for anyone who takes evolutionary biology seriously. But it will do what the Discovery Institute wants it to do: provide further rationalizations for creationists who loath common ancestry, who loath natural selection, who loath indeed the whole process that led to the generation of what Darwin called "endless forms most beautiful."
Would you rather an indifferent or a passionately wrong child in the science classroom? Let's not simply sneer at Darwin deniers
Posted by Andrew Brown Thursday 22 September 2011 10.37 EDT guardian.co.uk
Yes yes, we're all agreed that evolution is true, and that the biblical (or Qur'anic) accounts of creation are literally false and should not be taught any other way in science classes. This has been the case for at least the last 50 years. Yet studies show that the number of creationists, or at least those who deny or fail to understand the fact of evolution, is very large among the adult population. Last year's Theos study, for example, showed something like 40% of the UK's adult population unclear on the concept. There are also stupefying numbers for the proportion of the British population who think, or who at least will assent to the proposition, that the Earth is around 10,000 years old.
This is quite clearly not a problem caused by religious belief. Even if we assume that all Muslims are creationists, and all Baptists, they would only be one in 10 of the self-reported creationists or young Earthers. What we have here is essentially a failure, on a quite staggering scale, of science and maths education. The people who think the Earth is 10,000 years old are essentially counting like the trolls in Terry Pratchett: "one, lots, many". Ten thousand is to them a figure incalculably huge.
I don't think this particular innumeracy matters nearly as much as the related inability to calculate that, say 29.3% annual interest on credit card debt is in many ways a much larger and more dangerous number than 10,000 years. But you can't blame either flaw on religious belief.
You could perhaps blame it on human nature. There is a lot of good research to show that children are natural creationists, who suppose that there is purpose to the world, and that we have evolved that way. That needn't worry teachers terribly much. A great deal of the world that science reveals is absurdly counter-intuitive and in one sense the whole purpose of education is to lead children away from the "folk beliefs" that they develop naturally.
But sometimes these folk beliefs, or intuitions, are elaborated into scientifically testable schemes even empirically testable ones. Then you can test them. You can drop a heavy ball and a light one from a tower and see which one if either reaches the ground first. You can test to see if spontaneous generation occurs or if geese hatch out of barnacles. You can prove mistaken theories are wrong. "Creationism" in the modern sense is just such an elaboration; and the question occurs is it something which should be welcomed when it is found among pupils?
The distinction I am making here is one between being wrong, as the biblical creationist or intelligent designer is, and not even getting that far, like the wholly irreligious child who leaves school thinking, if he thinks about it at all, that the Earth is around 10,000 years old, and dinosaurs and cavemen probably did live side by side.
The question, then, is which kind of pupil does more harm in the science classroom. Is it the passionately wrong child, or the dully indifferent one? Which would you rather argue with, and which argument would teach the rest of the class more?
This may be a wholly unrealistic question, because it depends on the classroom working as a place where facts and argument are respected. Obviously, there are lots of places where this doesn't hold. If the whole thing becomes an exercise in challenging the authority of the teacher, then it's completely pointless.
But let's assume a classroom that has already taught the fundamentals of learning: where facts are true, whether you like them or not, and where arguments are examined on their merits, and not on the political force behind them.
In such a hypothetical classroom, is it really a catastrophe if some child comes in and says that he knows evolution is false and gives some wholly spurious scientific explanation? That at least can be argued against, informatively. And it has been. The experiment I am describing has to some extent already been played out over the last 30 years, on the internet. There, the arguments between "scientific creationists" and real scientists have resulted in the creation of a vast collection of arguments and facts showing that evolution is in fact observable, and, in a word, true.
Some of that must have changed people's minds or provided useful and vivid teaching material. That couldn't have happened without the development of creationist intuitions into pseudo-scientific hypotheses. It really is an inspiring example of good ideas triumphing over bad ones or it would be, if there had been any notable diminution of the number of creationists in the last 30 years.
So perhaps we could stipulate that this material could be produced without sneering at the intellect and character, and without the ambition to crush their egos as well as to prove them wrong ah, but that would require a different kind of education, in another classroom.
Posted on: September 23, 2011 9:10 AM, by Ed Brayton
While Kent Hovind serves time in the big house -- and no, I don't mean U of M's football stadium -- he has others continuing his perfect track record of saying things that are either utterly dishonest or mind-numbingly idiotic. One of them is Paul Taylor, who is now attacking Sir David Attenborough in the same moronic way that ol' Kent would if he wasn't busy talking to God in prison.
He begins with this rather amusing statement:
The majority of discoveries of the modern scientific era were made by people who believed the book of Genesis to be true. Does this not matter to education?
Uh, yeah, If you define the "modern scientific era" to have ended before the 20th century. And no, it doesn't matter at all to education, or to science. There are scientists all over the world with every imaginable view on religion -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, etc. -- and they are all held to exactly the same standard. Their work is either valid and supported by the evidence or it is not -- and their religious views have no bearing on that question at all.
Taylor then goes on to claim, bizarrely, that if creationism was banned in British schools "we would cease to produce scientists from English schools." Huh?
First Posted: 9/22/11 10:58 AM ET Updated: 9/22/11 10:58 AM ET
By Lauren Markoe
Religion News Service
WASHINGTON (RNS) White evangelicals and Tea Party members are less likely to believe in evolution and climate change than most Americans, a finding that could pose a particular problem for Republican presidential hopefuls.
A new poll released Thursday (Sept. 22) also showed that a majority of Americans (57 percent) believes in evolution, and an even larger majority (69 percent) believes in climate change -- though many still disagree that the phenomenon is based on human activity.
But most Americans do not insist that their presidential candidates share their views on these issues, nor do they believe scientists have come to a consensus on them, according to the poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service.
The views of white evangelicals and Tea Party members stand apart.
Even though these issues aren't deal-breakers for most voters, they are "symbolically important for two groups that play an outsize role in Republican primary politics: white evangelical Protestants and members of the Tea Party," said Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI.
"Because evangelicals and Tea Party members hold views that are significantly different than the general population, the challenge for Republican candidates is to talk about these issues now in a way that will not hurt them later in the general election," Jones said.
On evolution, a third (32 percent) of white evangelicals affirm a belief in evolution, compared to two-thirds of white mainline
Protestants, six in 10 Catholics and three-quarters of the unaffiliated.
On climate change, though strong majorities in every religious group say they believe the earth is getting warmer, white evangelicals (31 percent) are significantly less likely to believe the change is caused by human activity. That compares to 43 percent of white mainline Protestants, 50 percent of Catholics and 52 percent of the unaffiliated.
The poll reveals an unusual political schism on climate change. Typically, Republicans come down on one side of a question, Democrats on the other, and independents in the middle, said Dan Cox, PRRI's research director.
On climate change, Republicans (49 percent) cluster with Tea Party members (41 percent) on whether there is solid evidence that the earth is warming. That compares to 81 percent of Democrats and seven in 10 independents.
"There is no reason for climate change to be a partisan issue," said Cox. "But the political leadership on the issue has led to a polarization of opinion, with Democrats and independents on one side and Republicans on the other."
Many Americans say they do not care much about a candidate's stance on either evolution or climate change: more than half (53 percent) say a belief or disbelief in evolution wouldn't affect their vote, and about as many say the same about a candidate who doesn't believe climate change is caused by human activity.
White evangelicals, however, care.
Only four in 10 evangelicals say a candidate's views on evolution would make no difference in their vote, and those who say they cared about a candidate's position say they would be less likely to vote for someone who believes in evolution. By contrast, Americans overall who cared about evolution say they'd be more likely to vote for a politician who believes in it.
Tea Party members (33 percent), more than any other group, are more likely to support a candidate who does not believe in climate change. That compares to 16 percent of Republicans and 5 percent of Democrats.
Americans also doubt a strong consensus exists among scientists on climate change, a phenomenon that has frustrated the vast majority of climatologists who consider it a problem caused by human activity. Only four in 10 Americans believe a consensus exists.
A slight majority (51 percent) says a consensus of scientists believes in evolution, though evolution is overwhelmingly endorsed throughout the scientific community.
In other findings:
The PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey was based on telephone interviews with 1,013 adults between Sept. 14 and 18. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Last updated at 15:06, Wednesday, 21 September 2011
It is a war that has been waged for more than 150 years now. In one corner are the followers of Charles Darwin, who first developed the theory of evolution that the world and its different species emerged gradually over millions of years by natural selection.
In the other are fundamentalist Christians who insist that the description in the Book of Genesis, of God creating the world and each distinct species within six days, is literally true.
Now the latest battle in the evolution-versus-Genesis war has broken out.
Two organisations, Truth in Science and Creation Ministries International, are arguing for creationism to be included in school science classes.
And according to a 2009 survey, most adults agree. The survey found that 54 per cent of adults believe creationism and intelligent design the idea that evolution was guided by God should be included in school science. That's a higher proportion than in the USA.
So this week a counter-attack began, with a letter signed by 30 prominent scientists including broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and outspoken atheist Professor Richard Dawkins. It urges the Government to take a tough line against schools that present creationism as if it is science.
They say there is no scientific basis for creationism or intelligent design so they have no place in science lessons.
So should the Book of Genesis be expelled?
The evolution versus creationism war tends to be seen as a conflict between religion and science, but Alan Meyer embodies both.
He is senor minister at Elim Community Church in Carlisle and also a former pharmacist so has a scientific background himself.
Christians themselves hold differing views about creation but Rev Meyer's personal view is that the message in the Book of Genesis of a world created in six days is not meant to be scientific fact.
"You can't use Genesis as a science textbook," he says.
He supports the idea of intelligent design and says that since intelligent design and creationism are widely held views, they ought to be mentioned in school science as ideas for consideration.
"Evolution is sometimes presented as an argument against God, but evolution doesn't necessarily mean that there is no God," Rev Meyer says.
"The weight of scientific evidence supports evolution, but there is still a strong base of people who would argue for both intelligent design in general, and God creating humanity in particular."
Besides, he adds, bringing up questions of creationism or intelligent design is inevitable: "In the current climate it would be naive not to.
"The danger in not mentioning them is to assume that they're unimportant or don't matter.
"If I was teaching chemistry I would have to talk about its application in the modern world, and if discussing biology it is inevitable that we discuss the implications for people across the world, the vast majority of whom believe and recognise the existence of God, or a spiritual realm."
To Dr Christine Allen, former secretary of Cumbria Humanist Group, the idea that creationism should come up in science is ridiculous.
She regards the Genesis account of creation as a myth, just as all religions and cultures have their own creation myths and myths cannot be presented as scientific fact.
She also argues that religion is largely obsolete. To her, it once had three functions to explain what can't be explained, to give us rules over how to behave towards one another, and to exercise political power.
The Genesis description of creation once fulfilled the first of these functions explaining the unknown but now science had taken over the job instead.
"The Bible is not science so there's no way it should be taught in science lessons," Dr Allen says.
"It's like asking whether Father Christmas should be taught in science classes. Of course not. All religions have creation myths the Greek and Hindu gods are examples to explain the unknown, just as they have morality fables to define social mores.
"Now we have science to explain what couldn't be explained. We should have grown out of it by now."
Religion is already promoted in schools and that too is controversial. It is the law of the land that state-funded schools include a collective act of worship every day, but opponents say it amounts to religious indoctrination, and forcing anyone to perform any act of worship is wrong.
But religion in science classes is different, as Alan Mottershead, head teacher of Trinity School in Carlisle, agrees.
"I wouldn't expect our science teachers to teach creationism as a possible explanation of life, the universe and everything," the head teacher says. "In religious studies the big questions are raised, and there are different descriptions of the beginning of everything in Christianity and in other religions. But science teachers couldn't be required to teach them."
Yet it would be impossible to eliminate any mention of creationism or intelligent design from science classes just as it would be impossible to ban pupils from asking questions.
"I'm sure science teachers get asked: 'What do you think, sir?' We don't want to ban ideas but we need to know that they are ideas."
Like Mr Mottershead, the Archdeacon of West Cumberland, the Venerable Richard Pratt, believes both evolution and Genesis belong in schools one in science lessons, the other in religious studies.
But he does point out that it is wrong to be dogmatic about evolution: "Evolution is the best description we have at the moment.
"But it is a scientific theory and all scientific theories are provisional."
Just as Isaac Newton's view of the universe was improved upon by Einstein, so future scientists could improve on evolution.
Teaching the Book of Genesis matters too, the archdeacon adds, even if it isn't factual because it teaches us other lessons.
"It asks questions about free will, and about where good and evil come from, and the part of human beings in the created order.
"That's something that's really important when we consider the role human beings have in destroying elements of the natural world or damaging the climate."
And though they belong in separate subject areas, evolution and the Bible can be seen as different perspectives on the same thing.
"A police description of a wanted person, and a description of that person in a job reference, are going to be very different because they are doing different jobs. But they go together. Evolution and the Genesis story can complement each other in the same way."
First published at 11:26, Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk
Sep 20, 2011 by Al Webb
LONDON (RNS) A group of 30 leading scientists, including a Nobel laureate and a prominent atheist professor, are pressing the British government to ban all teaching of creationism in the nation's publicly funded schools.
The scientists delivered a petition to the coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron as part of a new campaign to make it illegal to teach the biblical story of creationism as a scientific theory in schools.
Official government policy is opposed to creationism in school curricula and has issued guidelines against teaching it, but officials have stopped short of legally barring it from state-funded institutions. The scientists' campaign urges that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution be taught in all schools at both the primary and secondary levels.
Among the signatories to their petition is Paul Nurse, a Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine, and atheist professor Richard Dawkins.
"We need to stop calling evolution a theory," Dawkins said recently. "In the ordinary language sense of the word, it is a fact ... as solidly demonstrated as any fact in science."
The British Humanist Association is among the groups calling for the teaching of evolution in all schools in Britain.
"It has never been more urgent for concrete steps to be taken to ensure that all state schools teach evolutionism, and not creationism, and we urge the government to implement the simple and sensible measures" in the scientists' petition, BHA chief executive Andrew Copson said.
JOHN MILBURN, Associated Press
Updated 03:48 p.m., Tuesday, September 20, 2011
[Editor's note: Please notice that Texas is not included in this list of states.]
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) Kansas has been named one of 20 lead states to help write academic science standards that could be used as a national model for public schools and will include requirements for teaching evolution, project leaders announced Tuesday.
The state-led collaboration was assembled by the National Research Council, part of the National Academy of Sciences, and a nonprofit education reform organization called Achieve. The effort is similar to one developed through the National Governors Association that led to the so-called common core standards in English and mathematics that were adopted by a majority of states, including Kansas.
"Kansas will have an increased opportunity to have its voice heard as these standards come together and will reap the benefits of collaboration with other states," state Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker said.
States have used standards developed by the National Research Council and the American Academy for the Advancement of Science to create their state standards. The new effort attempts to coordinate what is taught across states to improve science education nationally.
It also will allow Kansas, only a few years removed from a heated public fight over the teaching of evolution in public schools, the chance to establish itself as a leader in science curriculum. The State Board of Education approved the department's application to be part of the national discussion.
Dana Tofig, spokesman for Achieve, said Kansas was chosen in part because of its willingness to commit staff to the writing process, gather feedback and to consider adopting the standards once complete.
"We are aware that there was a debate (about teaching evolution) in Kansas and other areas of the country," Tofig said. "Evolution will be in the next generation of science standards."
The Kansas science curriculum has drawn national attention in the past when conservatives on the education board pushed through science testing standards skeptical of evolution. They last succeeded in 2005, but two years later, with moderates controlling the board again, the current evolution-friendly standards were adopted.
A condition of being selected a lead state requires the Kansas State Board of Education to consider adopting the new standard when updates are completed in 2014. The standards outline what concepts and processes students must be taught, such as scientific methods and theories.
Other lead states are Arizona, California, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.
Tofig said all 20 states that applied to be on the writing team were accepted because of the level of commitment and resources they were willing to offer.
Developing the new standards is a two-step process. In July, organizers released core ideas and practices in natural sciences and engineering that students are expected to learn by the time the graduate from high school. Then, Kansas and the other lead writing states will take that framework and help develop the new science standards.
States will gather feedback from science teachers, scientists and the public before the standards are completed and presented to all 50 states for approval by the end of 2012. As part of the process, each participating state board of education will be allowed to nominate representatives of business and industry to review the drafts.
The draft will be approved by Achieve and the National Research Council, then submitted to states for their consideration. States can then adopt the standards in whole, or modify them to fit their needs.
The Times September 20, 2011
Editor, the Times:
The substance of John Redekop's argument is weak when he claims that a "quick computer check" somehow shows that a "large number of scientists, holding doctorate degrees, seriously doubt evolution."
North America has hundreds of thousands of scientists.
Redekop's "large" number counts only about 80 on a list that can be found on the Internet through Answers in Genesis.
I examined every single name on that list and their scientific areas. Many of the people have no connection to biology in general or to evolutionary theory in general.
Instead, those who "seriously doubt evolution" include a psychologist, a chemical engineer and an eye disease researcher. So what?
Other scientific areas of evolution doubters include hydrometallurgy, astronomy and linguistics. What have these unrelated areas to do with evolution in the first place?
The doubters list includes two food scientists, two plastic surgeons, two anthropologists, two philosophers, and two dentists. Two others are listed simply as "Educator."
Why should Redekop care whether a dentist or linguist seriously doubt evolution?
The Discovery Institute in Seattle also produced a list of evolution doubters, but some of the people hold doctorate degrees from obscure degree-mills.
After Answers in Genesis produced its not-so-large list, the National Center for Science Education created its parody called Project Steve. It names scientists, simply with the first name Steven or Stephen, who publicly endorse evolution.
A quick computer check can be made on the Steveo-meter webpage.
Project Steve now lists 1,168 scientists named Steven or Stephen supporting evolution.
Persons with such names represent only about one per cent of the American population.
So, we can extrapolate that there must actually be tens of thousands of more scientists, with different first names, who support evolution.
The small numbers from Answers in Genesis and the Discovery Institute look shrimpy.
Why would anyone trust philosophers and food scientists, anyway?
Project Steve is named after the late Stephen Jay Gould, a paleontologist from Harvard University.
Scientists signing up for Project Steve include Stephen Chu, Secretary of Energy in President Obama's cabinet.
A public drive in 2005 called "Scientific Support for Darwinism" produced 7,733 signatures of verifiable scientists in just four days.
Now that is truly quick.
© Copyright (c) Abbotsford Times
Sep 20, 2011 by Kev Hedges
Noted naturalist Sir David Attenborough has joined forces with atheist Richard Dawkins and other leading scientists in calling on the government to tackle the teaching in schools of "creationism".
The previous UK government, under its leader Gordon Brown, did issue guidance to all schools that the subject should not be taught to pupils. But they did not rubber-stamp the guidance into law and the new coalition government have been equally intransigent on the issue.
In a statement made on the new campaign website, Attenborough and Dawkins along with three Nobel laureates have demanded creationism and "intelligent design" be banned outright, reports the Telegraph UK. Other leading signatories include Prof Colin Blakemore, the neurobiologist, Sir Paul Nurse, the President of the Royal Society, and former Royal Society director of education Rev Prof Michael Reiss.
The statement calls not only for a ban on creationism in schools but for the teaching of evolution to be included at both primary and secondary levels in the National Curriculum and in all schools.
Most schools in England teach evolution anyway, the concept hailed by Charles Darwin that all living things developed from primitive organisms through a process of natural selection. Those, like Sir David, opposed to creationism and intelligent design teaching warn that these theories are not scientific, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly-funded schools.
However the arguments of creationists, who believe God built the world in six days in line with the story of Genesis, and of devout Muslims has been growing more popular in recent years. The British Humanist Association believe the threat of creationism and "intelligent design" being taught in schools is real and ongoing, "particularly as more and more schools are opened up to be run by religious fundamentalists", says Andrew Copson, chief executive of the BHA.
Joint statement on creationism and evolution in schools
Creationism and 'intelligent design'
Creationism and 'intelligent design' are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly-funded schools. There should be enforceable statutory guidance that they may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly-funded school of whatever type.
Organisations like 'Truth in Science' are encouraging teachers to incorporate 'intelligent design' into their science teaching. 'Truth in Science' has sent free resources to all Secondary Heads of Science and to school librarians around the country that seek to undermine the theory of evolution and have 'intelligent design' ideas portrayed as credible scientific viewpoints. Speakers from Creation Ministries International are touring the UK, presenting themselves as scientists and their creationist views as science at a number of schools.
The current government guidance that creationism and 'intelligent design' should not be taught in school science should be made statutory and enforceable. It also needs to be made comprehensive so that it is clear that any portrayal of creationism and 'intelligent design' as science (whether it takes place in science lessons or not) is unacceptable.
An understanding of evolution is central to understanding all aspects of biology. The teaching of evolution should be included at both primary and secondary levels in the National Curriculum and in all schools.
Currently, the study of evolution does not feature explicitly in the National Curriculum until year 10 (ages 14-15), but the government is overseeing a review of the whole curriculum with the revised National Curriculum for science being introduced in September 2012 to be made compulsory from 2013. Free Schools and Academies are not obliged to teach the National Curriculum and so are under no obligation to teach about evolution at all.
by Daniel Clery on 19 September 2011, 3:17 PM
Thirty prominent U.K. scientists today released a statement raising concern about the teaching of creationism in British publicly-funded schools. They highlight organizations that are visiting schools and sending them teaching materials that question the validity of evolution and promote "intelligent design" as an alternative theory. They argue that current government advice that creationism and intelligent design should not be taught in school science lessons needs to be made statutory and enforceable.
The list of signatories to the statement includes figures such as naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough, neuroscientist Colin Blakemore, transplant pioneer Roy Calne, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, chemist Harry Kroto, and geneticists Paul Nurse, Steve Jones, and John Sulston. It's also supported by various organizations, including the Association for Science Education, the British Science Association, and the British Humanist Association.
The warning comes at a time of change in U.K. education, as the first "free schools" begin teaching pupils. Free schools, introduced by the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat government, can be set up by nonprofit organizations, charities, or groups of parents. They receive funding from central government but are free from local government control, unlike normal state schools. They set their own curricula, so are not required to teach evolution, and are not prevented from teaching creationism. (The same applies to "academies," another type of independent state-funded school set up by the previous, Labour, government.)
According to today's statement, one organization, called Truth in Science, sent teaching materials to the heads of science and librarians of all secondary schools in the country that seek to undermine the theory of evolution. On its Web site, Truth in Science writes that "it is time for students to be permitted to adopt a more critical approach to Darwinism in science lessons. They should be exposed to the fact that there is a modern controversy over Darwin's theory of evolution and the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and that this has considerable social, spiritual, moral and ethical implications."
Another body, Creation Ministries International, has sent speakers presenting themselves as scientists to a number of schools. On its Web site, the group says "the scientific aspects of creation are important, but are secondary in importance to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer and Judge."
In their statement, the scientists argue that government guidance "needs to be made comprehensive so that it is clear that any portrayal of creationism and 'intelligent design' as science (whether it takes place in science lessons or not) is unacceptable."
By MICHAEL POWELL
OXFORD, England You walk out of a soft-falling rain into the living room of an Oxford don, with great walls of books, handsome art and, on the far side of the room, graceful windows onto a luxuriant garden.
Does this man, arguably the world's most influential evolutionary biologist, spend most of his time here or in the field? Prof. Richard Dawkins smiles faintly. He did not find fame spending dusty days picking at shale in search of ancient trilobites. Nor has he traipsed the African bush charting the sex life of wildebeests.
He gets little charge from such exertions.
"My interest in biology was pretty much always on the philosophical side," he says, listing the essential questions that drive him. "Why do we exist, why are we here, what is it all about?"
It is in no fashion to diminish Professor Dawkins, a youthful 70, to say that his greatest accomplishment has come as a profoundly original thinker, synthesizer and writer. His epiphanies follow on the heels of long sessions of reading and thought, and a bit of procrastination. He is an elegant stylist with a taste for metaphor. And he has a knack, a predisposition even, for assailing orthodoxy.
In his landmark 1976 book, "The Selfish Gene," he looked at evolution through a novel lens: that of a gene. With this, he built on the work of fellow scientists and flipped the prevailing view of evolution and natural selection on its head.
He has written a string of best sellers, many detailing his view of evolution as progressing toward greater complexity. (His first children's book, "The Magic of Reality," appears this fall.) With an intellectual pugilist's taste for the right cross, he rarely sidesteps debate, least of all with his fellow evolutionary biologists.
Although he is a political liberal, he has taken on more than a few leftists in his writings particularly those who read his theory of genes as sanctioning rapacious and selfish behavior.
Of late he has taken up the cudgel for atheism, writing "The God Delusion," an international best seller. When Martin Rees, Britain's astronomer royal, recently accepted a prize from the John Templeton Foundation, which promotes a dialogue between science and religion, Professor Dawkins was unforgiving. Dr. Rees, he wrote, is a "compliant quisling," a traitor to science. Dr. Rees declined to counterpunch.
Professor Dawkins often declines to talk in San Francisco and New York; these cities are too gloriously godless, as far as he is concerned. "As an atheistic lecturer, you are rather wasting your time," he says. He prefers the Bible Belt, where controversy is raw.
He insists he frets before each lecture. This is difficult to imagine. He is characteristically English in his fluid command of words written and spoken. (Perhaps this is an evolutionary adaptation all those cold, clammy English days firing an adjectival and syntactical genius?)
He is gracious without being gregarious. Ask him to explore an idea and he'll rummage happily. But he keeps the door to his private life firmly latched.
(Briefly, he has a daughter, who is a doctor. He is married for the third time, to the actress Lalla Ward. He is on friendly enough terms with his first wife, the zoologist Marian Stamp Dawkins, that she wrote an essay for a 2006 book celebrating her former husband's lifetime of accomplishment.)
Clinton Richard Dawkins was born in Kenya, where his father was an agricultural specialist with the colonial service. He later returned with his parents to England and in due course arrived at Oxford, an intelligent enough boy. "I didn't have a very starry school career," he says. "I was medium to above average, nothing special."
He lighted his own intellectual fire at a university peculiarly suited to his temperament. Oxford relies on the tutorial system, in which students burrow into original texts rather than textbooks.
"I loved it; I become easily temporarily obsessed," Professor Dawkins says. "I did not end up as broadly educated as my Cambridge colleagues, but I graduated probably better equipped to write a book on my chosen subject."
(From that experience he drew a dislike of the current establishment insistence bordering on mania for standardized tests and curriculums. He views this as antithetical to true learning.)
After graduating in 1962, he studied with Nikolaas Tinbergen, a Nobel-winning scientist, and taught at the University of California, Berkeley. He returned to Oxford in 1971. He was working out his thoughts on sociobiology, which took form a few years later in "The Selfish Gene."
At the time, the predominant popular view of evolution was that animals and insects worked together, albeit unconsciously, and that natural selection acted on individuals to do what was good for their species. Cooperation, again unconscious, seemed woven into nature.
Professor Dawkins's voice slides playfully into High David Attenborough style as he mimics the mellifluous tone of BBC documentaries of the time: "The dung beetle is the refuse collector of the natural system, and where would we be without them? And male deer fight but take care not to kill each other."
He stops. "That sort of thinking was pretty dominant in the culture." Artful pause. "And it's plain wrong. I wanted to correct that ubiquitous misunderstanding."
Genes, he says, try to maximize their chance of survival. The successful ones crawl down through the generations. The losers, and their hosts, die off. A gene for helping the group could not persist if it endangered the survival of the individual.
Such insights were in the intellectual air by the mid-1960s. But Professor Dawkins grasped the power of metaphor that selfish gene and so made the idea come alive. Andrew Read, a professor of natural history at Penn State, recalls reading "The Selfish Gene" and feeling his world change.
"Gone in a stroke was the intellectually barren 'it just is' hypothesis," he wrote in an essay. " 'The Selfish Gene' crystallized it and made it impossible to ignore."
Not everyone bought the argument. The moral implications proved deeply troubling, suggesting that altruism disguised selfish, gene-driven behavior. "Many readers experienced the book as a psychic trauma," wrote Dr. Randolph Nesse, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan. "It turned their moral worlds upside down."
Prominent scientists and intellectuals cast Professor Dawkins as the herald angel of a selfish culture, accusing him and his fellow sociobiologists of setting the cultural stage for the "I got mine" age of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin, a man of the political left, painted a picture out of a George Orwell novel. "If biological determinism is a weapon in the struggle between classes," he wrote with two other scientists, "then the universities are weapons factories, and their teaching and research faculties are the engineers, designers."
To Professor Dawkins, this badly distorted his science and his political leanings, which are resolutely liberal. (He opposed the Vietnam and Iraq wars, admires President Obama and votes most often with Labor. More recently, he voted for the Liberal Party in his district, as he admired the fact that the member of Parliament was insistently secular. The member lost in 2010, to an evangelical Conservative.) He was writing about the behavior of genes, not about psychological and emotional states.
Our glory as a species is that we can overcome our genetic impulses, he says, acknowledging that the book's title "perhaps lent itself to misunderstanding."
"It's not the selfish individual, and certainly not the selfish species," he says. "My book could have just as easily been called 'The Altruistic Individual.' "
But true to himself, he does not stop at this concession. "What would our critics have had us do, falsify the algebra?" he asks, and says of the criticism, "It was irritatingly stupid, actually."
Professor Dawkins's great intellectual conviction is that evolution is progressive, and tends to lead to more and more complexity. Species, in his view, often arrive at similar solutions to evolutionary puzzles the need for ears, eyes, arms or an octopus's tentacle. And, often although not invariably, bigger brains. So the saber-toothed tiger shows up as a cat in Europe and Asia, and as a marsupial in South America. Different species seized on the same carnivorous solution. (He most certainly does not, however, view evolution as progressing toward us, that is humans were we to disappear, some other species most likely would fill our evolutionary niche.)
"There are endless progressions in evolution," he says. "When the ancestors of the cheetah first began pursuing the ancestors of the gazelle, neither of them could run as fast as they can today.
"What you are looking at is the progressive evolutionary product of an arms race."
So it would be no great surprise if the interior lives of animals turned out to be rather complex. Do dogs, for example, experience consciousness? Are they aware of themselves as autonomous animals in their surroundings?
"Consciousness has to be there, hasn't it?" Professor Dawkins replies. "It's an evolved, emergent quality of brains. It's very likely that most mammals have consciousness, and probably birds, too."
(He has embraced the Princeton University philosopher Peter Singer's Great Ape Project, which would accord legal rights to apes, including a prohibition against torture.)
His theory of progressive evolution, it should be said, is controversial. Professor Dawkins had a single great rival in writing about evolutionary biology: Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard.
Professor Gould, who died in 2002, was adamant that evolution was contingent that while a species might progress in leaps and bounds, it was equally likely that it might reach a dead end, or regress. If a meteorite hit Earth and destroyed all intelligent life, he argued, the chances are vanishingly small that complex, intelligent life would evolve again.
As the writer Scott Rosenberg put it, Professor Gould saw our species as "simply a tiny accident occurring on a minor side-branch of the evolutionary tree."
The two evolutionary biologists had well-armored egos, their intellectual battles were spectacular, and they did not share laughs over pints afterward. Professor Dawkins acknowledged their prickly relationship in writing an appreciation of his rival, who died of cancer: "Gould and I did not tire the sun with talking and send him down in the sky."
Professor Dawkins feels more than a tinge of regret that he and Professor Gould did not appreciate each other more.
"Gould wanted to downgrade the conceit that it all progressed towards us, towards humans, and I fully approved of that," he says now, even as he makes sure to add, "But evolution most certainly is progressive."
There is a final cosmic joke to be had here.
The two men quarreled about everything save their shared atheism. But Professor Dawkins's closest intellectual ally on progressive evolution and convergence is Simon Conway Morris, the renowned Cambridge evolutionary paleontologist.
And Professor Morris, as it happens, is an Anglican and a fervent believer in a personal God. He sees convergence as hinting at a teleology, or intelligent architecture, in the universe.
Ask Professor Dawkins about his intellectual bedfellow, and his smile thins. "Yes, well, Simon and I have converged on the science," he says. "I should think in the world there are not two evolutionary scientists who could rival each other in their enthusiasm for convergence."
As to Professor Morris's religious faith? "I just don't get it."
Impatience With Religion
Aren't the theologian's questions Why are we here? Is there something larger than us? Why do we die? central to the human project?
Professor Dawkins shakes his head before the question is out. His impatience with religion is palpable, almost wriggling alive inside him. Belief in the supernatural strikes him as incurious, which is perhaps the worst insult he can imagine.
"Religion teaches you to be satisfied with nonanswers," he says. "It's a sort of crime against childhood."
And please spare him talk of spiritualism, as if that were the only way to meditate on the wonder of the universe. "If you look up at the Milky Way through the eyes of Carl Sagan, you get a feeling in your chest of something greater than yourself," he says. "And it is. But it's not supernatural."
It is a measure of Britain's more resolutely secular culture that Professor Dawkins can pursue his atheism and probing, provocative views of Islam and Christianity in several prime-time television documentaries. In one, he interviewed young women in a Muslim school that receives state funds.
"One said her ambition was to be a doctor. But she explicitly said if there is a contradiction between science and the Koran, then the Koran was right," he says. "They were lovely girls, but utterly brainwashed."
Critics grow impatient with Professor Dawkins's atheism. They accuse him of avoiding the great theological debates that enrich religion and philosophy, and so simplifying the complex. He concocts "vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince," wrote Terry Eagleton, regarded as one of Britain's foremost literary critics. "What, one wonders, are Dawkins's views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus?"
Put that charge to Professor Dawkins and he more or less pleads guilty. To suggest he study theology seems akin to suggesting he study fairies. Nor is he convinced that the ecumenical Anglican, the moderate imam, the Catholic priest with the well-developed sense of irony, is religion's truest representative.
"I've had perfectly wonderful conversations with Anglican bishops, and I rather suspect if you asked in a candid moment, they'd say they don't believe in the virgin birth," he says. "But for every one of them, four others would tell a child she'll rot in hell for doubting."
That, he says, explains why he is writing a book for children. He wants to raise questions Why is there a sun? What is an earthquake? What about rainbows? and provide clever, rational answers. He has toyed with opening his own state-sponsored school, though under the British system he would have to come up with matching money.
But it would not be a school for atheists. The idea horrifies him. A child should skip down an idiosyncratic intellectual path. "I am almost pathologically afraid of indoctrinating children," he says. "It would be a 'Think for Yourself Academy.' "
After two hours of conversation, Professor Dawkins walks far afield. He talks of the possibility that we might co-evolve with computers, a silicon destiny. And he's intrigued by the playful, even soul-stirring writings of Freeman Dyson, the theoretical physicist.
In one essay, Professor Dyson casts millions of speculative years into the future. Our galaxy is dying and humans have evolved into something like bolts of superpowerful intelligent and moral energy.
Doesn't that description sound an awful lot like God?
"Certainly," Professor Dawkins replies. "It's highly plausible that in the universe there are God-like creatures."
He raises his hand, just in case a reader thinks he's gone around a religious bend. "It's very important to understand that these Gods came into being by an explicable scientific progression of incremental evolution."
Could they be immortal? The professor shrugs.
"Probably not." He smiles and adds, "But I wouldn't want to be too dogmatic about that."
By News Staff | September 19th 2011 02:17 PM
Should the least-proven medical treatments have fewer guidelines than evidence-based medicine?
New proposed Ontario guidelines for how doctors should acknowledge and incorporate alternative therapies in their practices are getting a backlash from professional and regulatory bodies. The groups argue that the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario's (CPSO) draft guidelines on Non-Allopathic (Non-Conventional) Therapies in Medical Practice use a lower evidentiary bar for measuring the safety and efficacy of complementary (alternative) medicine therapies and are effectively asking physicians to counsel patients to undertake unscientific health practices - and physicians will be placed in the position of breaching their duty to provide patients with the best possible care.
The current draft guidelines that would compel physicians "to propose both allopathic and non-allopathic therapeutic options that are clinically indicated or appropriate" must:
It's essentially so vague as to be meaningless. What if the effectiveness or risk associated with a nonconventional therapy is unknown? Physicians should "proceed in a cautious and ethical manner." Oh, that will help in the malpractice lawsuit.
The guidelines also discourage physicians from referring to nonconventional therapies are a form of quackery - 30% of the articles on Science 2.0 regarding nonconventional therapy, and 100% of the articles on homeopathy, would have to be edited if 'quackery' was not allowed.
Why? For no reason other than alternative medicine has gotten popular in Canada, it seems. "Patients are entitled to make treatment decisions and to set health care goals that accord with their own wishes, values and beliefs."
The Canadian Medical Association argues that the guidelines suggest a false equivalence between conventional and alternative medical approaches. "The use of complementary and alternative medicine in Canada should be founded on sound scientific evidence as to its safety, efficacy and effectiveness: the same standard by which physicians and all other elements of the health care system should be assessed. When alternative treatment modalities do demonstrate effectiveness, they are usually incorporated into the mainstream of medicine. Therefore, one could argue that complementary and alternative therapies are by definition less demonstrably effective than conventional medical treatment".
How do skeptics feel? The guidelines may be "interpreted as impressing tight limits on physicians' ability to state their honest, scientifically sound objections to pseudo-scientific medical theories and ideas," the Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism contended. "Their non-conventional medical counterparts feel no such compunction in spreading misinformation about legitimate medical practices such as vaccination, as well as in misrepresenting the scientific standing of dubious non-conventional practices."
In other words, doctors can't speak outside clinical judgment but homeopathy practitioners can. Obviously opinion is based on knowledge. Yet the standards seem to want to impose artificial equivalence and make medical doctors more collegial and willing to refer patients to practitioners of nonconventional and alternative therapies.
The British Columbia Medical Association argued that the notion that physicians should collaborate with, or refer patients to, alternative practitioners "is not compatible with the doctor's duty to provide care that is consistent with the best available information."
Several organizations suggest the CPSO revise its guidelines to adopt the much more modest approach taken in British Columbia, which directs physicians to:
According to the Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism, an estimated 76% of Canadians have used at least one alternative therapy in their lives, while Canadians spent a projected $7.84 billion on such therapies between 2005 and 2006.
Citation: Lauren Vogel, 'Backlash grows against Ontario's nonconventional therapy guidelines', CMAJ, September 2011 DOI:10.1503/cmaj.109-4004
Jody Brown - OneNewsNow - 12:00:00 AM
Over the past few years, two separate Christian research groups -- the Barna Group and LifeWay Research -- have reported that upwards of 70 percent of Christian youth leave the church or abandon their faith after high school. "Most of them," states Barna, "pull away from participation and engagement in Christian churches, particularly during the 'college years.'" Only one in five, they say, have maintained a level of spiritual activity consistent with their high school experiences.
Sounds to me like a good reason for Christian parents to encourage their children to seriously consider a Christian college, where their faith will be bolstered and encouraged by their peers and professors -- right? Well, one would hope so...
When a college bills itself as a Christian school and even highlights the denomination with which it is affiliated, I think it's fair to assume the school gives preeminence to the written Word of God -- or at the very least, adheres to that denomination's tenets. But I was sorely disappointed last month as I was helping my youngest select a college to attend this fall.
You see, my sweet daughter wants to study marine biology -- which early on in her classes will certainly subject her to the presentation of Darwin's theory of evolution. Not that I'm opposed to her learning about that; after all, it is part of the scientific discussion these days and needs to be addressed.
However, my concern -- and I hoped hers as well -- was how it would be handled by the biology department at the university she ends up attending this fall. That's why I submitted the following question to the head of the biology department at Carson-Newman College, the Southern Baptist-affiliated institution that sat atop her list of schools being considered:
Can you tell me how, as part of a Christian college, your department teaches evolutionary theory vs. creation theory?
Here's a slightly condensed (but otherwise unmodified) version of the response I received. If you're not already sitting down, I suggest you do so.
"[We] try to cover all major aspects of modern biology. Any topics which the scientific community at large accepts as being factual -- we present as facts; what is accepted as theory -- we present as theory. [Emphasis mine]
"...When topics arise that may be controversial, we cover the prevailing scientific view....[We] cover evolution since it represents the prevailing scientific theory that explains a great deal of observational and experimental data....[We] do discuss creation stories and creation science in a biology course, but from the scientific perspective, and in the appropriate course.
"[What we cover] is in part dictated by what other accredited institutions cover (transfer issues), what's required for standardized tests...and what's required by the teacher education program where certain topics are mandated by the state.
"[We] do not try to change an individual's beliefs, but rather desire to cover the major topics anyone completing an accredited biology program should be familiar with.
"We do not teach Creation as a conflicting 'theory' because we don't think it is. Creation addresses the question 'who did it?' (God); evolution addresses the question 'what happened?' Technically, evolution is the change in the genetic makeup of populations over time; it does not deal with origins." [Again, emphasis mine]
What? Evolution doesn't deal with origins? And all this time I thought Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species dealt with origins...silly me.
But forget Darwin's 1859 classic. What about something more enduring...say, God's Word? All this time I thought the first chapter of Genesis answered the question "what happened?" Again, silly me.
And to my knowledge, the scientific community at large (read: the world) accepts the theory of evolution as fact (see first emphasis in the response above). My guess is that a Christian student who aspires to conduct biological research -- or to teach at this Southern Baptist school -- had best not try to argue otherwise.
My objective here is not to bash Carson-Newman...because I fear, sadly, it's not the only self-described Christian university where the world trumps the Word in the evolution-creation debate. What I would rather that readers -- my Christian brothers and sisters, specifically -- take away is a resolve to challenge this thinking in the realm of Christian education.
Ever heard of something called "theistic evolution"? It's a view in which God is not the omnipotent Lord of all things, but is integrated into atheistic evolutionary philosophy. One of the dangers of theistic evolution is that God becomes a "God of the Gaps" -- that is, if evolution can't "explain" a certain part of nature, if there are doubts, then, hey, God did it! (There are nine other dangers of theistic evolution, according to creationist Dr. Werner Gitt.)
The apologetics ministry Answers in Genesis argues that evolution is basically a religious philosophy -- not a science, which involves observation and the ability to repeat those observations. By way of explanation, AIG president Ken Ham notes:
"[N]o scientist was present over the suggested millions of years to witness the supposed evolutionary progression of life from the simple to the complex. No living scientist was there to observe the first life forming in some primeval sea. No living scientist was there to observe the big bang that is supposed to have occurred 10 or 20 billion years ago....no human witness was there to see these events occurring. They certainly cannot be repeated today."
I would have no problem with a biology department at a Christian university recognizing that fact and teaching evolution from that perspective. But for a self-identified Christian school to endorse a violation of basic scientific principles -- and more importantly, to dilute the Word of God -- is more than I can stomach for my precious daughter.
By the way, she's decided Carson-Newman isn't the school for her. We're looking elsewhere.
Bob Kellogg - OneNewsNow - 9/19/2011 4:05:00 AM
A founder of an intelligent design movement warns parents that as their sons and daughters head off to college, they may be in danger of undergoing a "faith-ectomy" within the first couple of years of alleged "higher learning."
According to the Discovery Institute's Dr. Stephen Meyer, when Christian students enter college, a majority of them are in danger of losing their faith, as their fragile worldview and Christian upbringing are seriously challenged.
"It's often a very unsettling time period for students, and in no small part because of the intellectual challenges that they're going to encounter -- the challenge to the worldview that they have likely been raised with," the program director explains.
And he laments that students entering Christian colleges and universities are not necessarily immune.
"It can be very disorienting if you have biologists who are Christians but Darwinists, or psychologists who are Christians but behaviorists who think that all human behavior is determined by genes and environment," Dr. Meyer notes. (Related commentary: Deifying Darwin)
So, to help with the transition, Dr. Meyer has helped develop the TrueU series -- worldview training sessions that can help prepare those students who will soon be entering college, as well as those who have already enrolled.
By Christian Genco
Published: Sunday, September 18, 2011
Updated: Monday, September 19, 2011 22:09
On September 20th 2011 at 7pm, a group of religious fundamentalists will be attempting to disprove a foundational scientific fact that happens to clash with a core belief of their religion. They will try to do this by presenting examples of biological processes that they believe are too irreducibly complex to be explained by science and will conclude that the only possible explanation is that their magical supernatural deity did it.
The fundamentalist group is, of course, the Discovery Institute. The scientific fact is that of evolutionary biology. Their efforts are not merely an absurd waste of time and resources, but a malignant attack on rationality and intellectualism.
The event is a monumental embarrassment to the academic rigor of Southern Methodist University if not humanity as a whole.
By resorting to supernatural explanations for natural processes, the evangelicals from the Discovery Institute are essentially proclaiming that the best explanation for the immense diversity and complexity of life on our pale blue speck of dust hurling through space is lots and lots of pseudoscientific magic.
It's the deepest insult possible to the generations of scientists that stood up to the common superstitions of their time: it took the Catholic Church about 200 years to accept the idea for which they had persecuted Galileo (that the earth was not the center of the universe) and another 200 to apologize (in 1992).
Is the fact of evolution incompatible with religious views? Of course not!
I invite the Discovery Institute and its apologists to follow in the footsteps of the United Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the United Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Church and millions of other progressive religions and religious scientists (most notably Francis Collins: evolutionary geneticist and devout Christian) and realize that evolution doesn't have to be a threat to their religious faith. If your entire moral philosophy would be shattered by studying 8th grade biology, I humbly suggest you find a way to adapt your moral philosophy.
Might the current state of evolutionary theory be incomplete?
Absolutely, but millions of scientists in medicine, biochemistry, molecular biology, and genetics have reached an overwhelming consensus supporting evolution and are using its principles to save lives and better mankind.
Evolution is a broad scientific theory (with just as much if not more support than the theory of gravity) that explains and connects many directly observable facts and has allowed us to make extremely accurate predictions about the future.
If we don't yet know the mechanism for how every intricate step in a butterfly's development has evolved, we probably will within another 100 years of research and understanding.
Even in the absurd case that evolution is someday proven to be completely wrong, how in God's name would science be made better if we threw our hands up in ignorance and screamed "God did it!" when faced with a question to which we can't immediately find the answer to? How would the knowledge that the Avian Flu was designed by a supernatural deity help us find a cure for it?
Believe what you want, but if it's a belief that fundamentally relies on faith, don't try to undermine hundreds of years of evidence and research by teaching it as science. When I'm old and infected by an opportunistic pathogen threatening my life, I'd much appreciate it if my doctors were taught to take into account the evolution of antibiotic resistance before treating me.
September 16th, 2011 NCSE 2011
The chorus of support for the teaching of evolution continues, with a statement from the Canadian Federation of Earth Sciences, "the unified voice for earth science in Canada."
"Creationism and ["intelligent design"] do not qualify as science, because the scientific method is not deployed and these ideas are therefore not theories or hypotheses in universally accepted scientific sense," the statement explains (PDF). "Hence, Creationism and ID do not belong in any K-12 science curriculum."
The Canadian Federation of Earth Sciences'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.
Author: Eric Nelson Published: Sep 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm
Perhaps it's not surprising that the San Francisco Bay Area, long considered a bastion for progressive thinkers, has become quite the hotbed of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) research and education. What is surprising, however, is how little attention this is getting in the media.
Granted, my assessment is anything but scientific. But as someone who lives in the Bay Area and makes it his regular practice to watch what the major media outlets are reporting about healthcare in general and medicine in particular, there is a noticeable lack of coverage. These days the focus seems to be more on what conventional medical researchers are saying or what health insurers are charging than what medicine's avant-garde is discovering about other effective means of healthcare.
This, then, leads us to one of two specious conclusions: Either the research is not credible or the public is not interested.
Although credibility is often in the eye of the beholder, the discoveries being made, particularly within the area of mind-body medicine, are worth noting. Take, for instance, the so-called "Love Study" conducted by researchers at the Petaluma-based Institute of Noetic Sciences.
In this experiment, subjects were placed in an electromagnetically shielded chamber. Meanwhile, their romantic partner was placed in another similarly shielded chamber with a closed-circuit television that would go on and off at random intervals. Whenever an image of their partner would appear, they were asked to think of them in a loving and compassionate manner.
Researchers found that when one person focused his thoughts on his partner, the blood flow and perspiration of that individual began to change within two seconds. The odds of this happening by chance are 1 in 11,000. Dozens of double blind, randomized studies conducted by institutions like the University of Washington and the University of Edinburgh reported similar results.
Now, as for the public not being interested, the latest figures hardly bear this out. According the National Institutes of Health, 40% of us are spending upwards of $34 billion on complementary or alternative medicine. To me, this shows not only interest but a considerable financial commitment as well.
So why is it that this kind of news rarely makes headlines, especially here in the Bay Area? Perhaps it's because the media, like so many of us, have been educated to believe that healthcare is largely if not exclusively the domain of drug-based medicine. I find this ironic, especially when you consider that three out of every four healthcare workers themselves use some form of complementary or alternative medicine to help stay healthy.
Fortunately, personal healthcare decisions are not always based on what one reads or doesn't read in the local paper, or what one sees or hears on TV and radio. Many, including myself, tend to gravitate instead towards what works best for them. Even if the media aren't paying as close attention to this fact as perhaps they should, my hope is that this trend will eventually lead to a greater degree of health and wholeness for us all.