NTS LogoSkeptical News for 4 November 2011

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Friday, November 04, 2011

Evolution education update: November 4, 2011

The American Society of Naturalists adds its voice for evolution, and a reminder about NCSE's Grand Canyon excursion for 2012.

AMERICAN SOCIETY OF NATURALISTS ADDS ITS VOICE FOR EVOLUTION

The chorus of support for the teaching of evolution continues, with a statement from the American Society of Naturalists, the oldest scientific society dedicated to the study of ecology, evolution, and behavior.

"Evolution is supported by overwhelming scientific evidence from many disciplines," the statement affirms, adding, "evolution is a rigorously tested and ever-expanding body of scientific knowledge that underlies and integrates our understanding of all areas of the biological world -- from our cells and DNA to our lakes and forests. As such, evolution must be an integral part of any science curriculum." In contrast, "hypotheses concerning the existence, actions, or methods of God or any other intelligent designer ... should not be part of the science curriculum in public schools simply because they cannot be empirically tested and thus they fall outside the purview of science."

The ASN'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 ASN's statement, visit:
http://www.asnamnat.org/edevol

For Voices for Evolution, visit:
http://ncse.com/voices

NCSE AND THE GRAND CANYON 2012

Explore the Grand Canyon with NCSE! Seats are still available for NCSE's next excursion to the Grand Canyon -- as featured in the documentary No Dinosaurs in Heaven. From July 16 to 24, 2012, NCSE will again explore the wonders of creation and evolution on a Grand Canyon river run conducted by NCSE's Genie Scott and Steve Newton. Because this is an NCSE trip, we offer more than just the typically grand float down the Canyon, the spectacular scenery, fascinating natural history, brilliant night skies, exciting rapids, delicious meals, and good company. It is, in fact, a unique "two-model" raft trip, on which we provide both the creationist view of the Grand Canyon (maybe not entirely seriously) and the evolutionist view -- and let you make up your own mind. To get a glimpse of the fun, watch the short videos filmed during the 2011 trip, posted on NCSE's YouTube site. The cost of the excursion is $2625; a deposit of $500 will hold your spot. Seats are limited: call, write, or e-mail now.

For information about the trip, visit:
http://ncse.com/about/excursions/gcfaq

For information about No Dinosaurs in Heaven, visit:
http://www.nodinos.com/

For NCSE's YouTube site, visit:
http://www.youtube.com/user/NatCen4ScienceEd

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

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncse.com
http://ncse.com

Read Reports of the NCSE on-line:
http://reports.ncse.com

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:
http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news

NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:
http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse
http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd
http://twitter.com/ncse

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://ncse.com/join Candidate Supports Religion in Schools http://www.kenyoncollegian.com/news/candidate-supports-religion-in-schools-1.2681553#.TrSxL4S6PSg

By Madeleine Thompson

Published: Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Updated: Thursday, November 3, 2011 10:11

Six Mount Vernon Board of Education candidates will contest three seats in the local election on Tuesday, Nov. 8. The candidates, Margie Bennett (incumbent), Jeffrey Cline, Marie Curry, Cheryl Feasel, Jolene Goetzman (incumbent) and Stephen Kelly, are all non-partisan, but some of their campaign promises have become controversial.

Cline's support for teaching religion and creationism in the schools' science curriculums and Kelly's desire to let students "decide for themselves which evidence seems more convincing" have sparked a movement of concerned Mount Vernon parents and community members.

The movement includes several members of the Kenyon community, including Kachen Kimmel, wife of a Kenyon employee; Professor of Political Science Michelle Mood, and philanthropic advisor Kent Woodward-Ginther '93. "It feels like some kind of old-fashioned time to hear these people and to experience their naïveté about these issues," said Kimmel, who is also running for Gambier's Village Council. "I'm a Christian of a certain sort, and I'm offended that I can't have my own understanding of Christianity."

Many citizens who remember the 2008 John Freshwater incident especially object to creationism entering school curriculums. Freshwater taught science at Mount Vernon Middle School until it came out that he burnt a cross into the arm of a student during a science experiment and gave extra credit assignments like watching pro-intelligent design documentaries.

He was officially fired in January of this year, though his case is still in court.

At a "Meet the Candidate" event in Mount Vernon on Oct. 27, Cline addressed the importance of teachers putting their Christian values into their lessons despite the risk of another expensive lawsuit like Freshwater's, which has now cost the schools almost $2 million.

"As it stands today, with the separation of church and state, the law is that you can't preach religion from the classroom," Cline said. "With that law, as bogus as I think it is, we have to agree with it for now. But I think as people in our communities we need to start challenging that."

Kelly, who has worked balancing budgets for the Salvation Army for 20 years, would not confirm his position on teaching creationism. "I find it very interesting that this question keeps coming up," Kelly said. "I have my own personal beliefs on the subject, but that's not what I'm running on." In a recent email to Woodward-Ginther, Kelly stated that he believes there is "considerable scientific evidence that challenges the assumptions of the old earth/evolutionary model."

"Intelligent design is not science. It's already been proven and litigated, and we don't need to spend any more of the school's money litigating that," Knox County Democratic Party Chair Meg Galipault said. "That's our biggest fear. If one of those individuals gets voted onto the board, we're going to end up sinking more money into something that's already been decided." Knox County Republican Party Chair Chip McConnville declined to give his opinion on teaching creationism in schools.

Woodward-Ginther, a Mount Vernon parent and Kenyon employee, strongly disagrees with the platforms of any candidates who do not speak out against teaching creationism in schools. "In my opinion, there is no scientific evidence of creationism or so-called intelligent design," he said. "[The evangelical protestants] have no interest in including creationist theory from Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or other religions. This narrow approach is a thinly veiled attempt to have a Christ-centered curriculum, which has no place whatsoever in public schools."

Mood, who recently set up a Political Action Committee (PAC) called Concerned Mount Vernon City School District Citizens, of which she is the treasurer, agreed. "Teaching our kids non-science will be damaging to their ability to grasp the appropriate intellectual foundations and tools necessary to advance intellectually and in employment," she said. "Americans are already falling behind in science; it is damaging to hold children back further in this area. We just came off three years of distraction, dissension and expense related to the many lawsuits connected to our John Freshwater case."

The Concerned Citizens PAC is not affiliated with any party, but it is supporting incumbents Bennet and Goetzman. "We are completely across the political spectrum, probably with the exception of Tea Party-ists … but we are 100 percent united on making this a better district," Kimmel said. "We are supporting Goetzman and Bennett … because they have lived through the Freshwater incident and helped the district do the right thing."

Kimmel, Woodward-Ginther and Mood stressed the issue's relevance to Kenyon. It affects students, parents and teachers alike, they said, and everyone who can should vote. "The quality of the schools already has an impact on the location of faculty. Our children are bearing the brunt of our choice to live near campus; you students are the prime beneficiaries of that," Mood said. "I earnestly believe that the least you can do is help us out by going out and voting for school board candidates who will uphold state standards."

"Kenyon students can really make a difference," Kimmel said. "This isn't Occupy Wall Street. In this kind of area, small numbers of voters are huge."

Creation theory leaves no one laughing

http://www.thelamron.com/opinion/creation-theory-leaves-no-one-laughing-1.2682080#.TrSwOYS6PSg

By Grant Bille

Columnist

Published: Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Updated: Thursday, November 3, 2011 15:11

On Oct. 25, a man named Jonathan Sarfati came to speak in Newton Hall. As I wasn't paying attention to the beginning of his presentation, I assumed he was a comedian doing a routine about creationism. I was in stitches the entire time.

Among his jokes was the notion that evolutionary biologists are constantly forcing their irrational beliefs with no scientific basis onto the public, unlike Young Earth Creationists who are fighting the indoctrination of children through the use of sound evidence from unbiased sources. He argued that the Dark Ages were a time of learning and growth in Europe, as proven by inventions such as gunpowder, the compass and the ability to print – inventions which in fact all had origins much earlier in places outside Europe.

All three of those advancements came after centuries of deplorable intellectual, social and political conditions and they may not have happened at all without the genocides known as the Crusades. Gunpowder was then used in the Spanish Reconquista, which spread the Inquisition, both of which were initiatives designed to find and expel non-Christian from supposedly Christian lands.

All this talk of Christians murdering people brings me to another claim made by Sarfati: The Bible is the basis of morality. It's hard to see how this can be squared with the numerous versions and translations of the Bible that allow for any number of moral codes, the fact that the Bible and Christianity have been used to justify some of the most horrific crimes in history or the implication that only people who have read the Bible and believe in Christianity (less than one-third of the world's population) can be moral.

This last possibility is made even more ridiculous when a 2009 study by Phil Zuckerman of Pitzer College concluded that, "Within America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be the highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates tend to be the among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon."

But the central theme of Sarfati's talk was creationism and the belief that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago in seven days. Following those seven days, Adam and Eve spent several years in the Garden of Eden living with dinosaurs; then, a while after that, God wiped out all the animals on Earth save one pair of each species which somehow all fit on the same ark.

It is worth noting that this all allegedly happened in less than 1,000 years, yet historians believe some Egyptian artifacts to be approximately 5,000 years old. This bemusing belief fails to explain how humans came to be in the Americas if not by crossing the Bering Strait land-bridge, which happened more than 11,000 years ago. The overwhelming amount of data from radiometric dating using any number of isotopic comparisons and relativistic rock data using comparable strata also contradict everything Sarfati insists is true.

Sadly, Jonathan Sarfati is not a comedian and has a Ph.D. in chemistry. He sincerely believes that evolution is a myth propagated by immoral evolutionary biologists who have a vendetta against Christianity. Somehow a man holding these unscientific beliefs is permitted to speak on a campus dedicated to learning, in the same lecture hall where science classes and presentations are held. Perhaps, then, Sarfati is a comedian and the joke is on us.


Thursday, November 03, 2011

At New Scientist, the Usual Reportorial Indifference to Facts

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/11/at_new_scientist_the_usual_rep052501.html

David Klinghoffer November 1, 2011 5:34 PM | Permalink

When you're a reporter for a liberal publication you can say whatever you like about the ID/Evolution debate, however disconnected from reality, and get away with it. Nicely illustrating this general principle, New Scientist comes across with this beauty. In a story titled "Science in America: Selling the Truth," lamenting the perversity of Republicans with their primitive scientific beliefs on climate change and the rest, Peter Aldhous writes:

How a message is framed in relation to the cultural biases of the intended recipients is crucial to its persuasiveness. The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a conservative think-tank that seeks to undermine the teaching of evolution in U.S. schools, has learned this lesson well. After failing to get biblical creationism taught in science classes, the institute came back with the "scientific" concept of intelligent design, and two carefully researched talking points: "evolution is just a theory" and "teach the controversy."

None of this remotely true, of course. You don't have to like the pedagogic model of exposing students to both sides of the debate on evolutionary theory. But in fact, if Discovery Institute's advice were taken, the teaching of evolution in U.S. schools, far from being "undermined," would be significantly expanded in breadth and depth with due attention to developing critical-thinking skills. That way it would be genuine education, not merely indoctrination.

As for the notion that we adopted this approach after Discovery Institute "failed to get biblical creationism taught in science classes," this is grossly counterfactual, as the writer would know if he'd taken a moment to research it. Discovery Institute has never supported teaching biblical creationism in any context, nor do we advocate mandating intelligent design in public schools. Finally, the simple-minded "just a theory" trope is a cliché and a straw man on the lips of Darwin advocates, not sophisticated Darwin critics. We've criticized it, not advocated it; see here.

Once you get over the sheer smug, offensive laziness of the reporting, you can enjoy the irony that Mr. Aldhous thinks he is informing readers of a secret: Many people decide what they believe on science and other matters not based on a fair, intelligent weighing of factual evidence but rather based on how holding one belief over another makes them feel, socially included or socially excluded: "We have a strong interest in mirroring the views of our own cultural group."

Yes, exactly. And as Aldhous's article wonderfully illustrates, we're most blind to the effect of that dynamic when we are most firmly in its grip.


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

We Get Poor-Mouthed by the National Center for Science Education

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/10/we_get_poor-mouthed_by_the_nat052451.html

[Editor's note: The Discovery Institute spends a lot of time and effort on propaganda pieces. I wonder how much time they devote to developing the "science" of Intelligent Design.]

David Klinghoffer October 31, 2011 5:04 PM | Permalink

To "poor-mouth" means using claims of poverty to try to manipulate other people. Paleontologist Donald Prothero visited the offices of the National Center for Science Education -- our Darwin-lobbying friends whom we love more and more by the day -- and came back with a fundraising pitch for the NCSE that made me think of the wonderful Monty Python "Four Yorkshiremen" skit. In the skit, four well-to-do gents try to outdo each other with increasingly absurd tales of childhood poverty.

Writing at Skepticblog, Oxidental College's Dr. Prothero complains:

This bête noire of creationism occupies a small, rundown, poorly ventilated commercial space in a rough part of Oakland, surrounded by fundamentalist churches. Their tiny staff is paid a pittance compared to most academic or business salaries, and they occupy cramped cubicles cluttered with piles of work.

We looked up the NCSE's address on Google Street View. There's indeed a church across the street and, relaxing in an apartment building entrance around the corner, some presumably "rough" youths -- or so a visitor like Prothero might assume if he assumed African-American youths in general are rough. On the other hand, NCSE shares a building with a fancy architectural design firm, so you wonder how "rundown" the commercial property really could be.

It hardly matters, but what did amuse me was Prothero's attempt to contrast NCSE's virtuous poverty with the Taj Mahal-like conditions of Discovery Institute's Seattle office. As he describes it, Discovery occupies a "gleaming headquarters," "a vast amount of floor space in a brand-new office building downtown, and has a huge staff" -- a description in which every term is fictional excerpt for "building" and "downtown." What is the truth?

Alert: The Following Paragraph Contains Poor-Mouthing

Well, since you ask...Even to call DI's home an office building is not quite accurate. Our neighbor, across a roof space littered with seagull bones, is an informal gym where the sound of enormous barbells and oversized truck tires being dropped on the floor again and again is the nearly constant accompaniment to our work. A visitor from out of town was sitting with us the other day when a particularly loud crash shook the walls. He thought it was an earthquake, the Cascadia Subduction Zone tearing loose at last. He started heading for the exit till I called him back and reassured him.

According to Prothero, "Over and over again" Discovery Institute complains about "how the NCSE has so much more power, money, and influence than they do," "the NCSE is pure evil, suppressing the creationism message with its enormous staff and budget and power over all of U.S. science." This too is ludicrous, but canny as fundraising. You want to make people feel that the organization casts a large shadow despite operating on a shoestring budget.

Even sillier is Prothero's literary allusion-making. He calls his blog post "A Visit to the Creationists' 'Mordor'" and there are repeated references to how "creationists" see NCSE as the evolutionary equivalent of Tolkien's ultimate symbol of lying, power and evil. Well, insofar as the NCSE whispers in the ear of gullible clergy and religious folk, assuring them there's no conflict between believing in God and believing in Darwin, that's deceptive all right.

But it's hard to imagine Sauron, the Dark Lord, pulling an inept blunder like getting mixed up with 9/11 Truther and anti-Semitic conspiracy nut Jim Fetzer, or heavily promoting the leaden Darwinist documentary No Dinosaurs in Heaven. The latter (judging from the trailer) picks on and pummels an African college professor for being pro-intelligent design. I still can't get over the name of the film's production company either, Jezebel Productions, named for the villainous Biblical queen, the Colonel Gaddafi of ancient Israel.

No, if you wanted a metaphor from the Lord of the Rings, the NCSE doesn't remotely resemble Sauron or Mordor. More like the ultimately pathetic Grima Wormtongue, perhaps? Yeah, that's it.


Monday, October 31, 2011

GOP Lawmakers Challenge White House on 'Scientific Misconduct'

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/10/19/gop-lawmakers-challenge-white-house-on-scientific-misconduct/

Published October 20, 2011
FoxNews.com

Several Republican lawmakers are challenging the Obama administration's science czar over what they claim are repeat incidents of "scientific misconduct" among agencies, questioning whether officials who deal with everything from endangered species to nuclear waste are using "sound science."

The letter sent Wednesday to John Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, cited four specific controversies in recent years where scientific findings were questioned. Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., rattled off a slew of questions on what they called "the apparent collapse in the quality of scientific work being conducted at our federal agencies."

Feb. 9, 2011: Sen. James Inhofe testifies on Capitol Hill.

"Specifically, we are concerned with data quality, integrity of methodologies and collection of information, agencies misrepresenting publicly the weight of scientific 'facts,' indefensible representations of scientific conclusions before our federal court system, and our fundamental notions of 'sound' science," they wrote. "We identify in this letter important examples of agency scientific misconduct."

Inhofe spokesman Matt Dempsey told FoxNews.com the issues in the letter had been on Republicans' radar screen "for some time." But he said the lawmakers decided to compile them and confront the administration about it out of concern that a "trend" was developing.

"The concern is there's a lot more there," he said.

White House representatives so far have not returned requests for comment on the letter.

The Republicans' letter cycles through several incidents the lawmakers claim to be troubling.

One concerned the controversy over a temporary deepwater drilling moratorium was issued in May 2010. In the announcement, the Interior Department said the report's recommendations had been "peer-reviewed" by experts with the National Academy of Engineering. But those experts later complained, saying the moratorium was not among their approved recommendations -- this led to an apology from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Interior officials later told the inspector general's office probing the incident they did not intend to imply those experts supported the drilling ban.

The GOP lawmakers, though, said the incident shows "blatant political influence" in the decision making.

The lawmakers also questioned an EPA assessment on the dangers posed by formaldehyde -- the National Research Council earlier this year claimed the assessment did not adequately back up some of its claims, including claims that the chemical causes leukemia and respiratory tract cancers.

In another case, the lawmakers highlighted the scolding a federal judge gave the Fish and Wildlife Service last month over testimony in defense of a plan to protect a tiny fish called delta smelt by diverting water in California away from farmland. U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger said the testimony was "riddled with inconsistency."

In their letter, the lawmakers focused most on concerns about the 2009 decision to pull the plug on the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site in Nevada. The project years in the making faced heavy opposition in Nevada.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu in 2009 said the project was simply not a "workable option." In early 2010, the department withdrew its license application for the site, and moved instead to impanel a commission to look at alternative sites. A department filing at the time noted that scientific knowledge on nuclear waste had "advanced dramatically" in the 20 years since the project started.

But the Government Accountability Office said in an April report the DOE did not cite "technical or safety issues" in its decision.

"Amid uncertainty over whether it had the authority to terminate the Yucca Mountain repository program, DOE terminated the program without formally assessing the risks stemming from the shutdown, including the possibility that it might have to resume the repository effort," the report said.

A June report from Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee also said the panel could not find a "single document" to support claims that Yucca Mountain is unsafe for nuclear waste.

Not all Republicans are united in backing the Yucca site, however.

It's a sensitive issue in Nevada, and at the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas Tuesday night top GOP candidates said the federal government should not be sticking Nevada with the waste.

"The idea that 49 states can tell Nevada, 'We want to give you our nuclear waste,' doesn't make a lot of sense," former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said.

For the incidents cited in the letter to Holdren, the lawmakers asked for more information about how the alleged missteps occurred and what the administration intends to do about them.

Though Inhofe is best known on the scientific front for challenging climate change science and the regulations that emerge from it, the letter did not specifically address climate change.

But in a separate letter, the Competitive Enterprise Institute on Tuesday sent a Freedom of Information Act request to Holdren's office asking for records on coordination between his office and the United Nations climate change panel.

In a statement, the group charged that a U.N. plan would "hide" online correspondence by using non-governmental accounts. CEI urged the White House to use official email channels.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

ENV Accused of Spanking Darwinist Lady

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/10/env_accused_of_spanking_darwin052401.html

Evolution News & Views October 28, 2011 2:14 PM | Permalink

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Faye Flam thinks Evolution News & Views has "spanked" her ("I Get Spanked by Creationists for Accepting Reality and being a 'Darwinist'"). Ms. Flam, if we had in fact spanked you, you would know it. So what's she referring to?

Richard Weikart's article yesterday taking issue with Ms. Flam's previous column on Hitler and Darwinism. Professor Weikart argues -- unarguably, we'd say -- that a consistent stance of Darwinian materialism leaves no room for positing an objective moral or spiritual order that would give a coherent rationale for condemning evil or viewing life as having objective meaning or purpose. Faye Flam offers no answer to this other than an assertion that "we endow life with meaning and purpose." In other words, life has meaning and some acts are right or wrong because we say so. You might well wonder how an adult could find that convincing.

Beyond that, she complains about the label "Darwinist."

Why is it that to [sic] creationists label everyone who accepts current biology as a "Darwinist"? It's as if scientific knowelged [sic] equates to some kind of political ideology. We don't call physicists "Einsteinists" or astronomers "Hubbleites."

That last sentence is true, Faye Flam, but it is because there's no controversy about Einstein's science (or not until recently) or Hubble's. There is no party of Einsein or Hubble, but the same can't be said of Darwin and his theory. Count on a journalist, like this one who hasn't even mastered the difference between creationism and intelligent design, to be unaware of that fact.

UPDATE: Regarding the Darwinist complaint about being called "Darwinists," see here and here for how often they themselves use just these terms -- "Darwinist," "Darwinism" and so on -- to describe who they are and what they believe.

Which just makes sense: Only Darwinists put a Darwin fish on their car. No one ever puts an Einstein or Hubble fish on his car. Darwinism is much more like Freudianism, Marxism, or phrenology than it is like Newtonian or Einsteinian physics, or Hubble's evidence of a cosmic expansion.

Help Stop Vision From Feeling

http://stopvisionfromfeeling.com/

Anita Ikonen (aka VisionFromFeeling, formerly Alenara the breatharian), a 26 year old physics student at UNCC who runs the website www.VisionFromFeeling.com, tells us (among other things) that she's a human MRI of sorts. Anita claims to be able to detect medical ailments in people and see their insides, right down to the molecular level (and even DNA). I know what you're thinking: this should be pretty easy to prove.

Many of those who hang out at the James Randi Educational Foundation* Forums worked very hard to get Anita Ikonen to submit to proper testing, which she has. She has failed. Repeatedly. And yet she continues to spew her outrageous claims to anyone who will listen and force them on those who don't want to listen. For a physics major at UNC-Charlotte, she is sorely lacking in her understanding of the scientific method, which is obvious after just a few minutes of learning about her claims. She says she wants to be a doctor, which is a scary thought considering her wild claims. I'm concerned where this will lead, so I created this site to expose her claims before she got into a position where should could a lot of harm. As it stands now, it's only her friends and family who are in danger of from her misguided medical claims.

Some of us believe she is delusional while others believe she is a deliberate fraud. Still others think she is simply misguided and naive (you can register your opinion below). Regardless, her paranomal claims should be addressed by critical thinkers. Far too many people like Anita Ikonen (VisionFromFeeling) are allowed to spew their half-baked ideas unchecked. This site serves to examine her claims with the impartial light of science so that we can stop these fantasies before any harm is done. Too bad someone didn't do this a decade ago when she was touring Poland as Alenara, spreading the gospel of breatharianism (the idiotic notion that humans can live without food).

Please take a moment to register on the site and participate in the discussions. Your feedback, positive or negative, is appreciated.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Evolution education update: October 28, 2011

A NESCent contest for bloggers, a preview of Brunetta and Craig's Spider Silk, and a reminder about speakers from NCSE.

ATTENTION, BLOGGERS!

Do you blog about evolutionary research? Then NESCent, the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, wants to send you to North Carolina to discuss science communication. Announcing its third annual blog contest, NESCent writes: "To apply for an award, writers should submit a blog post that highlights current or emerging evolutionary research. In order to be valid, posts must deal with research appearing in the peer-reviewed literature within the last five years. Posts should be 500-1000 words, and must mention the NESCent contest. Two recipients will be chosen by a panel of judges from both NESCent and the science blogging community." The lucky winners will receive $750 to cover their travel to and lodging at ScienceOnline 2012, a science communication conference to be held January 19-21, 2012, at North Carolina State University. Applications are due by December 1, 2011.

For details of the NESCent contest, visit:
http://blogcontest.nescent.org/2011/10/12/win-a-travel-award-for-best-evolution-themed-blog-post/

SPIDER SILK ON THE WEB

NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Leslie Brunetta and Catherine L. Craig's Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating (Yale University Press, 2010). The preview consists of the preface -- which explains, "The evolution of spiders can help elucidate the workings of natural selection -- and why Charles Darwin's phrase 'descent with modification' so well describes evolution at both the genetic and the species level. The case of spiders can also help dispel some commonly held misconceptions about evolution, such as the notion that it always leads to a better organism or aims at a perfect adaptation to the environment" -- as well as chapter 2, which discusses mesotheles, the "living fossils" of spiderdom.

The reviewer for BioScience described Spider Silk as "an ideal introduction to spiders and a tempting peek at the field of silk research that I hope will leave the reader forever fascinated and enthused by these wonderful web weavers," and Joe Lapp, in a forthcoming review for Reports of the NCSE, praises Spider Silk as "an amazing treat for arachnophiles and teachers of evolution both," adding that the book is "an enjoyable, informative, and surprising read." Spider Silk received a 2011 "Highly Recommended" award from the Boston Authors Club, was a finalist for the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year award in the Nature category in 2010, and was listed as a best seller in botany/zoology by Library Journal.

For the preview, visit:
http://ncse.com/book-excerpt

For information about the book from its publisher, visit:
http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300149227

NEED A SPEAKER?

As the only national organization that is wholly dedicated to defending the teaching of evolution in the public schools, NCSE is the perfect place to find someone to speak to your organization or university about issues relevant to evolution education and attacks on it. Available speakers include NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, Glenn Branch, Joshua Rosenau, Steven Newton, Peter M. J. Hess, and Eric Meikle, as well as three members of our board of directors, Barbara Forrest, Kevin Padian, and Andrew J. Petto. So if you need a speaker, please feel free to visit the speakers information page on the NCSE website or get in touch with the NCSE office. If nobody from NCSE is available or suitable, we'll try to find you someone who is!

For the speaker information page, visit:
http://ncse.com/about/speakers

For NCSE's contact information, visit:
http://ncse.com/contact

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

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncse.com
http://ncse.com

Read Reports of the NCSE on-line:
http://reports.ncse.com

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:
http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news

NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:
http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse
http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd
http://twitter.com/ncse

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://ncse.com/join

Hitler was a True Christian

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/10/hitler_was_a_true_christian.php

Category: Creationism • History • Religion
Posted on: October 27, 2011 1:55 PM, by PZ Myers

If you tuned in to that local debate on Christian radio, you know that one of the points the Christian fool trotted out was the tired old claim that the Nazis were no true Christians — no True Christian would ever commit such horrible acts. It's an annoyingly feeble and unsupportable argument, but it has a lot of life in it, unfortunately.

This same argument has come up in Faye Flam's Evolution column for the Philly Inquirer, and has gone on through several articles thanks to that hack from the Discovery Institute, Richard Weikart. It started with an article titled "Severing the link between Darwin and Nazism", which cited real scholars like Robert Richards and Daniel Gasman to ably refute Weikart's ridiculous claim that Nazism was inspired by Darwin. The Nazis banned Darwin's books and rejected the idea that Aryans could have evolved from the lower orders. Weikart's reply: But Hitler used the word Entwicklung, which translates as "evolution". It also translates as "development" — Hitler did not use the language as representative of evolution at all.

So Flam got a contribution from a developmental biologist, the most excellent Scott Gilbert, who pointed out that biology and Darwinism were not factors in Hitler's rise to power: the Lutheran and Catholic churches were. She also gets Keith Thomson, a biologist and museum director, to explain that Darwin did not and would not have approved in any way the Nazi philosophy. Weikart's reply: but Darwin was a racist! Of course he was — he was a fairly conventional Victorian gentleman who thought the English were the greatest people on the planet. But these biases were not significant factors in his theory, and he struggled to overcome them.

Nazism was not science-based. It was pseudo-scientific religious dogma, tightly tied to the German culture of the time, which was almost entirely Catholic and Lutheran. All you have to do is look at Hitler's own words to see that, even if he were personally a closet Satanist (I don't think he was; he was an idiosyncratic Catholic), he tapped into the faith of the German people to achieve his ends. You cannot blame the horrors of the Third Reich on Darwin, who had negligible influence on the great masses of the German Volk, no political pull, and no appeal to the media. If you wanted a lever to shift public opinion on anything in the 1930s, religion was where you applied your force.

I have to give an early plug for my colleague, Michael Lackey (also on the CFI speakers' bureau, by the way), who will be coming out with a book this Spring on exactly this topic.

His new book project (Modernist God States: A Literary Study of the Theological Origins of Nazi Totalitarianism) is on Hitler and the Nazis. In this book, he opposes one of the dominant interpretations of intellectual and political history, which holds that the West, since the Enlightenment, has been becoming increasingly more secular. Scholars who have adopted this approach claim that Hitler and the Nazis are the logical product of secularization, atheism, and humanism. By stark contrast, Lackey has been trying to demonstrate that secularization has only taken hold in very elite circles, mainly among academics, scholars, and intellectuals. As for the general population, it has actually become increasingly more religious, but in ways that are significantly different from pre-Enlightenment versions of religion. Based on his findings, Lackey argues that the only way to understand Hitler and the Nazis is to take into account the new conceptions of religious subjectivity that started to flourish and dominate among the general population in the early part of the twentieth century. Understanding these new conceptions sheds new and considerable light on Hitler's and the Nazis' religious conception of the political.

The Modernist God State: A Literary Study of the Nazis' Christian Reich. New York and London: Continuum, (in press: forthcoming, Spring 2012).

Among the things he has done is to examine thoroughly the popular literature of Germany in the 1930s and 40s. Surprise, surprise, it isn't singing paeans to Darwin and Science — these are eminently Christian Nazis.

The cover of his book says it all. I think it's going to be a significant source for squelching these bizarre, ahistorical notions coming out of the Discovery Institute that somehow Nazi Germany was the apotheosis of the godless Darwinian state.


Bad Science Leads to Bad Policy, No Matter Your Political Beliefs

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-h-gleick/bad-science-leads-to-bad-_b_1035626.html

Peter H. Gleick

Water and climate scientist; President, Pacific Institute

Posted: 10/28/11 09:11 AM ET

Anti-science mania is sweeping parts of the United States. This isn't new -- there is a long history of irrational, pseudoscientific, or downright anti-scientific thinking and political culture here -- ironic, given how much our founding fathers like Benjamin Franklin valued science. Examples include creationism, moon-landing denialism, claims linking vaccines to autism, denials that tobacco causes cancer long after the science was in, and especially the denial of climate change and global warming. This anti-science mentality is especially discouraging given how vital America's scientific and technological strengths are to our economic and political strengths.

For reasons that a political scientist or sociologist would have to explore, this is a problem especially of the Republican right. For example, it is most evident in the lockstep, ideological denial of the realities of climate change by nearly all of the Republican presidential candidates and congressional representatives. The highly respected scientific journal Nature called Congressional inactions on climate "fundamentally anti-science" and an example of "willful ignorance," and said:

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the US Congress has entered the intellectual wilderness, a sad state of affairs in a country that has led the world in many scientific arenas for so long.

In another example that would be amusing if it weren't so bizarre, the theory of relativity is rejected in Conservapedia (a kind of Wikipedia for ideologues on the right who want their facts and definitions to line up with their political beliefs) because "It is heavily promoted by liberals who like its encouragement of relativism and its tendency to mislead people in how they view the world." Whew! (And check out the entry that argues that atheists are more likely to be obese. But please, skip the entry on "evolution" -- it will make a rational person's head explode.)

But it isn't only conservatives who use bad science to push political agendas.

In the past couple of years, a debate in the Bay Area over wilderness protection, sustainable agriculture, and the integrity of science has spiraled into the dirt. The fight is over whether to continue to permit a small privately managed oyster farm, the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, to continue to operate inside the Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, California. The oyster operation predates the Park, having been in Drakes Estero for nearly a century but the Estero is now eligible for wilderness status. Supporters of wilderness believe the oyster farm is an incompatible use and should be closed when its current lease expires in 2012. Supporters of local sustainable agriculture believe the farm should stay.

Wilderness versus local sustainable agricultural? The decision hinges on choosing among conflicting societal preferences and highly subjective factors -- precisely the things that make public discourse, discussion, and debate important. But this fight has pitted neighbor versus neighbor, environmentalist versus environmentalist, and in this fairly liberal community, progressive versus progressive.

Good science can play a key role here in evaluating the impacts of the oyster farm. But we're not getting good science. Instead, the National Park Service, the Department of the Interior (DoI), and some local environmental supporters (with whom I usually have strong common cause) have manipulated science in their efforts to close the farm. A series of reports have been issued with bad, incomplete, misleading, or cherry-picked evidence of impacts to seagrasses, water quality, fish diversity, and especially seals. These reports have been highly criticized by independent scientists, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. And data that contradicts their own studies have been withheld by the Park Service, including over 200,000 photographs from hidden cameras they set up to monitor disturbances caused by the oyster farm, but which now reportedly show no evidence of such disturbances.

An internal DoI report (the "Frost Report") on this debacle was released earlier this year. That report acknowledged that the scientific arguments of damage from the oyster farm were false, and criticized withholding and cherry-picking data in public reports; writing journal articles with incomplete or wrong data; failing to present complete materials, data, and scientific observations to a National Academy of Sciences Committee, even after multiple requests; and issuing repeatedly false public statements. The Report found a "willingness to allow subjective beliefs and values to guide scientific conclusions," the use of "subjective conclusions, vague temporal and geographic references, and questionable mathematical calculations," and "misconduct [that] arose from incomplete and biased evaluation and from blurring the line between exploration and advocacy through research." A separate National Academy of Sciences review found that the Park Service "selectively presented, over-interpreted, or misrepresented the available science on the potential impacts of the oyster mariculture operation." Senator Dianne Feinstein, to her credit, has weighed in demanding a return to scientific integrity.

Yet a recently released draft Environmental Impact Statement on the farm repeats and expands upon these false claims. For example, the NPS is still claiming that the oyster farm is harming the seals in Pt. Reyes, but their only evidence is a highly disputed statistical study that has been debunked in major review by a group of leading scientists and statisticians, including Dr. Corey Goodman -- a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and an outspoken local resident. (I have read Goodman's review and find it compelling.) What has been the response? The Park Service and the Marine Mammal Commission have so far refused to review the scientific criticisms or participate in public discussions about the issues, and local advocates of wilderness have launched a series of blistering, personal ad hominem attacks on Dr. Goodman.

Science is not democratic or republican. Scientific integrity, logic, reason, and the scientific method are core to the strength of our nation. We may disagree among ourselves about matters of opinion and policy, but we (and our elected representatives) must not misuse, hide, or misrepresent science and fact in service of our political wars.

[Dr. Peter Gleick considers himself a scientist, an environmentalist, and a liberal Democrat. He doesn't eat oysters and he likes wilderness. But he likes science more.]

Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water by Peter H. Gleick
The World's Water Volume 7: The Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources by Peter H. Gleick

Methodology versus beliefs: What did Marcus Ross do wrong?

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/doing-good-science/2011/10/27/methodology-versus-beliefs-what-did-marcus-ross-do-wrong/

Doing Good Science

By Janet D. Stemwedel | October 27, 2011

We've been discussing whether good science has more to do with the methodology you use or with what you believe, and considering the particular case of Ph.D. geoscientist and young earth creationist Marcus Ross (here and here). At least some of the responses to these two posts seem to offer the view that: (1) of course what makes for a reliable piece of scientific knowledge is the methodology used to produce it (and especially to check it for error), but (2) the very fact that Marcus Ross is committed to young earth creationism, which means among other things that he is committed to the belief that the earth is not more than 10,000 years old, is a fatal blow to his scientific credibility as a geoscientist.

Either this boils down to claiming that having young earth creationist beliefs makes it impossible to use scientific methodology and generate a reliable piece of knowledge (even though Ross seems to have done just that in writing his dissertation), or perhaps to claiming instead that a person who holds young earth creationist beliefs and also uses standard scientific methodology to generate bits of scientific knowledge must have some ulterior motive for generating them. In this latter case, I take it the worry is not with the respectability of the product (i.e., the scientific knowledge claims), nor of the process (i.e., the standard sorts of evidence or inferential machinery being used to support the scientific knowledge claims), but rather of the producer (i.e., the person going through all the scientific motions yet still believing in young earth creationism).

I think it's worth examining the general unease and trying to be more precise about what people think Marcus Ross might be doing wrong here. However, let the record reflect that I have not been surveilling Marcus Ross — not sitting in on the classes he teaches, not tracking down and reading his scientific publications, not following him to geological meetings or church or the supermarket. What this means is that we're going to be examining hypotheticals here, rather than scads of empirical facts about what Marcus Ross actually does.

Possibility 1: Ross is using his geoscience Ph.D. to gain unwarranted increase in credibility for young earth creationist beliefs.

Ross teaches geology at Liberty University. Part of this teaching seems to involve setting out the kinds of theories, evidence, and inferential machinery (including accepted dating methods and the evidential support for them) that you'd expect students to learn in a geology class in a secular university. Part of it also seems to involve laying out the details of young earth creationism (which is not accepted as scientific by the scientists who make up the field of geoscience), the claims it supports, and on what evidential basis. Obviously, the claims of young earth creationism are bolstered by quite different evidence and a quite distinct (religious) inferential structure.

One approach to this pedagogy would be to bring out the important differences, both in the conclusions of geology and of young earth creationism and in the recognized rules for drawing, testing, and supporting conclusions between the two. Indeed, Ross's comments make it sound like this is the approach he takes:

In my classes here at Liberty University I introduce my students to the reasons why geologists think the Earth is ancient, or why various organisms are viewed as strong evidence for evolution. I do this so that they understand that these arguments are well thought-out, and to teach them to respect the ideas of those with whom they disagree.

If Ross is actually making it clear how scientific inference differs from faith-based claims, then is should be clear to any of his students who are paying attention that the science Ross studied in graduate school does not support his young earth creationism. Rather, the science supports the scientific inference. His faith supports young earth creationism. The two are different.

If, on the other hand, Ross were to mischaracterize the theories, evidence, and inferential machinery of geoscience in his classes, that would be bad. It would amount to lying about the nature of geoscience (and perhaps also of science more broadly).

In the same way, if Ross were to claim that the body of geological knowledge, or the methods of geoscience, or the empirical evidence recognized by geoscientists lent scientific support to the claims of young earth creationism, that would also be lying.

Ross (and his students) might still accept young earth creationism, but they would be doing so on religious rather than scientific grounds — something that a careful study of geoscience and its methods should make clear. If anything, such a study should underline that the rules for the scientific credibility of a claim are orthogonal to the rules for the religious credibility of a claim.

Possibility 2: Ross doesn't intend to use his geoscience Ph.D. to gain unwarranted increase in credibility for young earth creationist beliefs, but it has that effect on his audience anyway.

You might worry that Marcus Ross's status as a Ph.D. geoscientist lends extra credibility to all the beliefs he voices — at least when those beliefs are judged by an audience of undergraduates who are enamored by Ph.D.s. That's a hard degree to get, after all, and you have to be really smart to get one, right? And, smart people (especially those certified to be Ph.D.-smart by Ph.D. granting institutions) have more credible beliefs than everyone else, right?

If Ross's students are making this sort of judgment about his credibility — and they might well be — it's a silly judgment to make. It would be akin to assuming that my Ph.D. in chemistry would make me a more credible commentator on the theories of Descartes or Husserl. Let me assure you, it does not! (That's why I spent six additional years of my life in graduate school developing the expertise relevant for work in philosophy.)

Indeed, the kind of extra credibility young earth creationism might gain in the minds of undergraduates by this route speaks more to a lack of critical thinking on the part of the undergraduates than it does to any dishonesty on Ross's part. It also makes me yearn for the days of robust teen rebellion and reflexive mistrust of anyone over 30.

We should be fair, though, and recognize that it's not just college students who can be dazzled by an advanced degree. Plenty of grown-ups in the larger society have the same reaction. Uncritically accepting the authority of the Ph.D. to speak on matters beyond the tether of his expertise is asking to be sold snake oil.

In light of the increased authority non-scientists seem to grant those with scientific training even outside the areas of their scientific expertise, it might be reasonable to ask scientists to be explicit about when they are speaking as scientists and when they are speaking as people with no special authority (or, perhaps, with authority that has some source other than scientific training). But, if we think Marcus Ross has an obligation to note that his scientific training does not support his views in the realm of young earth creationism, we probably ought to hold other scientists to the same obligation when they speak of matters beyond their scientific expertise. Fair is fair.

Possibility 3: Ross is using his engagement with the community of geoscientists to make it appear to outsiders as though his young earth creationist views are scientifically respectable, even though he knows they aren't.

This is a possibility raised by Donald Prothero's account of "stealth creationism" at meetings of the Geological Society of America (GSA). Prothero writes:

Most of the time when I attend the meetings, there are plenty of controversial topics and great debates going on within the geological community, so the profession does not suppress unorthodox opinions or play political games. This is the way it should be in any genuine scientific discipline. I've seen amazingly confrontational knock-down-drag-out sessions about particularly hotly debated ideas, but always conducted in a spirit of honest scientific exchange and always hewing to rules of science and naturalism. To get on the meeting program, scientists must propose to organize sessions around particular themes, along with field trips to geologically interesting sites within driving distance of the convention city, and the GSA host committee reads and approves these proposals. But every once in a while, I see a poster title and abstract with something suspicious about it. When I check the authors, they turn out to be Young-Earth Creationists (YEC) who claim the earth is only 6000 years old and all of geology can be explained by Noah's flood. When I visit the poster session, it's usually mobbed by real geologists giving the YECs a real grilling, even though the poster is ostensibly about some reasonable geologic topic, like polystrate trees in Yellowstone, and there is no overt mention of Noah's flood in the poster. But the 2010 meeting last year in Denver took the cake: there was a whole field trip run by YECs who did not identify their agenda, and pretended that they were doing conventional geology—until you read between the lines.

Marcus Ross was one of the leaders of the field trip in question, as was Steve Austin of the Institute for Creation Research. Prothero quotes his colleague Steve Newton's account of this GSA meeting field trip:

Through the entire trip, the leaders never identified themselves as YECs or openly advocated Noah's flood or a 6000-year-old earth. Instead, the entire trip was filled with stops at outcrops where the leaders emphasized the possible evidence for sudden deposition of the strata at Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs, without stating explicitly that they believed this sudden deposition was Noah's flood in action. (There are LOTS of instances of local rapid and sudden deposition of strata in real geology, but they are local and clearly cannot be linked to any global flood). As Newton described it:

Furthermore, the field trip leaders were careful not to make overt creationist references. If the 50 or so field trip participants did not know the subtext and weren't familiar with the field trip leaders, it's quite possible that they never realized that the leaders endorsed geologic interpretations completely at odds with the scientific community. Even the GSA Sedimentary Geology Division had initially signed on as a sponsor of the trip (though they backed out once they learned the views of the trip leaders).

But the leaders' Young-Earth Creationist views were apparent in rhetorical subtleties. For example, when Austin referred to Cambrian outcrops, he described them as rocks that are "called Cambrian." It's an odd phrasing, allowing use of the proper geologic term while subtly denying its implications. In one instance, when Austin was asked by a trip attendee about the age of a rock unit, he responded somewhat cryptically, "Wherever you want to go there." Such phrasing was telling, if you knew what to listen for.

Subtext about the age of formations was a big part of the Young-Earth Creationist rhetoric on the trip. As we moved on to each field trip stop, a narrative began to emerge: the creationist concept of Noah's Flood as explanation for the outcrops. Although no one uttered the words "Noachian Flood," the guides' descriptions of the geology were revealing and rather coy. For example, at the first stop—a trail off Highway 24 near Manitou Spring—Austin stated that the configuration of the units was "the same over North America," and had been formed by a massive marine transgression. "Whatever submerged the continent," Austin went on, it must have been huge in scale.

Here, a charitable reading of the field trip might be that the believers in geology were taking in the sights and interpreting the evidence with the (scientific) inferential machinery of geology, while the young earth creationists were taking in the very same sights and interpreting the evidence with the (religious) inferential machinery of young earth creationism. But, Prothero argues that there's more than this going on:

Sadly, the real problem here is that YEC "geologists" come back from this meeting falsely bragging that their "research" was enthusiastically received, and that they "converted" a lot of people to their unscientific views. As Newton pointed out, they will crow in their publicity that they are attending regular professional meetings and presenting their research successfully. For those who don't know any better, it sounds to the YEC audience like they are conventional geologists doing real research and that they deserve to be taken seriously as geologists—even though every aspect of their geology is patently false (see Chapter 3 in my 2007 Evolution book). And so, once more the dishonesty of the YEC takes advantage of the openness and freedom of the scientific community to exploit it to their own ends, and abuse the privilege of open communication to push anti-scientific nonsense on the general population that doesn't know the difference.

Prothero notes (as does Marcus Ross in his comments on this blog) that the research by young earth creationists that is well received by the geological community is completely conventional, using only the inferential machinery of geoscience and making no use of the assumptions of young earth creationism. But presenting work (or leading a field trip) with a young earth creationist subtext (i.e., possibly these observations can be interpreted as evidence of a really big flood of some kind …) to an audience of geologists, and then spinning a lack of loud objections to a conclusion you didn't explicitly present as if it were endorsement of that conclusion by the geologists is a dishonest move.

Honest engagement with a scientific community means putting your evidential and methodological cards on the table. It means, if you want to know whether other scientists would endorse (or even accept as not-totally-implausible) a particular conclusion, you put that particular conclusion out there for their examination. All you can reasonably conclude from the fact that other scientists didn't shoot down a conclusion that you never openly stated is that those other scientists did not read your mind.

Possibility 4: It's wrong for Ross to maintain his young earth creationist beliefs after the thorough exposure to scientific theories, evidence, and methodology that he received in his graduate training in geosciences.

Learning to be a scientist means, among other things, learning scientific patterns of thought, scientific standards for evaluating knowledge claims, and scientific methods for generating and testing new knowledge claims. Such immersion in the tribe of science and in the activity of scientific research, some might argue, should have driven the young earth creationist beliefs right out of Marcus Ross's head.

Maybe we could reasonably expect this outcome if his young earth creationist beliefs depended on the same kind of evidence and inferential machinery as do scientific claims. However, they do not. Young earth creationist claims are not scientific claims, but faith-based claims. Young earth creationism sets itself apart from the inferential structure of science — if its adherents are persuaded that a claim is credible on the basis of faith (e.g., in a particular reading of scriptures), then no arrangement of empirical evidence could be sufficient to reliably undermine that adherence.

To be sure, this means that a scientist like Marcus Ross who is also a young earth creationist has non-scientific beliefs in his head. But, if we're going to assert that scientific training ought, when done right, to purge the trainee of all non-scientific beliefs, then there is precious little evidence that scientific training is being done right anywhere.

There are quite a lot of scientists with non-scientific beliefs that persist. They have beliefs about who would be the best candidate to vote for in a presidential election, about what movie will be most entertaining, about what entree at the restaurant will be most delicious and nutritious. They have beliefs about whether the people they care for also care for them, and about whether their years of toil on particular research questions will make the world a better place (or, more modestly, whether they will have been personally fulfilling). Many of these beliefs are hunches, no better supported by the available empirical evidence than are the beliefs routinely formed by non-scientists.

This is not to say that the evidence necessarily argues against holding these beliefs. Rather, the available evidence may be so sparse as to be inadequate to support or undermine the belief. Still, scientific training does not prevent the person so trained from forming beliefs in these instances — and this may be useful, especially since there are situations where sitting on the fence waiting for decisive evidence is not the best call. (Surely we have more complete evidence about what kind of president Richard M. Nixon would make now than was available in November 1968, but it's too late for us to use that evidence to vote in the 1968 presidential election.)

If harboring non-scientfic beliefs is a crime, we'd be hard pressed to find a single member of the tribe of science who is not at least a little guilty.

Maybe it's more reasonable to hold scientists accountable to recognize which of their beliefs are well supported by empirical evidence and which are not. A bit of reflection is probably sufficient to help scientists sort out the scientific beliefs from the non-scientific beliefs. And, to the extent that Marcus Ross wants to be a practicing member of the tribe of science (or even an intellectually honest outsider with enough scientific training that he ought to be able to tell the difference), it's just as reasonable to hold him accountable for recognizing which sort of beliefs constitute his young earth creationism.

Being able to tell the difference between scientific and non-scientific beliefs is not only a more attainable goal for human scientists than having only scientific beliefs, but it is a much easier standard for the tribe of science to police, since it involves examining what kinds of claims a person asserts as backed by the science — something other scientists can check by examining evidence and arguments — rather than examining what's in a person's head.

These possibilities strike me as the most likely candidates for what's bugging science-minded people about Marcus Ross. If I've missed what's bugging you about him, please make your case in the comments.

About the Author: Janet D. Stemwedel is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at San José State University. Her explorations of ethics, scientific knowledge-building, and how they are intertwined are informed by her misspent scientific youth as a physical chemist. Follow on Twitter @docfreeride.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

National Center for Science Education Heavily Promotes Darwinist Bullying in New Documentary

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/10/national_center_for_science_ed_2052241.html

David Klinghoffer October 26, 2011 12:34 PM | Permalink

Joshua Rosenau of the Darwin-lobbying National Center for Science Education read my article here on a documentary the NCSE has been promoting, No Dinosaurs in Heaven, and wrote me a series of overheated letters of protest. He wanted to let me know that my "libelous screed," "defamatory claims" and "baseless accusations" about the film and NCSE's relationship to it were "demonstrably false" requiring prompt withdrawal. Josh went on to quote Virgil's Aeneid that rumors of the kind I am spreading are "nimble as quicksilver among evils."

I asked Josh, NCSE's Programs and Policy Director, if I could quote his emails to me. He consented on the condition that I specify that he was writing "from my private email address, on my own time and not on behalf of NCSE." OK, whatever. Anyone with a little common sense knows that when you represent an organization in a contentious intellectual debate and you speak out on that organization's subject and about its work, there's no easy disentangling of yourself from your colleagues and the cause you all stand for. If Josh were writing about gluten-free cooking tips, that would be different.

Then this morning I got another hopping-mad email from him about how I'm treading a "dishonorable path," this time from the official NCSE email account so you know he means business. This guy is really hocking me a chainik.

Why all the hyperventilating, anyway, from Josh of the NCSE/not of the NCSE? Because I wrote that the NCSE has been "promoting" this documentary, the trailer of which I viewed the other day, and the thing is an embarrassment. In fact I detect a hint of embarrassment in Josh's own emails -- otherwise why rush to disassociate your organization, however disingenuously, from the documentary?

An attack on creationism and intelligent design -- which the NCSE dishonestly conflates as "'Intelligent Design' creationism" or IDC -- the trailer by Gretta Schiller of Jezebel Productions appeals to viewers' vanity, ignoring the substantive scientific debate in favor of appeals to snooty self-satisfied insinuations that Darwin-believers are just plain smarter than those primitive creationists. To illustrate, it picks on a black man, unidentified in the trailer, who tries to express a pro-ID "Teach the Controversy" view. The gentleman can't communicate effectively in English, however, so much so that Ms. Schiller subtitles his comments.

I and other people who have seen the trailer winced at the racial contrast -- all these smug white people congratulating themselves contrasted with the lone black man who tries to but can't articulate an effective argument for ID. If you don't believe me, just watch it for yourself. I don't think NCSE or Jezebel Productions is knowingly promoting racism -- I assume this is mere incompetence on the part of Ms. Schiller and the standard reluctance among Darwin promoters to confront effective spokesmen for scientific skepticism on evolution.

Josh, meanwhile, berates me for saying the black man is "unidentified" when in fact -- he has an identity! He is

a professor in Ms. Schiller's science education class at City College of New York, the teacher whose creationist lessons inspired the film and its narrative. He speaks in a thick African accent because he in fact grew up in Africa, with degrees from South Africa. I don't know how he lost his teeth, but am confident that this lies beyond the filmmaker's control.

That's nice, but it still doesn't explain why the Darwin crowd consistently picks on the weakest proponents of views they don't like. It is sheer intellectual bullying. How different from ID proponents who make a point of going after the most articulate and forceful representatives, the top men and women, on the other side. Compare No Dinos to Expelled!, which got interviews with Richard Dawkins (highly amusing), Oxford's Peter Atkins, and NCSE's Eugenie Scott, among others.

So where's the libelous, baseless defamatory falsehood in my article, worthy of condemnation by the poet Virgil himself? Is it that I say NCSE is promoting No Dinosaurs in Heaven? Well let me offer this correction. If anything, I understated. The group is heavily promoting this film. The day I wrote my initial article, Eugenie Scott traveled across the country to speak at the Queens College screening. From the press kit it appears that not only is the main "cast" member Eugenie Scott, but half of those in the film who receive "cast biographies" are current or past NCSE officials. The FAQ section directs readers to the NCSE for help in getting rid of pesky Darwin doubters. On the film's home page, what greets you is a homey picture of the filmmaker next to Dr. Scott.

According to the NCSE's website, NCSE officials have participated in or acted as hosts for at least eight screenings of the film around the world. The NCSE even offered the DVD of the film as an award in their bumper sticker contest. So, yes, the NCSE has its fingerprints all over this project. Why deny it if you're not embarrassed?

But enough of this. You may recall that I wrote here earlier about NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch and his work with a vile 9/11 Truth conspiracy theorist and anti-Semite, Jim Fetzer. There too Josh Rosenau denounced me for pointing it out, writing on his blog and meanwhile claiming that he spoke only for himself not for the NCSE. Oh, for goodness sake. These folks really need to do a better job of taking responsibility for what they say and do in a debate they chose to enter of their own accord.

Unleash the Kraken! Creationism, Kookiness, and Alleged Censorship

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-newton/unleash-the-kraken-creati_b_1031878.html

Steven Newton

Programs and Policy Director for the National Center for Science Education

Posted: 10/26/11 11:12 AM ET

Here are some recent headlines:

"Darwin Challenged, Research Censored"
"Global Warming Study Censored by EPA"
"Darwin Censors Strike Again"

You might get the impression from such headlines that scientists are engaged in systematic suppression of dissent, ruthlessly silencing all those who fail to toe the party line on evolution and climate. One governor went so far as to compare those who reject the science of climate change to Galileo, suggesting such doubters are scientific martyrs.

While some fantasize that all scientists work together in a secretive Marxist cabal dedicated to ruining the economy with carbon caps and foisting godless materialism onto impressionable youngsters, the truth is quite different.

One place to see the tolerance and openness of the scientific community is at conferences. As it happens, I've just returned from one such meeting, the 2011 meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA), one of the biggest get-togethers for earth scientists in the country.

GSA has a history of openness that might surprise those who imagine scientists as censors. As I detailed in an article for Earth magazine, in 2009 and 2010, the GSA allowed well-known young-earth creationists to run field trips and give presentations at GSA conferences. I have argued that because the young-earth creationists' presentations followed the guidelines for presentations, used normal techniques, and employed the standard geologic timeline, the GSA made the right decision in allowing them.

This year's conference again hosted a few more cryptic creationist posters, but these actually seemed tame compared to a few of the other presentations.

One odd GSA talk reinterpreted a fossil assemblage as the discarded meals of a giant "Triassic Kraken." In a titanic clash of science and sensationalism, this crafty cephalopod was conjectured to be the "most intelligent invertebrate ever" -- so talented, in fact, that it sculpted "the earliest known self-portrait" using the bones of its prey. Uh huh.

No word if this kraken was also able to predict the outcomes of World Cup games. One astute commentator, noting that there was "not a shred of actual evidence to back up the claims," suggested the talk should have been titled the "Squid that Ate Common Sense." Far from censoring even outlandish ideas, here the GSA here let a very wild idea see the light of day.

Not to be outdone, another GSA presentation posited "Plausible explanations for two major events in earth history." To the skeptic's ear, when the word "plausible" needs to be included, this is a warning sign that what is described may not, in fact, be so plausible. And this poster presentation did not disappoint. It described previously unrecognized impacts of "two large asteroids," which apparently caused the breakup of the ancient supercontinent Pangaea into different continents. These impact-driven land masses were hurled across the globe in "minutes rather than millennia." India, for example, slammed against Asia "with greatest initial velocity" to create the Himalayas. The evidence for all this was supposedly "readily observable via Google Maps." Uh huh.

What do these presentations tell us? For one thing, the idea that the scientific community ruthlessly enforces conformity is wrong. The claim that scientists are censors holds about as much weight as the idea that the thrashing of the tentacles of a giant squid is responsible for plate tectonics. (Hey, there's a thought for the next GSA conference...)

While purveyors of pseudoscience and deniers of well-established science alike complain bitterly about alleged exclusion and censorship of their ideas, the truth is that if they submitted their ideas for the scrutiny of the people attending a relevant scientific conference, or for the review of an appropriate scientific journal, they would likely get a fair hearing.

Consider this: Do you think arsenic is part of the DNA of Mono Lake bacteria? A paper positing this was published last year in Science -- and quickly debunked. Do you think you can create cold fusion using simple lab equipment? That claim was seriously considered -- and quickly shown to be false.

These ideas have something in common: They were not censored. Despite the accusations of scientists colluding in a conspiracy to silence dissent, the reality is very different.

One strength of science is its process for considering even outlandish proposals, giving them a fair and skeptical hearing, and discarding those ideas which simply do not have the evidence. Even after rejection, the door remains open for new evidence to change initial conclusions; perhaps a yet-undiscovered fossil will reveal a kraken in the act of composing a self-portrait.

So the next time you hear someone claiming their ideas about evolution or climate change are being censored by scientists, tell them that if they truly have evidence, they should submit it and let other scientists critique it. Science is not a spectator sport; get in the game or go home.

Severing the link between Darwin and Nazism

http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/DARWIN+NAZISM/5609903/story.html

By Faye Flam, The Philadelphia Inquirer October 26, 2011

PHILADELPHIA - To some creationists, Darwin was not only wrong but also poisonous - his evolutionary theory, they say, directly influenced Adolf Hitler's genocidal ideology.

Historian Richard Weikart appeared in the anti-evolution film "Expelled," promoting this alleged Darwin-Hitler link. Weikart has written extensively on this, arguing that Darwinian evolution destroyed Judeo-Christian morality, especially the notion of reverence for life.

Weikart does not try to push the idea that this invalidates evolution as a scientific idea. But he is openly creationist - a fellow at the Intelligent Design-promoting Discovery Institute in Seattle.

His message is that evolution kills morality. "If everything is a product of chance - purposeless - which is widespread in biology textbooks . . . then I don't think you have any grounds to criticize Hitler."

Those are fighting words, and a number of thinkers have challenged them. Most recently University of Chicago historian Robert Richards took Weikart to task in a paper titled "Was Hitler a Darwinian?" - to which he answers a definitive no.

Weikart said he began exploring the topic when he wrote his dissertation on the influence of Darwin on German socialism in the 19th century. There, he said, Darwinism was used to justify eugenics - the attempt to influence selection in the human race, usually by killing or sterilizing anyone considered "unfit."

As Weikart learned more, he said, "the connection to Nazism leapt out at me." Darwin's second evolution book, "The Descent of Man," is rife with racist statements about "higher" and "lower" races, said Weikart, and Darwin viewed the extermination of native people in Tasmania and Australia as part of natural selection.

Darwin, Weikart admits, didn't advocate such killings, and he abhorred slavery. Darwin also disavowed the more extreme eugenicist views, instead saying that helping those in need exercised the better part of our nature.

But Darwinian thinkers of Hitler's time were trying to use evolution to justify racism, said Weikart, and this influenced Hitler. "Hitler spoke and wrote incessantly about evolution, natural selection and the struggle for existence, especially the struggle between races," he wrote in one of his books.

Richards calls this all a desperate tactic to undermine evolution. Creationism and Intelligent Design don't hold up scientifically, he said, so people like Weikart are trying to show that evolution is somehow morally dangerous.

"There's not the slightest shred of evidence that Hitler read Darwin," he said. Some of the biggest influences on Hitler's anti-Semitism were opposed to evolution, such as British writer Houston Stewart Chamberlain, whose racial theory became incorporated into Nazi doctrine. Hitler uses language with "a Darwinian flavor," said Richards, but if you look at the ideas behind it they have nothing to do with Darwin.

Hitler often used the word Entwicklungslehre, Richards said, which can mean evolution but is a much more general term meaning development, and Hitler most often employed it to refer to economic development. "It's quite unfair to translate this as evolution," he said, as Weikart does.

While some of Darwin's writings contain racist notions of a hierarchy of races, Richards said, this was inherited from much earlier work and was part of the then-current mode of thinking.

Daniel Gasman, a historian at City University of New York's John Jay College, has also written that Darwin wasn't a major influence on Hitler but he does see a connection with German biologist Ernst Haeckel, who was one of Darwin's fiercest disciples.

Gasman wrote a book called "Scientific Origins of National Socialism" connecting Haeckel's influence to Hitler and Nazi ideology. Stephen Jay Gould read it and popularized the idea further in his own writings.

Haeckel was Germany's most famous scientist, Gasman said. He advocated evolution but his conception of it was different from Darwin's - he saw progress and advancement where Darwin noted only change. "Haeckel's Darwinism is a vast transformation of what Darwin wrote and stood for," Gasman said.

Haeckel also created his own religion, called monism, which tried to replace the Judeo-Christian idea of separate spiritual and physical worlds with a more integrated view.

Gasman said examples abound showing that Haeckel was a leader in anti-Semitic thought. Richards said his research shows Haeckel was militantly atheistic but not anti-Semitic - he disliked both Judaism and Christianity in equal measures.

They both agree that any whiff of Darwinism in Hitler's speech or writing was merely window-dressing. The Nazis did try to look scientifically sophisticated, Gasman said. "They took anti-Semitism and gave it a scientific character that propelled them forward," he said. "That's why it was so murderous."

The historians also agree that evolution's validity as a scientific concept is unaffected by this controversy. "Even if Hitler said all his inspiration for persecuting the Jews derived from Darwin, it would say nothing about the validity of evolution," Richards said.

Weikart's view that evolution's proponents lack the moral grounds to criticize Hitler raises this question: Why should we hold evolution responsible for providing a complete moral framework? We don't ask that of Galileo or Newton or Einstein. Weikart replies that evolution is different because various thinkers have applied it to morality.

But there are many ways to spin the moral influence of Darwin. Perhaps instead of creating chaos, it might be helping us construct a more informed and less rigid morality. Darwin himself wrote that violence, selfishness, charity and goodwill are all part of human nature. He hoped we would choose to act on the better parts.

And the element of chance to which we owe our existence could provide inspiration rather than moral decay. If our lives really did hinge on countless accidents, couldn't that notion make life ever more precious?

© Copyright (c) McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Expert harp on benefits of magnetic cure for malaria

http://www.thenationonlineng.net/2011/index.php/health/24201-expert-harp-on-benefits-of-magnetic-cure-for-malaria.html

By Oyeyemi Gbenga-Mustapha 12 hours 19 minutes ago

Magneto therapy has been described as a cheap method of treating malaria.

According to a member of the National Complementary and Alternative Medicine Association (NACAMA), Dr Cyril Omisande, clinical magnetology is a new and vibrant branch of medical science, which combines ancient wisdom with modern scientific pragmatism. It believes in the harmony of man and nature.

"It is a therapeutic programme developed for effective management of chronic, incurable diseases, chiefly by clinical magnetology supported by natural habits and complementary therapy systems. So, it has been proven that malaria parasite Plasmodium loses vigour and can die when exposed to oscillating magnetic fields, which may cause tiny iron, containing particles inside the parasite to move in ways that damage the organism. The treatment of malaria with magnetic fields has proven revolutionary in controlling the disease."

According to Dr Omisande, who is a member of African Association of Naturopathic Physicians in Ogun State, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has termed malaria as one of the world's most complex and serious human health concerns. "This is an inexpensive and simple way to treat a disease that affects 500 million people every year, almost all in Third World countries. According to WHO, as many as 1.5 million people die of malaria every year in Nigeria, approximately one million of those are children.

"In the past two decades, the emergence of drug resistant by malaria parasites have created enormous problems in controlling the disease; treatment with magnet has passed those concerns because it is unlikely Plasmodium could develop a resistance to magnetic fields," he said.

Explaining how Anopheles mosquitoes that carries the parasite causes malaria, Omisande said:

"Malaria is spread by the female Anopheles mosquitoes. The organism first invades the liver, then re-enters the bloodstream and attacks red blood cells. This is what causes malaria's hallmark symptoms like fever, uncontrolled shivering, aches in the joints and headaches. Infected blood cells can block blood vessels to the brain, causing seizures and death. Other vital organs are also at risk, as malaria parasites 'eat' the haemoglobin in red blood cell of the host.

"They break down the globin portion of the haemoglobin molecule, but the iron portion, or the haeme, is left intact because the parasite lacks the enzyme needed to degrade it. This causes a problem for the parasite because free haeme molecules can cause a chain reaction of oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids, leading to membrane damage in the parasite. The malaria organism renders the free haeme molecules non – toxic by binding them into long stacks – like 'tiny bar magnets," he said.

He said the oscillating magnetic fields may affect the parasites, the process of binding free haeme molecules into stacks, the alternating field shakes the stacked haeme molecules, preventing further stacking. That would allow harmful haeme free reign within the parasite.

"The therapy is seen as a very weak magnetic field, just a little stronger than the earth's. The difference is that it is oscillating, the method is proven effective and safe. It is very easy. People come to the treatment room and sit and read or whatever while they're being treated," he said.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Defending alternative medicine and autism: the charges against Anju Usman

http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/2011/10/defending-alternative-medicine-and-autism-the-charges-against-anju-usman/

In Illinois charges DAN doctor with unethical behavior, LBRB writer Ken Reibel discussed the case recently brought against alternative medical practitioner Dr. Anju Usman. These charges follow on a civil suit brought by the parent of an autistic child seen by Dr. Usman. This charges in this case will require that Dr. Usman defend many of the common practices in alternative medicine.

The complaint is:

DEPARTMENT OF FINANCIAL AND PROFESSIONAL REGULATION of the State of Illinois,

v.

ANJUM I. USMAN, M.D.

No. 200904994

One short paragraph in the complaint sums up a big piece of where this suit has the possibility to strongly influence how alternative medicine "treats" autism: None of the treatments described above has been proven to influence the course of autism.

Here is a section of count 1:

17. Hair analysis does not provide a basis for the diagnosis of heavy metal toxicity.
18. Provoked urine testing does not provide a basis for the diagnosis of heavy metal toxicity. The American College of Medical Toxicology has determined that provoked testing has not be scientifically validated, has no demonstrated benefit and may be harmful when used for assessing patients for metal poisoning.
19. Porphyrin testing does not provide a reliable basis for the diagnosis of heavy metal toxicity.
20. Although chelation therapy is FDA-approved for treating lead poisoning, it should not be used unless a non-provoked blood (not urine) test shows an extremely high level of lead.
21. Respondent did not obtain a confirmatory blood lead test or record any source of lead exposure.
22. The record contains no basis for concluding that chelation therapy was appropriate.
23. The record does not contain adequate infonlled consent for any of the prescribed nonstandard tests or treatments. The consent fonns used did not accurately present the risks and/or benefits of tests and treatments. Although it mentioned experimental drug use, these were not administered as part of a proper experimental protocol.
24. The informed consent form states that chelation therapy "is considered controversial for the generalized treatment of chronic low or high level lead toxicity, mercury toxicity, or for other heavy metal toxicities, either acute or chronic." This statement is misleading because there is a clear scientific consensus that it is inappropriate for treating lead toxicity without demonstrating that toxicity exists and that the level is very high.
25. Throughout the treatment period, Respondent made statements to AC's mother that the prescribed treatments had positive clinical benefits for children with autism, despite the lack of empirical research supporting Respondent's position.
26. The record does not document any reason why AC should have received unproven treatments.
27. Spironolactone, which is potentially dangerous, was prescribed without justification.
28. Despite a nonnal selenium level, Respondent repeatedly and unnecessarily prescribed selenium supplements and continued to do so even when AC eventually showed a high level.
29. That Respondent abused the physician/patient relationship by taking unfair advantage of a patient's vulnerability in that Respondent utilized unproven drugs and medicine to treat AC, a pediatric patient diagnosed with autism.
30. That the foregoing acts and/or omissions of Respondent are grounds for revocation or suspension of a Certificate of Registration pursuant to 225 Illinois Compiled Statutes (2002), Section 60122(A)(20), relying on the Rules for the Administration of the Medical Practice Act, Illinois Administrative Code Title 68, Section 1285.240(b)(1 )(C), and (2) (C).

There are many methods by which "heavy metal toxicity" is diagnosed by alternative medical practitioners. These methods are not demonstrated to be accurate, and are not accepted by actual medical toxicologists. These include hair analysis, provoked urine testing and porphyrin testing.

A prime example is provoked urine testing. A thorough discussion can be found here. A provoked urine test involves giving an individual a chelator and then testing the urine for heavy metals. Everyone (every thing, every animal) has some level of mercury. A chelator will force the body to excrete some level of the heavy metals inside, so it is no surprise that the levels obtained are "elevated". The problem is that there is no standard by which one can compare the provoked urine to determine if the person actually has heavy metal poisoning.

The method is also called "challenge" testing. The American College of Medical Toxicologists have a position statement on this:

It is, therefore, the position of the American College of Medical Toxicology that post-challenge urinary metal testing has not been scientifically validated, has no demonstrated benefit, and may be harmful when applied in the assessment and treatment of patients in whom there is concern for metal poisoning.

More quotes from the complaint:

From Count III

That Respondent made false or misleading statements regarding the efficacy or value of the medicine, treatment, or remedy prescribed by Respondent in the treatment of any disease or other condition of the body in that Respondent made false or misleading statements regarding the efficacy of chelation therapy in the treatment of autism.

From Count V

29. That Respondent engaged in a pattern of practice or other behavior that demonstrates incapacity or incompetence to practice in that Respondent:
a. Repeatedly prescribed and administered unproven and medically unnecessary treatments to AC despite the lack of empirical research demonstrating the effectiveness of the prescribed treatment plans; and
b. Demonstrated extreme departure from rational medical judgment in the care and treatment of AC.

This isn't a criminal complaint. Rather it is an ethics or "professional regulation" complaint. The disciplinary action called for if the case is proven involves Dr. Usman's license:

WHEREFORE, based on these allegations, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation of the State of Illinois, by Laura E. Forester, its Chief of Medical Prosecutions, prays that the Physician and Surgeon license of ANJUM I. USMAN, M.D., be revoked, suspended, placed on probation or otherwise disciplined.

Alternative medicine: The illusion of control

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2011/10/alternative_medicine_the_illusion_of_con.php

Category: Cancer • Medicine • Quackery
Posted on: October 17, 2011 3:00 AM, by Orac

We humans like control. Actually, we need to feel as though we are in control. Perhaps that's why, when we aren't in control--can't be in control, for whatever reason--we instinctively seek ways of being more in control, or at least of feeling as though we are in control. I've often wondered if providing the illusion of control is part of the reason for the appeal of quackery alternative medicine, or, as it's become known these days, "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM) or "integrative medicine" (IM). That, and the human need for certainty.

Think about it, taking cancer (my specialty) as the prototypical example. What do those nasty, reductionistic, science-based doctors tell a patient when confronted with a patient with cancer? Even for an early stage, eminently treatable cancer, we rarely use the word "cure." We speak in terms of five- and ten-year survival and percentage chance of relapse. We almost never, ever tell a patient that we can definitely cure them. That's because pretty much all of us have been gobsmacked and saddened by cases like that of a woman with a 1 cm breast cancer with no lymph node metastases, favorable histology, and positive estrogen receptor status who came back three years after apparently successful treatment with stage IV disease. The frequency of this sort of thing may only be in the single digit percentage range, but if you see hundreds of patients a year you will see a few of these patients every year, and you will be humbled. Even more humbling is when a patient asks me what caused her cancer. As much as I can pontificate on the molecular and genetic derangements that are associated with cancer, how cancer cells escape the normal controls that keep normal cells in check, only growing when they're supposed to and then stopping, when it comes to the question "Why?" I can never tell the patient what it is she really wants to hear. That is the cause of her cancer and whether there was anything she could do to prevent it. In most cases, the answers are, to the patient at least, maddeningly vague and hand-waving.

Contrast that to the quack. There's a famous saying about surgeons, "Sometimes in error, never in doubt." With quacks, the saying should be, "Always in error, never in doubt." However, it's that "never in doubt" part that can suck in patients who are normally skeptical and hard-headed rationalists in other areas of their lives. For instance, when a quack like Tullio Simoncini tells patients that cancer is a fungus and that treating it with injections of sodium bicarbonate (i.e., common baking soda) straight into the tumor will cure it, a surprising number of patients believe. Ditto the late Hulda Clark, who proclaimed that the cause of all cancer is a common liver fluke and that she could "zap" it with her "Zapper." Indeed, she even proclaimed that she had the "cure for all cancers." Never mind that as a piece of technology her Zapper looked less convincing than a Scientology E-meter. Or take Robert O. Young, who tells patients that the cause of cancer is "acidity," that cancer is actually a reaction to cells "spoilt by acid"; and that they can cure their cancer by "alkalinizing" their body with a special diet and, of course, supplements. Regardless of how utterly ridiculous his quackery is, intelligent woo-prone women like Kim Tinkham fall for it and pay the price with their lives.

What the quacks give, I've found, is both certainly and control. Well, they actually don't give patients real certainty and control. Rather, they provide the illusion of certainty and control. Of course, there is a dark side to this message. In fact, Robert O. Young, as goofy as he looks and as goofy as he comes across when you see him on video, is a master at providing a false sense of control, as he demonstrates in a post on his blog I saw the other day entitled Health and Fitness Is A Choice Just As Sickness and Disease Is A Choice. Seldom have I seen the attitude of quacks laid out so baldly.

I've pointed out before that Robert Young is a germ theory denialist. In fact, in this post he makes it explicit once again, extolling the virtue of Antoine Bechamp and lambasting Louis Pasteur. After he does that, though, he gets to the heart of the matter, and the heart of the matter is rotten:

More importantly, the germ theory has become a curse because it has encouraged individuals to give up responsibility for their own health over to the medical community. If germs cause disease it stands to reason that control belongs to the medical community whose tireless researchers spend trillions of our money to find the right pill or potion to annihilate disease-causing germs.

Of course, I tend to doubt that in the entire history of science-based medicine the amount of money spent on medical research has even approached "trillions" of dollars, but let's not quibble over numbers. We do spend a lot of money on medical research, certainly billions a year. (The NIH budget is, after all, around $31 billion a year.) But note the complaint against Pasteur. It's only partially a fallacious claim that Pasteur's science was wrong. More importantly, it's an appeal to self-determination, the claim that the real problem with Pasteur's science was that it led to patients abrogating their control over their health to doctors. "If germs cause disease," according to Young, then it takes practitioners knowledgeable in how to combat these germs (like, for instance, Mark Crislip), not shamans-cum-pseudoscientists like Robert O. Young telling their patients that they can cure themselves if they just eat the right foods, take the right supplements, and do the right exercises. In fact, it goes beyond that, as Young makes clear:

Our body in its wholeness is an ingenious creation of nature, It has been given all mechanisms to not only sustain its life but also to create new life. Every healthy person has innate regulatory mechanisms to maintain its alkaline design and self-healing powers, which ensure or reestablish the natural balance of the bodily functions, the homeostasis. It is not the doctor that heals us, nor the medication, but our own innate alkaline regulatory mechanisms. Our body is able to fully regenerate itself. Therefore, it is advised to use great discernment before labeling any disease as "incurable" or "untreatable." If doctors come to the conclusion that a disease in incurable, they would be more accurate in saying that with their knowledge and experience, they are not able to offer any further help. The word "incurable" conveys fear, or false evidence appearing real, which stifles and weakens our body's innate alkaline mechanism.

In other words, believe it or not, Young is arguing that telling a patient her disease is incurable, even if it is, somehow makes it so. Wow. If doctors really had that power, then if we lied to our patients and told them that their disease is curable even when it is not then we should be able to "strengthen our body's innate alkaline mechanism" and cure even the incurable. Of course, Young is spouting a load of nonsense, but it's a telling load of nonsense. It tells us that what he's selling to his marks clients is hope. It's a false hope built on pure pseudoscience, and it involves telling patients they are curable when we know they are not, but it's hope. It's also certainty, as well, in that he's telling patients that they are completely in control of their health. Just look at the title: Health and Fitness Is A Choice Just As Sickness and Disease Is A Choice.

Think about the implications of that for a moment. Ignore, for the moment, all the nonsense, the "science-y" sounding gobbledygook about energy, matter, homeostasis, Hippocrates, and the usual topics that quacks like to use and abuse that Young ladles on his prose like so much gravy on meat loaf. (I'm amazed that nowhere in his article does there appear the word "quantum." It must have been an oversight.) In fact, if you want to get a flavor of the historical misinformation that Young delivers, just look at this statement:

In 1788 vaccinia was the bacteria that medical science suggested caused cowpox.

Except that in 1788 medical science had not yet discovered that bacteria cause disease, and vaccinia is a virus, not a bacterium. The germ theory of disease came nearly many decades later. The rest of Young's essay is peppered with errors in fact and interpretation like this.

It's all either utter nonsense or a twisting of what is currently understood, much of which I've applied some not-so-Respectful Insolence to not just once but many times over the last seven years. To an extent, a lot of it's a straw man argument. No physician would deny that lifestyle, such as diet and exercise, can have a major impact on health. However, unlike the impression that Young gives, there are some conditions and diseases that just happen, no matter how "perfect" or "healthy" a lifestyle you lead. Cancer is one of them. You can decrease your chances of developing cancer somewhat through diet, exercise, and avoiding things that are highly carcinogenic, like smoking tobacco products, but no matter what you do you will never decrease your risk of cancer to zero or anywhere near zero. This is particularly true given that cancer is a disease of aging, and, thanks to science-based medicine, people are living longer and longer these days. Since we all have to die some day, it follows that we all have to die of something, and diseases of old age, such as cancer and heart disease, are the two most common killers of the elderly. In any case, the implication of Young's idea is that if you are sick it is your fault. Period. You are to blame. Not nature. Not a "germ." Not genetics. You. This is the message of Robert O. Young and so many other quacks. In other words, the flip side of his message of control is that your illnesses are your fault.

Yes, it's the same dark side that is shared by The Secret.

Oblivious to that irony, Young engages in a massive case of projection:

Of course, we perceive that these ideas about disease are no longer widely believed, which makes it all more the ironic that Pasteur's germ theory has had and still has a stranglehold on 19th, 20th and now 21st century medicine. As medical writer Alberto Seguin described in an article entitled, "The Concept of Disease," the demonic idea of disease reached its full height with the germ theory. It became possible to bring together rational and scientific thought with irrational tendency to personalize disease. The germ in what ever name it is called, West Nile Virus, Ebola, Hunta, HIV, Anthrax, SARS and now AVIAN, are the scientific demon, the curse, the lie and the fraud that is said to attack and kill!

I would argue that Young is the one who personalizes disease. By declaring with such certainty that whether we are sick or healthy is entirely up to us, he personalizes disease at the level of the patient. If the patient is in control of his health, then if he becomes ill it must be somehow his fault. Blame is personalized. Think I'm exaggerating?

Think again:

Now, I pray and hope that you will realize that we are all responsible for our own health - you alone. A medical practitioner can only help to relieve symptoms. Ultimately, you are the one who has to take charge. Health is a choice just as disease is a choice. You are responsible for what goes into your mouth and what comes out of your mouth, as well as for what you think, feel and do. Health is all about choices and consequences.

Yes, to some extent it is, but this goes too far. If, for instance, you have a genetic condition that causes hypercholesterolemia or hyperlipidemia, you can eat as healthy a diet as you like and exercise all you like, but you probably can't stop the inevitable march of cardiovascular disease. If, for instance, you are a woman who carries a cancer-predisposing BRCA1 mutation, you have as high as an 80% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, and there is very little you can do to decrease that risk. In other words, as important as healthy lifestyles are for treating or alleviating so many conditions (type II diabetes, for instance), there are still a lot of diseases and conditions where genetics trumps lifestyle.

The same is true of infectious diseases. No matter how healthy you are, no matter how fanatically you adhere to the "right" foods and the "right" lifestyle, if you're unlucky enough to have the right pathogenic microbe insinuate itself into the right cells in your body, you will become ill and you might even die. Indeed, that's one reason why quacks like Young hate germ theory so much; it goes so radically against their own radical idea that you alone are completely responsible for whether you are ill or healthy. Microbes, as I like to say, don't care how perfect your lifestyle is.

In the end, Young merely echoes what I've read over and over and over again on quack websites, blogs, discussion lists, and other places where supporters of quackery congregate. Basically, he provides simple answers. All cancer is caused by a single thing, namely "too much acidity." In fact, pretty much all disease is caused by the same thing. That makes the cure simple; all you have to do is to "alkalinize," whatever that means. Never mind that some of the dietary recommendations to "alkalinize" involve eating fruits with a lot of acid in them (such as citrus fruits). Just don't think too hard about it. the second element, of course, is pure certainty. Young tells patients he can cure them with a very high degree of probability, even if they have cancer. Actually, he tells them that they can cure themselves, which is even more powerful, and that all they have to do is a relatively simple set of lifestyle modifications. Of course, by "simple" I don't mean "easy." The sorts of dietary changes Young and others of his ilk recommend are radical, the more radical, it seems, the better. By doing so, when patients adopt his "miracle pH" lifestyle and don't get better, he can duck responsibility. Obviously, if a patient isn't getting better, he isn't doing it right.

After all, if Health and Fitness Is A Choice Just As Sickness and Disease Is A Choice (as Young entitled his post), then if you are sick it is by your own choice.

That's the real toxic message of quacks like Young.

Debunking Biologos Series: Creationism Disguised As Evolution

http://technology.gather.com/viewArticle.action

October 15, 2011 08:46 PM EDT (Updated: October 18, 2011 02:33 AM EDT)

Unlike Intelligent Design advocates, the Biologos crowd appear to support the modern theory of genetic evolution. This certainly seems like a step in the right direction, but Biologos insists that God is part of the evolutionary process--and God is not just any god, but the God of Abraham.

Biologos claims there is no conflict between the theory of evolution and creationism. Huh? Here is where the ID crowd has the intellectual advantage: they at least see the conflict. ID's goal was to disprove evolution, but they failed miserably. They also failed to apply the same critical analysis to ID that they apply to evolution. Biologos thinks it has come up with the answer to the long-standing conflict between Darwinism and Creationism: simply pretend there is no conflict. "This is the way to truth," they say.

They, "in their infinite wisdom," also claim that you can't interpret Genesis literally--Genesis is really about evolution. Now, I don't know about you, but when I read the story of Adam and Eve and the story of Noah's Ark, I see nothing that is remotely analogous to genetic evolution. Normally when you match a metaphor with its literal meaning, each metaphorical point matches each intended literal point.

Compare Adam--being created from dust, being fully formed and living in paradise--to Homo sapiens evolving from earlier hominid species, in a world fraught with hardships. Adam had no ancestors. In fact he had no childhood, but these facts are metaphors for human evolution?

The story of Noah has a similar problem. Even if interpreted symbolically, it in no way corresponds to evolution. One might ask, what part of the story represents natural selection? What part represents random genetic mutations? The answers to these questions should be obvious even to any member of Biologos who has his head underwater for 40 days and 40 nights!

Many Christians, including Biologos, like to throw out the "you can't take the Bible literally" argument. They think it is the ultimate zinger that will end any debate in their favor. But if we shouldn't take the Bible literally, why should we believe God is real in the literal sense? Perhaps God is a metaphor also. Maybe God is really a metaphor for nature or chance. Heaven forbid! However, Biologos insists on having it both ways: God is literally true but the Bible is not. That's like saying Mother Goose is literally true but her nursery rhymes are not.

When they interpret the scriptures, Biologos, like many non-literal Christians, are not really interested in ferreting out the true meaning of God's words and reaching a consensus with other Christians. Rather, they are putting their words in God's mouth and pretending the Bible says what they want it to say. They want Genesis to be about evolution, so as far as they are concerned, it is--God's words to the contrary be damned!

Perhaps their best argument is "the selection process is not random at all." This implies that God is behind natural selection. He has to be, they claim; otherwise, the selection process would be random. But why God, per se? Why not the flying spaghetti monster? Well, God is the god they want. Keep in mind these people are not interested in the truth, they are interested in confirming what they want to believe.

For all we know, the natural selection process could be completely random and appear to be deterministic. How can this be? Quite simply, the term "random" is often interchanged with "unpredictable." Sometimes random events are predictable. For example, if I toss a coin and it lands on heads ten times in a row, for that period of time, I could predict it will land on heads and be right up to ten times.

Chance can also be time-delayed, and, when it is, it is completely predictable. For example, if I toss a coin once every five seconds and I ask you to predict heads or tails once every five seconds, the probability of you being right is around 50/50 (there is a slight probability the coin could land on its edge). But suppose I toss the coin once every billion years and ask you to predict heads or tails once every five seconds? Let's suppose the coin is tails. What will it be five seconds later? Still tails. How about a thousand years later? Still tails. If you are so bold (and ignorant) you could propose that the coin is not random, is predictable and therefore God is behind it!

Finally, natural selection, by definition, is blind. God, by definition, plans everything in advance (and "doesn't roll dice"), so God can't be behind evolution as it is defined by a consensus of scientists. Therefore, when Biologos speaks of evolution, they are really talking about their own pet theory: creationism dressed up like evolution. But didn't Jesus say, "Beware of creationists wearing evolution clothing"? Or how about, "Beware of false prophets posing as scientists"?

Is it possible that creationists have found a new angle that they believe will get their nonsense taught in science classes? Could Biologos be that angle?

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