Friday, January 30, 2004

Krugman on Fire An truly excellent column from Paul Krugman in today's New York Times.

The NABT on ID The American Biology Teacher magazine, published by the National Association of Biology Teachers has published this editorial on the dangers of "Intelligent Design" theory. Check it out.

Evolution in Georgia The Superintendant of Schools in Georgia, Kathy Cox, has announced revisions in the state biology curriculum. The word "evolution" has been removed because, in the words of Ms. Cox, "evolution is a buzzword that causes a lot of negative reaction." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the full story here.

Of course, "Evolution" is a buzzword only in the sense that "Gravity" is a buzzword in physics or "Calculus" is a buzzword in math. Further remarks, described in the article, make it clear that Ms. Cox wants to introduce "Intelligent Design" theory into Georgia's science classrooms. This is the sort of nonsense that ensues when really ignorant people are nonetheless allowed to vote.

In a related story, former president and Georgia resident Jimmy Carter has unambiguously condemned the decision. That story can be found here.

Finally, the paper has already posted several letters concerning this issue. Follow this link and scroll down a bit. My favorite letter came from Barry Palevitz, Professor of Biology at the University of Georgia, who said that if the proposed changes go through he will recommend that UGA not give any advanced placement credit in biology to students coming out of Georgia's high schools. If the state of Georgia sees fit to give students a watered-down, caricatured version of biology then UGA will have to undo the damage at the college level.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Perakh and Shanks Following on the heels of the marvelous book by Paul Gross and Barbara Forrest come two further books covering similar themes. They are God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent-Design Theory by Niall Shanks and Unintelligent Design by Mark Perakh. The former is published by Oxford University Press, the latter by Prometheus Books. I'll have more to say about both of these volumes later. For now just let me encourage you to buy them.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Useful Idiots Publisher's Weekly has posted this article about the recent glut of books arguing for a reconciliation between science and religion. The article begins by discussing a recent book from Princeton University Press discussing the history of science, in which it is argued that monotheistic religion was essential in the early development of science. (No doubt it was, seeing as how it was the church that controlled the purse strings during science's formative years. I have not read this particular book yet, but I'd be curious to know how the author finesses the obvious point that once science started discovering things that contradicted Biblical teachings, the relationship between science and religion got considerably more chilly. )

Anyway, from that reasonable beginning the article goes on to list a slew of other books addressing similar themes. The trouble is, many books from ID proponents are included in this list, right alongside more responsible work of serious authors. ID is presented like totally mainstream science, and there is a clear implication that ID is something scientists are embracing. This is simply false.

Of course, these ID books are not published by reputable university presses. They are generally published by smaller houses specializing in religious publications; houses that have minimal, if any, sort of peer review. Such houses are far more interested in pushing their agendas than they are in producing actual scholarship. When a book is published by a university press, you can be sure that some expert in the field signed off on it. Bad books are published by such houses all the time, but you do at least have some minimal quality control.

On top of that, many of the books mentioned in the article are clearly the work of cranks. One example is the book "The Probability of God: A Simple Calculation that Proves the Ultimate Truth" to be published by Crown Forum, a publisher specializing in right-wing titles. In a better world, a book with such a title would be laughed off the stage. As a mathematician I am rather fond of probability theory, but I'm afraid it is not up to the task of telling us whether God exists.

It is shameful that the writer of the aritcle, David Klinghoffer, would not do enough homework to distinguish the entirely reasonable books (such as the Princeton book mentioned at the start of this post) from the works of cranks. Even more shameful is that the article quotes uber-creationist William Dembski as an authority on ID, without presenting the far more mainstream view that ID is a lot of poppycock.

Unfortunatly, this is the sort of ignorant drivel defenders of science have to put with nowadays.

Monday, January 26, 2004

The GloFish Cometh An interesting article in today's NY Times. It seems those wacky fish scientists have genetically engineered a species of zebrafish carrying a gene from sea coral that causes it to glow. Pet stores are reporting uneven sales of the new fish.

The article nicely outlines a number of ethical issues related to genetic engineering ("It's unnatural!" says one side. "Yeah, but keeping fish in small glass boxes, that's real natural," says the other). It also points out that the fish was originally developed by researchers in Singapore, who sought to create a fish that would glow in the presence of pollution.

Ninth Circuit Upheld Last week the Supreme Court declined to review a recent decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (of pledge of allegiance fame). The case involved a man who was handing out advertisements for Bible based summer camps on school grounds. He sued the school district after the latter forced him to stop, citing church/state concerns. The court ruled that his constitutional rights had indeed been violated by the school district's actions.

I don't have much comment on this except to show you the headline from the religious website "AgapePress" ("Agape", pronounced "a-GAH-pay", being a Greek word which refers to God's boundless love):

SCOTUS Agrees with 9th Circuit: School District Cannot Ban Religious Flyers

Lovely. Of course, declining to hear a case is far different from agreeing with the decision. These are the same folks who complain about liberal bias every time a newspaper reports a decline in Bush's approval ratings.