Thursday, February 26, 2004

Banning horses in Helena By way of the National Center for Science education comes this story about a woman in Helena, Montana asking her local elementary school to remove a book on horses from the school library. The book in question is Horses by Juliet Clutton-Brock. Why should the book be removed? Because it includes a two-page section on the evolution of horses. Horse evolution happens to be especially well-documented in the fossil record.

The article, from Helena Independent Record, mostly discusses the procedures used by the school district to determine if a book will or will not remain in the library. It does, however, also include this distrubing quote from Roxanne Cleasby, the woman who filed the complaint:

Cleasby said she brought forth the challenge to shed light on the debate surrounding the theories of evolution and creation.

"I'm sure the school's curriculum is full of it through and through," she said. "And I'm sure that I can't challenge all of it, but I think there needs to be more public awareness on the creation side. There's been lots of great scientific research done on creation that needs to be considered."

It always pains me to read such things. The great scientific research to which Cleasby refers is nothing but a lot of propaganda put out by certain advocacy groups. I have no doubt that Cleasby fancies herself educated on this subject for having read much of this dreck.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Huffington on Bush And in a realted story we have this fine column from Arianna Huffington regarding Bush's most recent attempt to deny the obvious concerning global warming:

The weapon in question is a new report on the grave and gathering threat posed by global climate change -- and the potentially cataclysmic consequences of the Bush administration's obstinately ignorant approach to global warming.

And the thing that makes the report so frightening -- and the prospective bludgeon so crushing -- is that it wasn't authored by some crunchy-granola think tank or a band of tree-hugging Earth Firsters, but by the U.S. Department of Defense.

That's right, the Pentagon -- Rummy's playpen. In fact, the report, which was slipped to the press earlier this month after being kept under wraps by the White House for four months, was commissioned by Andrew Marshall, a legendary DOD figure, nicknamed "Yoda" for his sagacity. As head of the Pentagon's secretive Office of Net Assessment, Marshall has offered national security assessments to every president since Richard Nixon.

Evolution Refuted? And here is a satirical take on Bush's views on teaching evolution in the public schools, from the invaluable website

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This week sees the good people of the non-pollution-belching state of Ohio convening their Board of Education in an effort to ensure that future generations of mid-western children are educated in schools offering a fair & balanced approach to explaining how the Christian version of God invented white people in His image.

As you know, the latter half of the 20th century saw the fields of education and so-called "science" come to be hopelessly corrupted by a certain liberal fairy tale known as "evolution." This concept, which was so famously hatched in the midst of a fatal LSD overdose by the syphilitic homosexual Democrat and self-described earth-worshipping pagan Charles Darwin, has, with the passage of time, been embraced as gospel by the liberal, Christ-killing intellectual establishment that rules over our nation's institutions of higher learning like a jack-booted ideological Gestapo.

"Evolution" maintains that both yours and my grandparents are in fact rhesus monkeys - the very same vermin-infested walking carpets whose dissected eyes are so essential to corporate America's ongoing and valiant quest for the perfect kiwi-raspberry-scented shampoo. "Evolution" further asserts that upon death, each of us reverts back to a jungle-dwelling state in the afterworld, where we swing naked from trees, feast on rotten bananas, and shamelessly play with our private parts right out in the open - not unlike Jenna's UT roommate on her pay-per-view webcam.

Follow the link to read the whole article. Pathetic as it sounds, many creationists would not recognize this as satire.

Bush on Creationism Unsurprisingly, Bush has a soft spot for Creationism, as reported in this 2000 press release:

On 11/04/99 the L.A. Times published a press release from Reuters from the day before.

"L.A. Times, Thursday, 11/4/99, p. A35. Bush Sees Place for Teaching on Creation. From Reuters "Wilmington, Del. -- Republican presidential front-runner George W. Bush said Wednesday that he thinks schools should teach 'different forms of how the world was formed,' with evolution taught alongside creationism.

"The Texas governor, visiting Delaware for a round of fund-raising and campaigning, said he supports 'morality-based' education in public schools.

"I have absolutely no problem with children learning different forms of how the world was formed,' said Bush, adding that he thinks it is for local school districts to decide curriculum."

Bush's Junk Science That's the title of a magnificent cover story from the current issue of The Nation, available here. Don't overlook the numerous sidebars as well. The article argues persuasively that Bush treats science as just one more political tool at his disposal, and not as a source for unbiased information about the state of the world. Bush has staffed important scientific advisory committees not with competant scientists, but with political hacks. Data that contradicts his preferred view of the world, most notably on global warming is doctored or ignored. As the article notes:

Today, flat-earthers within the Bush Administration--aided by right-wing allies who have produced assorted hired guns and conservative think tanks to further their goals--are engaged in a campaign to suppress science that is arguably unmatched in the Western world since the Inquisition. Sometimes, rather than suppress good science, they simply order up their own. Meanwhile, the Bush White House is purging, censoring and blacklisting scientists and engineers whose work threatens the profits of the Administration's corporate paymasters or challenges the ideological underpinnings of their radical anti-environmental agenda. Indeed, so extreme is this campaign that more than sixty scientists, including Nobel laureates and medical experts, released a statement on February 18 that accuses the Bush Administration of deliberately distorting scientific fact "for partisan political ends."

Bush has proven time and again that nothing he says can be taken at face value. It's hard to believe that just a few years ago the Republicans were lecturing everyone about the profound harm done to the country when the President lies about his sex life.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

SFN on ID The Society for Neuroscience has issued the following statement against the teaching of ID in science classrooms, and in support of teaching evolution:

Recognizing that the theory of Evolution is the fundamental scientific theory or cornerstone that helps us to understand and study the origins and diversity of living organisms, the Society for Neuroscience supports teaching evolution in science classrooms, and opposes the assertion that Intelligent Design Theory (ID) is a valid scientific alternative.

The debate in America surrounding the teaching of Evolution in science classrooms began with the Creationist claim that the Darwinian concept of natural selection was incorrect, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence in support of it. Creationism, a theory attempting to explain origins of life through supernatural causes, as opposed to scientific ones, failed. Intelligent Design, a revised Creationist effort to claim scientific legitimacy, purports to present a highly disputed philosophical theory as valid scientific theory. Differing from Creationism, ID is not directly supernaturally based. Intelligent design cites, as one of its core principles, “intelligent causes” as the explanation of the complexity of biological structures. Attempting to become credible in the face of Creationism’s failure, ID is devoid of potential to create sound scientific results and explanations. Therefore, it would, as its proponents intend, subserve the goals of the Creationist effort.

The theory of Evolution serves as the basis for the biological sciences’ understanding of the origins and diversity of all living organisms and is accepted with remarkable consensus in the scientific community. It explains and supports findings in scientific areas ranging from botany to zoology and embryology to neuroscience. Additional support is found within independent scientific sources such as archaeology and molecular biology. Though scientists can differ regarding certain aspects of Evolution, the differences constitute testable hypotheses. Thus, SfN believes that teaching Evolution is an essential component of modern science education. K-12 science education based on anything other than tested and accepted scientific theory is counterproductive to the education of America’s youth.

For these reasons, the Society for Neuroscience categorically opposes the teaching of ID in science classrooms. Further, the Society for Neuroscience emphatically supports the teaching of Evolutionary theory, as it is necessary for a valuable scientific education and for understanding of the diversity and origin of all living organisms.

Follow this link for the SOciety for Neuroscience web page.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Raising the Beagle Accordign to this short article from the L.A. Times, a group of marine archaeologists may have found the sunken remians of the H. M. S. Beagle. Darwinophiles will recall that this was the ship upon which Darwin sailed for five years. It was during this voyage, which included an especially fateful stopover in the Galapagos Islands, that Darwin formulated his first ideas about evolution. According to the article:

After Darwin's voyage, the Beagle was attached to Britain's customs and excise department and was used to catch smugglers along the Essex coast. In 1870 the 50-year-old ship was sold to scrap merchants and the record ceases.

Krugman on Bush While visiting the NYRB page, you might also have a look at this review of two recent anti-Bush books: American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit int he House of Bush by Kevin Phillips, and The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill by Ron Suskind. Krugman's review is as insightful as ever, and I have added both books to my must-read list.

Orr on Dawkins Evolutionary biologist H. Allen Orr always has interesting things to say about biology, and many other things as well. Have a look at his lengthy review of Richard Dawkins' most recent book A Devil's Chaplain, published in The New York Review of Books. Readers familiar with Orr's past writing will not be surprised to learn that he mostly agrees with Dawkins' take on biology, but disagrees with some of Dawkins' arguments against religion. I particularly appreciated the following quote:

But there's another problem, one that has little to do with the gene-meme analogy but that's at least as serious: unlike the selfish gene view, the selfish meme view hasn't led anywhere. Where are the puzzling phenomena that have been explained by memes? Dawkins provides no examples and I suspect there aren't any. The truth is that the meme idea, though a quarter-century old, has inspired next to no serious research and has failed to establish a place for itself in mainstream cognitive science, psychology, or sociology. Though laymen often have the impression that scientific ideas die in decisive experiments, far more often they die because they didn't suggest many experiments. They failed, that is, to inspire a rich research program. Though I could obviously be proved wrong, and while I have no problem with the notion that some science of cultural change may be possible, I'm far less confident than Dawkins that memes will play an important role in any such enterprise.

Exactly right. The same could be said for all forms of Creationism and ID theory.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

WSJ on ID The editorial page of The Wall Street Journal is famously insane, but their news pages are frequently quite good. Have a look at this article from a recent issue, reproduced courtesy of our friends at the creationist website Access Research Network. The author does a good job of explaining, in a limited amount of space, why scientists are hostile to Intelligent-Design theory.

"But a funny thing happened when biologists started scrutinizing structures said to be irreducibly complex. Take the flagellum. It turns out that its base -- which Darwin's foes assert has no stand-alone function -- is made of the same necklace of proteins that compose a kind of syringe used by primitive microbes.

Called the type III secretory system, this microsyringe enables a bacterium to inject a toxin into its victim (this is how bubonic-plague bacteria kill). This component of the flagellum, then, could have been hanging around a very long time, conferring benefits on any organism that had it, ready to combine with other structures (which also perform functions in primitive living things) into a full-blown, functional flagellum.

"As an icon of antievolution, the flagellum has fallen," says Prof. Miller, a practicing Catholic. "If bits and pieces of a machine are useful for different functions, it means that natural selection could indeed produce elements of a biochemical machine for different purposes."

It's like discovering the mousetrap bar was a fine toothpick long before it got together with the other parts to kill rodents.

Components of other irreducibly complex structures and systems, it turns out, have functions, too. Humans, for instance, have a complex multipart biomachine that plays a key role in how cells produce energy.

Irreducibly complex? Maybe not. Two of the six proteins that make up the proton pump that produces energy are dead ringers for those in ancient bacteria. Evolution could have co-opted them when it was putting together the more complicated biochemical processes inside animals, including people.

Branch and Scott For my inaugural post at my newly renamed blog, check out this fine editorial from the San Jose Mercury News, by Eugenie Scott and Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education. Money quote:

"Still, intelligent design is proving to be a popular way of repackaging anti-evolutionism, largely because it avoids presenting any detailed model of the history of the universe. It offers a ``big tent'' in which virtually all anti-evolutionists are welcome, regardless of their differing views about the age of the universe and the Earth, the historical nature of Noah's flood, and common descent. (Indeed, Islamic anti-evolutionists in Turkey have boarded the intelligent design bandwagon.)

Mindful of the Supreme Court's decision in Edwards, the advocates of intelligent design are careful to portray it as non-religious. Yet despite allusions to the possibility of extraterrestrial aliens or time travelers, it is clear that the intelligent designer is supposed to be God."

Name Change Loyal readers of this blog may have noticed that I tend to focus on issues related to evolution and creationism. Developments in this area are now coming so fast, that I feel it's time to redirect my attention exclusively to that subject. In recognition of that fact, I have changed the name of the blog to "Evolutionblog" and its address to I will be interpreting this subject broadly. For example, since debates about what should be taught in science classes invariably involve questions of church/state separation, I will occasionally cover topics related to that question as well.