Thursday, September 18, 2014

I hate having my picture taken!

One of my friends commented on my picture with the blog.  Yes, it's me, but from about 2000.  I'll be honest.  I really hadn't noticed until my 'friend' was kind enough to point out that my hair is grayer, thinner, and . . . well as he put it . . . my  cheesy, porno mustache . . . is now much whiter.  I have very few pictures of myself, that one was cropped from a family photo.  I really hate having my picture taken, but that one has gotten a bit dated. 

I guess I might have to have one taken.  I refuse to do a 'selfie', I consider those to be way too narcissistic and anyone who knows me, I have little to be a narcissistic about :-)  So just be warned that the image accompanying this blog is from 2000, not too long after I retired and well before a granddaughter or my wife's small business . . . . which could account for the gray and thinning hair . . . going to have to think about that one.

I guess we can count this post as a disclaimer!  Maybe I should just Photoshop the hair and 'stache . . . naw, too much work.  Besides the only thing worse than a selfie is one that was Photoshopped as well!  (You know who you are!)

Cheers!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Taken to Task over the 'Supposed Controversy'

Someone recently pointed out to me that the subtitle of my blog  ("A blog about Evolution and the supposed controversy with Intelligent Design") makes it impossible for an Intelligent Design Proponent to get a fair hearing from me.  Are they right?

I certainly hope so, which sounds kinda mean.  But seriously, I would say the same thing is Astrologers were demanding time in the Astronomy class or Numerologists wanted to be included in a Mathematics textbook.  I don't see anyone complaining about that, do you?

Before addressing the idea directly, I want to talk for a minute about the subtitle.  The contention, as I am sure you realize, is about the word 'supposed'.  When I started this blog in 2007 the main issue was that there was no scientific controversy.  That was my point then, the question is does the point still hold true?  I believe that it does.  If there was a scientific controversy, where is all the science that should be supportive of Creationism/Intelligent Design?  Where are the hosts of scientists leaving evolution and joining Creationism/Intelligent Design?  Where are the articles using Creationism/Intelligent Design to explain actual scientific work?  To date what has been presented over and over again by folks like Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, and especially the Discovery Institute seems to fall into two categories.

The first category, and the one that originally surprised me the most, had nothing to do with supporting their own ideas but trying to tear down current science. Frequent attacks on evolution appear to outnumber any effort to support their own position to the order of 10 to 1.  That's a rough estimate because I never sat down to count them up, maybe someone else has.  But by far the majority of the documents, articles, and posts concerning these topics try and attack evolution in many ways.

Now I was always taught that if you want to get an idea across -- first support your idea!  That applies in just about anything, not just science.  If I come up with something new at work, in the IT field, before trying to implement it, I have to support why it's a worthwhile consideration, how it's going to work and why it's better than how we are currently doing it.  This takes a great deal of time an energy, but the payoff is where it all counts.  If all I do is attack the current methodology without a viable alternative, then all I do is sound like I am whining.  Sound familiar?  How often has the request for Creationist/Intelligent Design proponents to stop marketing and go back to the lab and do the actual scientific work been asked?  More often than I bet most of us realize.

Obviously the second category is work that actually supports their own ideas.  The problem has been that they don't seem to be able to have any actual science in it.  They do no lab work, they make no effort to substantiate their ideas other than philosophically, they even have a hard time explain their ideas in any usable form (Design Inference anyone?).  Scientific theories are not born overnight, there is a long and often bloody (figuratively) path from conception to becoming a theory.  The path is littered with concepts that failed quickly to others that stood briefly in the light until they too shriveled up and fell to the wayside.  All the way the hypothesis gets tested, refined, tested, and further refined as it becomes more focused and stronger.  My question is where is this path for Creationism/Intelligent Design?  They formed an idea and immediately demanded the right to be the equal of an actual scientific theory.  When that didn't work, they formed other ideas to try and end run every decision that went against them.  Creationism led to Creation Science which gave way to Intelligent Design . . . but where is the scientific work that should be accompanying it?  I haven't seen it, have you?  They've also formed other tactical ideas, like "Teach the Controversy" and "Strengths and Weaknesses" to name just two.  But do you see what's missing?  Lawyer-ing word games and appeals to conservatives do not a theory make!.

There is the rub!  I will continue to call this a 'supposed' controversy partly because of the lack of science.  The other reason is that I believe the whole idea of a controversy is made up to make people think there is a scientific controversy.  There is a cultural debate, there are arguments at school boards, there are even legislative efforts.  But when it comes to a real controversy, the Creationism/Intelligent Design side simple doesn't have it -- but the marketing side of Creationism/Intelligent Design is hard at work wanting you to think there is one.

Why would they do such a thing?  I would think it's pretty obvious at this point.  If you think there is one, you have offered them a legitimacy in your mind's eye that they have failed to earn in the real world.  It's human nature to automatically think two sides of an actual controversy have some sort of equality.  So convincing you that there is a controversy implies that they are actually in contention for the biology crown, so to speak.  The reality is they are poor pretenders and without the support of people who share their religious beliefs, they haven't got a prayer (pun intended).  So they are trying to convince people of an artificial controversy, that being fair means that their idea have merit, or that it's a violation of academic freedom and free speech if they are not offered a place at the science class lectern.  What this fake controversy does is give them a leg up in the cultural debate, one they have yet actually earned.

I try and be pretty clear and I think the subtitle of my blog shows it.  Am I prejudiced against Creationism/Intelligent Design?  You bet I am.  Until they do the work to deserve consideration as science, we should all be prejudiced against Creationism/Intelligent Design!  If you are not, then you might look at your own motivations.  Do you share the same religious convictions and that automatically grants them some sort of consideration?  Have you found what no one else has managed to find actual science hidden in the depths of the religious and marketing materials?  Or are you bending over backwards to give the illusion of fairness to ideas that have yet to earn it?  You might peek under the covers, because they isn't much there for you to see.

Some have told me that I am close-minded on the subject.  I disagree.  Close-mindedness is when you are face-to-face with the evidence, you refuse to consider it.  I have been waiting for the evidence, I have been asking for the evidence, I have read and researched for years for some actual evidence.  Their failure to provide any doesn't mean I am close-minded, it means they have to do the work first.  Which to me seems like a fair and reasonable approach.  Their efforts to date mean they do not deserve a place at the science table, their controversy is non-existent, and the future doesn't look very promising for them. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

And now we see . . . motivations, shenanigans, and hijinks with Ohio HB 597

A little while ago I posted about Ohio HB 597 (All not quiet on the Midwestern Front, Common Core Standards, and Is it really fair?).  Recent events made some of the motivations maybe a bit clearer.  The bill was being debated and a few hearings were being held and there have been two notable changes.

As reported by the National Science Education Center (NCSE) a few days ago "Ohio's antiscience bill unimproved", some of the objectionable wording was removed and replaced with a comment with a different emphasis.  The provision requiring the state's science standards to

"prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another" 
was removed by the House Rules and Reference Committee.  The wording was worrisome because it certainly gave the appearance that all sides, even the pseudo-science ideas, would get presented and a teacher would be powerless to inform the students which things had scientific merit and others, such as Creationism/Intelligent Design were nothing but religious concepts and had no merit in science.

At first glance you would think that it was an improvement, but it was replaced by a provision requiring students to
"review, in an objective manner, the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories."
 Does that wording sound familiar?  Yes, the old 'strengths and weaknesses' that has been pushed for so very long by none-other than the Discovery Institute.  They tried to get it into standards in Ohio, Texas, and even Kansas.  They even had some success in Louisiana and Tennessee, but so far no one seems to be actually teaching using that argument.  At least it hasn't made the news anywhere yet.

I did like slipping in the phrase "in an objective manner", which sounds like to me if a teacher expressed the idea that something other than real science wasn't real science, he might be taken to task for not being objective.  Sound far-fetched?  I would like to remind you of Chris Comer, the former Texas Science Curriculum head who was fired for forwarding an email about a presentation by one of the witnesses of the Dover trial.  Remember the excuse?  Apparently the State Board of Education wants to remain neutral in the controversial issue of Intelligent Design/Creationism vs. Evolution.  Do you see any parallels?  I do!

What I really find interesting is that originally the DI did have a comment about the original wording, I posted about it here.  But since the change, not a peep out of them.  My guess is they don't want to draw any more attention to it.  There was one change, instead of singling out Evolution or Climate Change like they normally do, they took aim at the entire science curriculum.  Which, as you know, one of the common critique of the original strengths and weaknesses argument.

One last point.  we should never forget that HB 597 was supposed to be about repealing the Common Core Standards, and yet those standards did not address the science curriculum . . . funny thing, right?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tactics may change, but strategies . . . never!

Ken Ham must be reacting to critics.  I, and a number of others, have pointed out that Kennie Ham and the Ark Park should not be taking Kentucky money and incentives while discriminating on hiring practices.  As far back as 2011 this was noticed (here) and more recently the same issue with a job posting for the Ark Park.  The bottom line was kennie required you sign the AiG Statement of Faith as part of the application process.  The way it was worded, you HAD to sign before submitting your application.

Well I am pleased to report that requirement appears to have disappeared.  However . . . and you knew there had to be a however . . . The Sensuous Curmudgeon, whose blog I read regularly, reported that as you go deeper into the application process you have to answer several questions and requests for information that seem a bit suspect:

  • How old would you estimate the earth to be?
  • Please provide your Salvation testimony:
  • Please provide your Creation belief statement:
  • Please write the confirmation of your agreement with the AiG Statement of Faith:
OK, more than a bit suspect. Instead of requiring you you sign it, you have to write your confirmation of your agreement.  So I guess he can swear on a stack of Bibles that he wasn't requiring applicants to sign the statement itself.  Yea, real honest, kennie!

What makes this worse is you get to these questions AFTER you read that AiG doesn't discriminate. Yes, believe it or not, this is on the site before you get to those questions:

"Answers in Genesis, Inc. is an Equal Opportunity/ Affirmative Action employer. We provide equal employment opportunities to all qualified employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, religion, sex, age, marital status, national origin, sexual orientation, citizenship status, veteran status, disability or any other legally protected status. We prohibit discrimination in decisions concerning recruitment, hiring, compensation, benefits, training, termination, promotions, or any other condition of employment or career development." 
So what really happened here is AiG, after getting some flack, took their requirement to sign their Statement of Faith off the front page and buried the equivalent in the application itself, along with several other questions regarding an applicant's religious beliefs and how they relate to AiG's and, of course that mans kennie ham's beliefs.  They also added a disclaimer, I guess people are supposed to read that and believe that kennie isn't being discriminatory!  If anyone believes that, I still have this bridge in Brooklyn I need to get off my hands.

First question is  . . . and I am not a human relations expert so I really don't know . . . but is it legal to ask these questions?  Supposedly the Ark Park is a for profit public company.  Add in that they are taking Kentucky money and tax incentives for the tourism they are supposedly going to bring into the park  Regardless of the legality, it's pretty obvious that the information will be used to filter applicants well before the process gets to the interview stage.  That's called discrimination, plain and simple!

Second question . . . posting that you don't discriminate and then asking questions designed to discriminate . . . isn't that lying?  Now according to my understanding of kennie's religious beliefs, isn't that a sin?  Well it is, but we are dealing with kennie ham and it certainly didn't bother him to lie before (Turnabout is fair play!), lying for Jesus is apparently an acceptable tactic.

Final question . . . why are the people and politicians of Kentucky putting up with it?  That's the part that I don't understand, that's the part I will never understand.  You shouldn't be paying for kennie's follies!  You certainly shouldn't be paying for someone who will violate Federal and State hiring practices!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

If you believe in evolution, should you worry about climate change?

A somewhat interesting point from Jeff Van Fleet in an opinion piece posted in the Daily Interlake.com site,  "If you believe in evolution, then don’t worry about climate change".

If you don't want the long answer, the short one is "Yes, you should be worried, all of us should be worried!"  The rest of this is an expanded note to what I posted on their site.

His closing paragraph confused me quite a lot:

"Evolutionary theory demands both environmental changes and species extinction. The conservation movement is contradictory to both the theory of evolution and modern science. An evolutionist who supports conservation is like being an atheist who supports their local church. It isn’t logical and it does not make any sense."

Evolutionary theory doesn't demand anything.  As changes occur, they will be explained by evolutionary theory, not driven by the theory.  Do proponents of Atomic Theory want a nuclear blast in their neighborhood?  Wouldn't that be logical?

Proponents of evolution want people to understand the process but they do not push that the process be forced along some path.  Failing to support conservation means that preventable changes will more than likely occur.  But does than mean evolution proponents are unaffected bystanders or worse ones who wishes for environmental changes, potentially on a massive scale, just to help win a cultural debate?  Sure, let's see how many 'evolutionist' would vote for mass extinction of the human race?  That's what Jeff seems to be saying.  It's illogical if that's not what they want to see happen?  Ummm, no, it would be illogical for a member of the human race to wish for extinction.

Winning the current debate over evolution doesn't validate it as a scientific theory, it's already been validated time and time again.  It is a scientific theory and winning or losing the cultural debate won't change that.  What it will change is the ability of teachers to teach real science, of students to learn more of the reality of the world around them.  It may very well impact the funding of future research within the field, a field I remind you that has directly impacted food production, medicine, and the environment for a very long time.  These are things being impacted by the debate today, not the validity of the theory, but the teaching of it and the use of it.

As someone who understands climate change, as he claimed, I would expect him not to treat it as some sort of esoteric idea.  Look at the loss potential of the debate over climate change.  We could very well be driving the extinction of the human race.  It really wouldn't take all that much, especially if the carbon-dioxide level keeps rising.  Will humans evolve to handle the new levels, or will we go the same way as 99% of all species that have existed on Earth and go extinct?  If we keep debating, the issue may well become moot as we pass a point where any action on our part will not impact the outcome.  Science might explain the results, but it's not something any evolution proponent would wish to occur.  Of course on the Creationist-side, you could just pray for your particular deity to stop the rise in CO2 level, because prayer has been such a reliable tool in the past, right? 

Let's see, if I were a member of the last group of humans on Earth would I prefer they were Creationists who meekly accept what must be the will of a capricious deity for human extinction, or be scientists who will fight tooth and nail for every last breath?  I know which group I would prefer.  Jeff here seems to think evolution proponents would be the ones rolling over and being dead.  Somehow I think he's a bit off there.

Evolution proponents are also concerned about climate change because the same sort of pseudo-scientific arguments that have been used against biology are now being used against the climate and often by the same groups.  That's another reason to be concerned!  If these groups win the debate, not only will any future activity to change the outcome be more challenging, but what's next on their personal agenda?  In Texas they've been trying to re-write the history books and make it sound like Christianity was the goal in the formation of the USA.  Imagine what such groups would do with a carte blanc license!  Evolution and climate change would just be the start!  I think Jeff need to think through his science a little more.  It's sounding more like he's forming opinions based on Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, not science.

Someone once told me that in about 60,000,000 years the Earth will be a frozen ball of pretty much nothing important, and anything we do today won't make much of a difference in the long run.  Yea, there's a mantra to hang on your wall!   Sorry, words like that might be an interesting intellectual exercise, but pretty lousy ones to live by.  I prefer to be evolving as fast as I can!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Are supporters of Evolution concealing information?

How many times have we heard of the huge conspiracy that Creationism/Intelligent Design are being held back by 'Big Science'.  I remember comments along those line in Ben Stein's abortion "No Intelligence Allowed", I've seen comment after comments online in posts in too many places to list.  Just yesterday I posted about an article on Uncommon Descent that was quite explicit in it's accusation. . . well, here, you read it:

"Darwin’s followers have spent so much time stamping out dissent, they haven’t noticed the looming pile of contrary evidence, let alone done much to address it."(Creationists know more about Evolution?)
Now, when asked for examples of this 'stamping out of dissent', I have yet to get a credible answer from anyone.  Most often you get the stories of Guillermo Gonzales, John Freshwater, or Richard Sternberg . . . of course anyone familiar with any of those cases know they weren't silenced in any form.  Just as a reminder, Gonzalez was denied tenure for failing in his responsibilities, Freshwater was fired for abusing students AND teaching religion instead of science, and the infamous Sternberg Peer Review Controversy.   I hear about the Discovery Institute whining about not being able to be published in credible science journals, but are they actually submitting to those journals? If they were, why would they have to put forth their own journal? 

In any event, I have yet to see any credible evidence that Scientists are trying to silence anything about Creationism/Intelligent Design.  Oh yes, they are trying to keep it from being taught as a scientific theory in science class, just like they would argue against tarot cards and astrology.  But any credible examples or trying to stamp out dissent?  Not a one!

However, is the opposite true?  Here is what happened just this evening:

I have mentioned before that I get news alerts from Google about a number of subjects that I am interested in.  This evening I received this alert:
The link in the article was to: https://www.google.com/url?rct=j&sa=t&url=http://www.godlikeproductions.com/forum1/message2635793/pg1&ct=ga&cd=CAEYACoTNzUzODM3MDc0OTczNDk0OTg0ODIaYWQ4NjM4ZTJlYTNjYThmYjpjb206ZW46VVM&usg=AFQjCNHINvUHW0ybI4IU01K6ue-7p7CF9A

I clicked on the link and got a page that surprised me.  I was tempted to post a copy of the page, but that would violate the terms of use for that particular website.  So, just let me say when I clicked I ended up at a site that called itself  'Godlike Productions' with a message that said: "Sorry, that message is no longer in the database."

My first instinct was to think the link from Google was bad.  But then I looked at the site.  "Godlike Productions" and decided to dig a touch deeper.  So, I did what anyone would do and did a search on the site for Kenneth Miller.  I figured that should get me to the right place.  The search returned no results.  Hmmmm!

Hmm, now I am more than a little suspicious.  I'm familiar with the Google Alerts after using them for years and found them to be very reliable.  So, just out of curiosity, I search for 'Intelligent Design', still hopeful of  finding the original post, but my hope was much less than my first search effort.  There were a bunch of data returned from that search, but funny, all of it looked like it was favorable to Intelligent Design. Imagine that!

OK, let's recap.  Scientists get accused all the time of suppressing Creationism and Intelligent Design and yet when a website called 'Godlike Productions' apparently published a comment critical to ID and a link to a video by Dr. Kenneth Miller . . .and after a brief period of time, albeit long enough to get picked up by one of Google searches, it disappears completely.  

Anyone else find that more than amusing?  I guess the real question should be does anyone else find this surprising?  I would love to hear some feedback on that!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Creationists know more about Evolution?

"But the creationists still know more about evolution than they do, and always will. Because they want to know, that’s why." (Uncommon Descent)

Does anyone actually believe that?  Have you run into any Creationist who actually know even Evolution 101?  I sure as hell haven't!  The point here doesn't make much sense.  I know you can point to knee-jerk liberals and conservatives who know little about what they are espousing on any topic under the sun, but I have yet to discuss anything about Evolution with a Creationist who actually understands what gets covered in basic biology, even at the High School level.  I tend to hear to same tired cliches, like tornadoes in a junkyard and how evolution is totally chance driven.  I don't believe they even want to know more because knowing more might make them question their own faith way more closely than their own religious leaders would want them too.

I did find it funny that they had to define 'Creationist'.  And the author does so in the loosest possible terms with
"So I  clarify: I mean people who think that at least some life forms appeared as an act of divine creation. That’s the traditional meaning."
Is that the traditional definition?   It's not the one I have heard from people who self-identify as a Creationists.  It's certainly not the one put out by AiG, ICR, or ACN.  They are considerable more hard line about what is a Creationist.  In fact Kennie (AiG) is even more hard-line on what it means to be a Christian -- which seems to be what Kennie says it is regardless of the rest of the Christian community believes. No matter how well educated a Creationist claims to be, someone who believes in the Genesis version of Creation doesn't delve too deeply into evolution for one reason or another . . . or should I say one rationalization or another.

Of course folks at the DI might think differently.  Don't forget Uncommon Descent was started by the DI's own Bill Dembski, so  the connection is there.  But I wonder if this loose definition helps prop up the big tent approach they have used for years to try and align YEC, OEC, Biblical Literalists, and the like, into one political group to market Intelligent Design?  I mean if you were too hard-line, you might alienate the very folks you need to try and pass the next pseudo-academic freedom piece of **** legislation.  It should make one think, I know it makes me consider the possibilities.  But it still isn't enough to assume that the typical Creationist knows as much or more about evolution as I do, or even any of the people I know.

The article has a few other choice phrases that I wish they would back up with evidence.  I mean really, who are they kidding?  Sure, teaching real science is stamping out dissent?  If that were true we would be still teaching exactly what Darwin wrote.  The science wouldn't have changed in 150+ years. 
"Darwin’s followers have spent so much time stamping out dissent, they haven’t noticed the looming pile of contrary evidence, let alone done much to address it."
Where?  Anyone else actually see this looming pile?  Or is it more steaming? .  If there is so much contrary evidence, why are they keeping to themselves?  Why haven't they shared it?  Unless they are talking about their usual -- cannot stand the light of day -- evidence.  Got another Gap you want to cram a deity into, or are you talking about Dembski's design filter.  Did Dembski tell us when his filter would finally be able to reliably pick up on design, or is it more like Paul Nelson's prediction of evolution's imminent demise?  I don't think so, I guess that isn't what this post is talking about.  I would be very curious about all of this evidence that seems to have remained hidden for over a century and a half.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Response to 'That's Deception, not Concern' post

I got a couple of emails about how disingenuous I am for accusing the Discovery Institute (DI) of doing something everyone does when they use words to make a point.

I do agree everyone uses words to better their own position, that is a recognized tactic.  But the DI seems to be much less honest about it.  Did they ever mention their religious objective to euthanasia?  Wouldn't that have helped a reader grasp why they were making the argument?  In the past did they ever mention that their pet idea, Intelligent Design, isn't a scientific theory?  Did they forget to tell lawmakers and voters that the 'academic freedom' laws they helped write and get passed in Louisiana has nothing at all to do with academic freedom?  How often have we heard how ID is not Creationism, yet the religious underpinnings are clear for all to see?  That what I mean about being more dishonest about it.  I've seen many articles where a individual or group's motivation is included in most diatribes.  Most groups are proud of their positions and aren't afraid to tie into that motivation.  Do you ever see the DI being so open and honest?  I don't think so.

The problem is more that this indicates a pattern of behavior, not just playing lawyer-word games.  Here are a few others I've mentioned in the past:

  • Remember how the DI misrepresented the organizational affiliations on the 'Dissent from Darwin' petition? (here
  • Now about how the DI forget to mention that the reason most of the 'scientists' who signed their petition didn't sign for scientific reasons? (here)
  • One of their authors, Stephen C. Meyer, identified two reviewers of one of his books as not being ID proponents, when nothing could have been further from the truth. (here, the part near the end about Philip Skell and Norman Nevin)
  • How about the behavior of the DI before during and after the Dover trial?  You can check out Panda's Thumb for the good information, or read Lauri Lebo's 'Devil in Dover' -- but let me remind you of a couple of things: When the Conservative judge was announced, the DI pretty much said it was over and they won, yet after the trial they claimed the judge was an activist judge and tried to spin the ruling that was devastatingly against them.  Don't forget the three of their senior fellows bowed out of testifying.   They also claimed not to have given any help or advice on one hand and on another claimed to have advised Dover's school board not to pursue it . . . of course these comments differ sharply from what the Dover School Board members said during testimony.
  • My all time favorite will always be the bibliography given to the Ohio School Board trying to convince them of evolution's imminent demise (here).  After their shenanigans, they did add a disclaimer to the bibliography, but it doesn't change how they represented it in Ohio.
This list can get pretty long, but I hope you get the idea.  In my opinion, the Discovery Institute cannot be trusted to represent themselves in an open manner.  They fail to follow a standard methodology expected of all scientists, yet they demand a place at the lectern in science class for teaching their religion.  They do this using tactics that, again in my opinion, are reprehensible.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

That's deception, not concern

I have a Google News alert for stuff coming out of the Discovery Institute.  They have quite a bit of stuff coming out, but most of it is geared strictly for the drinkers of their particular Kool-aid and if I wrote something up for each of them, blogging would be a full time job and not a particularly well-paying one at that.  However sometime that news feed drops something worth thinking about.

However, before you get your hopes up, it is not an article by the Discovery Institute, but one about them.  In particular "Controlling Language Controls the Euthanasia Debate" caught my eye.  It's not a usual topic for this blog, but I wanted to highlight the tactic of 'Controlling Language'.  The author of the article goes into the DI's Wesley J. Smith complaining about using the 'v-word'.  The word is vegetative, as in a vegetative state, a medical term describing someone with few cognitive abilities usually due to accident or illness. Apparently they don't like the term ostensibly because of negative connotations about the word 'vegetable'.  They even go as far as associating it with the 'n-word' and all the negatives there.  Does that sound familiar, associating something you don't like with something no one likes and you gain support with little effort.  I know vegetative does have negative connotations, but then don't many medical terms have them?  Telling someone they have a 'dysfunction' makes people feel OK, doesn't it?  How about 'Walleyed'?  I have to ask, is 'Yellow Fever' the next target on the political politeness express?

The real question raised is more along the lines of is the DI the least bit interested in political correctness?  The author of the article doesn't think so. For some reason he thinks that they have a religious agenda when dealing with the concept of ending a life.  Are you kidding me, the Discovery Institute having a religious agenda and trying to use words to change the playing field!  How can he possibly think that?  My guess would be he's had experience with the DI before.

I think you know where I am going with this and how this ties into their position and tactics on science education.  I would like to remind you about a few words:  theory, belief, controversy, Darwinism, Materialism, weaknesses, academic freedom . . . We've talked about many of them before.  The tactic is common from the DI.  They frequently change how words are used in order to control the debate.  My favorite example, of course, is the word Theory.  Science uses the word with one definition that is very different from the colloquial definition.  The phrase 'Evolution is only a Theory!' is designed to try and cast doubt and make people think that as a theory, it's only an idea, a concept and one not with much actual support.  Of course, in science, the word 'theory' is about the highest pinnacle anything can achieve.  It has tremendous levels of support and applicability that a run-of-the-mill 'idea' cannot compete with.  If an idea cannot compete with a theory, then you either have to raise the idea up, or tear the theory down.  How much work has the DI done raising their idea of Intelligent Design up as compared to how much effort they have put into trying to tear evolution down?  Pretty lopsided if you ask me.  In fact how much actual work have thy put into Intelligent Design?  Haven't seen much, have we?

The word 'Darwinism' is another example.  The suffix 'ism' is a derived word used in philosophy, politics, religion or other areas pertaining to an ideology of some sort (definition from from Wikipedia).  The definition goes on to say that it is frequently used derogatorily.  Now, a long time use of 'ism' is 'Creationism'.  It certainly applies as a philosophy and religious concept.  It is also frequently used in a derogatory way because of the connotation of ignoring science, denying evidence, and attempting to push a strictly religious agenda into any aspect of education.

So, when you are fighting an uphill battle with the negative connotations of 'Creationism' why not take a two-fold approach.  First distance yourself from Creationism and constantly deny any connection.  Sound familiar?  It took a Federal Court (Kitzmiller v. Dover) to remind everyone that Intelligent Design is Creationism in the same way 'Creation Science' was nothing more than Creationism dressed up a little bit. 

The other plank in this platform is trying to make the scientific theory of Evolution nothing more than another 'ism'.  I guess 'Evolutionism' would have been to weird to say, so why not attack Charles Darwin and the scientific theory at the same time?  Let's see, how many things have they blamed Charles Darwin for?  Pretty much everything bad in the 19th and 20th century.  Now in reality, what is Darwinism?  It has nothing to do with Evolution because the current state of evolutionary theory would be barely recognizable to Darwin, but facts like that have no room in the DI's version of reality.  Doubt about Darwin could very well cause some to doubt the theory.  Never lose sight that the DI's target audience are not scientists, it's politicians, school board members and the general public who vote for them and who contribute to causes they support.

Without going through every term, briefly consider how they try and equate belief in God with belief in a scientific theory, how they denigrate the naturalistic philosophy of science and try and include the supernatural, and how they treat science's ability to adjust as we learn new things as a weakness in science.  The list is pretty much endless.

I hope you would think about the DI's use of words and realize that while they are prolific when it comes to marketing and send out lots of articles, books, and frequently comment on any subject near and dear to their hearts, their use of terminology is very deliberate and designed [pun intended] to aid in their objectives.  They aren't concerned with political correctness, they are only interested in their own righteousness and any tactic, even trying to redefine the words involved, is fine with them if they think it changes the playing field in their favor. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Discovery Insitute responds on Ohio HB 597

Once again the Discovery Institute (DI) decided that the use of the term 'Intelligent Design' requires some sort of response from them.  They have the nerve to ask "Where is the Intelligent Design in Ohio House Bill 597".  Now I could make a flippant answer and say the bill was not 'intelligently designed', but I won't continue down that path and make a more direct response.

If the DI bothered to pay any attention to the words in an article rather than just what items they think they can cut and paste or quote-mine, they might have realized that no one has said the bill itself mentions Intelligent Design.  Much like their tactics in the past ('Critical Analysis tactic for example), they seem to think that not having used the term, the obvious conclusion is that it has nothing to do it.  However, if we borrow an old line and say "And now a word from our Sponsors!", you can easily see the issue.  One of the statements by bill sponsor, Rep Andy Thompson:

"said the goal is not to mandate what must be taught but provide options for districts.“In many districts, they may have a different perspective on that, and we want to provide them the flexibility to consider all perspectives, not just on matters of faith or how the Earth came into existence, but also global warming and other topics that are controversial,” Thompson said."
When Thompson was asked if intelligent design — the idea that a higher authority is responsible for life — should be taught alongside evolution, Thompson said, “I think it would be good for them to consider the perspectives of people of faith. That’s legitimate.”
So while the public goal of the bill is to repeal the Common Core Standards, which, BTW are not science standards, but English and Math, as you can see Thompson stated the goal was to allow different perspectives . . . a follow-up question targeted one of those 'perspectives' and Thompson called it 'legitimate'.  Of course the DI called that type of question "twisting the words of policymakers".  Sure, trying to get to the intent as well as the meaning behind a policymakers actions is OK, but if they do not agree with your organizations agenda, somehow the reporter is twisting the words.  The last paragraph of the DI's response was:
"So the Columbus Dispatch is right about one thing: history is repeating itself in Ohio. In 2006, Darwin activists inflamed groundless fears about intelligent design in the schools. In 2014, they're getting ready to do it all over again."
Let's think back at Ohio's 'groundless fears'.
NCSE's own Steve Edinger said perfectly back in 1996: "Creationism is like a vampire, and every time you think the thing is finally dead, someone pulls the damned stake out again."  Ohio has seen that damned stake removed in 1996, 2002, 2006, and now again in 2014.  Ohio's concerns are not groundless, they are a response to a pattern of misguided and, in many cases, reprehensible behavior by groups like the Discovery Institute who wish to destroy science education.

There are still many misconceptions about the Common Core standards.  But I would like to put it even plainer than the reporter.  What is Representative Thompson's plan to replace the Common Core?  He has none.  He's going to pass the buck back to local school boards.  School boards that had control over their standards up until 2010 and they were failing our students!  How many Ohio students failed out of college for being poorly prepared?  How many had to take developmental classes (this are a re-teaching of the things they should have learned in High School)?  How many businesses complained that High School graduates did not have to basic tools to perform tasks graduates were able to perform 20 years ago?  We aren't talking highly skilled tasks, we are talking about tasks that require basic reading, writing, and math skills.  These are the problems the Common Core can help address.  Since implementing the Common Core, our neighbor to the South, Kentucky, has reported that the high school graduation rate had increased from 80 percent in 2010 to 86 percent in 2013, test scores went up 2 percentage points in the second year of using the Common Core test, and the percentage of students considered to be ready for college or a career, based on a battery of assessments, went up from 34 percent in 2010 to 54 percent in 2013.  (Ripley, Amanda (September 30, 2013). "The New Smart Set: What Happens When Millions of Kids Are Asked to Master Fewer Things More Deeply?". Time. p. 36.)


So now that we've gotten past the typical knee-jerk reaction of the Discovery Institute, I hope it is clear that there are Ohioans who oppose the Common Core standards.  The standards aren't perfect, but I hope folks oppose it for the right reasons.  I also hope that whatever follows the bill does not, by intent or by accident, open the door for a group like the Discovery Institute or the Creation Museum to walk in trying to pass off their religious ideas as if they belongs in a science class. But regardless of the politics, before you complain about the Common Core Standards, make sure you understand them and object based on reality.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"God is an ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance"

Neil DeGrasse Tyson takes down Bill O'Reilly's use of the God of the Gaps argument.  It's a classic!  I love the line "God is an ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance" because this is how many Creationists actually treat their particular version of a deity.  They defend the idea of God based on there being things we don't understand.  Tyson's argument is a very simple, yet very powerful response to O'Reilly's comment 'tides come in, tides go out, we don't understand that' [I am paraphrasing O'Reilly's comment because I don't have a link to it].  How long have we understood the tides?  Bill O'Reilly, the Ann Coulter for people who cannot read, might not understand tides, but science sure as hell does and has for well over a century.  I remember learning about tides in elementary school science.  Guess Bill missed that day.

Yes, there are things we do not understand.  But can anyone state, with any degree of certainty, that we will never understand something?  Compare and contrast what we knew 2000 years ago to 200 years ago to 20 year ago.  If the idea of God is defined by what we do not know, then in reality, Creationists have placed God in a small box that is getting smaller and smaller. 

Just a small aside.  I saw a Mike Peters editorial cartoon today of Ann Coulter taking the Ice Bucket Challenge and melting like the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz.  My first thought was "I wonder is Bill O'Reilly has taken the challenge"?

For the record, I have not been challenged.  If I am so challenged, I will take it and will also donate to a charity that hits closer to home for me, Multiple Sclerosis.  Nothing personal ALS, just MS has more meaning for me.  I usually donate to MS, Special Olympics, Vietnam Vets, and the American Heart Association annually.  I encourage everyone to donate to a worthwhile charity, whether you dump icy water on your head or not or even if you don't film it and post it somewhere!

Words have meanings

I read a post over on the NCSE's blog, that is the National Center for Science Education.  Normally I really enjoy reading their blog and frequently refer to their site to keep abreast of science education in this country.  Often I learn a few new things as well.  However, this particular entry, Misconception Monday: Hypotheses, Theories, and Laws, Oh My!, left me rather perplexed.  In a nutshell the author, Stephanie Keep, defined Hypothesis, Theory and Law.  I was looking forward to it, especially since I've posted on this topic before (Arguments XIX -- Hypothesis, Theory, and Law), but the article rather blurred the lines between them to the point they were barely recognizable, well at least to me.  Now granted my science education from HS and college was a while ago, but what I learned put a much sharper demarcation between them than was described here.

I understand there is no absolute universal definition of the terms, the generally accepted differences were not simply one of scope, but of applicability.  A hypothesis is an idea, a testable idea about some given phenomena.  It can be very narrow or fairly broad.  Hypotheses are tested and from there they can be rejected, confirmed, or even modified.  Over time, as the modifications grow less and less encompassing, the hypothesis becomes stronger and more well supported.  Hypotheses can get rolled up into a Scientific theory.  Now there rarely is a one for one relationship here, but the Theory is much more encompassing than a hypothesis and has undergone considerable testing and constant confirmation.  In fact pretty much all the evidence supports a hypothesis, or hypotheses, before they can be considered a theory, or part of a theory.  It's a process that's been defined time and time again.

Sure, the reality is less than absolute.  New hypotheses can come out of existing theories, theories can be made up of multiple theories and hypotheses.  But as an explanation or terminology, I think the complicated reality only confuses the issue.  Before you can appreciate the complex reality, you have to understand the basics of the terminology.

Now a law is a manifestation of a theory/hypothesis.  It's much more narrow than either a hypothesis or a theory.  It's an application under a very specific set of parameters.  It's often expressed mathematically, but that's not always true.

What is true is that while hypotheses can become theories, they never 'grow-up' to be laws.  That's a common Creationist myth about science.  I actually have heard people say things like 'If Evolution is so strong, why isn't it a law!"  There I agree with Stephanie!  What bothers me the most about how blurry she defined the terms, it opens the door for this exact sort of behavior.  If we cannot firmly define our terminology, we tend to be fighting an uphill battle when other people misuse the terminology.

Out of curiosity, I searched the NCSE website for 'theory' and found this:

  • Fact: In science, an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as “true”. Truth in science, however, is never final and what is accepted as a fact today may be modified or even discarded tomorrow.
  • Hypothesis: A tentative statement about the natural world leading to deductions that can be tested. If the deductions are verified, the hypothesis is provisionally corroborated. If the deductions are incorrect, the original hypothesis is proved false and must be abandoned or modified. Hypotheses can be used to build more complex inferences and explanations.
  • Law: A descriptive generalization about how some aspect of the natural world behaves under stated circumstances.
  • Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.
I think Stephanie should have consulting the NCSE site before being to vague.

Friday, August 22, 2014

IS it really fair?

I was posting on another forum and someone raised what seemed like a nice, simple, innocuous point.  Isn't the wording of OH HB 597 simply being fair?

I'm reminded of several articles I read about journalistic 'fairness'.  All too often journalists seem to think that presenting both sides of an argument is an effort to be fair and concise.  I tend to disagree.  I know, that sounds harsh, but here is my thinking. 

Say you have a story with two sides.  Can you automatically assume both sides are equal?  No, not without actually examining both sides.  But when they are presented as equal, any examination gets harder to do, because of this artificial perception of equality.  Let's briefly look at one of my favorite examples, racism.  Should someone doing an article on the Civil Rights movement have to provide the Ku Klux Klan with an equal perspective?  Sounds ridiculous, and it is.  Might the article, or class, or film, on the Civil Right Movement mention the KKK?  Sure, probably for about a moment or two.  Without a doubt, the correct balance in any reasonable examination should lean nearly 100% on the Civil Rights side!  No one seems to complain about that.  In fact if you gave the KKK an equal billing, people would be screaming, and rightly so!  But wouldn't it be fair?  Of course not.

Yet, when it comes to science, like Evolution and Climate Change.  One side has tons of actual evidence, the other side has politics, religion, hearsay, wishful thinking and conjecture.  Is presenting them as equal really fair?  Every idea is not automatically on par with every other idea!  Whether we are talking about science vs religion, men vs women, Apple vs Microsoft, artificially inflating one side to give the appearance of fairness is a disservice to one side and offers an artificial -- and false -- support to the other.  Yes, even Apple vs Microsoft.  Some people believe Apple makes better computers.  However in any economic examination, you have to realize that Microsoft has the lion's share of the market and treating them both as equal brings down the market leader while artificially raising up the contender.  It's not fair to either of them.

Looking at HB 597 again, when asked whether "intelligent design" should be taught alongside evolution, Thompson [Andy Thompson (R-District 95)] answered,

"I think it would be good for them to consider the perspectives of people of faith. That's legitimate."
When introducing his bill, Thompson said:
"we want to provide them the flexibility to consider all perspectives,  not just on matters of faith or how the Earth came into existence, but  also global warming and other topics that are controversial."


Sounds pretty fair, huh?  Why didn't Andy mention that teaching Creationism/Intelligent Design as science is unconstitutional?  That kinda tilts the teeter-totter in a different direction.  Did Andy forget to mention that the last time a school district tried this (Dover PA, 2005) they wound up in expensive and time consuming litigation?  Now the it should be at full tilt!  While his words sound fair and reasonable, you need to look a little harder to realize they are anything but.

Several times in the past certain groups and people have tried to inject their religion into the science curriculum.  SO far it's failed here in Ohio and in most states.  Notably, Louisiana has a law that would theoretically allow it, but as far as I know, no one has tried to implement that part of the law.  This bill is another designed to allow just such a thing.  It's subtle, but it's there. 

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) writes  about the bill:
 "The problem here," explained NCSE's executive director Ann Reid, "is that there simply isn't a debate within the scientific community over evolution or over climate change. Instead, there's a consensus, with the vast majority of scientists, of whatever political or religious inclinations, agreeing on the facts. By encouraging local school districts to misrepresent the overwhelming scientific consensus, HB 597 is a recipe for miseducation." (Antiscience legislation in Ohio)
Patricia Princehouse, director of Case Western Reserve University's Program in Evolutionary Biology, told the Dispatch, "It sounds exactly like the kind of things intelligent design and creationist promoters say." (Update on Ohio's antiscience bill)
 I'm sure we will be hearing much more!  Hopefully sanity will break out again in Ohio!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Common Core Standards

I really hadn't given a lot of thought about the Common Core Standards since they were approved in Ohio in 2010.  What I recall disagrees distinctly with some of what I have been reading since hearing about HB 597, an effort to repeal them here in Ohio.

If memory serves, the Common Core Standards initiative was not a Federally-driven program, but one driven by several states who were looking to set a common set of high standards for Science, Math, and English.  It was not part of the No-Child-Left-Behind nor any other Federal initiative.  Ohio adopted them primarily because of the high level AND the ability to have a common set of standards across the state.  These were standards, NOT curriculum, not teaching methodologies, and also not a ceiling.  Local school boards and districts could use the standards as a starting point and go even further.  The objective was preparing students for both college and their future.

What I have been hearing is that the standards dumb everyone down to the lowest common denominator.  I don't recall that at all.  In fact the minimum required level in most Ohio school districts went up when the standards were adopted.

I've also been hearing how the common core injects too much Federal Government into the local school systems.  Again, this was a STATE initiative, not a Federal program.  A number of States got together to pull these standards into a coherent set.  It has never been, nor is there any intention to mandate this at a Federal level.

Check out the CCSSO website for more information.  CCSSO stands for Council of Chief State School Officials.  The standards are a joint effort with the National Governors Center for Best Practices.  I think all of the made-up objections to the standards are politically driven!

Here's why I think that.  (1) If your district thinks the standards aren't high enough, raise them!  You have that right and in my mind that responsibility.  Don't whine, set a higher bar!  (2) Read the article about HB 597, the words say that they authors want to return school standards to the local level.  HELLO!  That's one reason why Ohio adopted the Common Core in 2010, because at the local level Ohio had a mixed set of some high, mostly low standards that were inconsistently applied and the results were poor, at best. (3) Now read more than just the words of the bill, but read the comments made to reporters questions by one of the bill's sponsors.  Political and religious ideas are going to be put on the podium alongside scientific ideas and the teachers are going to be prohibited from contrasting the ideas for any applicability or validity.  How many times do we have to face tactics designed to put pseudo-science like Creationism/Intelligent Design on par with real actual science?

Let's sum things up.  We give schools a limited budget, limited time frame, and we expect them to bring students to the point where they can be successful at college and in the job market following school.  And HB 597's sponsors want to saddle teachers and school districts with a methodology that was failing 4 years ago and further handicap them by letting school districts bring in their political and religious disagreements about science and use valuable resources presenting these concepts as if they are a core part of the curriculum.  How is this doing anything but a disservice to our students!

I recall a comic strip from 2012 that sums it up pretty well:  Doonesbury!  The final student comment in the strip really brings it home to me:  "Please stop, I would like to get into a good college."  Yes, Ohio lawmakers, please stop HB 597 so our children can get into a good college, so they can get a quality education, so we can compete in the future with other countries whose school standards are putting us to shame!  Please stop allowing a few to use our children to push a political or religious agenda!  Please Stop!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

All not quiet on the Midwestern Front

One of the reasons I started blogging was in response to some of the anti-science activities here in Ohio a few years ago.  I guess things have been too quiet to suit Creationists because the war on science has reared its ugly head again.  Cleveland.com is reporting that a bill designed to remove the Common Core education standards will also have the impact of not prohibiting Creationism/Intelligent Design in the classroom.  Here's the article I caught this afternoon: "Common Core opposition bill won't limit foreign authors -- or teaching of creationism and 'intelligent design'

Now before I actually read the article, I noticed a little sideline on the page.  You might have spotted it as well, "Common Core is bad for students and teachers: Kelly Kohls, school board member, activist".  I'm not sure if you remember Kelly.  She was the president of the Springboro Ohio school board when they flirted with the idea of Creationism.  The Dayton Daily News had this article.  Kelly said

“Creationism is a significant part of the history of this country,”  . . . “It is an absolutely valid theory and to omit it means we are omitting part of the history of this country.”
That would immediately make me think there was something very right with the common core science standards.  Anyone else read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller?  You might know the part I am thinking about -- when an insane psychiatrist declares you as sane, are you?  To paraphrase, when an avowed Creationist declares the common core science standards bad, are they? 

In my opinion adopting a common core set of standards would annoy someone like Kelly because it would make it harder for a local school board to inject Creationism/Intelligent Design into the science curriculum.  Imagine how hard it would have been for certain members of the Dover PA School Board to push their religious agenda if the common core science standards had been in place.  It might have saved that school system some money and not been such a time waster or generated such negative publicity for Dover.  But then again, the fact the court case went the way it did might well be a silver lining.  As it was, Kelly and her supporters on the board didn't make much headway and eventually less evangelical board members were elected and sanity reigned.  Kelly herself 'retired' from the board and ran unsuccessfully for the State Senate.

OK, now back to this article.  The National Center for Science Education also reported on this new Ohio bill.  They noted this from the article the same points I saw when I read it::
" . . . prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another." Thompson said that clause prevents teachers and schools from only presenting one side of a political and scientific debate -- global warming, for example -- without also presenting the other side."
That pretty much says it all. Not only would it make it easy for Creationism/Intelligent Design to be brought into the classroom, it sounds like it would be mandatory to present it -- even though it's a political and cultural debate, not a scientific debate. Plus, as I am sure Kelly likes, the bill's sponsor makes it very clear that it
"the bill gives districts and teachers the freedom to teach religious interpretations of scientific issues as they deem best."
 I'm working on an email to my State Representatives in hopes this bill will die the nice quiet death it deserves.  But even if the death isn't so quiet, as long as it does before dragging the whole state into another round of 'Let's be Fair and teach both sides', 'Teach the controversy', or 'Evolution, it's only a Theory', like we were in 2002.