Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Florida came close, but missed the bullseye

After many raucous debates Florida finally approved their new Science Standards, but they did cave in at the last minute to the Creationist/Intelligent Design crowd who seem to think popular opinion should decide what is or is not science. Check out the Orlando Sentinel.

To recap: Florida for years has taught "change over time" as a fundamental concept of biology. This they did as a sop to a whining minority who are against teaching Evolution thinking that it somehow belittles their place in the universe.

Florida had a team of educators re-write the standards and they included the word Evolution and described it as one of the fundamental principles of modern biology.

At the last minute the standards were changed to put the words "scientific theory of" in front of the word "evolution"! One Board member voted against the standard because of the word change, but two others voted against the standard supposedly for reasons of "Academic Freedom" . . . a code phrasefor keeping the door open for Creationism/Intelligent Design.

Florida, you had the chance to hit a home run, but you settled for a triple! Evolution, the concept that life has changed over time, is as factual as you can come in science. The evidence is overwhelming. Now referring to the explanation of Evolution as a scientific theory is fine, because your new standards already did that, but by inserting the words the way you did showed that you are caving into pressure much in the same way you left out the word 'Evolution' from your last review of standards.

Sorry Florida, you did OK, but you still missed the boat and are allowing a small, but vocal, minority set science standards. Citizens of Florida, you need to look at your school board, local and state, and take a hard look at whether or not those people are actually doing a good job! Science standards should be about science and nothing else!

Before I say anything else, I need to read the new standards and I do have one question: How many other scientific theories have the word "scientific theory of" in front of them in the standards. If Evolution is the only one, then I might have to downgrade you to a double! Judge Jones, in the Kitzmiller vs Dover School Board case, ruled that using terminology like that doesn't increase the validity of what you are teaching, but it does the opposite.

Monday, February 11, 2008

SInce the "700" keeps coming up . . .

More on the 700:

Apparently the "Affiliations and credentials" part of the list of 700 is misrepresented. The way it works in science is that the organization you are currently associated with is listed in any document. Previous assignation or associations are listed in a curriculum vitae (CV). The Discovery Institute, that paragon of . . . . well this is a family blog, so I will leave the rest of that line blank . . . did not. They listed the most prestigious affiliations, even if in many cases the affiliation is from decades ago! This is contrary to standard academic and professional practice and is deliberately misleading. Here is a sampling:

Raymond G. Bohlin, Fazale Rana, and Jonathan Wells, were the University of Texas, Ohio University, and the University of California, Berkeley respectively, the schools from which they obtained their Ph.D. degrees. However, their present affiliations are quite different: Probe Ministries for Bohlin, the Reasons to Believe Ministry for Rana, and the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture for Wells. It makes me re-think someone's position when their tie to a Ministry or the Discovery Institute is revealed, but of course the DI doesn't want such a thing revealed.

Many of those who have signed the list are not currently active scientists, and some have never worked as scientists. For example, Leonard Loose signed the Dissent document at the age of 96, after a career as a high school teacher and missionary, but is listed as being affiliated with his alma mater, the University of Leeds. This is in spite of the fact that Loose's affiliation with the University of Leeds and the scientific community ended over 70 years ago. Makes me wonder what his affiliation is today?

Also, if a signatory was previously the head of a department or the president of an institute, their past and most prestigious position will be listed, not their current position. For example, Ferenc Jeszenszky is a physicist in Budapest who handles the "Hungarian Creation Research" videos, but appears instead on the list as "Former Head of the Center of Research Groups, Hungarian Academy of Sciences".

Visitors at prestigious institutions will have that affiliation listed, not their more humble home institutions. For example, Bernard d'Abrera, a writer and publisher of books on butterflies, appears on the list as "Visiting Scholar, Department of Entomology British Museum (Natural History)", in spite of the fact that this museum had become independent of the British Museum three decades previously and had formally changed its name to the Natural History Museum almost a decade before the petition. d'Abrera's primary affiliation is with his publishing company, Hill House Publishers. d'Abrera does not have a PhD either, nor any formal scientific qualification (his undergraduate degree was a double major in History & Philosophy of Science, and History), although creationists often call him "Dr. d'Abrera". It is not clear how many other signatories of the list do not have a PhD either, although the Discovery Institute currently recruits people with PhDs to sign the Dissent petition.

At least one other signatory, Forrest Mims, has neither a PhD nor any formal academic training in science. Additionally, at least seven signatories have their advanced degrees from outside the areas of "engineering, mathematics, computer science, biology, chemistry, or one of the other natural sciences" that are currently being recruited: Ronald R. Crawford has his Ed.D. in Science Education, David Berlinski has his PhD in Philosophy, Tom McMullen has his PhD in the History & Philosophy of Science, Angus Menuge has his PhD in the Philosophy of Psychology, Stephen Meyer has his PhD in the Philosophy of Science, Tony Prato has his PhD in Agricultural Economics, and Tianyou Wang has his PhD in Education and at least six, Jeffrey M. Schwartz, Ricardo León Borquez (incorrectly listed as "Ricardo Leon"), Gage Blackstone, Daniel Galassini, Mary A. Brown and Thomas C. Majerus, have professional doctorates (such as an MD, DVM or PharmD), rather than holding a research doctorate (such as a PhD).

Also, in early editions of the list, Richard Sternberg was described as "Richard Sternberg, Invertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution" though Sternberg was never a Smithsonian staff member, but an unpaid research associate. At the time of signing the list Sternberg was the outgoing editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a minor biology journal, where he played a central role in the Sternberg peer review controversy. Later versions of the list dropped mention of Sternberg's affiliation with the Smithsonian in favor of Sternberg's alma maters, Florida International University and Binghamton University. At present Sternberg is a Staff Scientist with GenBank, the genetic database at the National Institutes of Health.

Critics also say the Discovery Institute inflates the academic credentials and affiliations of signatories such as Henry F. Schaefer. The institute prominently and frequently asserts that Schaefer has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Barbara Forrest and others allege that the Discovery Institute is inflating his reputation by constantly referring to him as a "five-time nominee for the Nobel Prize" despite that Nobel Prize nominations remain confidential for fifty years and there being about 250-300 nominations per prize per year. He is also a senior fellow over at the good old DI, shame they forgot to mention that as well.

Let us not forget that after the Discovery Institute presented the petition as part of a brief in the Kitzmiller v. Dover (October 2005) an unfunded grass roots counter petition, A Scientific Support For Darwinism, was organized and gathered 7733 signatures from scientists in four days. FOUR DAYS! After 7 years the Discovery Institute has managed to gather all of 700!

I am still waiting for that hotbed of controversy the DI keeps talking about!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Regents deny tenure appeal of intelligent design professor

Yea! I know, I know, that sounds cruel for Prof Gonzalez -- but his appeal based on Intelligent Design should have never happened! "Regents deny tenure appeal of intelligent design professor" tells some of the tale.

He claims to have met the requirements of tenure, but the information he wished to present on his behalf had nothing to do with the requirements for tenure. If he had evidence that he met the tenure requirements, that would make sense.

For those of you who have never worked in Academia, tenure is not a right, but a select privilege designed to provide job security and a certain amount of freedom from oversight. Tenure is one of the responses to draw people into teaching because the wages really, really suck! But it is not a right!

When you apply and are accepted for a tenure-seeking position there is usually a laundry-list of things you must do. You are also given a time-frame, something in the neighborhood of 5 years. On that list is usually things like publish, advise graduate students, teach lots of classes, perform research, bring in external money for research, among other things. The decision to grant tenure is based on all of them, plus how well you work with your peers, support department policies, and present yourself as a member of the faculty and staff.

If Prof. Gonzales had done these things, he might have had a chance at his tenure review, but according to his track record he failed. In over 7 years he had ONE grad student complete their thesis, raised less that 1/50th the amount of research money, and had no significant scientific publications. Yes, he published at least one book outside his field of Astronomy, which supported Intelligent Design, but nothing within his field. Why should he have been granted tenure?

His cries of academic freedom fell on deaf ears, because they DO NOT APPLY in this case. One of the things tenure is designed to do is allow professors the freedom to teach and research controversial subjects, one possibly not supported by the school. But even then it only applies within his area of expertise, Astronomy! Spending all his time in an area that is not even recognized as science tells me either he isn't a very intelligent professor -- because he should have known what was going to happen -- or he set himself up as the academic-freedom-poster-child at the urging of those less-than-stalwart fellows of at the Discovery Institute. Does make me think, how about you?

In truth, he failed to do his job as a tenure-seeking professor! He should pick an institution like Liberty University, you know Jerry Falwell's personal little slice of fundie heaven, for his next job. He can join Nathaniel Abraham who is teaching there. Nate was fired from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute for refusing to do aspects of his job involving Evolution because he didn't believe in Evolution. They should get along well together!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Intelligent Design is NOT Science

After first hearing about Intelligent Design, I never thought it was science. A conservative Federal Judge, one appointed by GW Bush, ruled Intelligent Design was not science. Every major science organization in the US doesn't believe it to be science. Now the International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR), in Cambridge UK, also doesn't believe it to be science. They go even further and say it's also bad religion!

Read this article for yourself, and it contains a link to their actual statement: "Leading science and theology scholars reject 'intelligent design' " I have to quote the article here : "The concept of intelligent design is, says the report, “neither sound science nor good theology.” The authors do not attempt to specify precisely how they believe the religious believer can speak of God’s action as creator – a question on which they may differ among themselves. They are united, however, in resisting what they call “the insistence of intelligent-design advocates that their enterprise be taken as genuine science . . ."

No matter how you approach it, the narrow idea of Intelligent Design is meeting resistance at every turn. It's not science, it's not even good religion -- so what exactly is it? It is an idea with tons of marketing muscle that appears to be failing. I can't wait to see the next metamorphosis -- I mean Creationism gave way to Creation Science which gave way to Intelligent Design -- which is not getting the traction the Discovery Institute wanted, so what's next? "Intelligent Creationism" or "Design Ideology"? I know "Design for Dummies" -- although that one might be copyrighted. How about calling it "Darwinistic Design"? Maybe you can fool a few more people by claiming it was Darwin's idea the whole time. Just never mention that the Darwin in this wasn't Charles and you will be legally covered. Surprised at my tone, well you are the expert in word games, I just like exposing them!

My other suggestion, one I have made before, is drop the marketing and do your leg work in the lab first. Don't start with your answer and bend some of the evidence to support it, but actually do the science! Who knows, you might learn something. But at least you will stop annoying state and local school boards and have them using resources better spent on actual education.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Up to their usual tricks

Yes, it's the Discovery Institute playing word games again. This time they are weighing in on the Florida science standards. "In Florida the Debate over How to Teach Evolution Is One of Science" is a somewhat interesting article, but I have to cast a jaundiced view of it because of who is writing it. For the past couple of years, following their crushing defeat in Dover PA, the arguments of the Discovery Institute have stopped pushing the teaching of Intelligent Design, instead they are being much more subtle in their efforts to undermine evolution where possible. This is a typical strategy for them. If we can't win the war outright, nibble and chip away to open a wedge [pun intended for those of us familiar with their 'Wedge Strategy'].

They sound so reasonable, but give themselves away with lines like "But what if all the date isn't presented? What if only one side of the issue is presented?" They are still maintaining the falsehood that their point of view actually has a seat at the table. They are still trying to convince people there is another side to this debate and one with scientific credentials. "Although no one has proposed teaching intelligent design, and no one has suggested inserting anything about intelligent design into the standards . . ." Sure they aren't saying it, but they want that wedge opened up.

They are supposedly quoting a member of the Framers' Committee, the group that developed the standards who wants to include the following statement "Students should learn why some scientists give scientific critiques of standard models of neo-Darwinian evolution or models of the chemical origin of life." The very short memory of the Discovery Institute is forgetting that this type of statement failed the measure up in Ohio and comments like this tend to undermine education, not enhance it (Dover Trial). No one single theory in science should be held up for any special criticisms, scientific or other. Aside from this type of statement already being ruled against, aside from this statement using the word 'scientific', does anyone really doubt what sort of criticism the Discovery Institute would like to introduce to the conversation?

I'll keep saying that teaching students to be critical thinkers does not mean teaching anything other than science. They quote something I haven't been able to find in the Tallahassee Democrat, but I did find this "What we all lose while arguing over evolution" and the author, also a member of the Framers' Committee said that "As a member of the Framers' Committee working on the draft science standards, I can testify that my colleagues on the Framers' and Writers' Committees and I have done everything possible to help the State Board of Education lift the state's students to international-class achievement in science and to open the door to a world of economic opportunity."

Yup, the Discovery Institute has gotten a bit more slippery, but they are up to their usual tricks. Any opening they can exploit to weaken science education is one they will certainly stoop to.

Evolution and creation: A recurring papal theme, often misunderstood

One of the counter arguments I, and many others, try and use whenever possible is that faith and evolution are not mutually exclusive. Here is a like to an article "Evolution and creation: A recurring papal theme, often misunderstood"

The really telling part is the two quotes from Pope Benedict XVI:

"I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called 'creationism' and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: Those who believe in the creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God,"

"This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favor of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: Where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man?"
I think this sums things up pretty well :-) When the Pope says the artificial dichotomy is "absurd" maybe some folks will listen harder. I can only agree that evolution doesn't answer everything, it only answers the 'how' and the 'what' -- it does not answer the 'Why' and shouldn't even try!

Evolution of Language Parallels Evolution of Species

Support for biological evolution comes from the most interesting places. Here is a Wired article that discusses the evolution of language and how it parallels many of the processes defined in the biological theory of evolution. Interesting read, thought you would like it. "Evolution of Language Parallels Evolution of Species"

I guess this shouldn't be a surprise to me, and I bet it's not a surprise to most biologists. Teaming and community seem to be part of what makes us human. In fact our ability to work together woulds certainly impact survival needs as an individual and as a group. We readily identify with people we deem like ourselves and make all sort s of lines around who we are. Familial, nationalistic, church, work, cultural, and gender , to name a few. Just look at the recent Super Bowl and how fans relate to a certain team. This type of community requires communication! So communication is something that has also changed over time! Shouldn't be surprised that there are processes involved!

Arguments XI -- Intelligence and Evolution

One of the arguments for Creationism/Intelligent Design centers on the mistaken belief that human beings are in some ways the end all or pinnacle of life. This goes hand in hand with the religious idea that we are somehow made in God's image and that we have some special sort of relationship with God.

I cannot answer the God's image and the special relationship with God because, as I have stated many times, those are metaphysical questions and best left to a more appropriate venue. But I do want to question whether or not we are the pinnacle of life -- and the answer I have to say is "No -- Freaking -- Way" What a huge presumption on some people's part. Doctors have stated for years we are still evolving to do things like walk upright. We have pieces and parts that have apparently been deprecated (pinky, appendix . . .). The actual design in many ways is still considered pretty poor. Sure lets put an object that gets all nasty and runny when we have a cold right above the mouth, the main intake port. Does that sound like sound engineering to you?

All I am trying to say is Evolution isn't done with us. The human being is a few thousand years might be noticeably different than the human being of today. Go further into the future and you might find new species of human, homo-superior, has replaced the old fashioned Homo-sapians. Evolution is not a guided process, there is no plan and the current human being is the end all of creation. Like many processes, it keeps going and going and going. Many scientists believe that evolution has actually sped up, partly because of the huge human population. The next 50 or 60 thousand years will be most interesting to watch and if we could set the Way Back machine to jump us ahead in few million years, we might be extremely surprised a the results! At least a good evolution education can help prepare us for that!

Expelled -- Bribery? Phony or real?

When I first heard this I was hoping it was phony, but so far no rebuttals from the Ben Stein or Expelled camp, so now I am not so sure.

In this and several other articles the producers of "Expelled" are bribing fundamentalist Christian churches and schools in order to drive up attendance. Read for yourself "Producers of Expelled trying to bribe Christian schools into encouraging, bribing or forcing their students to see their movie", "ID rakes it in and gets a rake in the face", and ""Joel's Army" group bribes churches to raise attendance figures for creationist film".

Many films offer all sorts of deals to specific demographics in order to get people to pay to see their film, but this should border on illegal! Take a look:

Your school will be awarded a donation based upon the number of ticket stubs you turn in (see submission instructions in FAQ section). That structure is as follows:

0-99 ticket stubs submitted = $5 per ticket stub
100-299 ticket stubs submitted = $1,000 donated to your school
300-499 ticket stubs submitted = $2,500 donated to your school
500 ticket stubs submitted = $5,000 donated to your school
Each school across the nation will be competing for the top honor of submitting the most ticket stubs with that school having their $5,000 donation matched for a total donation of $10,000!
Now if I were an enterprising school I would go to the theater and ask for the stubs and submit them to get a check. But it goes further, take at look at "getExpelled.com"

What is the Expelled Challenge?

To engage Christian schools and home school groups to get as many students, parents, and faculty from their school/group out to see Ben Stein’s new movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (opening in theaters April 2008).

Here are some suggestions as to how to do that:
  • Organize a school field trip and invite parents to attend as well.
  • Offer extra credit to your students to go on their own time.
  • What is the reward?

    The reward is two-fold. First, your students will encounter firsthand the debate between Intelligent Design and evolution, and also the importance of knowing what you believe and standing firm in what you believe. Second, by collecting the ticket stubs from your students, faculty, staff and parents, you could be eligible to win a $10,000 donation.

    Each school/home group that registers through the link below and submits their ticket stubs will be eligible for a donation as funds permit, but the school that submits the most ticket stubs will win a donation of $10,000!

    Please click on the link at the bottom of this page to register your school to take the Expelled Challenge and tell us how many ticket stubs you think your school will submit. Registering is very important as only schools who register will be eligible for donated funds. Please note, if funds are available, they will be given according to the order in which the schools are registered. Deadline for registering is March 28, 2008.

    I really hope this is phony, but so far no one has rebutted it. Hollywood should weigh in!

    Florida gets ready to Vote on New Standards -- Texas take note!

    Good article: "What We All Lose While Arguing Over Evolution" It reminds me of the bigger picture. The purpose of the new science standards in Florida isn't just to introduce the word Evolution, but to re-invigorate science education in that State. The arguments over the word "evolution" is a distraction that takes away from the purpose of the new standards. The simple fact that Florida has been teaching it for years, just without using the word, is frustrating.

    The down-side is that this debate seems pretty inevitable in any State, mores the pity. The State School Board is in the unenviable position to make a decision they know will be unpopular with some segment of the population -- but that is their job and one I hope they do unflinchingly! Look at what flinching did in the past. Florida was teaching evolution, but apparently not good enough. It's hard teaching a concept when certain words were not available to you?

    Remember years ago the argument over sex education? Some States watered down their sex-ed material until the teacher was not allowed to use the words "sex", "condom", "birth control", or any of the medical terms for describing genitalia. Oh that went over real big. I can see the lesson "Well there are these birds and these bees . . .no I know they aren't really birds and bees, but I can't call them anything else because one of your parents will sue the school."

    Florida appeased the minority fundamentalist Christian view and taught the topic for years ineffectually. Now they have a chance to do it right and the same forces are trying to either have it banned outright, or add in pseudoscience drivel to water it back down.

    Go Florida Go!