Friday, February 27, 2009

Arguments XX -- Scientific support for ID?

This is hilarious. Over on Topix a poster put this little missive forth:

There are 786 on ID related themes and I do not have the time to go through every one to see which include ID research.

So, according to them, there are 786 papers on ID related themes. OK, click the link and you see 8 . . . 8 whole papers. But if you look at each one you will find they are an ID related theme, but they are all anti-ID. LOL . .so sure he couldn't be bothered to look at all 8, but he claimed almost 100 times as many and none of them, NONE of them support his ID stance.

In case you are interested, here are the titles and the links description of each one.

Darwin, Dover, 'Intelligent Design' and textbooks.
ID ('intelligent design') is not science, but a form of creationism; both are very different from the simple theological proposition that a divine Creator is responsible for the natural patterns and processes of the Universe. Its current version maintains that a 'Designer' must intervene miraculously to accomplish certain natural scientific events. The verdict in the 2005 case Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover School District, et al. (in Harrisburg, PA, U.S.A.) was a landmark of American jurisprudence that prohibited the teaching of ID as science, identified it as religiously based, and forbade long-refuted 'criticisms of evolution' from introduction into public school classes. Much of the science of the trial was based on biochemistry; biochemists and other scientists have several important opportunities to improve scientific literacy and science education in American public schools ('state schools') by working with teachers, curriculum developers and textbook writers.
You say you want an evolution? A role for scientists in science education.
We conducted a national survey of likely U.S. voters to examine acceptance of evolution, attitudes toward science and scientists, and opportunities for promoting science education. Most respondents accepted that life evolved, many accepted that it evolved through natural processes, and more favored teaching evolution than creationism or intelligent design in science classes. The majority ranked developing medicines and curing diseases as the most important contributions of science to society, and they found promoting understanding of evolutionary science's contribution to medicine to be a convincing reason to teach evolution. Respondents viewed scientists, teachers, and medical professionals favorably, and most were interested in hearing from these groups about science, including evolution. These data suggest that the scientific community has an important role to play in encouraging public support for science education.
The threat from creationism to the rational teaching of biology.
Most biologists outside the USA and a few other countries, like Australia and Canada, are under the impression that the threat to the teaching of biology represented by creationism does not concern them directly. This is unfortunately no longer true: the recent growth of creationism, especially in its pseudo-scientific manifestation known as "intelligent design", has been obvious in several countries of Western Europe, especially the UK, Germany and Poland, and it is beginning to be noticeable in Brazil, and maybe elsewhere in Latin America. The problem is complicated by the fact that there are not just two possibilities, evolution and creationism, because creationism comes in various incompatible varieties. Turkey is now a major source of creationist propaganda outside the USA, and is especially significant in relation to its influence on Muslim populations in Europe. The time for biologists to address the creationist threat is now.
Biological design in science classrooms.
Although evolutionary biology is replete with explanations for complex biological structures, scientists concerned about evolution education have been forced to confront "intelligent design" (ID), which rejects a natural origin for biological complexity. The content of ID is a subset of the claims made by the older "creation science" movement. Both creationist views contend that highly complex biological adaptations and even organisms categorically cannot result from natural causes but require a supernatural creative agent. Historically, ID arose from efforts to produce a form of creationism that would be less vulnerable to legal challenges and that would not overtly rely upon biblical literalism. Scientists do not use ID to explain nature, but because it has support from outside the scientific community, ID is nonetheless contributing substantially to a long-standing assault on the integrity of science education.
What is wrong with intelligent design?
This article reviews two standard criticisms of creationism/intelligent design (ID)): it is unfalsifiable, and it is refuted by the many imperfect adaptations found in nature. Problems with both criticisms are discussed. A conception of testability is described that avoids the defects in Karl Popper's falsifiability criterion. Although ID comes in multiple forms, which call for different criticisms, it emerges that ID fails to constitute a serious alternative to evolutionary theory.
FASEB opposes using science classes to teach intelligent design, creationism, and other non-scientific beliefs.
[This one didn't have a description, but I think you can tell by the title which side it supports!]
Creationism and evolution: it's the American way.
The recent ruling in the Kitzmiller v. Dover court case that intelligent design is a form of religion and cannot be taught alongside evolution in science classes in US public schools garnered worldwide attention. But why is the antievolution movement so powerful in the United States?
Creationism and intelligent design.
Creationism, the rejection of evolution in favor of supernatural design, comes in many varieties besides the common young-earth Genesis version. Creationist attacks on science education have been evolving in the last few years through the alliance of different varieties. Instead of calls to teach "creation science," one now finds lobbying for "intelligent design" (ID). Guided by the Discovery Institute's "Wedge strategy," the ID movement aims to overturn evolution and what it sees as a pernicious materialist worldview and to renew a theistic foundation to Western culture, in which human beings are recognized as being created in the image of God. Common ID arguments involving scientific naturalism, "irreducible complexity," "complex specified information," and "icons of evolution," have been thoroughly examined and refuted. Nevertheless, from Kansas to Ohio to the U.S. Congress, ID continues lobbying to teach the controversy, and scientists need to be ready to defend good evolution education.
I think my favorite one is "What's wrong with Intelligent Design?" Oh you gotta love the moxie of these people . .not very bright, but big cojones!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Iowa on Academic Freedom

Another state has fallen victim to the Discovery Institute (DI), but let's take a different tack. Let's look at the details of the bill, particularly the justification. Iowa House File 183 is the bill in question, and it is pretty much part and parcel of the DI's agenda. How do they keep finding lawmakers who fall for their marketing line? I guess that is a question best left to the people of those states and I hope they are as displeased with their representatives as I am! But that aside, let's look at the bill itself.

Here is the justification, with my comments interspersed:

a. That current law does not expressly protect the right of instructors to objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution.
Wrong! As long as a teacher sticks to SCIENTIFIC VIEWS the current law is perfectly acceptable in providing the full range of academic freedom.
b. That in many instances instructors have experienced or feared discipline, discrimination, or other adverse consequences as a result of presenting the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution.
Once again, if the instructor sticks with the scientific views there is more than enough legal protection. The challenge comes in when the views expressed are not scientific! Does the teacher have the right to mention information from other points of view -- current laws say yes -- but the teacher has to identify it as opinion or otherwise. If not, then the teacher is violating the current rules and is subject to disciplinary action -- deserved disciplinary action!
c. That existing law does not expressly protect students from discrimination due to their positions or views regarding biological or chemical evolution.
Notice the word 'scientific' suddenly disappears from the conversation. Is it discrimination when a student refuses to learn a state mandated standard on biology? This is the same thing as saying a student who addresses Math questions using Numerology cannot be held accountable! Sorry folks, this is not discrimination. Did Oakland CA try replacing English with Ebonics a few years back? Look how well that went!
d. That the topic of biological and chemical evolution has generated intense controversy about the rights of instructors and students to hold differing views on those subjects.
There is no scientific controversy, only a political one. Plus the laws protecting Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression do not claim that you cannot have whatever view you want. But in a State-supported school, an unscientific viewpoint should not be taught, nor should it even be encouraged. There are platforms for those viewpoints, but the science classroom is not one of them.

As the bill progresses, it sticks to re-introduced the scientific viewpoint until it reaches this point (Section 2, para 4 for elementary/secondary students, Section 3, para 4 for community college/University students):
. . . students . . . shall be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials through standard testing procedures. However, students shall not be penalized for subscribing to a particular position or view regarding biological or chemical evolution.
Anyone else see the dichotomy here? I just finished grading two midterm exams. I sat there thinking what it would be like if I could not penalize my students for putting down the wrong answer. Now like any teacher I have the occasional classroom lawyer that argues things like "The question said describe 'nesting', so I did when I discussed Birds." While birds nesting might be a correct answer in a natural science class, in the context of computer programming, it is the wrong answer! Yet if this law going into effect in Iowa, it might well become a 'correct' answer and there will be little I could do about it. How can I evaluate what a student has learned if I cannot hold them accountable!

OK, you can read the rest of the DI's boilerplate for yourself, it even includes the normal 'religious disclaimer' that we saw so conveniently ignored in Louisiana. Basically the law says a teacher can pretty well insert anything they want with no accountability -- and the student can address the subject in any way they want, with no accountability.

Just to contrast, here is a link to the University of Iowa Operations Manual, the section dealing with Professional Ethics and Academic Responsibility. If this law is passed I guess this part, among many others, goes out the window:
The faculty member has the responsibility to teach courses in a manner that is consistent with the course description and credit published in the catalogue and with the announced objectives of the course. He or she must not intentionally interject into classes material or personal views that have no pedagogical relationship to the subject matter of the course.
Will a Biology Degree from an Iowa college or university have any meaning in the future? Only the people in the State of Iowa can answer that, and I hope they will! If Iowan faculty members have any say, it will. Check out Iowa faculty on the evolution from Biologist John M. Lynch's blog. I know what we can do, we can affix a great big asterisk to diplomas from Iowa! Yea, that'll do it. They'll have the diploma, just not the education to go with it! Scan those Doctor's walls well, if you see a diploma with an asterisk, run like hell and find a real doctor!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Why Science is Important

I just added a new link over on the right called "Why Science is Important", It's under the Science/Evolution links list. I found it on Phil Plait's "Bad Astronomy" blog. Take a look, it's a pretty cool site with essays and video clip from scientists about why science is important! I have enjoyed the ones I've listened to and read. I keep learning more every day and having these points of view is certainly educational and surprisingly entertaining.

Thanks Phil!

Arguments XIX -- Hypothesis, Theory, and Law

[This one is out of order. I wrote it and accidentally saved rather than published it. So it's been sitting there like it was a post, but never put on the blog.]

Here is another common argument is a clear misunderstanding of the terms hypothesis, theory, and law, in a scientific context. I know, I've addressed the word Theory before, back in my post "Arguments I -- Theory". But the theme keeps re-occurring. Too many people have a poor understanding of these ideas, so I guess it's up to us to help educate.

So let's start from m the beginning. Someone sees something, a happening, an occurrence, and forms an idea about how or why it occurred. The famous apple dropping down on Newton's head is an illustration of this. As the person thinks about the idea, they formulate explanations. These are called Hypotheses. I've also seen them called "Working Hypotheses", but in any event that is the concept here. While they are not unformed ideas, they do not yet have any support or evidence.

Now while this may sound like an easy step, the promotion . . . for lack of a better word . . . of a hypothesis to a theory is not a foregone conclusion. Please note that when we use the term 'promotion', we are not talking about marketing, but support. Much time, work and energy go into discovery of support. Many hypotheses are discarded, changed, added to, and subtracted from, until you reach a point where it not only matches the evidence, but it proves its self to be predictive as well. The results are consistent, the explanation is stable, and while you may not have worked out every last detail, you have an explanation that meets what you current know about a particular occurrence. At that point it becomes a Theory.

Do you see what I am saying? Things do not become a scientific theory because someone claims it is a scientific theory. Evolution took decades, as did plate tectonics and thermodynamics. In some cases centuries passed before a hypothesis becomes a theory! You cannot even estimate how long, or how much work it will be to prove some hypotheses. For example Plate Tectonics was hypothesized in 1913. It wasn't until satellite mapping proved the continents were still moving away from each other before it became a theory, over 60 years had passed!

Now the part some folks have trouble with, a Theory is as high as you go in science. Theories DO NOT graduate into laws. We don't one day have a theory of evolution and the next have a law of evolution. Since nothing in science is ever really proven to 100% absolute, once something is a theory is remains so, unless disproven. And while the underlying details may get more and ore support, it still never gets 'promoted' above a Theory.

So what exactly is a law and how does it fit in. A scientific law is an application of a theory under very specific constraints, frequently expressed mathematically. For example the frequently misnamed "Law of Gravity" is actually known as "Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation" explains that the degree of attraction between two bodies with mass is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. It is part of the Theory of Gravity, not the other way around. The Four laws of Thermodynamics are part of Physics Theory. The relationship is pretty well established. Laws are not theories, but specific, repeatable, and consistent examples of theories under very precise conditions. The Law of Segregation and the Law of Independent Assortment are both part of Genetics.

Scientific theories are not just random ideas. They are well supported explanations of a given phenomena. They start out as hypotheses and, as long as they become well supported can become a theory. Laws are not the ultimate expression of a Theory, but the application of a theory under specific conditions. Theories do not 'graduate' to laws. Such a statement reveals ignorance of the process.

Another way to look at the process is an IDEA can become a HYPOTHESIS, which can become a THEORY, which can contains zero or more LAWS. As you can see there is a continuum here, just not the one some people expect. Evolution is at the Theory stage, as high as you can go in science. Many parts of Evolution, like Genetics, contain laws even though there are no 'Laws of Evolution' right now. Creationism/Intelligent Design are at the Idea stage -- as long as you disregard the marketing hype. If you want to be generous you might want to put them at the Hypothesis stage, but that would imply someone is actually investigating the science behind it and I have seen no evidence of that, lots more marketing, but no evidence.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The American Council on Education's position on Academic Freedom

This topic is getting so much attention, so here is more fodder for the discussion.

In 2005 the American Council on Education (ACE) issued a statement endorsed by a pretty impressive list of collegiate organizations. It's called "Statement on Academic Rights and Responsibilities". In it they made some pretty focused comments that also show that the current 'academic freedom' bills have little to do with academic freedom.

Owing to the incredible diverse nature of educational institutions in the United States they agree that it would impossible to create a single definition or set of standards that will work equally well for all fields of academic study, but they offer a central set of tenets that would create a common core of academic freedom principles no matter what the endeavor. Here are a few highlights:

  • Colleges and universities should welcome intellectual pluralism and the free exchange of ideas.
  • Academic decisions, including grades, should be based solely on considerations that are intellectually relevant to the subject matter under consideration.
  • The validity of academic ideas, theories, arguments and views should be measured against the intellectual standards of relevant academic and professional disciplines.
  • Application of these intellectual standards does not mean that all ideas have equal merit.
  • Government’s recognition and respect for the independence of colleges and universities is essential for academic and intellectual excellence.
Hmmm so looking at the bill passed in Louisiana, and the ones introduced in Alabama, Mississippi, and Missouri, among other states; does anyone else see the things that are missing? Oh there are enough words similar to make people think the bills support actual academic freedom, but where is the tie to intellectually relevant to the subject matter under consideration? They tend to gloss over that part for the specific reason of being able to introduce irrelevant topics.

How about being able to measure standards against academic and professional disciplines? So in other words who should be decided whether or not Intelligent Design is a scientific discipline? Not the Discovery institute for sure! But that is what they are trying to do and in doing so gain a level of scientific validity without having to do the actual science! They want to have it mandated by law, not any professional discipline!

Note the lovely phrase that not all 'ideas' have equal merit! Just because an idea exists, doesn't mean that it deserves a seat at the table with actual valid, and well supported, scientific theories!

This does certainly violate the last principle, the one on academic institution independence. Yes, the government, both National, State, and Local are necessary for our public education system, but when a bill is used to determine what is course content, without the support of relevant professional and academic disciplines, where is the independence?

One more time, with feeling! The so-called academic freedom bills were not designed to support actual academic freedom. They were not designed to improve and foster a better science education. They are purposefully, and with intent and -- in my opinion with malice, designed to permit teachers to introduce unsupported ideas, ideas that have not passed any sort of professional discipline review, ideas with no basis other than the religious feelings of a small minority, into the classroom of our young and be protected from any actions that should result!

Look at the document from the ACE itself. Read it and you will see that right now, today, a teacher can introduce the concept of Creationism in school. They can discuss it in Philosophy class, in Sociology, even in Marketing. They can bring up this whole political debate in science class if they want. But what they cannot do is bring it to the table in science class as if it were a valid scientific discipline, well except in the State of Louisiana which has passed one of these ridiculous laws! It will be interesting when a teacher tried to implement it!

"Dover II" in Louisiana next school year? Anyone want to start a pool?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How to respond to requests to debate Creationists

OMG, this is hilarious! PZ Myers and Pharyngula posted something incredible. Apparently an evolutionary biologist received an invitation to debate one the the high-on-themselves Discovery Institute weenies and PZ posted both the invitation and his response. Before you read it, let me set the stage a bit.

The biologist is University of Vermont's own Professor Nicholas Gotelli. Now you should also recall that the University of Vermont is where Ben Stein was scheduled to speak, but chickened out. I blogged about it in "Ben Stein is a . . . what?"

So in return the Discovery Institute wrote a typical nasty little response claiming that his withdrawal might not have been voluntary, of course without actually offering any evidence that it wasn't. Typical Discovery institute tactics. ("Darwin Defenders Get Ben Stein Expelled from University of Vermont’s Commencement Address")

Next a little bit of background is that the same Nicholas Gotelli wrote an opinion piece that said there were a number of reasons why Stein should not have been selected as a commencement speaker and the Discovery Institute, in their usual way, had a knee-jerk reaction that failed to address a number of issues. For example did they mention why the faculty and students across the campus overwhelmingly disapproved of the choice of Stein as a commencement speaker and recipient of an honorary degree? Oh heavens no! The ID'iots took one small part of the article and claimed that not having performed any scholarship of any sort wasn't a good enough reason to reject little Bennie. (University of Vermont Biology Prof: Ben Stein Has No Peer-Reviewed Scientific Research!) Did they forget to mention that everything stated in Professor Gotelli's about Stein's scholarship is true! Plus they ignored this gem:

"Stein's ideas are widely discredited by reputable academic scholars as well as by the mainstream media, and that is the real reason we don't want him to represent us on graduation day."
No, they try and make not having any scholarly work is a good thing!

So after all they they have the nerve to invite him to be their sponsor so they can have him debate one of their talking heads on campus. Now you really have to read both the invitation and Professor Gotelli's response. It's a classic! "How to respond to requests to debate Creationists." My favorite parts are:

He mentions their "sneering coverage" of his opinion piece, which was actually written by the guy who wrote the DI's request to debate invitation. Can you believe the cojones on these people? I loved the Professor's reply:
"However, this kind of two-faced dishonesty is what the scientific community has come to expect from the creationists."
He very clearly states his opinion with:
"Academic debate on controversial topics is fine, but those topics need to have a basis in reality"
He also asked a question that many have asked before:
"Instead of spending time on public debates, why aren't members of your institute publishing their ideas in prominent peer-reviewed journals such as Science, Nature, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences?"
Near the end he states that he is declining their offer:
"So, I hope you understand why I am declining your offer. I will wait patiently to read about the work of creationists in the pages of Nature and Science. But until it appears there, it isn't science and doesn't merit an invitation."
All I can say is "Magnificent!"

More on academic freedom in Missouri

I have stated repeatedly that the current crop of 'academic freedom' bills have little to do with academic freedom. In fact I just posted an entry about Missouri. So let's get a little more specific. In Missouri what is academic freedom?

At the University of Missouri I found a little document describing academic freedom, and it is one I wholly subscribe to. And while this document does not have the force of law, it represents the state of academic freedom in the Great 'Show me!" State. Let's look at some key phrases:

"Academic freedom is the right and the responsibility of university faculty to pursue their scholarship wherever it may lead and to present their findings and works to their students, to their scholarly peers, and to the public without fear of suppression or reprisal, as long as these results are scrupulously supported by the rigorous and rational professional interpretation of the evidence and represent the well-informed and ethical exercise of their scholarship. "
Here is the opening line and I think it summarizes the idea very clearly. Please note the part that the so-called academic freedom bills tend to ignore: "as long as these results are scrupulously supported by the rigorous and rational professional interpretation of the evidence and represent the well-informed and ethical exercise of their scholarship." In other words right now today teachers and students in Missouri can discuss, study, research nearly anything they want and as long as their work adheres to 'rigorous and rational professional interpretation of the evidence . . .' can be presented and opening discussed without concerns for poor grades, censorship, or getting fired.

So if that is true, why does Missouri need a bill supporting academic freedom? Could it be because groups like the Discovery Institute want to end run the need for "rigorous and rational professional interpretation of the evidence . . ."? That's how I see it!

What do you think of this:
"The faculty does not lightly and without good scholarly or pedagogic grounds entertain the introduction of material extraneous to these specialties or to the scope of any particular class or program of study, and in this sense, and only on well-established academic grounds, academic freedom is limited."
Like 'Freedom of Speech', there are limits on real academic freedom and one of those limits is "well-established academic grounds". How often have you seen wording in these bills making such a reference? No, these bills open the door for anything and everything and not only protects the teachers while they introduce information without well-established academic grounds but refuse to hold the student accountable for not understanding the material that is well established.

Here is the reason i think the bills are being introduced so often:
"For students, academic freedom is the right to engage in reasoned discussion and critique in the classroom; with that right comes the responsibility, just as for the faculty, to apply their merging understanding of facts, methods, and controversies in their various fields of study, rather than to rest intellectually on unquestioning adherence to received disciplinary norms, tenets of political conviction or religious faith, or personal or cultural predilection."
This is the part that makes a religious pseudo-science, like Creationism and Intelligent Design, an anathema to academic freedom. You cannot have academic freedom when the concept you are pushing is based on religion! So in order for these religious ideas to be pushed, the current concept of academic freedom, as laid out clearly here, have to be superseded by a bill that truly goes against what academic freedom is designed to accomplish!

So the current standards of academic freedom would allow someone to bring in Intelligent Design, providing they did so in a rigorous and firmly rooted in scholarship manner. No wonder the Discovery Institute is trying to change things. So far even their own people have not managed to explain Intelligent Design is such a way! So of course when you can't do the science, look for a political alternative to push your agenda! As clearly laid out in their Wedge Strategy document!

Keep science in the science classroom and keep academic freedom a reality!

How to present Evolution in picture form

PZ Myers, on his Pharnygula blog, posted two great images. One is the typical one we've seen many times that implies things about evolution that are not true.
I mean while this is an interesting representation, it is far too simple and linear to mean all that much. He posted another one that really gets the point across, but not exactly one I would try and teach a class with. I mean it's more like an eye chart:Click on it for the larger view. It s a great image and one I think you could sit in front of and think about for a long time. It is a better representation of the reality of evolution!

Antievolution legislation in Missouri

The "Show Me!" State is the latest to fall victim to Discovery Institute marketing. Pointed out to me by John M. Lynch's blog "Stranger Fruit", which is one of the best blogs out there, the NCSE reports: "Antievolution legislation in Missouri" This little marketing tactic found fertile ground in Missouri own Robert Wayne Cooper (R-District 155) who has been introducing bills for years promoting Creationism, Intelligent Design, and trying to weaken science education. I hope he does something else with his time, or his constituents may one day realize what he is trying to do to them and the education of their children!

I love this part of Missouri HB 656:

"This section only protects the teaching of scientific information and this section shall not be construed to promote philosophical naturalism or biblical theology, promote natural cause or intelligent cause, promote undirected change or purposeful design, promote atheistic or theistic belief, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or ideas, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion. Scientific information includes physical evidence and logical inferences based upon evidence."

How confusing can you get! In an effort to dodge the bullet other so-called academic freedom bills have caught, it's doing it's best to play dodge ball. But, of course, it fails. Like it's marketing brethren, this bill has little to do with actual academic freedom and more to do with weakening science education and opening the door for pseudo-scientific alternatives.

I think Missouri will live up to its motto and ask Cooper to 'show me' how this bill will improve science education, and when he fails vote it off the grid again.

See what I mean about the evolution of the anti-evolution arguments. He's tried a number of different tactics, and so far has met with disappointment. I mean here is another excerpt form the NCSE article:
"In 2006, he [Cooper] introduced HB 1266, which if enacted would have required that "If a theory or hypothesis of biological origins is taught, a critical analysis of such theory or hypothesis shall be taught in a substantive amount." In 2004, he introduced two bills, HB 911 and HB 1722, that called for equal time for "intelligent design" in Missouri's public schools. HB 911 moreover contained idiosyncratic definitions of various scientific and philosophical terms as well as the draconian provision, "Willful neglect of any elementary or secondary school superintendent, principal, or teacher to observe and carry out the requirements of this section shall be cause for termination of his or her contract."
Need I say more?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Oklahoma Update

I just read "Oklahoma bill to promote intelligent design talk fails" and in my opinion the headline should have been "Oklahoma Wins!"

By a vote of 7-6, Oklahoma's Senate Education Committee defeated Sen. Randy Brogdon's Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act. I wonder how the Discovery Institute, who 'helped' author this bill, like they did in other states, will knee-jerk react. I can see it now "But Oklahoma wasn't encouraging Intelligent Design' after they only read the headline. Poor DI, it looks like some people can read your motives rather than just the words on the paper.

Another state that recognized these so-called academic freedom bills have nothing to do with academic freedom! Sen. Richard Lerblance, D-McAlester called it a "subterfuge that would lead to teaching of theories based on religious viewpoints and not science."

Sen. Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater, objected to a provision he said "would allow students to refuse to answer test questions on a subject because they did not believe what was being taught in textbooks."

Sounds all too familiar, doesn't it! These bills not only do not improve the science education of our children, but push a religious agenda that has been deemed illegal! Plus how do you hold students accountable if they have to right to disagree with the information in the textbook! I, and many others, have been asking these questions and Oklahoma apparently listened.

Of course you can bet this won't be the end of it. It will get re-introduced, probably after evolving into the next Discovery Institute tactic. I mean after Creationism failed the legal challenge the name was changed to 'Creation Science', its failure was followed by followed by 'Intelligent Design', well documented during the Dover PA trial. Its failure has led to other tactics, such as 'Free Speech', "Teach the Controversy', and now 'Academic Freedom'. You can bet the proponents of pushing a religious agenda no matter what damage it does to education will be back in the future!

Keep science in the science classroom! Send a message to the Discovery Institute that their not-well-hidden agenda is exposed to the light of day! Let other states know the right path to take in protecting education! Particularly that rather large neighbor to your south. Remember folks, Texas votes next month!

Arguments XVIII - Morality by Evolution?

One of the arguments frequently bantered around is that our sense of morality, that is human beings sense of morality, justice, fair play is undeniable proof that God must exist.

I am not making an argument for the non-existence of God, but I am making an argument for using this specious little exercise as proof. Aside from the whole question of why does faith need proof, where did our sense of morality stem from, where does the moral outrage we feel when we see people violating what we see are the norms of our society come from?

Well apparently it comes from our evolution! "Monkeys have a sense of morality, say scientists" Take a look, it's a fun read! Certain groups of monkeys have pro-social behavior patterns that show parallels to human morality.

I do have a question, is this another form of anthropomorphizing animals, I mean we are placing human judgments on animal behavior. It doesn't look that way, at least not from the write-up. But it certainly is an area to research further. The striking point for me is the cooperation that seems to have no basis in an expectation of return. It seems natural selection is at work by providing an increased survival in the form of cooperation, which forms a sort-of moral code. Very interesting piece.

The proof that the separation point between man and the earlier ape-like ancestors may have been weather and geological related is well established. I've blogged about it before in "Climate caused Evolution" and discussed how such an event may have caused natural selection toward bipedalism, larger brains, and other changes that would have aided survival and reproductive opportunity. Well how about cooperation? Imagine the survival and food gathering changes by enhanced cooperation? The whole idea of forming groups, pooling resources, and moral behavior may well have formed through evolutionary means.

Let me take this a touch further, if I haven't irritated evolution opponents enough. If we form groups based on our evolution, then we find reasons to form groups, to gather like-minded people is also based on our evolution. So is it possible the reason we developed religion is based on our evolution? Wow, talk about an interesting argument! This one is going to be fun!

Now please remember, before you get too irritated, I do not equate 'religion' with 'God', never have, never will. Religions, and the organizational bureaucracy that seems to always accompany them, is a purely man-made invention. But not that an evangelical Christian will allow me the freedom to have that as opinion . . . on which I rest my case! Think about it!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Argument XVII - Equivalent sides? (Part II)

I take serious exception to the characterizations of this article: "Good News: Most Want Both Sides of Evolution Debate Taught"

Now before getting into my other objections, here is the quote that just plain pissed me off:

"Many Darwinists are trying to paint supporters of academic freedom as some kind of crazy, fringe element," said Candi Cushman, education analyst at Focus on the Family Action. "The truth is, the majority of parents want their kids to examine all the scientific evidence, to engage in critical thinking and to have classrooms that are academically challenging — not controlled by political correctness.”
I have never, ever painted such a picture of a supporter of academic freedom! I am a supporter of academic freedom! I am an avid supporter of academic freedom! I am also a teacher and I use the concept and the reality of academic freedom on a weekly basis.

In addition, let me be clear . . . I have NEVER seen one article, web post, book, or anything other form of communication from a supporter of Biology, Evolution, and Science say anything negative about a supporter of academic freedom! And if you have been reading my blog and the links to various places from my blog you know I have been doing my best to remain informed and involved in this whole discussion. This characterization is base libel.

Now I do understand West, of the Discovery Institute, and his confusion on the topic. I even agree with some of what Candi Cushman said, I agree that the majority of parents want their kids to examine all the scientific evidence, to engage in critical thinking and to have classrooms that are academically challenging.

The problem I have is what does supporting Intelligent Design have to do with academic freedom? The bills being introduced in some states use the term 'academic freedom', yet do not address the issue of academic freedom. The Wedge Document, the guiding document of West and the Discovery Institute, does not address the issue of academic freedom, in fact if you read their strategy the very LAST THING in the world they want in academic freedom. The author, Phillip E. Johnson's own words betray them:"
  • "Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools."
  • "This isn't really, and never has been a debate about science. Its about religion and philosophy."
How can anyone who wishes to bring in a patently religious and metaphysical set of ideas, ideas with no scientific validity, into the science classroom be an exercise in academic freedom? Would it be academic freedom to teach Astrology in Astronomy class? No, of course not! Yet that is the precise argument that West and Cushman are trying to sell!

I haven't seen the poll, just the simple fact it was commissioned by the Discovery institute makes it suspect, I mean they aren't exactly unbiased are they? However if it is like some of their previous polls I can pretty much imagine the questions asked. I mean if someone called me up and asked me "Do you want schools to examine all the scientific evidence, to engage in critical thinking and to have classrooms that are academically challenging?" I would answer yes. It sounds like a perfectly reasonable question, but it does mean I support Intelligent Design in the scinece classroom in any way. It's like when someone says "Darwin is false, 68% of Americans believe in God!" What does believing in God have to do with Darwin? Intelligent Design, in fact Creationism is whatever dress you wish to dress it up in, has nothing to do with science and supporting it in the science classroom is actually anti-academic freedom!

I also disagree with Cushman using one of the DI's favorite terms, "Darwinist". Just what exactly is a Darwinist anyway? It's a pejorative term. It's an insulting phrase designed to label people who support and understand Evolution. Her use of such a term tells me she is not much more just a mouthpiece for the Discovery Institute than someone with a honest opinion on academic freedom. Why don't we call aerodynamic engineering "Wrightism" and pilots and even airplane passengers should be "Wrightists". We don't because aerodynamics is an engineering science! It's not based on faith, but on the evidence. That's why Biology is not "Biologism" and Evolution isn't "Evolutionism", they are not philosophies, like Creationism, but sciences based on evidence, testability, and predictability. Labeling anyone as a Darwininst is a misnomer, and one that reveals Cushman's bias!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Facebook calls

Those of you with a Facebook page might want to pop over to "Can we find 200,000 by Feb 12 to wish Darwin a happy 200th birthday?" The organizers are trying to get 200,000 people to join and with Darwin a Happy Birthday before 12 Feb. They are at 133,000 and counting.

UPDATE on 12 Feb: As of the AM there are over 204,000 people in this Facebook group. Impressive!

Mis-representing science

While this post is not specifically about Evolution, it is about the consequences of mis-representing science.

About 10 years ago Dr. Andrew Wakefield published the results of a study that suggested there was a link between Autism and the MMR (mumps, measles, and rubella) vaccinations. It prompted an anti-vaccination movement that has had both ordinary people and celebrities on each side of the argument. The result, inoculation rates went down! However why didn't autism rates also decline? Maybe because it appears that Wakefield falsified his results? "MMR doctor Andrew Wakefield fixed data on autism" spells it our pretty clearly. Not only has NO ONE been able to duplicate the results and not only did 10 of the 13 authors of the study retract any interpretation of the vaccinations causing autism, but the Sunday Times did an investigation and found that Wakefield lied.

So what, no big deal, right? Well how about in the United Kingdom there were 56 cases of measles in 1998 and ten years later there are 1,348 cases with two children dead. Measles are on the rise in Australia and Switzerland as well. How about in Minnesota? "Invasive Haemophilus influenzae Type B Disease in Five Young Children --- Minnesota, 2008" The largest outbreak in over 16 years. Three of the five were not vaccinated, one started the series of shots but did not continue, and the fifth, while fully vaccinated, had an immunodeficiency problem. One of the un-vaccinated children has died.

In other words the mis-representation of science has caused the deaths of children! These deaths may very well have been preventable!

And supporters of the so-called 'academic freedom' bills want to keep on encouraging those mis-representations!

OK, am I overstating things a little? I don't think so. What happens when the medical profession is taught that an Intelligent Designer is responsible for life as we know it? What happens to research programs? What happens to vaccinations? What happens to cancer research? Since Intelligent Design has offered no testable ideas and the more garden-variety of Creationism stops the whole discussion and relies on prayer -- what happens? People and kids will be dying of things that are currently treatable and preventable! That is the crime! And folks like the Discovery Institute will probably tell us it's the "Will of the Intelligent Designer"! Sound familiar? Didn't we used to be right here a couple of hundred years ago? All the medical advances we have made are going to get tossed out the window! All based on lies and mis-representation!

Let's quit all water treatments, it's based on science. Let's stop prenatal care and God-forbid we actually perform surgery! Let's just gather around the hospital bed, hold hands and pray to the so-called intelligent designer and see how effective that is!

Folks, have your kids vaccinated! If you have an objection, do the research on the effectiveness of the specific vaccine. You might object to some of the numbers on the cervical cancer vaccine, but you certainly can't object to the success of the MMR vaccine. Base your vaccination decision on the real data, not the trumped up misinformation published by Wakefield or other anti-vaccination groups! Get the facts and make the decision! Don't allow a mis-representation to push you in a dangerous -- for your kids -- direction. How would you feel today if your child died from a preventable disease, and it was your decision that contributed?

Changes to the list of States

No not to the extent of re-naming Pluto a 'dwarf planet', we aren't re-designating any states as being less that others. However a few seem to be doing it on their own. What I am interested in is the list of states dealing with the political-side of the evolution/Creationism debate. Yes, I did say 'political' because there is no scientific debate! If there were, that Creationism/Intelligent Design would be welcome in the science classroom! So I thought I would update you on some changes in the status of Mississippi, Alabama, New Mexico, Florida, and Texas for your reading pleasure.

First the sort-of good news. Mississippi allowed their bill to die off in committee. Which means at least for this session, the debate ends in the Great State of Mississippi. The reason I call it 'sort-of' good news is because the sponsor of the bill has already made plans to re-introduce it next year, either it or a modified version. I bet we see a straight up fake 'academic freedom' bill, like the one in Louisiana. Remember my take, those bill have little to do with any sort of freedom, let alone academic freedom!

This is exactly what happened in Florida. Their bill failed last year, but that doesn't mean they aren't going to try it again. Although it looks like they have abandoned the fake 'academic freedom' approach and going right for the jugular, Wise to introduce bill on intelligent design:

"State Sen. Stephen Wise, a Jacksonville Republican, said he plans to introduce a bill to require teachers who teach evolution to also discuss the idea of intelligent design."
While it is tempting to make a joke about his name and his actions not exactly being in line . . . I do think this one will be changed significantly before it reaches the other legislators. I mean after the sound defeat in Dover and no changes in the lack-of-science- standing of Intelligent Design, this one should undergo considerable evolution of it's own soon.

Another state that I enjoy visiting, New Mexico. Well they have joined the ranks of the other 'academic freedom' bills, only they didn't use that term. Not sure that's a good or bad thing. But read the report for yourself, "Antievolution legislation in New Mexico". What t does have if a frightening little 'disclaimer'. What do you think of this:
"'scientific information' may have religious or philosophical implications and still be scientific in nature."
While I agree with the premise, it is something that can all to easily be taken the opposite way and inferring scientific validity based on religious or philosophical implications. Sounds pretty familiar, doesn't it. Another section really scares me, it's on penalties:
" . . . they shall not penalize a student in any way because that student subscribes to a particular position on biological evolution or chemical evolution."
That's a quote form the bill itself. Now follow me on this. You are a biology teacher and you ask a test question on evolution. A student answers it "I don't believe in evolution, therefor this question has no correct answer." So what do you do? According to the bill " Public school teachers may hold students accountable for knowing and understanding material taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula . . ."; however in the very next line you cannot penalize them? Does the student get it marked right or wrong?

In my opinion this will muddy the waters more than just leaving the current academic standards in place. Interesting that the State Senator who helped put this bill together, Steve Komadina was not re-elected and the supporters had to find another one, Kent Cravens. To bad they succeeded. All of New Mexico should be arguing against this one. It makes it impossible to teach viable science and to hold students accountable! This is not a good thing for a State that two of the Air Force Research Laboratories and one from the Department of Energy located within it.

One last one, Alabama also joined in. I think theirs looks like a carbon coy of the one Louisiana passed, but I have to do a little more research. So the home of Huntsville, Auburn University, and the University of Alabama is heading in the wrong direction! What a shame!

I'm not sure Texas needs an update. Last month they removed the 'strengths and weaknesses' argument; however they don't formally vote until next month. Google news on 'Creationism in Texas' and you will see lots of articles trying to sway this vote in a particular direction. I hope the SBOE stands firm and keeps science for science!

Now I like all of these states. I have spent time in each one over the years. I can count the time spent in Mississippi and Alabama in years! New Mexico, particularly the Santa Fe and the mountains around Albuquerque are magnificent places to visit. Texas really is like a 'whole 'nother country'. I was also most recently in Florida for my nephew's wedding. I like these places, the people are great, the food is too good for my waistline, and there is always something interesting to do. However each one is also involved in trying to survive these tough economic times. I hope that they people realize that branding your state anti-science is not a good way to invite science and technology companies to expand their presence! How can they expect to find the quality of workers they need if the state school standards refuse to address science!

I know, you have been partially fooled by the Discovery Institute -- who has helped draft most of the anti-evolution legislation and has two members on the board that made its recommendations to the Texas SBOE. But don't be fooled! Listen to the teachers in your own colleges and universities who openly and proudly support Evolution and Biological Sciences. Listen to the rhetoric of the DI for what it is, mis-representation, lies, and marketing. There is no science to be found! Read up on the Dover trial and learn why a Conservative Christian Judge, appointed by the Bush Administration, ruled that Intelligent Design was not science, just Creationism in a new coat. Read how the Discovery Institute lied and misrepresented themselves to the Ohio State School Board just a few years ago. Do the research for yourself and you will find what I found, that there is no scientific validity to Intelligent Design, that it is Creationism, and that neither one will aid in any way your children learning the skills to lead this country, and your state, in these trying economic times!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Expelled: and Quote Mining

Like most intelligent and educated people in the world, I have not bought a copy of little Bennie Stein's mockumentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed". I have seen it ad blogged about it here and here. I also briefly discussed an example of Quote Mining as part of the film here. However the producers and distributors went one better. Apparently they really think the American Public is completely stupid! Because now included with each DVD is a book, well it's been described as more like a pamphlet.

Here is a review of the little collection of quote-mines from the blog of Joshua Zelinsky. His blog is one I am adding to my lists. It's called Religion, Sets, and Politics 's blog on three things that you can't talk about in polite company. His post, called Expelled and Quote Mines is a terrific read. He dives into why people quote-mine and caught what might be a fallacy on my part. I always seem to assume a quote-miner is being dishonest, but I guess it is possible that they are just victims of poor reading comprehension . . . but I refuse to believe anything coming out of the Discovery Institute is accidental. Their quote-mining is too deliberate to be anything other than dishonesty.

Ben Stein is . . . what?

Apparently Ben Stein, the Discovery Institute's latest anti-science mouthpiece and producer of that abortion called "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" is also a bit of a coward! He was asked to be the commencement speaker at the University of Vermont this year, and has backed-out. His stand on science is well documented in his own 'mockumentary' and his public statements promoting his movie. Well a number of people complained to UVM President that anyone who says:

"When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you." (Interview excerpt discussed and shown here.

doesn't deserve to be speaking at any University! Well the University resident did not cancel his invitation, but he did pass on the messages to Ben, in order for him not to be blindsided by criticisms. So what does little benny do, he chickens out! He mealy-mouths the usual platitudes about how misunderstood he is, and how he is actually pro-science. He called the complaints 'laughable' and 'pathetic', yet he still runs away!

And, to top that, the Discovery Institute is spinning things in their usual departure from the facts style. In a post "Darwin Defenders Get Ben Stein Expelled from University of Vermont’s Commencement Address" they make the insinuation that "It also seems highly unlikely that Stein's withdrawal was completely voluntary." All because the University president isn't a fan of their version of Creationism-lite, Intelligent Design. Hey, DI, he's a UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT! He should be against pseudo-science. They also blame Biologist PZ Myers (Pharyngula blog) for the emails and complaints. Their main complaint about Myers seems to be that he generated some of the complaints and that the complainers were not affiliated with the University.

My response to that is "SO WHAT!" Any intelligent, educated person should object when Stein is asked to speak at a University! Stein's anti-science position should put him at odds with every secular University in the world, and many of the private ones as well. Oh he would be welcome over at Liberty University, but I am talking about a real school of higher learning, not Jerry Falwell's excuse for one.

My response to Stein is go back and crawl under a rock. His position that Darwin caused the Holocaust is a form of Holocaust denial! (His mockumentary was not only a lie -- for how he suckers in real scientists and then did his best to place their comments out of context. He deserves only contempt and his willingness to run and hide when he reads a few complaints proves that he knows it! The very fact that he has the DI spinning things for him is equally as reprehensible as his own behavior. So I hope he goes and crawls back under the rock and watch re-runs of his economic forecasts on how strong the economy is and how, just before the bubble burst, he was using the housing market as an example of how wonderful things are and how the bubble could never burst. He is just as good a film maker as he is an economist. Need a reminder, look at this collection of interviews which include little benny laughing at Paul Schiff, who was predicting exactly what has been happening to the economy! I think it was benny who predicted the Dow hitting 16,000 this year. Oops!

Monday, February 2, 2009

More on "Exploring Evolution"

Recently I posted a little about the evolution of the "Of Pandas and People" textbook, now called "Exploring Evolution" and just today I ran across a link to Biologist John Timmer's review. My previous link was to the NCSE, not the complete review. So here it is in all its glory! Scathing to say the least.

I have to say aside from many of the problems with the text, the one I find most disturbing is the misuse of a very effective teaching technique called Inquiry-Based Learning, or IBL. As an educator myself I find this technique can be extremely effective, however like any teaching technique there are right ways and wrong ways to use it. Apparently this text claims to use it, but John Timmer can find no actual evidence of it. In fact it seems they created their own approach and did what they usually do, steal a label that means the opposite of what they are doing and dare people to disagree. For example the recent spate of 'Academic Freedom" legislation has nothing to do with academic freedom. The now little-used "Teach the Controversy" had no scientific controversy to teach.

OK, first of all, what is Inquiry-Based Learning. It's an outgrowth of the experience-based learning ideas of the 60's, in that a teacher is not the source of knowledge, but a facilitator that allows the students to formulate questions and do the research and drawing of conclusions themselves. When this is effective is when the teacher is active in the facilitation and the students actually wind up working through some of the scientific methodology that led to many of the scientific theories we use regularly today. When it's ineffective is when the teacher fails to facilitate and guide the process and the conclusion reached are not supported by the logic and evidence of the research done.

For example an IBL lesson plan on Gravity should conclude with a logical framework explaining the force and how it can be applied. If the students reach a point where their conclusion is that Gravity is random and unable to be understood, the teacher failed in their role as facilitator. I believe it works best when the teacher is well prepared and has a very deep knowledge of the subject to prevent meanderings to far down paths that are not applicable to the lesson at hand.

There is a great deal of structure to an IBL lesson plan because each step is built on the previous step, using a technique called scaffolding. The down-side of IBL is usually the rapid schedule many subjects are covered. When I was in High School IBL was a province of the more advanced classes, the thinking is the 'Honors' students would be more involved using these techniques than the typical high school student.

Now I like IBL and I also use it in my advanced programming classes. I've found that at the intro-level there is simply too much information to present to allow the students to do research and draw their own conclusions -- due to time constraints. In fact my advanced classes are usually centered around building a complete project from Design, Development of the Interfaces, to the principle business logic, and finally to advanced features. It can be an extremely effective learning methodology!

However John Timmer takes the Discovery Institute (DI), and the authors Stephen C. Meyer and Paul Nelson, to task for failing to provide the necessary framework to effectively be considered an example of IBL. Instead they stop at step one and want students to question Evolution -- yet offer no guidelines to research and actually draw conclusions to show how science reached the level of support Evolution now has. They jump back and forth to apparently not permit any conclusion to be actually found and simple end up making anti-evolution comments and re-hashed of old, disproven arguments. The only possible conclusion seems to be "Evolution ain't right!" because the DI, and Meyer and Nelson say it ain't right.

This is NOT Inquiry-Based Learning! But they claim that's what it is. Don't be fooled! There is a little bit of science sprinkled in the book, but as John Timmer says:

"This is pretty typical of all the scientific material in the book. Even when it has its facts right, they're embedded in interpretations that none of the actual scientists cited are likely to recognize. The mere presence of actual science does nothing to outweigh the general morass of errors, distortions, and faulty logic that comprise the bulk of the book. The book as a whole acts like a funhouse mirror, distorting and removing the context from the bits of science that do appear."
"In this sense, the book's claim that it represents an attempt at inquiry-based learning is a sham. The process of IBL requires both an accurate presentation of information and an effort to lead students through scientific reasoning based on it. EE not only skips the accuracy requirement, but it abdicates the responsibility for reasoning entirely."
"But the book doesn't only promote stupidity, it demands it."
Read the review for yourself! If the text appears in a library will check it out. I refuse to pay money directly to those 'paragons of misguidance' to have a copy of my very own! In all honesty, if you wish to understand Biology, get one of Ken Miller's textbooks instead. But if you want to see how far the DI will go to push their agenda -- an agenda that the majority of the Christians in the world do not support -- this is the book for you.