Sunday, February 27, 2011

A severe lack of imagination and research skills

Wild Bill Dembski, who seems to think anything he utters are instantly gospel and no one in the known universe would think about disagreeing with him. So over on his website -- which I can't call a blog because he refuses to allow comments -- he's getting pretty lame. I mean he doesn't seem to have any imagination and he certainly doesn't exhibit the research skills expected of high school student, let alone a supposed educator.

So what is he up to this time? His target is ants: "Ants Solve Steiner Problem". Here is a large quote:

" . . .Colonies of ants, when they make tracks from one colony to another minimize path-length . . . In ID terms, there’s no problem — ants were designed with various capacities, and this either happens to be one of them or is one acquired through other programmed/designed capacities. On Darwinian evolutionary grounds, however, one would have to say something like the following: ants are the result of a Darwinian evolutionary process that programmed the ants with, presumably, a genetic algorithm that enables them, when put in separate colonies, to trace out paths . . . In other words, evolution, by some weird self-similarity, embedded an evolutionary program into the neurophysiology of the ants that enables them to solve the Steiner problem (which, presumably, gives these ants a selective advantage)." (italics added)
Now as I read this, all I could say is "BS". First off all his comment trying to explain this activity through ID is a joke. ID offers no explanatory power because no one has managed to produce anything remotely supporting ID. He makes stab at an explanation, but then, typically, offers nothing in the way of support. He compounds his error by building a straw-man of a supposed evolutionary explanation. First question to Wild Bill is why does he use the phrase "one would have to say something like". I don't know what you think when you read something like that, but my thought was "Why would evolution have to say something like that?" The only answer that strikes me is that one would have to say that because Dembski says so.

So Wild Bill, a philosopher and supposed mathematician, is claiming that evolutionary biologists would agree with his straw-man. See what I mean about a lack of imagination? It took less than 30 seconds to realize how utterly ridiculous is his little straw-man.

As for the complete lack of research skills. Doesn't Dembski know about Google? Enter something like 'Ant Navigation' and there are hundreds of returned links. The evolutionary explanations involve a number of areas -- ALL WITH SUPPORTING EVIDENCE. Many ants use pheromones and the evolutionary explanations say quite a bit more than Dembski's little unsupported straw-man. In fact if you follow just one of the links you can even get an incredible example of natural selection concerning pheromones, pheromones fading over time, dessication and even death is dry climates.

In my 30 seconds of research I also came across the Myrmecos Blog who also took Dembski to task for his lack of research.
"As ants zing back and forth down trails, pheromone levels build up. Long trails take more time to travel, so long-trail ants makes fewer overall circuits, more pheromone dissipates between passes, and the trails end up poorly marked. Short trails enable ants to make more trips, less time elapses between passes, so these trails end up marked more strongly. The shortest trail emerges."
The comments there are also an interesting read. Apparently Jerry Coyne commented with
"I think you’re bending over too far backwards when you say, “In Dembski’s defense, his error is a common one.” If a guy makes a claim about biology on an Intelligent Design website, asserting that a trait couldn’t have evolved by natural selection, then it behooves him to do a bit of analysis and study before making his pronouncement. "
I can only agree. If Wild Bill is going to say things like this, he should do a tiny bit of research first. But as we have seen, he makes pronouncements -- research isn't one of Bill's strong suits.

Friday, February 25, 2011

How to help Science Education!

This is a follow-up to "Klinghoffer lies by Omission, part II". There I stated what I really thought the problem wasn't so much that teachers were hesitant, but that teachers need the support of the groups of people they should expect support, the school boards and school administrators.

Steven Newton, the programs and policy director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has a great post offering other suggestions: "How Can We Get Teachers to Be Less Cautious and More Confident Teaching Evolution?" Here are his suggestions:

  • Attacks on evolution in the media need to be countered with real science.
  • Pro-science parents need to make it clear to teachers and school administrators that they expect evolution to be taught.
  • Finally, in-service teachers need the tools to teach evolution effectively.
I agree with everything he says; however, I think he is still keeping the teachers on the front-line with little to no top-cover. I happen to be a firm believer in top-cover. Some of you might not be aware of the term. In the Air Force, top-cover simply means 'support from above'. It can be anything from air superiority on the battlefield to support from your boss in the execution of your job. In this situation, I think we may need them both.

Of course you can be sure I am certainly talking about support from their bosses. Teachers who are doing their job deserve all the support they can possible get. When an Evangelical Parent gets in the face of a school board member or school administrator, the last thing that should happen is the teacher becomes a sacrificial lamb. The first reaction should be the defense of science, science education, and, most certainly, their teacher.

But I am also talking about air superiority. If this is a contentious issue then the school administrators and even the school boards need to be educated on the subject. If we can fight fire with fire, as Mr. Nelson suggests by countering bad press with good, we also need to equip what should be the first line of defense of our teachers with the information they need to counter the arguments of these evangelical groups and parents.

Is doing so dangerous? Yes. school board members and school administrators will come under fire from evangelical groups and parents who are pushing their agenda. They might find their positions threatened. But they also need to look at what happened to the school board administrators in places like Ohio, Kansas Texas, and Dover Pa. The people and groups threatening education were eventually defeated and many of them tossed out of office. There may have been short-term victories, like in Kansas, but a single battle doesn't decide a war.

I guess that leads to the question is are we at war? Well how would you describe it? We have groups pushing the religion in science and as we also see attempts to re-write history. We have them using tactics that their OWN religions claim is a sin. They threaten, browbeat, and lie in order to force people to accept the supremacy of their narrow world-view regardless of reality. In all honesty they have more in common with Muslim Fundamentalist than they do with most Christians.

The bottom line is that we need a layered defense and also multiple avenues of offense. Without a doubt Mr. Newton's suggestions have merit. But we also need school districts to weigh into the fight because what is at stake is not just their jobs and political positions, but something much more important, the education of our kids!

So there is nothing religious about ID? Part V

I just love listening to the words posted by the Discovery Institute and then watching their actions. Several times (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4) I've posted a bit about how the Discovery Institute CLAIMS that there is nothing religious about Intelligent Design and yet when it comes to their actions, it's all centered around religion. Well, they are at it again: "Darwin v. Design Conference Coming to Oklahoma to Address Debate Over Science and God"

Sure, Intelligent Design is science, so why are they holding a 'conference' the address the Science and God debate? Just how stupid do they think we are? Apparently they feel the folks in Oklahoma aren't too bright because that's where this particular Revival Meeting is going to be held. I think it's time they just stop calling these things 'conferences', it's nothing more than a Come-To-Jesus Evangelical Revival where they can bring together as many people who already support their ideas, say a few prayers, whine how unfair the rest of the world is, and pat each other on the back -- and there will be a alot of patting each other on the back.

Now remember this is the SAME group who was whining because the Vatican didn't invite them to a conference on evolution because . . . ID is science!

Apparently NO ONE seems to believe that Intelligent Design is science. Not even the folks over at the Discovery Institute. Oh they will continue to spout the party line, but they know it's not science. Look at the announcement for this particular revival meeting. It mentions Atheists and Atheism 7 times and only mentions Science 4 times. Its very title tells a story that the DI has been trying to deny for years. Look at the location, it's buried in the image logo in the top right corner of the article "Crossings Community Church". Sure, there is nothing religious about intelligent design. Keep selling that snake oil!

As for the revival meeting itself, look at the presenters, Oh that's right, the article, written by Dr. John G. West, calls them "four national experts ": Michael Behe, Jay Richards, Casey Luskin, and West himself. These are not 4 national experts on the subject of Science and God, they are 4 fellows from the Discovery Institute. See, the Revival Meeting idea gets more credence the more you learn about this meeting.

Wouldn't you expect a conference to have invited major representatives of Science? How about major Theologians? No, you get four Discovery Institute mouthpieces: a biochemist, a philosopher, a lawyer, and a political scientist. Not a dissenting voice in the house, certainly not a group that will represent either side of this debate fairly. They should invite Ken Miller, Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, and Eugenie Scott to this discussion. Invite Lauri Lebo to cover it for the press and Jen McCreight for the blogsphere. Now that might make it worth buying a ticket.

In all honesty, the last thing anyone with a working brain really wants to watch is 4 guys pat themselves on the back while complaining about how the rest of the world is a big-mean bully because no one outside of their little, tiny clique of friends takes them seriously. Actually three of them would be patting themselves on the back. The fourth will be doing nothing but patting the others, does anyone ever pat little casey on the back? In my opinion he's more of a 'good-boy' pat-on-the-head type. Think about it, in all their postings has anyone every referenced one of casey's ramblings the same way he does all of the others? Not that I have seen.

What would be really interesting is if the people in Oklahoma realized how foolish this 'conference' is and gave it the interest it deserves -- which is none at all. It would be hilarious to hear the DI spin after having to cancel their 'conference' because of a lack of interest! I am sure 'atheist conspiracy' would be mentioned in there somewhere!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Klinghoffer lies by Omission, part II

Not too long ago I discussed a propaganda piece by david klinghoffer in which he did his usual, he lied. "Klinghoffer lies by Omission", well since he's still posting, you should know -- he's still lying.

So what is it this time. It about his constant attempts to re-write Alfred Russel Wallace's biography and turn him into some sort of Intelligent Design advocate. This time, for some strange reason, he's got a commentary published in the Washington Post and he, again, finds himself having to lie by omission to make his point. His commentary "How evolutionary theory's other discoverer could heal the Darwin divide" starts off referencing a NY Times survey. What little davey forgets to do is present the NY Times survey in it's actual context. He picks and chooses in order to give a very different impression of the survey's results. Here is little davey's quote:

"Pro-Darwinian educators were frustrated this week to find that most public high school biology instructors in their teaching do not wholeheartedly endorse evolution. . .with only about 16 percent believing in Darwin's theory of unguided evolution."
What does this imply to you? That 84% do not support Darwin's theory of unguided evolution? That is a lie. Actually it's more that just one.

So what exactly is Darin's theory of unguided evolution? There is no such theory. Darwin's theory is called Natural Selection. He didn't offer a theory about evolution being unguided. I don't even believe Darwin really discussed this all to often. It was later that the term 'unguided' entered the lexicon of biologists as effort after effort, of people just like little davey, failed to provide any evidence for the guidance of some sort of intelligence behind evolution and biology. So that is his first lie! Darwin postulated no such theory. Little davey would like you to think so.

His second lie is his attempt to make it sound like only 16% of high school biology teachers support evolution. That's not true. He couldn't even get his numbers straight even though he linked to the NY Times article himself. Here is a better idea from the NY Times survey:
  • 13% of biology teachers explicitly advocate Creationism
  • 28% consistently follow the recommendations of the National Research Council to describe straightforwardly the evidence for evolution and explain the ways in which it is a unifying theme in all of biology
From the article, and of course NOT mentioned by davey, is this little tidbit:
"That leaves what the authors call “the cautious 60 percent,” who avoid controversy by endorsing neither evolution nor its unscientific alternatives. Invarious ways, they compromise."

What that means is about 60% of biology teachers are not doing right by their students. Why not? It's because of pressure of folks like little davey and organizations like the Discovery Institute, AiG, and ICR. It's also because of parents who swallow their propaganda wholesale and argue against their kids learning actual science and school board members like those in Kansas, Dover PA, Texas, and Ohio who try and use their position to further their own religious beliefs. Let's add in the pandering politicians like Jindal, Santorum, and Perry who should know better, but need the votes so they will sign up for just about anything. These are the people who are causing a surprisingly high percentage of teachers to shy away from doing their jobs.

Remember Lauri Lebo's article "Was a Teacher Disciplined for Refusing to Apologize for Teaching Science? " I still remember this one quote:

"It’s difficult to tell exactly what took place in the classroom and whether Hensley overstepped her boundaries in a discussion of religion. Nonetheless,this all leads me to wonder, if a student argues in class that the bible is life’s literal blueprint, facts be damned, is it wrong for a teacher, in the course of teaching science, to correct the student’s misinformed worldview? Or,in the interest of not offending the child and parents, must the teacher coddle such ignorance?Because it’s a simple fact that the realities of science contradict a literal belief in the Bible. And not just on the subject of evolution. Heliocentrism, for instance?"
I don't believe the problem is the 60% of the teachers who are hesitant about teaching evolution. In my opinion the problem is in the school boards and administrators of those schools who apparently aren't backing up their teachers for doing their jobs! I doubt college professors in non-secular schools whose biology departments have clearly stated their support for science and evolution have any troubles at all standing up to politicians and parents who are anti-science. But when a High School teacher has to fear not only negative comments from parents, but cannot depend on being covered by their own school administrators and school boards -- it's understandable why they are hesitant!

To summarize and close out this post: On little davey's main topic, his attempts to re-christen Wallace as an ID proponent I, once again offer this:

"But whether there be a God and whatever be His nature; whether we have an immortal soul or not, or whatever may be our state after death, I can have no fear of having to suffer for the study of nature and the search for truth, or believe that those will be better off in a future state who have lived in the belief of doctrines inculcated from childhood, and which are to them rather a matter of blind faith than intelligent conviction". 1861 Letter from Wallace to Thomas Sims

"I thus learnt my first great lesson in the inquiry into these obscure fields of knowledge, never to accept the disbelief of great men or their accusations of imposture or of imbecility, as of any weight when opposed to the repeated observation of facts by other men, admittedly sane and honest. The whole history of science shows us that whenever the educated and scientific men of any age have denied the facts of other investigators on a priori grounds of absurdity or impossibility, the deniers have always been wrong." Notes on the Growth of Opinion as to Obscure Psychical Phenomena During the Last Fifty Years
Does this sound like someone who would support the modern Creationism-in-hiding Intelligent Design? As usual little david has his head screwed on wrong. But then when his masters at the Discovery Institute whistle, he seems perfectly happy lying to the rest of the world. Sounds a bit pathological to me.

For more information om Alfred Russel Wallace, please visit the Alfred Russel Wallace page at Western Kentucky University. It is certainly more enlightening than anything written by klinghoffer.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Texas scores again, and not in a good way.

You might remember all the rough and tumble politics the past few years in Texas and how the vocal minority failed to achieve all their goals to gut science education. Well in addition to attacking science education, they were also doing their best to re-write history. I commented on it in May 0f 2009 with "Social Studies Next on the Firing Line".

Well yesterday one of my favorite folks, Lauri Lebo, has a terrific post about it. It seems the Texas Social Studies curriculum received a 'D' from the conservative Thomas Fordham Institute. You really have to read it for yourself. "Fundamentalist-Led Texas History Standards Get ‘D’ from Conservative Think Tank". Some choice quotes include:

  • "Complex historical issues are obscured with blatant politicizing throughout the document"
  • "Native peoples are missing until brief references to nineteenth-century events. Slavery, too, is largely missing."
  • "Incredibly, racial segregation is only mentioned in a passing reference to the 1948 integration of the armed forces."
  • "The conservative majority on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) has openly sought to use the state curriculum to promote its political priorities, molding the telling of the past to justify its current views and aims." [Italics added]
Ouch! Can it get much worse for the students in Texas? At least Texas voters had the sense to vote out some of the more overt Creationists, like Don McLeroy. But his influence will be hurting Texas for a while. I can't call it a legacy, because you normally think of a legacy as something positive. I don't believe Don McLeroy was anything positive when it came to Texas schoolchildren. His specific narrow religious viewpoint and politics were much more important to him than the education of the next generation.

Of course the report is fired upon by Conservative Texas-based Liberty Institute, an arm of Focus on the Family. But like most of their comments, it's a dud. Trying to paint the Thomas Fordham Institute as "elitist ‘think tank’, with left-wing funding and an agenda"
is just absurd, especially for anyone who knows anything about them. Lauri talks about that as well!

Thanks Lauri for another insightful column! So when is the next book coming out? :-)

In case you don't remember, Lauri is the author of the excellent book "The Devil in Dover: Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America", a book about the 2005 trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover in which intelligent design was ruled creationism by a conservative judge.

You know, maybe folks like the Liberty Institute and the Discovery Institute should try and appeal to more Liberal organizations. They sure aren't having much luck with Conservative ones. I mean the Thomas Fordham Institute and Judge Jones are both Conservatives. Just a fun thought.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Discovery Institute Dishonesty, example # . . . OMG, I have lost count!

By now you know I have little good things to say about the Discovery Institute. Hopefully you also understand my reasoning's, since I certainly try and make it clear here. But just in case there is any doubt, here is a pretty typical example.

You may not know that I have GoogleNews set to send me links to articles based on a number of criteria. It, of course, includes the Discovery Institute and Evolution. I add more as other items tweak my interest. After David Coppedge flied his suit, I added him to my notification list. In my email this morning was this little gem:

So here is the Discovery Institute is announcing 'an excellent report' from World Magazine with new insights. If you bother clicking on the link you get another opinion piece by a DI staffer which offers absolutely nothing new. From there you can get to the World Magazine -- or more accurately it would be nice if the Discovery Institute might mention the fact that 'World News' is not a news organization, but an organization who takes the news and offers a Christian Viewpoint. It is actually more than just a Christian Viewpoint, if you read their own About page you will find it is more an Evangelical Christian Viewpoint, at least in my opinion -- but then what else am I supposed to think when I see things like:
"We stand for factual accuracy and biblical objectivity, trying to see the world
as best we can the way the Bible depicts it. "
So rather than get into the whole "Of course there is nothing religious about Intelligent Design" thing (addressed in 1, 2, 3, and 4 other posts), we have the DI pointing to an Evangelical Christian web site that offers NOTHING new. It's simply more comments from Coppedge and his attorney. Oh, it does have another quote from . . . guess who? Why Casey Luskin himself! Yes, the Discovery Institute is referencing an article quoting one of their own mouthpieces and claims it is 'excellent' and 'new insights'. Did they fail to mention Coppedge's Creation Safari's side business? Oh, but there is nothing religious about ID, is there?

So I guess now we know what constitutes 'excellent' in the eyes of the Discovery Institute, a quote from their own propaganda pieces reflected back at them. And you wonder why I take nothing they say without a large bag of salt!

For the record:
  • Something excellent would be maybe a comment from JPL or their own attorneys commenting on the merits of the case.
  • Something new would be some of the other JPL employees confirming or contradicting Coppedge's claims.
  • Hell, something new would be the Discovery Institute NOT using a religiously motivated website to spread their own brand of propaganda.
Of the three I think the first one has an excellent chance of happening, especially after the June 2011 hearing starts. The second one may happen during the hearing as well. The third . . . . hmmmm . . . what are the odds of the Discovery Institute no longer using people's religion and other religious website to spread their nonsense? I don't expect to ever see them stopping! I see it as a form of religious abuse -- while I think they use it as a fund raiser. But then, let's repeat the refrain, there's nothing religious about Intelligent Design! Say that three times fast and keep a straight face.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bill Nye, the Science Guy

I've always liked Bill Nye. While geeks will never be cool, he probably comes pretty close to making science a cool subject. Over in Popular Mechanics he had a few choice things to say about science education. "Science Guy Bill Nye Explains Why Evolution Belongs in Science Education" Here are a few quotes I particularly liked:

"It's horrible. Science is the key to our future, and if you don't believe in
science, then you're holding everybody back. And it's fine if you as an
adult want to run around pretending or claiming that you don't believe in
evolution, but if we educate a generation of people who don't believe in
science, that's a recipe for disaster."

" . . .having raised a generation of kids who don't understand science is
bad for everyone. "

"People make flu vaccinations that stop people from getting sick. Farmers
raise crops with science; they hybridize them and make them better with every
generation. That's all evolution. Evolution is a theory, and it's a theory that
you can test. We've tested evolution in many ways. You can't present good
evidence that says evolution is not a fact. "

And in a bizarre 1984-Big Brother is watching moment, I guess Bill Nye decided to take a trip to the Creation Museum. Oh he didn't step inside, he just took a picture and headed on out. But, as reported over on PZ Myers blog 'Pharyngula' little kennie ham was watching, "Revealing Clientele" shows a certain amount of paranoia from kennie and his security troops. Do they frequently scan the security camera images for images of scientists who just want to stop by and see if the Creation 'Museum' really exists and not just a figment of a late-night pepperoni pizza?

So, since we have been recently discussing who can go to the Creation 'Museum' and who kennie ham apparently deems an undesirable. I can just imagine the press releases if Bill Nye had go inside to see kennie's carnival ride. But he didn't bother, but it was enough for kennie to comment about in his blog? I think kennie needs to spend a little more time thinking about what's he doing and less time playing his version of 'Where's Waldo' with his security recordings, don't you?

Gotta post Bill Nye's last line one more time. I just love it:
"You can't present good evidence that says evolution is not a fact."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

More to Kentuckians, you are certainly betting on the wrong horse!

Just caught this from Jen McCreight over on Blag Hag,"What exactly is Christian about being gay?" Apparently two guys attempted to attend 'Date Night' at the Creation Museum. It's not what you might think, the girl friends of two of the guys had to cancel out. I guess this led to a mistake and a couple of security guards refused admittance. In the words of one of the guards "How exactly is it Christian to be gay?" An attempt was made to explain, but I guess once the idea of 'gay' sank in, the guards were taking no chances.

Does any of this surprise you? I mean Creation Museum and kennie ham . . . homophobia? (Remember the letter sent to PZ Myers before the Aug 2009 visit from him and members of the SSA? Specifically called out as a no-no was . . . you guessed it, homosexual behavior.) So this really isn't much of a stretch, more business as usual.

However, this is the Creation Museum who apparently welcome . . . well here, read it for yourself:

"Anyway, the great irony is that while two men were not allowed to attend the Creation Museum last night, guess who they are welcoming with open arms today? None other than Jeffrey Bornhoeft, a lovely fellow making his first trip out of Ohio since the time that he shot his ex-wife's husband three times in the head 11 years ago. Jeffrey is OK though, because he's totally not into dudes." (No same sex couples allowed at the Creation Museum Date Night (UPDATE))
So, Kentucky Christians, you can go to the Creation 'Museum' and soon its other new ministry, Ark Encounters, and you can rest assured that you won't see any gay couples; however, you can run into a guy -- who was found not guilty by reason of insanity after shooting his ex's husband three times -- on his first out-of-state visit in 11 years. Does that make you feel better?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Kentuckians, kennie ham is making a mockery of you!

OK, I haven't written to much on the Ark Encounters, more because there have been so many other things to bring up. But I think kennie ham and his supporters in the government of the Great State of Kentucky are smoking crack and they seem to think they can get away with it.

OK, what has me so annoyed. I really don't care if little kennie wants to spend more of other folks money and create his little monument to his own inadequacies. It really doesn't bother me that he formed a public company in order to solicit money from the State of Kentucky. I don't even care that their vote pandering Governor is going along with it. The reason none of that bothers me is because while I disagree with it, they still have the right to be as foolish as they wish. If the people of Kentucky want to support them -- that's their right.

However; and you knew there had to be a however. Little kennie is advertising job openings at the Ark Encounter. Now please remember this is a park supposedly being done by a secular company and using some amount of public funds and tax incentives to do so. So can anyone tell me why do:

"All job applicants need to supply a written statement of their testimony, a statement of what they believe regarding creation and a statement that they have read and can support the AiG statement of faith."
Yes, if public funds and tax incentives are given for this park, the employment opportunities should follow State guidelines! I don't have a link to those guidelines handy, but isn't that the law in Kentucky?

Suppose someone asked you to do this during a job interview? How quickly would you be looking for a lawyer to sue for some sort of discrimination? And you would be justified! Little kennie can get away with it for folks working at his ministry -- and make no bones about it AiG (AiG's about page) and the Creation 'Museum' (an outreach of AiG) are nothing but ministries. However Ark Encounters isn't supposed to be one. During a recent interview on Anderson Coopers 360 little kennie side stepped the question about trying to convert people to remind us, yet again, that the company running it is a separate for-profit company, not a non-profit ministry. So this requirement makes it plain that Ark Encounters is an extension of the Creation 'Museum' and AiG and so there should be no question of public assistance. Tell kennie that the till is closed.

Anyone else feel more than a little bit of not-particularly-ethical Pinocchio-ism going on here? I think now is the time for the folks in Kentucky to start telling the Governor and his cronies that enough is enough. Either kennie ham plays by the rules, or he can build his little playhouse without any state money or tax incentives! Come folks from Kentucky, it really is time!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Are computers evolved or is the DI getting bored?

Bruce Chapman is the Director, and one of the founders, of the mis-identified 'Think Tank' called the Discovery Institute. So what has Bruce been up to now that might make me think he's getting bored with the whole Intelligent Design marketing scheme? Well I think he must be because now he's trying to rebut comments before they exist, so either he's psychic or psychotic, you be the judge. Check out: "It's Elementary: IBM's "Watson" Demonstrates Intelligent Design, Not Darwinian Evolution" over on the so-called Discovery institute 'News' site. He's whining about a new IBM computer, one that will be playing against the two of the winning-est Jeopardy champions ever. (

So what does this have to do with the normal topics on this blog? The title on brucie's column offers one hint, his last line does sum it up pretty well.

"I bring this to your attention, as I say, to correct in advance the inevitable and dreary effort of some Darwinian to claim Watson for evolution. But, it's elementary: Watson did not "evolve."
So no one has claimed that a computer is the product of biological evolution, and brucie wants to head off the apparent horde of evolution supporters who will attempt to make such a claim. He's wrong, the horde exists only in his head.

See why I think he must be getting bored? Instead of addressing any of the issues people have had with Creationism and Intelligent Design (like the lack of science, lack of evidence, 'cdesign proponetists', . . .) he has to go make one up. Seriously, would any of you claim that IBM's computer is the product of Natural Selection? How about Gene Flow? Pretty tough for something that doesn't have genes. How about Random Mutation? Anyone think a computer randomly mutates? OK, I know with certain operating systems it certainly seems to randomly mutate, but like Intelligent Design, the appearance of random mutation is not the fact of a random mutation.

So. in other words the only thing brucie has done is prove, once again, that he is completely clueless about biology and the Theory of Evolution. As Jim Nabors would say "Surprise, surprise, surprise!".

Just to set the record complete, I will be happy to go on record and say that IBM's newest computer has evolved! Even brucie himself alluded to it, although it must have gone right over his head when he mentioned:
"as in an earlier IBM defeat of chess champion Gary Kasparov".
Well the article in the NY Times also mentioned that. Only it used slightly different terms:
"a follow-up to the 1997 defeat by its computer Deep Blue of Garry Kasparov"
I hate the burst brucie's bubble (OK not really), but wouldn't a computer today that is called 'a follow-up' be considered to have evolved? Think about the PC on your desk? Can you see pieces, parts, and other components that can trace their lineage back to older lines of personal computers? How about some similarities to mini and mainframe computers from the 60's and 70's? Some of our terms and techniques can be traced back to the earliest computers, like the US's ENIAC (1946) and Germany's Zuse (1941) and Britain's Colossus (1943) computers? As an industry computers have certainly evolved. But only the director of the less-than-honest Discovery 'Institute' would try and equate that to biological evolution and then try and get the first strike in on the imaginary folks who would try and claim computers were the product of biology.

I think brucie struck out on a single pitch -- and that takes talent -- or boredom!

Friday, February 4, 2011

OMG, Astrology is Science -- well in India at least

I caught this gem from Jen McCreight, who calls her blog 'Blag Hag'. She posted "India: Astrology as Science" and at first I thought it was a joke, like something from The Onion. I mean it certainly sounded like something they would publish. Alas, I'm wrong, now I am reduced to simply hoping it is a joke, but I'm afraid it's not. According to the Bombay High Court in re-affirming a 2004 Supreme Court ruling that Astrology is science and the Supreme Court ruling also directed the universities to consider if astrology science can be added to the syllabus.

What's worse is that the laws in place to protect consumers by prohibiting misleading advertisements relating to drugs and magic remedies does not apply because Astrology, and related things like Palmistry, are sciences, therefore not magic and the laws do not apply. Poor India!

To echo Jen's final comment:

"And I thought it was just the creationists who used this tactic . . ."

Let the Students make Up Thier Own Mind? Are They nuts?

Over on Topix Evolution Forum, and a few other places, I have been seeing what appears to be an upswing in folks wanting to let students make up their own mind about a given topic. Now I see this as simply an variant of the 'Teach the Controversy' tactic, and one that really doesn't work in reality. Think about it, do you really want to teach all possible alternatives and then leave it to students to make up their minds? Isn't that pretty much impractical?

Let me explain it a bit more. For a change, let's avoid discussing evolution, at least for the moment. Let's talk computer programming, the subject I know a little about. I've been teaching it part-time for over a decade and been working as a programmer for most of the last 35 years. Am I the greatest programmer that ever lived? Of course not, I frequently run into folks that are much better than I am, usually because they have more experience in a particular type of programming. But I do have a pretty diverse background and a great deal of experience.

One thing I have learned that in every computer programming language, there are usually many ways to write a particular piece of code. There is rarely an absolutly perfect way to code something, but experience teaches you what works well and what things do not. An example is something we refer to as an uncontrolled jump. In many languages you can take yourself to another section of code with absolutely no automated way to get back. In other words you have to code going there and if you want to come back, you have to code the return. Seems simple enough, however programming neophytes might not see the real danger. It's something we call spaghetti code. That is code that seems to jump around in nearly random pattern. The results might be code that runs, but it is incredibly hard code to troubleshoot when you have a problem and very hard during long-term maintenance. And since something like 80% of the total cost of a software system is in maintenance, this is a significant problem. Code should be written that works, but it should also be written to be maintained.

If all we, as programmer instructors did, is present all of the different commands to move around a running program, we are doing a disservice to our students. We have been refining this concept for decades now. For example the BASIC computer programming language has a command called GOTO which easily permits you to jump around. In the Java programming language they also have a command GOTO; however, it does nothing. Sounds pretty strange, doesn't it?

Not if you understand the history. The GOTO command in BASIC, and similar commands in other languages, caused significant problems over the lifecycle of an software program. As a result the newer language, Java in this instance, took the command GOTO and reserved it so no one can make a command that replicates the old BASIC GOTO. This might seem like an extreme case, but if you look at the modern version of BASIC, called Visual BASIC, you will see that the GOTO command is no longer a useful command. The language itself has changed to remove even the temptation to use such a mechanism. You can still build uncontrolled jump structures, but you should not. It's much better if teachers taught more than just the commands, but the structure and the reasoning why.

The reason we know this is because of decades of experience and not just mine, but the collective experience of an entire industry. Now what folks like Catherine Crocker are advocating (Podcast from July 2010) are that the job of an instructor, professor, or teacher is not to present any conclusions, but only present all possible sides as equally as possible and let the students make up their minds. So how would that work in Computer Programming? It would mean that with every generation of new programmers, we would find ourselves forgetting the lessons of the past and having to re-learn them over and over again. in my humble opinion, that's bull!

Think about that in Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy, and yes, you knew we would get back to it, even Biology. We have decades, even centuries of knowledge of a subject area. In a typical classroom, be it college or high school, you can only go so deep into a subject area. So how can you expect students to make up their own minds? It's not possible, not in any practical sense to hand them 40 years of experience in a single semester, so you present the conclusions and you also present how they formed them!. When you learn a subject, you should be learning many of the facets of it -- and those facets should include the prevailing conclusions a particular discipline is using today. History is good, but you HAVE to show the conclusions or you relegate the students to repeating the work that has already been done over and over again. Crocker is wrong!

Now why would someone like Catherine Crocker think such a thing is workable? That's pretty simple. If you listened to her pod cast you might have noticed her association with the Discovery Institute (DI). Since they [the DI] have failed to gain acceptance for Intelligent Design in the public school science classroom, they simply changed tactics to try and sneak in by another method. One of those methods is the one advocated by Crocker here, to teach all sides -- even the non-scientific sides -- and leave it to the student to make up their own mind.

In my opinion the last thing Crocker and her friends over at the DI really want is people making up their own minds. What they want is to gain a foothold in the science classroom as the first wedge into driving real science out. I mean look at the small successes they have had with school boards in Texas and Louisiana. Imagine those same school boards looking at curriculum in the future and someone making a comment like "Why are we teaching two theories of life? Why not save some money and only teach one. It's not a challenging leap to make. The 'Let them make up their own minds' is nothing but a gutter-level tactic, and Catherine Crocker is one of the missionaries for the DI. You can read a little more about her on Wikipedia. Her own experience with Evolution is not one she probably looks back on with fond memories. Thankfully she's no longer a biology teacher!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How many Anti-evolution Legistations will be attemped in 2011

I think it's time we have a little pool and see just how many anti-evolution legislations will be put forth in 2011. Odds are it will be the usual suspects and so far we have five! Kentucky, Missouri, two bills in Oklahoma, and a new one in New Mexico.

In Kentucky we have the same State Representative, Tim Moore, making another stab. He failed in 2009. His last bill might have been a little too specific because it seems he's watered it down a bit. He formerly specified evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning as examples of scientific theories for which supplementary instructional materials would be used. This new bill just specifies that supplemental materials can allow teachers to "use, as permitted by the local school board, other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner." So Creationists are nothing if not adaptable. His last effort died in committee, so I guess trying to make it sound less anti-science might make it more successful. Between the Creation 'Museum' and the upcoming Noah's Ark Theme Park, doesn't Kentucky have enough on it's plate? (Here is a link on the bill: Antievolution legislation in Kentucky)

Over in Missouri the faces have changed, but the message has not. The previous anti-evolution legislator reached the end of his term limits after failing a number of times to get anti-evolution laws in place. So it's a new crowd, but apparently the text of the bill has only changed slightly from last year's attempt. Instead of a long-winded disclaimer, they shortened it to one a lot like the disclaimer in the Louisiana anti-evolution act. And we know how successful that disclaimer has been to actual avoid the introduction of religiously motivated material into the curriculum -- seeing as how the group responsible for implementing the new policy is ignoring it. (Here is a link to that one: Antievolution legislation in Missouri).

They have certainly been busy in Oklahoma. I mean after all their whining about Richard Dawkins giving a presentation in their state, how foolish do they wish to appear to the rest of the world? Apparently very foolish. They are following Texas by pushing for some of the changes that made Don McLeroy a former member of the Texas State School Board. Funny -- usually Oklahoma and Texas cannot agree on much of anything, so I am surprised as their willingness to follow Texas down the same path. (Link for the first anti-evolution bill in Oklahoma is here: Antievolution legislation in Oklahoma). What I also find interesting is the motivation of the bill's sponsor, State Representative Josh Brecheen, who announced not only his opposition to evolution, but that 'creationism presented as scientifically credible'. ( and It some ways it's slightly refreshing to have one openly admit their religious motivations, well refreshing and still disturbing.

Another perennial favorite in Oklahoma is State Representative Sally Kern . She's been in the limelight before, even sponsored two bills in 2006. (Here is the link on this one: A second antievolution bill in Oklahoma) Oklahoma has been through a lot recently, including significant economic upheavals. My question to you Oklahomans out there is why do you keep re-electing the same folks who keep trying to drag you back to the 19th century? Also after watching all the drama that Texas went through, are they a valid role model?

And now the latest, New Mexico. Not only does it pretty much parrot the very unsuccessful 'strengths and weaknesses' arguments attempted in other states, it really pushes the envelope to protect teachers. I have nothing against protecting teachers, but when the bill specifically states

"may include information that coincides or harmonizes with religious tenets",
just what are they protecting teacher from? New Mexico already has laws protecting teachers who teach controversial subjects. The protection in this law seems to be specifically for teachers who teach religious topics (like Intelligent Design and Creationism) as if they were scientific subjects. That's against the Constitution! (Link here: Antievolution Legilation in New Mexico).

So, how many antievolution bills will we see this year? We haven't heard from Florida or South Carolina this year. Ohio has been silent on the subject since voting out Deborah Owens Fink a couple of years back. Kansas also hasn't chimed in. Well, for what it's worth -- my vote in the pool is 12! I think we will see 7 more bills in 2011. The southern states are lacking, so my guess is several there. Colorado maybe? How about Michigan? I am sure some other state representatives are swilling from the Discovery Institute trough and planning to try yet again. I am also very thankful that the majority of these bills seem to die off in committee, which shows just how popular they tend to be amongst the other legislators. Let's also hope the voters remember who keeps dragging them back into this non-scientific waste of taxpayers money debates, the same way Kansas, Ohio, and Texas did when they removed some of the more vocal anti-science members from their school boards!