What Has Science Done?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Hey, I am New to This!

As I have mentioned twice already, Boston University's College of Communications is going to hold a debate this November on "whether Intelligent Design should be taught alongside Evolutionary Biology in science classrooms." In a flash of utter stupidity, I cared to email the Discovery Institute's leading Blowhard/Laconic about what he hoped to accomplish at this event, since the DI's policy on teaching ID is that it should not be mandatory, but teachers should discuss the "evidence against evolution." Here is his rather curt, but prompt, response which I received last night.

At 06:02 PM 9/23/2005, you wrote:
what you hope to accomplish in this debate?


I gaped open mouthed at this for a good few minutes. I did not write the most articulate of emails and in an effort to be up-front, stated that I was not a fan of his work. One can say I should have known better, and yes I do now. In the least, I have a greater respect for the scientists who boycotted the Kansas BoE show trial earlier this year.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The "Other" Big One

Holy Shit Man!. Please go check out Steve Gregory's wonderful weather blog. One can only hope the evacuation goes better then New Orleans. I am horrified that the evacuees/refugees of N.O. that are in Houston are going to get pounded by another monster of a Hurricane. Our thoughts are with all those on the gulf coast.

Boston University's "Great Debate" & Intelligent Design

This is a generic email I just sent out to the Chairs of various science departments around BU. If you would like to refer to or pass on this letter to other universities, please feel free to do so.

To whom this may concern,

On November 2 of this year, Boston University's College of Communications will be holding its 20th annual "Great Debate," whose topic will be whether "Intelligent Design (ID) should be taught in conjunction with evolutionary theory."1 The 'controversy' concerning ID has garnered recent attention due to the actions of state and local school boards2 and prominent conservatives politicians (including the President)3 advocating the teaching of alternatives to evolution. The debate will be held at the Tsai Center for the Performing Arts - 685 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston and will start around 6:30pm.

I myself am an senior at Boston University studying Physics and the History of Science. I am writing to you today to express my concern about the nature of the ID movement in the United States (and across the globe) and its impact on how Americans view science and scientists.

Intelligent Design's central tenant, which can be applied to astronomy as well as biology, is that certain organic systems such as the bacterial flagellum are of such enormous complexity that they could not be produced by a natural process such as evolution via selection. This is not only a flagrant misrepresentation of current research on complex evolutionary pathways, but also exemplifies an attempt to undermine the methodological naturalism which is one of the fundamental underpinnings of modern science. The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank and leading ID think-tank, published a scientific/PR strategy in 1998 titled the "Wedge" were they intend to "explore how new developments in biology, physics and cognitive science raise serious doubts about scientific materialism and have re-opened the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature."4 This spring, a Education PhD student at Ohio State and his advisor attempted to pack his thesis committee with pro-ID and unqualified faculty who have no training in science education.5 From these and other examples, it becomes clear that the ID movement is not about reliable scientific research, but rather gaming the education system in any way possible to accomplish its social-religious agenda spelled out in the "Wedge Strategy."

Because of this cloaked religious attempt to undermine science, both the National Academies of Science6 and the American Association for the Advancement of Science7 have spoken out on their concern for the integrity of American science education. I would like to see the Boston area scientific community stand up as one, regardless of discipline, in defense of evolution and the teaching of sound science. I understand that everyone is quite busy in the fall, but it would be wonderful for academic and research scientists to attend this 'debate' and voice their opinions on what we should be teaching students about science.

Thank You and Best Regards,

New Title

The new heading for this blog is an odd little quote from the debut episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force (ATHF), a disturbing cartoon that airs in the late night on Cartoon Network. It is screamed by the now unemployed Doctor Wierd after his mechanical rabbit has escaped from a castle in New Jersey.

Now Steve - "Release the Mechanical Frog!"

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Circus Comes to Town

Since I attend Boston University, I found it of great interest when Bill Dembski reported he and Edward Sisson are coming to town to participate in the College of Communications biannual "Great Debate." I just got an return email from the Journalism Chair who organizes this event, confirming Dembski's post. The "debate" will be held at the Tsai Center for the Performing Arts on November 2, 2005 and will start promptly at 6:30pm. This program is usually broadcast via C-Span and an educated guess says that it will recieve some airtime from local/national news due to the recent prominence of Intelligent Design (creationism).

Any member of the Boston area scientific community is urged to come out and support Eugenie Scott of the N.C.S.E. and Prof. James Trefil of the G.M.U. physics department. This is one more chance to show that scientists regardless of discipline stand behind the rigorous requirements of scientific research and review.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to give me a shout.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Kicking the Habit

I really need to stop commenting on the current "controversy" over teaching the biological theory of evolution in public High School science classes. I want to spend more time here commenting on "grand narratives" in the history of science and my frustrations with philosophers, then rehashing arguments which my scientific betters have already beaten into the ground. Quitting cold turkey may not be completely successful, though if I am going to talk about religion, politics, and science I will force myself to do its from a less contemporary perspective. At least then it would be true to the title of this blog.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Our little Habitable Zone in the Sky

As I mentioned previously, what is with the Discovery Institutes CSC dating system for their "Scientific Research and Scholarship?" Maybe they just want to be out ahead of all those nasty critics of theirs. Guillermo Gonzalez of Priveleged Planet fame seems to be showing off a new article he has titled "Habitable Zones in the Universe." No mentions of intelligent design in the piece, but since its coming out of the DI, I am sure it will be waved about as more evidence of Universal fine tuning. Interesting to see if Gonzalez attempts to get it published in any peer-reviewed journals. Guess we will just have to wait and see.

Playing the Numbers Game

The Discovery Institute's CSC has an interesting little bulletin up on its website at the moment titled "Peer-Review & Peer-Edited Publications Supporting the Theory of Intelligent Design." Its dated October 1, 2005, which by my clock is still over a month away, but hey, lets not dwell on simple mistakes.

With Intelligent Design again in the
newspapers, one is forced to read through and double-check the numerous "talking points" that are spit-fired at reporters, who tendency to investigate is already weakend by a "he said/she said" mentality. Carl Zimmer goes digging through PubMed and Science Direct to see what the impact the DI's funding of ID 'theory' has made in Biology circles. His response, absolute diddly.

I cared to go see what www.jstor.org had in its archives. The journals I ran a search for evolution, natural selection, intelligent design through were:
Science, Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, Scientific Monthly, and the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science of the USA: Biological Science. Of the 27 articles found using "intelligent design," half are produced before 1990 when the CSC took on its crusade against Darwin, none are associated with DI fellows, and of those related at all to "origins research" most are fervently against the validity of ID. For "natural selection," I picked up 5,425 hits and for "evolution," 44,928 hits (from years 1859-2005).

But Jonathan Witt and his make-believe friend
say that over 400 scientists are "convinced that Darwinian Evolution is deficient," so there must be a controversy. Not so says Professor Steve Steve and the 586 other Steves which have signed a statement supporting the validity of Biological Evolution. But as I mentioned in a previous posting, "the voices must be weighed, not counted." Who has the Ph.D.s in biology and genetics, who have put decades of research into the study and analysis of evolutionary theory, and the support of scientific organizations across the globe? Ok, moving on.

There is one final thing that bugs me about this research list.

In fact, some of the most important and groundbreaking work in the history of science was first published not in scientific journal articles but scientific books, including Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus Newton’s Principia, and Darwin’s Origin of Species the later which was published in a prominent British trade press and was not peer-reviewed in the modern sense of the term.

Maybe its just me, but I think the scientific community and its approach to publishing valuable research has changed in the last 150 years. Also, scientific journals didn't exist when Copernicus was alive! Both Newton and Darwin's work was subject to extensive review in the
Transactions of the Royal Society and other scholarly journals, as well as by fellow scientists like Edmund Halley and Asa Gray respectively. The errors of the books themselves I shall leave to groups better trained then myself to dissect the material within the covers of the books, if they havent already.

Is there a budding research program like Steve Myers tried to con Nightline into thinking? No. Is there a controversy in the scientific community about the validity of Biological Evolution? No. Will the media stop printing pseudo-scientific garbage? Probably not. Is it worth the effort to keep fighting for science? YES!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Joseph Henry and Modern Quackery

In my study of 19th and early 20th century physics, I came across a wonderful speech by Joseph Henry to the American Association for the Advancement of Science back in 1850. He has some poignant views on quackery that I believe put the current tussle concerning the teaching of evolution in high relief. Links to relevant aspects will be provided in the text.

. Under this head may be classed a great variety of petty artifices by which the vain, the superficial, and the unprincipled endeavor, generally at the expense of the labors of others, to elevate themselves into notice and impose upon credulity and ignorance of the public.

It should never be forgotten that true reputation must always be based on the favorable opinion of the few in
any country who are capable of properly appreciating the labors of him who would claim to have enlarged the bounds of human knowledge or to have done anything worthy of commendation by his fellow men.

The higher and more abstruse the character of the investigations he professes to have made, the smaller is the number of those who are capable of rendering a proper verdict. In this case especially the voices must be weighed, not counted.

He therefore who seeks approbation for his labors by appealing to a tribunal which from its character and pursuits is not qualified to appreciate them is practising a deception and is justly entitled to the name of a quack.

The man of honorable feelings and imbued with the true spirit of science presents the results of his investigations to some learned society or to the editor of some scientific journal where they will be scrutinised before they are published and where they will be presented to the eye of men capable of pronouncing on their merits.

The man of true science must of necessity be a little in advance of his age and be beyond the appreciation of the multitude. He therefore scorns an appeal to so low a tribunal and would prefer to be the author of a discovery the importance of which but few men in the whole nation would be capable of appreciating.

How different is the proceeding of the quack; he affects to despise the opinion of men of science and accuses them of jealousy, prejudice, and ignorance.

He appeals immediately to the public generally through the newspapers, and for approbation calls not on the few who are capable of judging of his merits but the
many who know nothing of the subject.

How many wonderful surgical operations are performed in our country every year and how rapidly are we increasing in our knowledge of this part of the healing art, if the public prints are to be credited. I would say to the public, beware of those whose merits are thus continuously proclaimed to the world, in whatsoever line they may be. Be not quick to trust your purse or your life in their hands.

In announcing, says Sir Humphry Davy, even the greatest and most important discoveries, the true philosopher will communicate his details with modesty and reserve. He will rather be a useful servant of the public bringing forth a light from under his cloak than a
juggler exhibiting fireworks with a trumpeter to announce their magnificence.

Let it never be forgotten that there is no abiding reputation to be obtained by devious ways. So far from this, every departure from the strict code of scientific procedure acts in the end like a negative quantity in algebra which tells in the opposite direction: That no man can long deceive his fellow man; the masquerader is exhibiting himself before those who are familiar with masquerading; that true fame in due time is awarded to those who deserve it but not always awarded to those who are most anxious to obtain it. It is always the result of successful effort, but ought never to be the object of pursuit.

Henry was a proponent during the 19th century of best science elitism. He believed that science requires a hierarchy of professionals to set standards for a scientific community and that the scientific enterprise should not be democratic if ones goal is the accumulation of truth. This is not to say, those of lower social classes were to be denied their opportunities, but merely that "mob rule" should not be what determines what is true and best in science.

And YES by mob, I mean the general public, not those with advanced degrees who study these subjects for a living and a lifetime.

Thank you for enduring a gratuitous link dump.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Politics of Evolution

Pig Pile!

One cannot say this response from Bush about "Intelligent Design" is all that surprising. It has the right amount of double-speak to give the President wriggle room while making his point crystal clear. Chris Mooney over at ScienceG8 reminds us all that George was in favor of teaching creationism back in '99 and that the President seems to be contradicting his own Science advisor, John Marburger, who unequivocally stated that ID is not science. Remember folks, the reporters asked for his "personal views" and there was the caveat that curricula decisions "should be made to local school districts." Damn that man and his technicalities! "This debate is not about assessing the evidence, but about getting faith-based bullshit taught as science," courtesy of biologist PZ Myers. Even conservative stalwarts are shaking their heads. Nice to see people of opposing political views can have enough sense to agree on what is NOT science.

I am not so far out of high school that I can't remember my HS biology classes.
For the record I am a product of a catholic high school, where evolution was taught in biology without batting an eye. When most high school students take a biology course they have not yet had a formal year of chemistry and are taking either geometry or algebra II. So excuse me for saying so, but how in hell is a HS sophomore supposed to understand the arguments of Dembski and Behe? Not many, I would say that is not my intent to besmirch the intelligence of thousands of high school students across the country. They just don't have the background knowledge to judge these complex issues by themselves! These are issues for college level study not high school!

Its all for the children, says the Discovery Institute, an organization with the integrity of a snake-oil salesman.

Biology in high school must be taught better then it is today, but that would be by actually teaching evolution as the underlying concept in modern biology! I am just going to end with another PT link on how ID is has NO content.