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Thursday, May 29, 2008
Fitting a Sheepskin over a Wolf

The Discovery Institute's official spokesperson Casey Luskin:

"Our priority with Intelligent Design is to see it advance as science and not as political hot potato," Casey said. "We want to see Intelligent Design debated by scientists, not by politicians."

We'd like to see that too!

Except . . . the ID folks have this curious habit of not submitting any data to experts in the field for analysis. You know, that pesky peer review thing.

So if the DI folks don't want ID debated by politicians, why are they working so hard to get so-called "academic freedom" bills passed in state legislatures? More after the jump . . .

Here are portions of the template for those academic freedom bills, so helpfully written by the Discovery Institute:

"This bill would expressly provide rights and protection for teachers concerning scientific presentations on views regarding biological and chemical evolution and students concerning their positions on views regarding biological and chemical evolution."

Note that they're not limiting "views" to being scientific, just the presentation. Besides, the DI labels ID as scientific - contrary to the vast majority of folks who actually, you know, do science.

"The Legislature further finds that existing law does not expressly protect the right of students to hold a position on views regarding biological or chemical evolution."

Neither does existing law protect the right of students to hold a position on whether the Cubbies will win the World Series. Why does the DI think that views and beliefs can be legislated? Sounds more like the inquisition than academic freedom.

"Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student in any public school or institution of higher education shall be penalized in any way because he or she may subscribe to a particular position on any views regarding biological or chemical evolution."

Note that the language is not "Students will be evaluated upon their understanding" which leaves the option open to allow "God did it" as a fully correct test answer. With the weasel word "may," the gate's wide open.

At the top of the template's webpage, you find a statement noting that the progress of science itself "depends on robust debate and critical inquiry." Instead of engaging in robust scientific debate and subjecting their research (right, none so far) to critical inquiry, ID proponents keep trying to legislate "academic freedom" for ID before ID has earned its academic stripes. And although they've denied that their goal is to have ID taught in science class, their actions speak much louder than words.

After all, it was the Discovery Institute who promoted "Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook" by David K. DeWolf, Stephen C. Meyer, and Mark E. DeForrest, of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. This publication states that

"Moreover, as the previous discussion demonstrates, school boards have the authority to permit, and even encourage, teaching about design theory as an alternative to Darwinian evolution-and this includes the use of textbooks such as Of Pandas and People that present evidence for the theory of intelligent design."


"Since design theory is based on scientific evidence rather than religious assumptions, it clearly meets this test. Including discussions of design in the science curriculum thus serves an important goal of making education inclusive, rather than exclusionary."

Likewise, from Luskin, 2005:

"Nonetheless, intelligent design is a bona fide scientific theory, and there is nothing unconstitutional about teaching about intelligent design in the science classroom. Most important, as a matter of academic freedom, teachers should be able to mention these scientific ideas in the classroom without fear of threats from the ACLU."

It is very clear that the DI does support the inclusion of ID in the science classroom. If the DI folks were sincere in their denial of this they'd make sure language prohibiting the teaching of ID as science was included in these bills. These "academic freedom" bills are just more examples of the blatant hypocrisy practiced by the intelligent design proponents.

You'd think they'd worry about facing their Designer someday.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Haloscan Comments & Trackbacks

We have decided to switch to Haloscan for comments on this blog. That also means that visitors can now use the Trackback feature to link to their own related posts.

Unfortunately, that means the 50 or so Blogger comments that were left on previous posts will no longer be accessible. I may decide to cut-n-paste them in if I get bored some day and have some free time.

Or maybe not. We'll see.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Scientific Certainty Argumentation Methods: SCAMs

Coined by sociologist William Freudenberg, this all-too-appropriate acronym summarizes how policymakers have distorted the process of science itself to push their agendas.

Pioneered by the tobacco industry and used effectively by global warming deniers and creationists, the technique makes use of the fact that

"Scientists like to think of ourselves as providing answers, while lawyers and politicians are in the business of changing the question . . . Scientists don't recognize that technique for what it is, and that's a big part of what makes this work." - Freudenberg

By ignoring the big picture - that smoking causes cancer, that CO2 emissions exacerbate the greenhouse effect - and focusing on largely irrelevant details, the policymakers whet the publics' appetite for conflict. Those policymakers present themselves as fearless underdogs crusading for The TruthTM, and shudder when their substantial ties to the tobacco/oil industry are revealed.

The problem is exacerbated by the use of he-said, she-said style of reporting where both sides of an issue are given equal weight in an article even when one side is completely bogus. The media knows that its readers/viewers are more likely to pay attention when an issue is posed as a controversy, and media outlets can't ignore the bottom line.

So . . . what does this have to do with the Little Blue Pill?

Remember how you giggled about green M&Ms in junior high? If we owned M&M/Mars and had a malfunctioning conscience, here's how we could implement the SCAM:

Fund a study which would show - surprise! - that green M&Ms are more effective than Viagra.

Use the reported Viagra-associated deaths to point out that Viagra is inherently dangerous and should be avoided.

Introduce a bill into state legislatures to guarantee malpractice immunity for doctors who unfailingly tout green M&Ms instead of Viagra.

Produce a list of a few hundred folks who have signed the following statement: "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of Viagra to increase the libido of aging men. Careful examination of the evidence for the use of Viagra should be encouraged."

At every opportunity, accuse the pharmaceutical companies of being anti-chocolate, anti-green, and unAmerican.

Find an atheist who uses Viagra, and quotemine him so that the public will start to believe that using Viagra leads to genocide.

Produce a mockumentary - "Expectorated: No M&M Swallowing Allowed" - telling the stories of a few researchers who were supposedly booted for questioning "Big Viagra" or for proposing that green M&Ms Exist For A Reason.

Run a few ads on pro-chocolate radio stations: "Tired of feeling blue? Go green! Green M&Ms, the all-natural choice. Chocolate was intelligently designed by our Creator to lift your . . . mood; try them, give them to your husband, and your friends will be green with envy! Green M&Ms, the right choice."

Ridiculous, you think? Maybe not so much. The tobacco industry and global warming deniers successfully re-focused public attention on the supposed controversies; meanwhile, millions more smokers died of lung cancer and our carbon emissions continue to rise. Likewise for creationists: by re-directing public attention toward teaching evolution, the science teacher shortage and falling qualifications for licensure are ignored.

Fortunately, journalists seem to have caught on to the fact that post-modernist reporting - where an issue is reduced to conflicting, subjectively-constructed "truths" - is inherently misleading.

Michelle Nijhuis at the Miller-McKune report has written an excellent piece detailing how ideologues have subverted public opinion by deliberately offering doubt and confusion instead of honestly-researched findings.

Keep standing up for REAL science - and don't fall for the SCAMs!

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Monday, May 26, 2008
Messin' in Texas

Jeremy & I have commented before on the creationists in Texas . . . the creationist chair of their state board of education, the firing of the state's top science education specialist from the state department of education because she forwarded a notice for an anti-ID talk . . .

So stop me if you've heard this before:

A group of curriculum experts labor for a long time writing up the best state standards possible for the kids in their state.

Shortly before those standards are due to be adopted, a different set of standards is circulated by the conservative board members. Nobody is quite sure exactly who wrote up these standards, and the board chairman doesn't allow time for all of the board to read through the substitute standards before voting on them.

Nevertheless, the standards are bullied through by the board chairman.

Sound familiar?

No, not Kansas science standards adoption in 1999 or 2005, but close.

These were English and reading standards. In Texas, a state known for low levels of literacy. (warning - pdf link; see pp. 17 & 18).

What kind of chicanery will the board chairman and his cronies be ready to pull when the science standards come up for adoption later this fall?

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Tuesday, May 20, 2008
1 of 8 Teach Creationism

A whopping 12.5% of the nation's high school biology teachers teach creationism as valid science, according to new data released by the Public Library of Science. For this research, 939 high school biology teachers were asked a number of specific questions regarding how they handle the teaching of evolution in their classroom.

The study draws a number of interesting conclusions; that state science standards have much less influence on the amount of time spent teaching evolution than the teacher's biology coursework or religious beliefs, and that biology teachers are substantially less likely to be creationists than the general population.

What I found most interesting were four questions whose responses are graphed below the fold.

Of the 939 high school biology teachers surveyed, 224 acknowledged that class time was devoted to discussing intelligent design/creationism. The question has been, are these teachers using that discussion time to promote ID/creationism as science, or to show students the fallacies which comprise ID/creationism? This particular study delved deeper into the attitudes of those 224 by determining how ID/creationism was addressed in the classroom.

This first question was the most disturbing: 48% of those biology teachers emphasize to their students that ID/creationism is valid science.

Likewise, 49% of those biology teachers who do discuss ID/creationism in class emphasize that many reputable scientists accept ID/creationism instead of evolution.

Question C is confusing. "I acknowledge them [intelligent design or creationism] as valid religious perspectives, but which are not appropriate for a science class." It seems that a teacher stating, "some people believe in ID/creationism as part of their religion, but it's not appropriate to teach it as science" is much different that stating "ID/creationism is The Truth but we're not allowed to teach it because those atheists will sue us."

And, only 32% emphasize that the majority of scientists reject ID/creationism as a scientific theory.

It seems obvious that although those teachers might give lip service to the state standards, when push comes to shove - and they can respond anonymously, without fear of being held accountable for their classroom actions - they'll teach creationism and shade the truth about evolution at every opportunity.

What can we do?
*Parents: pay attention to what happens in your local science classroom. Check out the study guides, quizzes & tests administered to your child to see how these topics are addressed . . . or ignored. Ask to sit in on a class. When/if ID/creationism is handled inappropriately, notify the administration and ask for that teacher to be reminded of his/her professional responsibilities. If that fails, notify your local ACLU rep.
*Teachers: help your coworkers understand that teaching ID/creationism is against the law. Give a heads-up to your administration that the school district could be liable if one of their teachers is found to be violating that law.
*Scientists: Offer help to your local science teachers. Let them know of some of the cool and exciting stuff happening in your field, and work to build a solid rapport with them. Many high school teachers are hesitant to invite in scientists because they're afraid their weaknesses will become glaringly obvious.

Too many of these students will hear bastardized versions of science from other sources. We simply can't risk not discussing ID/creationism in science class; however, we must do so responsibly and ethically, without lying to students by telling them that ID/creationism is science.

Edited 5/20 to add link to PLoS data

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Look out, Leavenworth

Photo from Wikimedia, via csa

According to the Leavenworth Times, local resident Sanford Sheaks presented the board with information about intelligent design and asked that criticisms of evolution be taught. LTC Sheaks is president of the Friends of Leavenworth High School, lost a bid for a seat on the school board in February 2007 and donates to the Leavenworth County Republicans.

In other perhaps related news, the Leavenworth school board voted to adopt new science textbooks at the same meeting. Board vice-president Steve Fitzgerald abstained from the vote, a position which counted officially as opposition. Fitzgerald (R) is running for the District 5 seat in the Kansas Senate and is a staunch supporter of Phill Kline, Sam Brownback and Bob Lyon. Standing in sole opposition to a science textbook adoption is a strange move for a candidate whose issues section of his campaign website pledges to get more resources into the classrooms.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Sunday, May 11, 2008
This I Believe: I Am Evolution

This weekend's "This I Believe" on National Public Radio is from paleoanthropologist Holly Dunsworth.

Of course I believe evolution.

But that is different from believing in evolution.

To believe in something takes faith, trust, effort, strength. I need none of these things to believe evolution. It just is.

Visit the website to listen to the rest.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Saturday, May 10, 2008
Trouble Ahead

Kenneth R. Miller, Brown University's tireless defender of science education, has written a review of "Expelled" in The Boston Globe.

"Expelled" is a shoddy piece of propaganda that props up the failures of Intelligent Design by playing the victim card. It deceives its audiences, slanders the scientific community, and contributes mightily to a climate of hostility to science itself. Stein is doing nothing less than helping turn a generation of American youth away from science. If we actually come to believe that science leads to murder, then we deserve to lose world leadership in science. In that sense, the word "expelled" may have a different and more tragic connotation for our country than Stein intended.

Miller is referring to the following statement:

Here is the full quote:

(speaking of the Holocaust)...that was horrifying beyond words, and that's where science - in my opinion, this is just an opinion - that's where science leads you.

...Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.

With this statement, Ben Stein has openly embraced his role as an anti-science propagandist. He will apparently say anything to demonize his opponents, no matter how ridiculous it makes him sound. Not surprisingly, Stein's cheap shot has provoked widespread condemnation from people all across the political spectrum.

Unfortunately, I have yet to see a single Intelligent Design promoter criticize Stein for this outlandish statement. I have seen a few who have tried to claim that he was actually referring to something else, but Stein has yet to issue a retraction or clarification.

A question for ID promoters:

Who thinks Ben Stein was wrong to say that science leads you to killing people?



posted by Jeremy Mohn

Alabama Evolution Bill Dies in Legislature

The National Center for Science Education reports:

House Bill 923 was among the hundreds of bills that died in the Alabama legislature "because they did not pass in the house where they were introduced," the Associated Press (May 7, 2008) reports. The latest in a string of "academic freedom" bills aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution in Alabama, HB 923 purported to protect the right of teachers in the state's public schools (including both K-12 and colleges and universities) to "present scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views in any curricula or course of learning," especially with regard to topics that "may generate controversy, such as biological or chemical origins."

So far this year, the Discovery Institute is 0-2 (a similar bill also failed in Florida). Related bills are still pending in Louisiana, Michigan, and Missouri.

Here's hoping that REAL science can make it a clean sweep.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Wednesday, May 7, 2008
REAL science, REAL life

My own posting will be more sporadic than usual during the next couple of weeks. As a teacher, there's the usual end-of-school craziness to deal with . . . and as parents, my husband and I are entering a new stage: our firstborn will be graduated from high school next weekend, so preparing for the festivities takes priority right now.

We've been lucky so far with him - Eagle Scout, honor student, 33 ACT, accomplished pianist & vocalist, swim team captain, active in Young Life & mission work. Now he's off to major in chemistry with dreams of becoming a surgeon someday. At 6'4" & 195, he seems to have the physical stamina necessary for that demanding career.

He also has moral stamina. In early 2005, as a freshman, he spoke at a science standards hearing and asked the State Board to please adopt evolution-friendly standards - REAL science - so that he could have every chance to prepare for his career. Immediately after the hearing, he was accosted by an overbearing creationist who insisted that understanding evolution isn't necessary for studying the human body. Our son smiled politely, said "Thank you," turned around, and walked away.

He's been a good role model for his younger brother and sisters, and we hope he'll stay true to his upbringing.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Monday, May 5, 2008
Advice for Florida Creationists

From Henry Neufeld:

Just tell the truth.

That's very good advice. He goes on to say:

I have been astounded at the number of ID advocates who have told me here on this blog, in e-mail, or in person that I am horribly misunderstanding their position because I think ID has to do with religion. But there is simply no possibility that ID, without any religious overtones, has any audience at all. If the whole argument is about the possibility that some form of alien life is interfering with earth life, perhaps a roomful of weirdos would be interested. The fact is that "intelligent designer" is heard (correctly) as a codeword for God, and that is what gives this traction.

Be sure to check out the rest of Henry's post. It's a good one.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Saturday, May 3, 2008
Lazy, Not Martyred

El Greco's St.Sebastian, modified

The Discovery Institute's Martyr Of The Year, Guillermo Gonzalez, was denied tenure at Iowa State University last year and lost his appeals all the way up the chain to the Iowa Board of Regents. The pseudodocumentary Expelled (directed by Mark "theistic evolutionists 'would have confused the film unnecessarily'" Mathis) chronicles Gonzalez' pitiful tale of woe unencumbered by facts. Gonzalez (and by extension, the DI) had access to the details of the case. Are they afraid of sharing those facts?

You see, during the 7 years he was at ISU, Gonzalez received periodic updates from his department, college and university tenure committees regarding his progress toward tenure. Those updates would either show he was making acceptable progress, or would point out his deficiencies and propose measurable remedies.

If those updates showed that Gonzalez was on the right track, why aren't he and the DI trumpeting these reports to the press?

Otherwise, we have to assume that Gonzalez knew all along that he was not making progress toward tenure, and that he chose not to address his deficiencies in favor of becoming the DI's Martyr Of The Year.

From other reports, after ISU hired Gonzalez he failed to conduct new research, only had one graduate student defend a dissertation, and received a scanty $22,661 in outside funding during that 7-year period . . . and that was in frantic, last-minute funding from the Discovery Institute. This, in an astronomy department at a Tier I research university where colleagues brought in an average of $1,300,000 during their tenure track time; 4 of the last 12 who sought tenure in that same department didn't get it. (Do we hear any of them hollering "help, help, I'm being repressed expelled?")

Compare Gonzalez' track record to a professor I know in a related field at a Tier II teaching university . . .

During the past year, this professor had well over $4,000,000 in projects funded, had 10 papers published or under review, won a couple of awards for outstanding teaching, and had at least one graduate student complete their degree. Yes, during the past one year. If Gonzalez had achieved this much during his seven years at ISU, the DI wouldn't have their Martyr Of The Year.

Gonzalez' future is assured as a new professor of physics at Grove City College in PA, an institution which proudly bills itself as independent of pesky federal regulations such as Title IX; as a result, its students are not eligible for federal aid. According to the college, "Intellectual inquiry remains open to the questions religion raises and affirms the answers Christianity offers." (The term "evolution" only appears in the pdf course description for one upper-level biology course taught at that college.) The college has recently acquired a telescope with the announced intent to "work with area public schools as well as other colleges and universities on educational and research projects." In other words, look out for an incursion by Gonzalez & his fans into the REAL science of area classrooms.

Gonzalez and the DI could easily release his intact periodic evaluations to the public to support their assertions that he was unjustifiably denied tenure. Otherwise, his martyrdom has as much credibility as Nixon's "I am not a crook."

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Friday, May 2, 2008
Florida Evolution Bill Dies in Legislature

The Miami Herald reports that the deceptively named "academic freedom" bills have failed to make it out of the Florida legislature.

Congratulations to those in Florida who worked hard to ensure that your new science standards were not undermined by this effort to promote long-rejected criticisms of evolution in science classrooms.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Thursday, May 1, 2008
KAMS update 4-30

Photo from KAMS

Yesterday, the Kansas House approved the full funding of the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science for the requested six years by a vote of 112-12.

KAMS is now seeking a director.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

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