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Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Resources: Swine Flu

Neither Jeremy nor I is an epidemiologist. Thanks to the intertubes, solid and reliable information is available, information that isn't tinged with hysteria.

A developer "niman" from Philadelphia has a Google maps app which is tracking occurrences of swine flu.

Tara Smith over at Aetiology is an epidemiologist, and she provides an easy-to-understand synopsis of what swine flu is and what it isn't.

The Centers for Disease Control is keeping their swine flu site updated with the latest data and press releases.

As always, the best way to avoid the flu is to wash your hands. Cough and sneeze into your elbow instead of your hand. And, if you experience flu-like symptoms, for crying out loud stay home and don't expose more people to the illness. It's probably not the swine variety of flu you've caught, but isolating yourself will help prevent the virus from spreading further.

Ah, ain't evolution grand? Those crazy mutating viruses and their determination to party on in our cells . . .



posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Monday, April 27, 2009
KATS Kamp

The Kansas Association of Teachers of Science (KATS) held its annual meeting at gorgeous Rock Springs Ranch just south of Junction City, Kansas, this past weekend. (And yes, the spelling of "Kamp" gets on my last nerve!)

Instead of going to any sessions or meetings, I got to work the booth for Kansas Citizens For Science. It's always fun to meet teachers I haven't met before and to get caught up with others. I have to admit that it's disconcerting to realize one of my former student teachers is going gray!

So instead of going to the 1:00 general meeting, I was hanging around the booth, getting things organized and helping Harry McDonald - KCFS President - get things packed away. Which means I missed something pretty cool.

Each year, KATS selects one member who has demonstrated exemplary service to the KATS organization as well as to science education in Kansas. This year's "Distinguished Member" has widely influenced science teachers across Kansas; when the presenter asked those folks to stand who'd been directly affected by this member, over half the audience stood up.

This member is a vibrant, creative, and intelligent asset to the science teaching profession in Kansas and well deserves this award. The member has worked tirelessly to secure grants to improve science education in Kansas; serves as the editor of the KATS newsletter; was the primary mover and proposal writer to bring the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science to Fort Hays State University; has found the means to provide support for Hays' Science Cafes; initiated the regional science and engineering fair at FHSU; and has patiently tolerated his wife's various eccentricities while remaining actively involved with their four children.


This year's "Distinguished Member" of KATS is Dr. Paul E. Adams of Fort Hays State University. Paul is a full professor of physics, holds the Anschutz endowed professorship in education, and is my husband. I'm immensely proud of him - of his character, of his work ethic, and of his dedication to improving science literacy in Kansas!

Way to go, Paul, you've definitely earned this recognition!


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams




Help Jeremy Celebrate Another Orbit Around the Sun!

Yep, today marks his - 32nd? - trip around the sun.

[walking out after Ken Miller's KSU talk]

Me: I remember going to Billy Joel's concert right there in Ahearn Fieldhouse in 1978 (maybe 1979?).

Jeremy: I won't remind you where I was at that time.

Me [thinking]: Aw crap, he was in utero. Or maybe diapers.

HBD, blogpartner!



posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams




"Facts Should Drive Scientific Decisions,"

and not the other way around, stated President Obama at an annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences.

The president drew chuckles when he added: "I want to be sure that facts are driving scientific decisions, not the other way around."

Obama said his administration would double the budget of key agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

"At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science. That support for research is somehow a luxury at a moment defined by necessities. I fundamentally disagree," Obama said.

"Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been," he said.


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Sunday, April 26, 2009
Audio of McLeroy Confirmation Hearings

Last Wednesday, the Nominations Committee of the Texas State Senate conducted confirmation hearings for Don McLeroy, Governor Rick Perry's nominee for a second term as Chairman of the Texas State Board of Education.

As I pointed to last week, members of the Texas Freedom Network were there live-blogging the testimony. As I read their reports, I found myself wishing that I could see and hear the events that they were describing.

Well, my wish has been granted!

The ever reliable Tony Whitson has now captured and organized audio files from the archived video (RealPlayer) of the hearings.

Thanks, Tony!

In related news, the Discovery Institute just sent out an ominous email to its supporters claiming that the "Darwin lobby" is trying to "expel" McLeroy because he "took a stand for academic freedom" and showed "support for critical thinking on evolution." I guess the political process in Texas is just as bad as "Big Science."

Let me see if I have this right...

Apparently, showing "support for critical thinking on evolution" involves quote mining evolutionists, plagiarising from Creationist sources, redefining science to include supernatural explanations, lying about your past statements, crafting incomprehensible amendments, admittedly not reading the authoritative sources from which you quote, and consistently misunderstanding evolutionary theory.

Do I have that right?

You know, this is what I love about following the controversy surrounding the teaching of evolution.

I learn something new everyday.



posted by Jeremy Mohn



Saturday, April 25, 2009
More Thoughts Than Hay

John Pieret of "Thoughts in a Haystack" has added his voice to the discussion about whether faith and science can live in harmony.

Referring to one of the complaints against "accomodationism" - namely that it must be ineffective because public opinion has changed little over the decades - Pieret writes:

In my own (admittedly unscientific) view, I suspect that these numbers are stable because they represent some basic way people differ in how they look at the world and attempt to explain it. Be that as it may, focusing on one statistic is a highly suspect way to judge the effect of any program. Look, for example, at another statistic:

According to a 2006 study sponsored by the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative of the Center for American Progress and conducted by the firm Financial Dynamism ... [e]ighty percent of those questioned agree that "faith and science can and should coexist. We can respect our belief in God and our commitment to the dignity of every human life by using our scientific knowledge to help those who are sick or vulnerable." The same overwhelming number endorses the view that "stem cell research can be a force for moral good rather than a moral failing."

Why should we not attribute this highly encouraging result, at least in significant part, to the "accomodationist" campaign?

In addition, there are also indications that public acceptance of evolution is on the rise. For instance, the latest Gallup poll indicated that younger Americans are significantly more likely to accept evolution than their parents and grandparents.

This difference is likely due to many factors, one of which is the obvious fact that younger people are less likely to be religious. But I think it's also possible that public outreach efforts by organizations like NAS, AAAS, and NCSE may have something to do with it, especially since the fruits of their efforts are probably encountered most frequently by students and teachers in science classroom settings.

Anyway, I'm starting to feel pretty lucky. I keep finding intriguing thoughts instead of hay when I search through the haystack.

I think John must be stacking the stack.


posted by Jeremy Mohn



Friday, April 24, 2009
Pea-ooh-yee-la!!!


Puijila darwini is the latest example of a long list of transitional forms that were predicted to exist by paleontologists using evolutionary theory prior to their eventual discovery.

Interestingly, this particular transitional form was first predicted by Charles Darwin over 150 years ago:

"A strictly terrestrial animal, by occasionally hunting for food in shallow water, then in streams or lakes, might at last be converted into an animal so thoroughly aquatic as to brave the open ocean."
On the Origin of Species, 1859

Here's a brief documentary that explains the significance of this discovery.



Apparently, new fossil discoveries now come with their own interactive website. The Puijila darwini 3D Imaging Centre is just about the coolest thing ever!

Awesome!


posted by Jeremy Mohn




Faith-Science Harmony: A Guide for the Tone Deaf

If you have ever noticed the banner at the top of this page, you undoubtedly know Cheryl and I use this blog to advocate for the teaching of REAL science.

In our view, one of the tenets of "REAL science" is that it does not seek to supplant or invalidate other modes of human inquiry, including philosophy, religion, and ethics. Since questions of meaning and purpose cannot be answered through the application of the scientific method, any attempt to attach meaning to a scientific explanation is outside the bounds of science. One of the corollaries of this view of science is that scientific explanations need not be viewed as inherently antithetical to religious belief.

By our very existence, Cheryl and I are living examples of the fact that science and faith can exist in harmony. We are both Christians, and we believe that it is possible to reconcile our personal religious beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality with the knowledge gained through the scientific investigation of the physical universe. Indeed, we not only believe this - we are counting on it.

That's why we take issue with those who assert that harmony between science and religion is ultimately impossible. Although we certainly respect the opinions of those who hold this viewpoint, our very existence would seem to refute the universality of the assertion.

Unfortunately, there are some people who argue that Cheryl and I should not exist. If you accept that science and religion can exist in harmony, so the argument goes, then you are "compromising" science and therefore you are neither a true scientist nor an authentic religious believer.

A version of this argument was recently put forth by Dr. Jerry Coyne in a blog post entitled "Truckling to the Faithful: A Spoonful of Jesus Helps Darwin Go Down." The following quote provides a decent summary of Coyne's essay:

"Here I argue that the accommodationist position of the National Academy of Sciences, and especially that of the National Center for Science Education, is a self-defeating tactic, compromising the very science they aspire to defend. By seeking union with religious people, and emphasizing that there is no genuine conflict between faith and science, they are making accommodationism not just a tactical position, but a philosophical one. By ignoring the significant dissent in the scientific community about whether religion and science can be reconciled, they imply a unanimity that does not exist. Finally, by consorting with scientists and philosophers who incorporate supernaturalism into their view of evolution, they erode the naturalism that underpins modern evolutionary theory."

As a religious believer and as a science teacher, I strongly disagree with Dr. Coyne. For the remainder of this post, I intend to explain why.

Before I get to my criticism, first let me say that I appreciate the work that Jerry Coyne has done in support of the teaching of evolution. I just finished reading his book "Why Evolution is True" and I thought that it was an excellent overview of the evidence of evolution. In fact, when I orginally lauched my "stand up for REAL science" website, Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins gave me their permission to reprint a segment of an article that they co-wrote for The Guardian. (See, theists and atheists really can work together effectively in the defense of quality science education!)

Now, on to my criticism...

Coyne is highly critical of organizations like the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) for taking what he calls an "accomodationist position" concerning the compatiblity of science and religion. If you take the time to read his post, Coyne's disdain for any hint of a harmonious relationship between religion and science is quite palpable. He even claims that "endorsement and affiliation with supernaturalist scientists, philosophers, and theologians, inevitably corrupts their mission."

In constructing his argument against the so-called "accomodationist" stance of the NCSE, Coyne conveniently ignores the distinction between methodological and philosophical naturalism. According to Coyne, those scientists who believe in a transcendent God are compromising and corrupting science because their religious views concerning the ultimate meaning of evolution "erode the naturalism that underpins modern evolutionary theory." Nevermind that they willingly propose testable hypotheses using natural explanations for natural phenomena. According to Coyne, in order to truly promote evolutionary theory, they must also believe that nature is all that exists.

Coyne cites Kenneth Miller as an example of a scientist whose religious beliefs lead to this supposed "erosion" of naturalism. Unfortunately for Coyne, he completely fails to demonstrate that beliefs like those held by Miller have had any kind of adverse effect on science. In his writings, Kenneth Miller is studiously cautious to avoid blurring the line between his private beliefs and the public knowledge gained through science. But Coyne doesn't even make an honest attempt to delineate Miller's theological beliefs from his scientific understandings. Apparently for Coyne, merely believing that there might be something beyond the physical universe corrupts the purity of science. Why?

Because Jerry Coyne says so. That's why.

In other words, when faced with evidence that faith and science can live in harmony, Jerry Coyne has purposely made himself tone deaf.

Thankfully, Ken Miller has previously responded to similar assertions made earlier by Coyne. I'll let Dr. Miller defend himself:

With all due respect to my distinguished colleague, that is nonsense. One can indeed embrace science in every respect, and still ask a deeper question, one in which Coyne seems to have no interest. Why does science work? Why is the world around us organized in a way that makes itself accessible to our powers of logic and intellect? The true vow of a scientist is to practice honest and open empiricism in every aspect of his scientific work. That vow does not preclude the scientist from stepping back, acknowledging the limitations of scientific knowledge, and asking the deeper questions of why we are here, and if existence has a purpose. Those questions are genuine and important, even if they are not scientific ones, and I believe they are worth answering.

So do I. And there are many, many others who feel this way.

In spite of all of this, Coyne actually did write something that I can get behind:

If natural selection and evolution are as powerful as we all believe, then we should devote our time to making sure that they are more widely and accurately understood, and that their teaching is defended.

Now this is a goal that I think all of us who seek to promote and defend the teaching of evolution can agree upon. This should be the primary goal of any individual or organization devoted to promoting and defending the teaching of evolution.

Coyne goes on to suggest that organizations like the NCSE should "[l]eave theology to the theologians." In a perfect world, this would be the ideal. Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world.

The problem with Coyne's suggestion is that, among those Americans who reject evolution, almost all do so entirely on religious grounds. Even though Coyne is willing to acknowledge this obvious fact, I think he fails to grasp the implications of it. Coyne's "leave theology to the theologians" argument seems to rest on the assumption that people approach the topic of evolution in a rational manner. Sadly, that is not the case. For most people, the rejection of evolution stems from the widely-trumpeted notion that evolution necessarily conflicts with all forms of religious belief.

In order for organizations like the NCSE to be effective promoters of evolution, they must counter this notion with the evidence that demonstrates it is not necessarily true. This is why people like Kenneth Miller have become such important leaders in the struggle to defend the teaching of evolution. Miller's apparently disproportionate public influence is not due to the fact that he represents the majority viewpoint of the scientific community. In fact, he probably does not. Instead, Miller's appeal is due to the fact that, as a believer, Miller has a better chance of calming the fears the have led the majority of the general public to reject evolution outright.

Please note that I am not arguing that this is how things should be, merely that this is how they are. I mean, let's face it: regardless of how passionately and convincingly an atheist presents the evidence that demonstrates why evolution is true, it simply will not have much of an effect on the people who currently reject evolutionary theory. That's because their rejection of evolution is based on an irrational fear that the acceptance of evolution will force them to reject their faith. The repeated assertion that accepting evolution necessarily precludes religious belief only confirms this irrational fear and makes the problem worse, not better.

In summary, I strongly disagree with Jerry Coyne about the possibility of achieving harmony between science and religion. But Jerry Coyne is an atheist and I'm a Christian, so I guess you probably saw that coming. My disagreement is based on the fact that Coyne avoids making important distinctions between publicly-verifiable scientific knowledge and privately held religious beliefs. I am also puzzled by Coyne's devotion to, in Ken Miller's words, a "campaign to purge science of religionists in the name of doctrinal purity." If his true goal is to see that evolution is "more widely and accurately understood" then his arguments against "accomodationism" seem unnecessary and counterproductive.

Throughout all of this, though, I cannot help but notice that there is a large group of people who would wholeheartedly join right in with Jerry Coyne's chorus against "accomodationism." They're often called "religious fundamentalists" or "creationists."

Ironically, when it comes to believing that it is impossible to be a religious person and also accept evolution, Jerry Coyne and Ken Ham are singing the same tune.


posted by Jeremy Mohn



Thursday, April 23, 2009
Doin' REAL Science . . .


My three freshmen who'll represent Kansas at the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair are phenomenal. They have devoted hundreds of hours outside regular class time to a project that grew out of their own curiosity and imagination. I'm delighted to devote that time to them, but my blogging has paid the price lately.

Oh, that project? Y'know the candy, ShockersTM? One of the students had (in the distant past) eaten a whole package at once and wound up with the insides of his mouth peeling away. The kids decided they wanted to try to figure out how that candy might affect teeth, and to what extent.

And of course, they're actually doing REAL science as it's done by research scientists around the world: by seeking only natural explanations of the phenomena. None of that intelligent design flim-flam or word-gaming, thank you very much.

Anyway, to help these kids get the material & intellectual tools they've needed has been a great joy. (Well, mostly - except for when I boiled the cow jaws to loosen & clean the teeth they needed. Blech. I *lurves* me my non-stinky physics!) We teachers might occasionally moan about salaries, but we do get intangible benefits the IRS hasn't yet figured out how to tax.

Yet.



posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Stirring Up a Hornet's Nest

As I write this, the Texas Senate Nominations Committee is considering Governor Rick Perry's appointment of Don McLeroy as chairman of the Texas State Board of Education.

The Texas Freedom Network is live blogging the hearing.

Check it out.

Added in edit: Dr. McLeroy is really getting grilled!

It's times like these when I wish there was an English equivalent for the German word "schadenfreude."

(Bad, Jeremy. Bad.)



posted by Jeremy Mohn



Monday, April 20, 2009
"Tree of Life"

For readers within a reasonable distance of Lawrence, Kansas, there's an interesting production being staged at the Lied Center this coming weekend.

When KU unveils its "Tree of Life" project on Friday, it will mark the culmination of a two-year, multidisciplinary project designed to depict evolutionary theory in an artistic way.

"I don't think KU has ever produced anything quite so grand," says Staniunas, who is the stage director of the show.

"Tree of Life" is the result of the Creative Campus project at KU, which began about two years ago. It was made possible in part by a grant from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Creative Campus Innovations Grant Program.

Chris Haufler, chair of the ecology & evolutionary biology department at the University of Kansas, helped with the project.

But when asked if he worried that artists might water down scientific principles, he [Haufler] responded: "I think that would be fabulous if they did."

"I've been involved in scientific literacy elements during my career," Haufler says. "We need to be trying to help the public understand what us egghead scientists are studying every day. The more esoteric we become, the more disconnected we become from the public."

And that, he says, helps feed the disconnect between people who don't believe in evolutionary theory - as evidenced in culture wars between those who oppose teaching evolution in schools, and those who do - and the scientists who make it a living.

"I hope (audiences) get a better appreciation of the science as much as possible," Haufler says. "We should be opening their minds for thinking about the science and place it into the context with the other elements of their lives. And if we accomplish that, good. Maybe we won't do it for everybody there. But at this point in the life of our science, any opportunity to take advantage of the opening of the door can't be missed."

More info here. Tickets are $24 for adults and $12 for students; students with a special coupon from the campus newspaper can purchase tickets for $5.


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Saturday, April 18, 2009
An Evolving Creationism

Over the last five years, Lauri Lebo has probably learned more about evolution and intelligent design than she ever wanted to. As the York Daily Record's education reporter, she covered intelligent design's First Amendment battle in the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover trial. She went on to write a powerful and very personal book about her experiences entitled The Devil in Dover - An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-town America that recounts her experiences surrounding the trial.

Lebo has now written a Religion Dispatches article about the recent battle over the Texas science standards. In it, Lebo highlights the irony of anti-evolution Board members claiming to be promoting the critical examination of evolution while simultaneously flaunting their own scientific ignorance concerning the topic.

Teaching students to critically examine the evidence is a laudable goal. But that's not what this is about. If it were, McLeroy's fellow board member Ken Mercer would never display such an astonishing ignorance of even a most rudimentary knowledge of evolutionary theory with the argument, "Have you ever seen a dog-cat, or a cat-rat?"

Back in March, Board chairman Don McLeroy incorrectly argued that "stasis is the opposite of evolution." While it could legitimately be argued that stasis is the absence of evolution, McLeroy's claim that stasis is contrary to evolution merely reveals that he lacks even a rudimentary understanding of modern evolutionary theory.

Although McLeroy's arguments have clearly evolved, his knowledge of evolution never seems to change. By staunchly refusing to learn anything about the actual theory of evolution, McLeroy and his fellow anti-evolutionists on the Texas State Board of Education are apparently hoping to serve as a living example of stasis.

Unfortunately, this evidence of stasis is the only data they ever seem to provide.


posted by Jeremy Mohn



Friday, April 17, 2009
"I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution!"

That's the title of a new book by a very passionate man of God named Denis Lamoureux. It is also the title of the lecture that Lamoureux gave Friday evening at Grace United Methodist Church in Olathe, Kansas. The lecture was sponsored by Kansas Citizens for Science and Mainstream Coalition.

Lamoureux has earned doctorate degrees in theology, biology, and dentistry.

That's right...he is a dentist and he is pro-evolution!

What a welcome revelation!

(Don't worry, I promise to lay off the dentist puns.)

Dr. Lamoureux currently holds a teaching and research position focusing on the relationship between scientific discovery and Christian faith at St. Joseph's College, a Catholic College associated with the University of Alberta.

To break the ice, Lamoureux joked that the title of his lecture was like playing golf in the middle of a thunderstorm. In today's culture war, such a bold declaration just invites trouble. Actually, I think he must be doing something similar to that, because he is definitely charged up by the topic of science and religion.

For the first half of the lecture, Lamoureux agreed with those who demand that parts of the Bible are meant to be read like a scientific textbook. He simply argued that the "science" found in Holy Scripture represents the understandings held by members of the ancient culture in which the Biblical authors were situated. Clearly, we no longer trust the accuracy of the geographical maps drawn by ancient Mesopotamians. And yet, some Christians insist that we must trust the accuracy of their astronomical, geological, and biological writings. To Lamoureux, this insistence on a literal reading of Genesis is unnecessary and potentially damaging to Christianity.

In Lamoureux's view, God comes down to meet humans at our level of understanding. Therefore, just as Christians no longer believe in the "firmament" that separates the waters above from the waters below, they should no longer feel compelled to believe in special creation. Both concepts are found in the Bible because they were originally based on the knowledge and experience of the ancients. And yet, both concepts are inconsistent with our modern scientific understanding of the natural world. If Christians are willing to reject one old idea because of this inconsistency, then, Lamoureux argued, they should be willing to reject the other.

Another major theme of Dr. Lamoureux's lecture was that Christians do not have to choose between the Bible and evolution. He challenged the false dichotomy that exists because some Christians are happy to join with atheists like Richard Dawkins and force a confrontation on this issue. As a result of his own unique background, Lamoureux has a special concern for college students who often feel forced to reject their faith when they first encounter the overwhelming evidence of evolution in their college Biology courses. In his view, Christians need not be divided on issues that are irrelevant to the theological messages conveyed by the Biblical accounts of Creation. He argued that setting our children up for such a crisis of faith is both unfair and unnecessary.

One other memorable point that Lamoureux made was that both theists and atheists who accept evolution make choices when they interpret the ultimate meaning of scientific evidence. Theists choose to see plan and purpose in the patterns of evolutionary change. These same patterns are interpreted by atheists as consistent with the idea that nothing exists beyond nature. Both views are valid interpretations of the same body of evidence. Ultimately, though, these interpreations are not derived from the application of the scientific method. Therefore, any meaning we attach to evolution is something that we are laying on top of the scientific evidence. With this point, I wholeheartedly agree. I think that agreement on this point would help to relieve a lot of the tension that exists between theists and atheists when it comes to evolution.

What most impressed me about Lamoureux's presentation was the depth of knowledge he displayed on the topic, particularly in the field of theology. While I believe that it is useful for Christians to read the personal testimonies of scientists like Francis S. Collins and Kenneth R. Miller, their theological arguments in favor of the compatibility of evolution and Christianity are (understandably) quite shallow. It was refreshing to hear these same arguments espoused by a someone with a PhD in Christian theology. Obviously, a person with such a background is better equipped to articulate complex theological ideas in an accessible manner.

As with all Christian evolutionists that I know of, Lamoureux clearly had no interest in convincing his audience to believe as he does. He merely desired to inform his audience that such middle-ground positions do indeed exist and that they have been reached by people who once found themselves on one of the extreme ends of the Creation/Evolution continuum. Interestingly, he briefly mentioned his own journey from atheist to Young Earth Creationist to Evolutionary Creationist. I personally wish he would have explained how that worked, but I suppose I'll just have to get his new book to find out.

For a fuller explication of Lamoureux's views on the subject, check out this presentation of his entitled "Beyond the Evolution vs. Creation Debate." From what I can tell, it covers a lot of the same ground.



posted by Jeremy Mohn



Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Sham Artists




Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Bad Science, Horrific Consequences

We spend a lot of time and energy debunking the claims of intelligent design creationism. Unfortunately, it's not the only flavor of pseudoscience out there. Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science" neatly debunks homeopathy, mail-order Ph.Ds, sensationalist science journalism, and most recently a vitamin salesman who claims that AIDS patients should stop their AZT treatments and take his high-dose vitamins instead.

Spreading and tolerating this particular flavor of pseudoscience has surely contributed to the deaths of millions, particularly in regions of sub-Saharan Africa which are already distrustful of Western medicine.

Matthias Rath, the vitamin salesman, sued Ben Goldacre over the contents of one chapter of the book so the material doesn't appear in the hardcover version of "Bad Science." Rath dropped the suit in September 2008, and the now-out paperback version includes the chapter. (Goldacre has graciously made the chapter available online; it appears in its entirety below the fold.)

But Rath doesn't just deny AIDS-related science. He also attacks chemotherapies and in fact had previously been ordered by the High Court in Germany to stop claiming that the pharmaceutical industry was somehow profiting from purposely letting people die from chemotherapy regimens. Rath's proposed remedy for cancer? - that's right . . . more vitamins. Granted, when the chemo isn't working anymore (damn that evolution!) sometimes any therapy seems viable. Rath would prey on desperate patients and their families, placing "Big Pharma" as the scapegoat for their anger at cells running amok.

More horrific consequences of ignoring - or being ignorant of - science are showing up in Southeast Asia as more individuals are executed for witchcraft. These supposed witches are accused of "practicing witchcraft to cause AIDS-related deaths among young people." The already-high rates of violence against women in Papua New Guinea coupled with a dearth of education has resulted in this country being home to 90% of Oceania's AIDS cases.

Ignorance is not bliss; millions have already paid the price of scientific ignorance. That ignorance is perpetuated when snake-oil salesmen convince a country's leader that vitamins should be used to treat AIDS instead of AZT. Ignorance is perpetuated when state school board members arrogantly decide that they know more about science than the scientists themselves.

When you get discouraged as you fight the anti-evolution movement, keep in mind the price of ignorance. If the wages of sin are death, then surely passing on foul, false information to those who so desperately need REAL science is a most grievous sin.


This is an extract from BAD SCIENCE by Ben Goldacre
Published by Harper Perennial 2009.

You are free to copy it, paste it, bake it, reprint it, read it aloud, as long as you don't change it - including this bit - so that people know that they can find more ideas for free at www.badscience.net.

The Doctor Will Sue You Now

This chapter did not appear in the original edition of this book, because for fifteen months leading up to September 2008 the vitamin-pill entrepreneur Matthias Rath was suing me personally, and the Guardian, for libel. This strategy brought only mixed success. For all that nutritionists may fantasise in public that any critic is somehow a pawn of big pharma, in private they would do well to remember that, like many my age who work in the public sector, I don't own a flat. The Guardian generously paid for the lawyers, and in September 2008 Rath dropped his case, which had cost in excess of £500,000 to defend. Rath has paid £220,000 already, and the rest will hopefully follow. Nobody will ever repay me for the endless meetings, the time off work, or the days spent poring over tables filled with endlessly cross-referenced court documents.

On this last point there is, however, one small consolation, and I will spell it out as a cautionary tale: I now know more about Matthias Rath than almost any other person alive. My notes, references and witness statements, boxed up in the room where I am sitting right now, make a pile as tall as the man himself, and what I will write here is only a tiny fraction of the fuller story that is waiting to be told about him. This chapter, I should also mention, is available free online for anyone who wishes to see it.

Matthias Rath takes us rudely outside the contained, almost academic distance of this book. For the most part we’ve been interested in the intellectual and cultural consequences of bad science, the made-up facts in national newspapers, dubious academic practices in universities, some foolish pill-peddling, and so on. But what happens if we take these sleights of hand, these pill-marketing techniques, and transplant them out of our decadent Western context into a situation where things really matter?

In an ideal world this would be only a thought experiment. AIDS is the opposite of anecdote. Twenty-five million people have died from it already, three million in the last year alone, and 500,000 of those deaths were children. In South Africa it kills 300,000 people every year: that’s eight hundred people every day, or one every two minutes. This one country has 6.3 million people who are HIV positive, including 30 per cent of all pregnant women. There are 1.2 million AIDS orphans under the age of seventeen. Most chillingly of all, this disaster has appeared suddenly, and while we were watching: in 1990, just 1 per cent of adults in South Africa were HIV positive. Ten years
later, the figure had risen to 25 per cent.

It’s hard to mount an emotional response to raw numbers, but on one thing I think we would agree. If you were to walk into a situation with that much death, misery and disease, you would be very careful to make sure that you knew what you were talking about. For the reasons you are about to read, I suspect that Matthias Rath missed the mark.

This man, we should be clear, is our responsibility. Born and raised in Germany, Rath was the head of Cardiovascular Research at the Linus Pauling Institute in Palo Alto in California, and even then he had a tendency towards grand gestures, publishing a paper in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine in 1992 titled “A Unified Theory of Human Cardiovascular Disease Leading the Way to the Abolition of this Disease as a Cause for Human Mortality”. The unified theory was high-dose vitamins.

He first developed a power base from sales in Europe, selling his pills with tactics that will be very familiar to you from the rest of this book, albeit slightly more aggressive. In the UK, his adverts claimed that “90 per cent of patients receiving chemotherapy for cancer die within months of starting treatment”, and suggested that three million lives could be saved if cancer patients stopped being treated by conventional medicine. The pharmaceutical industry was deliberately letting people die for financial gain, he explained. Cancer treatments were “poisonous compounds” with “not even one effective treatment”.

The decision to embark on treatment for cancer can be the most difficult that an individual or a family will ever take, representing a close balance between well-documented benefits and equally well-documented side-effects. Adverts like these might play especially strongly on your conscience if your mother has just lost all her hair to chemotherapy, for example, in the hope of staying alive just long enough to see your son speak.

There was some limited regulatory response in Europe, but it was generally as weak as that faced by the other characters in this book. The Advertising Standards Authority criticised one of his adverts in the UK, but that is essentially all they are able to do. Rath was ordered by a Berlin court to stop claiming that his vitamins could cure cancer, or face a €250,000 fine.

But sales were strong, and Matthias Rath still has many supporters in Europe, as you will shortly see. He walked into South Africa with all the acclaim, self-confidence and wealth he had amassed as a successful vitamin-pill entrepreneur in Europe and America, and began to take out full-page adverts in newspapers.

˜The answer to the AIDS epidemic is here,” he proclaimed. Anti-retroviral drugs were poisonous, and a conspiracy to kill patients and make money. “Stop AIDS Genocide by the Drugs Cartel said one headline. “Why should South Africans continue to be poisoned with AZT? There is a natural answer to AIDS.” The answer came in the form of vitamin pills. “Multivitamin treatment is more effective than any toxic AIDS drug. Multivitamins cut the risk of developing AIDS in half.”

Rath’s company ran clinics reflecting these ideas, and in 2005 he decided to run a trial of his vitamins in a township near Cape Town called Khayelitsha, giving his own formulation, VitaCell, to people with advanced AIDS. In 2008 this trial was declared illegal by the Cape High Court of South Africa. Although Rath says that none of his participants had been on anti-retroviral drugs, some relatives have given statements saying that they were, and were actively told to stop using them.

Tragically,Matthias Rath had taken these ideas to exactly the right place. Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa at the time, was well known as an “AIDS dissident”, and to international horror, while people died at the rate of one every two minutes in his country, he gave credence and support to the claims of a small band of campaigners who variously claim that AIDS does not exist, that it is not caused by HIV, that anti-retroviral medication does more harm than good, and so on.

At various times during the peak of the AIDS epidemic in South Africa their government argued that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, and that anti-retroviral drugs are not useful for patients. They refused to roll out proper treatment programmes, they refused to accept free donations of drugs, and they refused to accept grant money from the Global Fund to buy drugs. One study estimates that if the South African national government had used anti-retroviral drugs for prevention and treatment at the same rate as the Western Cape province (which defied national policy on the issue), around 171,000 new HIV infections and 343,000 deaths could have been prevented between 1999 and 2007. Another study estimates that between 2000 and 2005 there were 330,000 unnecessary deaths, 2.2 million person years lost, and 35,000 babies unnecessarily born with HIV because of the failure to implement a cheap and simple mother-to-child-transmission prevention program. Between one and three doses of an ARV drug can reduce transmission dramatically. The cost is negligible. It was not available.

Interestingly, Matthias Rath’s colleague and employee, a South African barrister named Anthony Brink, takes the credit for introducing Thabo Mbeki to many of these ideas. Brink stumbled on the “AIDS dissident” material in the mid-1990s, and after much surfing and reading, became convinced that it must be right. In 1999 he wrote an article about AZT in a Johannesburg newspaper titled “a medicine from hell”. This led to a public exchange with a leading virologist. Brink contacted Mbeki, sending him copies of the debate, and was welcomed as an expert.

This is a chilling testament to the danger of elevating cranks by engaging with them. In his initial letter of motivation for employment to Matthias Rath, Brink described himself as “South Africa’s leading AIDS dissident, best known for my whistle-blowing exposé of the toxicity and inefficacy of AIDS drugs, and for my political activism in this regard, which caused President Mbeki and Health Minister Dr Tshabalala-Msimang to repudiate the drugs in 1999″.

In 2000, the now infamous International AIDS Conference took place in Durban. Mbeki’s presidential advisory panel beforehand was packed with “AIDS dissidents”, including Peter Duesberg and David Rasnick. On the first day, Rasnick suggested that all HIV testing should be banned on principle, and that South Africa should stop screening supplies of blood for HIV. “If I had the power to outlaw the HIV antibody test,” he said, “I would do it across the board.” When African physicians gave testimony about the drastic change AIDS had caused in their clinics and hospitals, Rasnick said he had not seen “any evidence” of an AIDS catastrophe. The media were not allowed in, but one reporter from the Village Voice was present. Peter Duesberg, he said, “gave a presentation so removed from African medical reality that it left several local doctors shaking their heads”. It wasn’t AIDS that was killing babies and children, said the dissidents: it was the anti-retroviral medication.

President Mbeki sent a letter to world leaders comparing the struggle of the “AIDS dissidents” to the struggle against apartheid. The Washington Post described the reaction at the White House: “So stunned were some officials by the letter’s tone and timing during final preparations for July’s conference in Durban that at least two of them, according to diplomatic sources, felt obliged to check whether it was genuine. Hundreds of delegates walked out of Mbeki’s address to the conference in disgust, but many more described themselves as dazed and confused. Over 5,000 researchers and activists around the world signed up to the Durban Declaration, a document that specifically addressed and repudiated the claims and concerns–at least the more moderate ones–of the “AIDS dissidents”. Specifically, it addressed the charge that people were simply dying of poverty:

The evidence that AIDS is caused by HIV-1 or HIV-2 is clearcut, exhaustive and unambiguous… As with any other chronic infection, various co-factors play a role in determining the risk of disease. Persons who are malnourished, who already suffer other infections or who are older, tend to be more susceptible to the rapid development of AIDS following HIV infection. However, none of these factors weaken the scientific evidence that HIV is the sole cause of AIDS… Mother-to-child transmission can be reduced by half or more by short courses of antiviral drugs … What works best in one country may not be appropriate in another. But to tackle the disease, everyone must first understand that HIV is the enemy. Research, not myths, will lead to the development of more effective and cheaper treatments.

It did them no good. Until 2003 the South African government refused, as a matter of principle, to roll out proper antiretroviral medication programmes, and even then the process was half-hearted. This madness was only overturned after a massive campaign by grassroots organisations such as the Treatment Action Campaign, but even after the ANC cabinet voted to allow medication to be given, there was still resistance. In mid-2005, at least 85 per cent of HIV-positive people who needed anti-retroviral drugs were still refused them. That’s around a million people.

This resistance, of course, went deeper than just one man; much of it came from Mbeki’s Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. An ardent critic of medical drugs for HIV, she would cheerfully go on television to talk up their dangers, talk down their benefits, and became irritable and evasive when asked how many patients were receiving effective treatment. She declared in 2005 that she would not be “pressured” into meeting the target of three million patients on anti-retroviral medication, that people had ignored the importance of nutrition, and that she would continue to warn patients of the sideeffects of anti-retrovirals, saying: “We have been vindicated in
this regard. We are what we eat.”

It’s an eerily familiar catchphrase. Tshabalala-Msimang has also gone on record to praise the work of Matthias Rath, and refused to investigate his activities. Most joyfully of all, she is a staunch advocate of the kind of weekend glossy-magazine-style nutritionism that will by now be very familiar to you. The remedies she advocates for AIDS are beetroot, garlic, lemons and African potatoes. A fairly typical quote, from the Health Minister in a country where eight hundred people die every day from AIDS, is this: “Raw garlic and a skin of the lemon–not only do they give you a beautiful face and skin but they also protect you from disease.” South Africa’s stand at the 2006 World AIDS Conference in Toronto was described by delegates as the “salad stall”. It consisted of some garlic, some beetroot, the African potato, and assorted other vegetables. Some boxes of anti-retroviral drugs were added later, but they were reportedly borrowed at the last minute from other conference delegates.

Alternative therapists like to suggest that their treatments and ideas have not been sufficiently researched. As you now know, this is often untrue, and in the case of the Health Minister’s favoured vegetables, research had indeed been done, with results that were far from promising. Interviewed on SABC about this, Tshabalala-Msimang gave the kind of responses you’d expect to hear at any North London dinner-party discussion of alternative therapies.

First she was asked about work from the University of Stellenbosch which suggested that her chosen plant, the African potato, might be actively dangerous for people on AIDS drugs. One study on African potato in HIV had to be terminated prematurely, because the patients who received the plant extract developed severe bone-marrow suppression and a drop in their CD4 cell count–which is a bad thing–after eight weeks. On top of this, when extract from the same vegetable was given to cats with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, they succumbed to full-blown Feline AIDS faster than their non-treated controls. African potato does not look like a good bet.

Tshabalala-Msimang disagreed: the researchers should go back to the drawing board, and “investigate properly”. Why? Because HIV-positive people who used African potato had shown improvement, and they had said so themselves. If a person says he or she is feeling better, should this be disputed, she demanded to know, merely because it had not been proved scientifically? “When a person says she or he is feeling better, I must say ‘No, I don’t think you are feeling better’? I must rather go and do science on you’?” Asked whether there should be a scientific basis to her views, she replied: “Whose science?”

And there, perhaps, is a clue, if not exoneration. This is a continent that has been brutally exploited by the developed world, first by empire, and then by globalised capital. Conspiracy theories about AIDS and Western medicine are not entirely absurd in this context. The pharmaceutical industry has indeed been caught performing drug trials in Africa which would be impossible anywhere in the developed world. Many find it suspicious that black Africans seem to be the biggest victims of AIDS, and point to the biological warfare programmes set up by the apartheid governments; there have also been suspicions that the scientific discourse of HIV/AIDS might be a device, a Trojan horse for spreading even more exploitative Western political and economic agendas around a problem that is simply one of poverty.

And these are new countries, for which independence and self-rule are recent developments, which are struggling to find their commercial feet and true cultural identity after centuries of colonisation. Traditional medicine represents an important link with an autonomous past; besides which, anti-retroviral medications have been unnecessarily – offensively, absurdly – expensive, and until moves to challenge this became partially successful, many Africans were effectively denied access to medical treatment as a result.

It’s very easy for us to feel smug, and to forget that we all have our own strange cultural idiosyncrasies which prevent us from taking up sensible public-health programmes. For examples, we don’t even have to look as far as MMR. There is a good evidence base, for example, to show that needle-exchange programmes reduce the spread of HIV, but this strategy has been rejected time and again in favour of “Just say no.” Development charities funded by US Christian groups refuse to engage with birth control, and any suggestion of abortion, even in countries where being in control of your own fertility could mean the difference between success and failure in life, is met with a cold, pious stare. These impractical moral principles are so deeply entrenched that Pepfar, the US Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, has insisted that every recipient of international aid money must sign a declaration expressly promising not to have any involvement with sex workers.

We mustn’t appear insensitive to the Christian value system, but it seems to me that engaging sex workers is almost the cornerstone of any effective AIDS policy: commercial sex is frequently the “vector of transmission”, and sex workers a very high-risk population; but there are also more subtle issues at stake. If you secure the legal rights of prostitutes to be free from violence and discrimination, you empower them to demand universal condom use, and that way you can prevent HIV from being spread into the whole community. This is where science meets culture. But perhaps even to your own friends and neighbours, in whatever suburban idyll has become your home, the moral principle of abstinence from sex and drugs is more important than people dying of AIDS; and perhaps, then, they are no less irrational than Thabo Mbeki.

So this was the situation into which the vitamin-pill entrepreneur Matthias Rath inserted himself, prominently and expensively, with the wealth he had amassed from Europe and America, exploiting anti-colonial anxieties with no sense of irony, although he was a white man offering pills made in a factory abroad. His adverts and clinics were a tremendous success. He began to tout individual patients as evidence of the benefits that could come from vitamin pills – although in reality some of his most famous success stories have died of AIDS. When asked about the deaths of Rath’s star patients, Health Minister Tshabalala-Msimang replied: “It doesn’t necessarily mean that if I am taking antibiotics and I die, that I died of antibiotics.”

She is not alone: South Africa’s politicians have consistently refused to step in, Rath claims the support of the government, and its most senior figures have refused to distance themselves from his operations or to criticise his activities. Tshabalala-Msimang has gone on the record to state that the Rath Foundation “are not undermining the government’s position. If anything, they are supporting it.”

In 2005, exasperated by government inaction, a group of 199 leading medical practitioners in South Africa signed an open letter to the health authorities of the Western Cape, pleading for action on the Rath Foundation. “Our patients are being inundated with propaganda encouraging them to stop life-saving medicine,” it said. “Many of us have had experiences with HIV infected patients who have had their health compromised by stopping their anti-retrovirals due to the activities of this Foundation.” Rath’s adverts continue unabated. He even claimed that his activities were endorsed by huge lists of sponsors and affiliates including the World Health Organization, UNICEF and UNAIDS. All have issued statements flatly denouncing his claims and activities. The man certainly has chutzpah.

His adverts are also rich with detailed scientific claims. It would be wrong of us to neglect the science in this story, so we should follow some through, specifically those which focused on a Harvard study in Tanzania. He described this research in full-page advertisements, some of which have appeared in the New York Times and the Herald Tribune. He refers to these paid adverts, I should mention, as if he had received flattering news coverage in the same papers. Anyway, this research showed that multivitamin supplements can be beneficial in a developing world population with AIDS: there’s no problem with that result, and there are plenty of reasons to think that vitamins might have some benefit for a sick and frequently malnourished population.

The researchers enrolled 1,078 HIV-positive pregnant women and randomly assigned them to have either a vitamin supplement or placebo. Notice once again, if you will, that this is another large, well-conducted, publicly funded trial of vitamins, conducted by mainstream scientists, contrary to the claims of nutritionists that such studies do not exist. The women were followed up for several years, and at the end of the study, 25 per cent of those on vitamins were severely ill or dead, compared with 31 per cent of those on placebo. There was also a statistically significant benefit in CD4 cell count (a measure of HIV activity) and viral loads. These results were in no sense dramatic – and they cannot be compared to the demonstrable life-saving benefits of anti-retrovirals – but they did show that improved diet, or cheap generic vitamin pills, could represent a simple and relatively inexpensive way to marginally delay the need to start HIV medication in some patients.

In the hands of Rath, this study became evidence that vitamin pills are superior to medication in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, that anti-retroviral therapies “severely damage all cells in the body–including white blood cells”, and worse, that they were “thereby not improving but rather worsening immune deficiencies and expanding the AIDS epidemic”. The researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health were so horrified that they put together a press release setting out their support for medication, and stating starkly, with unambiguous clarity, that Matthias Rath had misrepresented their findings.

To outsiders the story is baffling and terrifying. The United Nations has condemned Rath’s adverts as “wrong and misleading”. “This guy is killing people by luring them with unrecognised treatment without any scientific evidence,” said Eric Goemaere, head of Médecins sans Frontières SA, a man who pioneered anti-retroviral therapy in South Africa. Rath sued him.

It’s not just MSF who Rath has gone after: he has also brought time-consuming, expensive, stalled or failed cases against a professor of AIDS research, critics in the media and others.

But his most heinous campaign has been against the Treatment Action Campaign. For many years this has been the key organisation campaigning for access to anti-retroviral medication in South Africa, and it has been fighting a war on four fronts. Firstly, TAC campaigns against its own government, trying to compel it to roll out treatment programmes for the population. Secondly, it fights against the pharmaceutical industry, which claims that it needs to charge full price for its products in developing countries in order to pay for research and development of new drugs – although, as we shall see, out of its $550 billion global annual revenue, the pharmaceutical industry spends twice as much on promotion and admin as it does on research and development. Thirdly, it is a grassroots organisation, made up largely of black women from townships who do important prevention and treatment-literacy work on the ground, ensuring that people know what is available, and how to protect themselves. Lastly, it fights against people who promote the type of information peddled by Matthias Rath and his ilk.

Rath has taken it upon himself to launch a massive campaign against this group. He distributes advertising material against them, saying “Treatment Action Campaign medicines are killing you” and “Stop AIDS genocide by the drug cartel”, claiming–as you will guess by now–that there is an international conspiracy by pharmaceutical companies intent on prolonging the AIDS crisis in the interests of their own profits by giving medication that makes people worse. TAC must be a part of this, goes the reasoning, because it criticises Matthias Rath. Just like me writing on Patrick Holford or Gillian McKeith, TAC is perfectly in favour of good diet and nutrition. But in Rath’s promotional literature it is a front for the pharmaceutical industry, a “Trojan horse” and a “running dog”. TAC has made a full disclosure of its funding and activities, showing no such connection: Rath presented no evidence to the contrary, and has even lost a court case over the issue, but will not let it lie. In fact he presents the loss of this court case as if it was a victory.

The founder of TAC is a man called Zackie Achmat, and he is the closest thing I have to a hero. He is South African, and coloured, by the nomenclature of the apartheid system in which he grew up. At the age of fourteen he tried to burn down his school, and you might have done the same in similar circumstances. He has been arrested and imprisoned under South Africa’s violent, brutal white regime, with all that entailed. He is also gay, and HIV-positive, and he refused to take anti-retroviral medication until it was widely available to all on the public health system, even when he was dying of AIDS, even when he was personally implored to save himself by Nelson Mandela, a public supporter of anti-retroviral medication and Achmat’s work.

And now, at last, we come to the lowest point of this whole story, not merely for Matthias Rath’s movement, but for the alternative therapy movement around the world as a whole. In 2007, with a huge public flourish, to great media coverage, Rath’s former employee Anthony Brink filed a formal complaint against Zackie Achmat, the head of the TAC. Bizarrely, he filed this complaint with the International Criminal
Court at The Hague, accusing Achmat of genocide for successfully campaigning to get access to HIV drugs for the people of South Africa.

It’s hard to explain just how influential the “AIDS dissidents” are in South Africa. Brink is a barrister, a man with important friends, and his accusations were reported in the national news media –and in some corners of the Western gay press–as a serious news story. I do not believe that any one of those journalists who reported on it can possibly have read Brink’s indictment to the end.

I have.

The first fifty-seven pages present familiar anti-medication and “AIDS-dissident” material. But then, on page fifty-eight, this “indictment” document suddenly deteriorates into something altogether more vicious and unhinged, as Brink sets out what he believes would be an appropriate punishment for Zackie. Because I do not wish to be accused of selective editing, I will now reproduce for you that entire section, unedited, so you can see and feel it for yourself.

image

image

The document was described by the Rath Foundation as “entirely valid and long overdue”.

This story isn’t about Matthias Rath, or Anthony Brink, or Zackie Achmat, or even South Africa. It is about the culture of how ideas work, and how that can break down. Doctors criticise other doctors, academics criticise academics, politicians criticise politicians: that’s normal and healthy, it’s how ideas improve. Matthias Rath is an alternative therapist, made in Europe. He is every bit the same as the British operators that we have seen in this book. He is from their world.

Despite the extremes of this case, not one single alternative therapist or nutritionist, anywhere in the world, has stood up to criticise any single aspect of the activities of Matthias Rath and his colleagues. In fact, far from it: he continues to be fêted to this day. I have sat in true astonishment and watched leading figures of the UK’s alternative therapy movement applaud Matthias Rath at a public lecture (I have it on video, just in case there’s any doubt). Natural health organisations continue to defend Rath. Homeopaths’ mailouts continue to promote his work. The British Association of Nutritional Therapists has been invited to comment by bloggers, but declined. Most, when challenged, will dissemble.”Oh,” they say, “I don’t really know much about it.” Not one person will step forward and dissent.

The alternative therapy movement as a whole has demonstrated itself to be so dangerously, systemically incapable of critical self-appraisal that it cannot step up even in a case like that of Rath: in that count I include tens of thousands of practitioners, writers, administrators and more. This is how ideas go badly wrong. In the conclusion to this book, written before I was able to include this chapter, I will argue that the biggest dangers posed by the material we have covered are cultural and intellectual.

I may be mistaken.

/.

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posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Monday, April 13, 2009
What is Evo-Devo?

Evolutionary Developmental biology ("Evo-Devo") can be a hard thing to wrap your brain around. I've read two - count 'em - two whole books by Sean B. Carroll about this subject and I still sometimes find it difficult to explain.

Well, here's a great video from 60 second science that covers the basics in just two minutes. (That's a double lesson, for us math-challenged Biology teachers.)



posted by Jeremy Mohn




It did happen.

One of the more snarky-but-accurate criticisms of "teach the controversy" runs something like "shall we teach kids that the Holocaust never happened?"

German Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican's top expert in Catholic-Jewish relations, re-dedicated Boston's Holocaust Memorial Menorah last week and stated emphatically that not only must the Holocaust never be permitted to recur, but that Holocaust denial must likewise never happen again.

Cardinal Kasper had some choice words on evolution as well.

A couple of days earlier, in Collegeville, Minn., Cardinal Kasper spoke on theology and faith -- and sometimes the lack of it -- during an address at St. John's University.

"Thinking of God as absolute freedom means understanding God as a liberating God and the world as a place of freedom," he said March 23.

"Following the trauma of the wars of religion, theology underwent a process of purification through a process of self-criticism and constructive confrontation with the modern Enlightenment," he said. "Today all Christian churches profess freedom of religion, avoidance of violence, tolerance and respect toward other religions; while maintaining their own identity, they seek not conflict but dialogue."

He added, "The main Christian churches today no longer have difficulty in reconciling creation and evolution."

However, he said, "this does not mean that (Charles) Darwin becomes a new father of the church and evolution a new dogma. Evolution is and remains a scientific theory or hypothesis and not a matter of faith.

"So those who believe they have the evidence can deny evolution, but they cannot do it in the name of Christian faith," he said.

"In this sense theologians of all the main churches now leave it to the fundamentalist Christians, as well as the fundamentalist atheistic movements, ... to see belief in creation and the theory of evolution as mutually exclusive alternatives, and to counter the theory of evolution with creationism -- a literal understanding of the biblical creation narrative," Cardinal Kasper said.

"Theology which deserves to be taken seriously," he said, "knows how to distinguish the assertion of belief that God created the world from the scientific question of how the origin and development of the world came about."


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams




Obama's Science Adviser: TX Took "Step Backward"

Check out this out.

ScienceInsider recently interviewed Presidential science adviser John Holdren. In the interview, Holdren put forth clear positions on several issues facing the Obama Administration, including the teaching of REAL science in US public schools.

The first relevant question was about whether the skeptical view of evolution found in the Texas science standards will weaken efforts to improve science education in the United States.

ScienceInsider: Staying with education, do you think that the Texas state school board's recent decision to add a skeptical view of the study of evolution and the fossil record weaken the state's science standards and weaken national efforts to improve science education?

Holdren: Well, I have not reviewed that decision carefully. But my impression from reading about it is that it was not a step forward but rather a step backward. Of course, all science needs to be skeptical. It's hard to be against skepticism. But when you get into the domain of promoting particular views about the basis for skepticism of evolution, and those views are not really valid, then I think we have a problem. I think we need to be giving our kids a modern education in biology, and the underpinning of modern biology is evolution. And countervailing views that are not really science, if they are taught at all, should be taught in some other part of the curriculum.

"The underpinning of modern biology is evolution"

Wow! When I first read that, I honestly had to read it again to make sure I got it right. It's great to hear this kind of straightforward talk about science education from someone with influence in Washington.

Holdren's answer to the follow-up question was also quite interesting.

ScienceInsider: Is there anything you can do?

Holdren: I'm not aware of any leverage we have, at OSTP or within the federal government, over the science curriculum in Texas, other than exhortation. We can argue and we can beg and we can try to educate. But we have no authority to act.

"We can argue and we can beg and we can try to educate."

Those are all reasonable courses of action to take in this situation. I have an additional idea:

We can vocally demand that textbook publishers refuse to water-down their coverage of REAL science, regardless of the pressure they are likely to receive from the Young Earth Creationists on the Texas State Board of Education. We must implore them to put the interests of future science students across the country ahead of their own profit margins.

Ultimately, it's going to be the publishers who will make that decision, not the textbook authors. Something tells me that people like Ken Miller and Joe Levine are not going to be giving any ground on this one.

A tip of the hat goes to the NCSE for linking to the interview.


posted by Jeremy Mohn




Eugenie Scott on Science Friday

Eugenie Scott, the Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, was on NPR's Science Friday last week discussing the topic of the Texas State Board of Education's recent adoption of new science standards. As we discussed earlier, the results of that vote were anything but solid support for the teaching of REAL science in Texas public schools.

You can now listen to the show and hear Dr. Scott and host Ira Flatow try to nail the Texas science standards jello to the wall.



posted by Jeremy Mohn



Sunday, April 12, 2009
A Busy Week

I just opened up my browser and realized that it has been an entire week since I posted anything, so I figured that I should at least give our readers an update.

For the last two weeks, I have been teaching my Honors Biology classes all about evolution. So far, things have gone pretty well. We've covered the basics of evolutionary theory, looked at some of the evidence that demonstrates evolution has occurred, and we just began learning about the mechanisms that drive microevolutionary change. You can check out what we've been up to by following along on the weekly outline page at Mr. Mohn's Biology Home Turf.

In other news, Cheryl and I both attended a lecture by Ken Miller at K-State last Thursday night. I had planned to write up a post about the lecture, but things have been rather hectic at home since I got back late Thursday night. If you've ever watched any of his lectures on YouTube, you already have a pretty good idea of what he had to say.

The really cool part of the evening was after the lecture when Cheryl and I were invited to join Dr. Miller and several other defenders of REAL science at a Manhattan establishment for a post-lecture conversation. As you might imagine, Ken Miller is quite the story-teller. It was really fun getting to hear him tell some of the behind-the-scenes versions of his experiences as the country's favorite theistic evolutionist.

There was this one story about a televised debate between Dr. Miller and a Discovery Institute fellow that didn't quite turn out...ummmm...well...I guess you just had to be there to hear the story.

All I can say is that it was definitely a memorable evening.



posted by Jeremy Mohn



Tuesday, April 7, 2009
(still here . . . )

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth or anything.

The good news is that three of my freshmen students are finalists for the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair to be held in Reno, NV, May 10-16.

The bad news is that I'm inundated with paperwork for the festivities so blogging time has been cut waaaay back.

See y'all as soon as I can, though! Kudos to Jeremy for doing the heavy lifting . . .



posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Saturday, April 4, 2009
Evolution is REAL Science #5

This video only took me a week to put together, but that was because my previous video got too long and I broke it into two parts.

I hope you like it!



posted by Jeremy Mohn




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