REAL Science Blog
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Exposing Discovery's Dishonesty
Friday, May 29, 2009
Discovery Dishonestly Demonizes Darwin
Update: I made a video about this.
When I write publicly about challenges to the teaching of REAL science, I always try to rise above name-calling. It may just be that I am conflict avoidant, but I do not think that name-calling is particularly useful for advancing any sort of constructive dialogue about the issues.
I just visited the home page of the Discovery Institute's new faith + evolution website for the first time and was struck by the blatant dishonesty of their introductory video.
The video opens with the following text:
The viewer then immediately hears a deep male voice with a British accent recite the following sentence:
"The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."
Meanwhile, this is the image that is displayed:
Clearly, the viewer is being led to believe that those were Charles Darwin's words.
But are they?
Sadly, no. Darwin never wrote anything of the sort. The DI has misattributed to Darwin a quotation from one of Richard Dawkins's books:
"The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."
River Out of Eden
(Note also that a significant portion of the quotation - "no evil and no good" - has also been silently removed.)
The blatant misattribution of this quote to Darwin is obviously an attempt to portray the man as a dismal pessimist whose ideas about evolution led him to a life of despair and despondency. However, based on his own writings, this negative portrayal of Darwin is completely inaccurate.
What follows are some authentic quotes from the conclusion of Darwin's The Origin of Species. I think they give a much more accurate representation of the way in which Darwin's ideas about evolution shaped his view of the world:
"I see no good reasons why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of any one. It is satisfactory, as showing how transient such impressions are, to remember that the greatest discovery ever made by man, namely, the law of the attraction of gravity, was also attacked by Leibnitz, 'as subversive of natural, and inferentially of revealed, religion.' A celebrated author and divine has written to me that 'he has gradually learned to see that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws.'"
"Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual. When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Cambrian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled."
"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
The Origin of Species
6th Edition, 1872
There is no doubt that Darwin's understanding of the evolutionary history of life influenced his personal religious views. But Darwin's understanding of evolution did not turn him into a nihilist, as the DI would apparently like for their visitors to believe. This truth can be seen in this excerpt from Darwin's complete autobiography:
"A man who has no assured and ever present belief in the existence of a personal God or of a future existence with retribution and reward, can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones. A dog acts in this manner, but he does so blindly. A man, on the other hand, looks forwards and backwards, and compares his various feelings, desires and recollections. He then finds, in accordance with the verdict of all the wisest men that the highest satisfaction is derived from following certain impulses, namely the social instincts. If he acts for the good of others, he will receive the approbation of his fellow men and gain the love of those with whom he lives; and this latter gain undoubtedly is the highest pleasure on this earth. By degrees it will become intolerable to him to obey his sensuous passions rather than his higher impulses, which when rendered habitual may be almost called instincts. His reason may occasionally tell him to act in opposition to the opinion of others, whose approbation he will then not receive; but he will still have the solid satisfaction of knowing that he has followed his innermost guide or conscience.--As for myself I believe that I have acted rightly in steadily following and devoting my life to science. I feel no remorse from having committed any great sin, but have often and often regretted that I have not done more direct good to my fellow creatures. My sole and poor excuse is much ill-health and my mental constitution, which makes it extremely difficult for me to turn from one subject or occupation to another. I can imagine with high satisfaction giving up my whole time to philanthropy, but not a portion of it; though this would have been a far better Line of conduct."
I'm not usually this blunt, but I can no longer sugarcoat my words:
The misattribution of this quote to Darwin is a lie. In their twisted attempt to defend themselves against what they see as a threat to their version of Christianity, the Discovery Institute is lying to the people who visit their "faith + evolution" website.
I'm beginning to think that calling them the "Dishonesty Institute" is too mild. People who habitually tell lies are rightfully called "liars."
There, I said it.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
McLeroy Out as Texas BOE Chair
Our favorite dysfunctional dentist has been ousted as Chairman of the Texas State Board of Education. More here.
"It's Not Pining, It's Passed On"
The Discovery Institute seems to have given up on the pretense that intelligent design is a scientific enterprise. As in, this pretense is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet its Maker. It's a stiff, bereft of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn't have nailed it to the perch it'd be pushing up the daisies. It's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-pretense!
This site is designed to be especially helpful for pastors, lay leaders, Sunday School teachers, and students.
So take a look at the Curricula portion of their site:
Use this complete curriculum (textbook, DVD, outlines and lesson plans, test bank, and Powerpoint presentations) to teach the evidence for and against modern evolutionary theory. Especially suitable for: High school and college biology classes; home school classes; private study; adult enrichment seminars.
Icons of Evolution
Use this book, study guide, and DVD to critically examine key evidences offered in support of the modern theory of evolution. Especially suitable for: High school and college biology classes; home school classes; private study; adult enrichment seminars.
The Case for Intelligent Design
Use this free article by Stephen Meyer and accompanying discussion questions to explore the history, logic, and evidence for intelligent design as a scientific theory. Especially suitable for: Small group discussions, or as one session of an adult Sunday School class on science and faith or intelligent design.
Yes, that's all the science resources they list.
Do they list publications or articles or textbooks commonly accepted in the scientific community? No.
Do they list resources that describe why intelligent design isn't science? - No. (Don't forget, the Discovery Institute was pushing for "academic freedom" in state legislatures. We see once again how their version of "academic freedom" means anything but.)
Do they specify that the materials are for use in non-public high schools? No.
So despite their claim that they're just trying to promote science education in our country, they've made it clear once again that they wouldn't mind getting intelligently-de$igned textbook$ into our public high school science classes.
Despite their best efforts, though, the overwhelming evidence at the DI's new site shows that this whole issue isn't a matter of science v. religion; it's all about how "best" to interpret Scripture.
And, to bastardize the Circus again, "Strange lawyers lying and distributing words is no basis for a system of science education!"
Friday, May 22, 2009
Bring out your dead!
As indicated by our "Track the Anti-Evolution Bills" widget, two more "Academic Freedom" bills have quietly passed away with the recent close of legislative sessions in Alabama and Missouri.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Just had this forwarded to me:
Mike Bettes with the Weather Channel was in Hays, KS this morning doing a live remote about the Vortex2 Project.
The MSNBC crew was also downtown this morning and in Hays doing stories about Vortex2. Many crews and storm chaser vehicles came to Hays over the weekend as part of the Vortex2 project.
Click the link to see the video and click the photo images to see photos taken by Bruce Burkholder.
It's always exciting when the Discovery Channel tornado chasers set up their headquarters in Hays during the summers. Given a clear blue sky, the chasers are patient with the kids crawling all over the TIV2. (As they pointed out, if it can stand high winds no 9-year-olds are going to do it much harm!) The chasers answer all kinds of questions from the kids and the adults. They've emphasized the importance of kids taking as many math and science classes as possible if the kids want get into that line of work.
Read the Hays adventures(?) of The Weather Channel's Mike Bettes here.
Meanwhile, here's more dust and wind from Kansas. Oldie but goodie, but maybe you prefer thunder . . .
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
On the Shoulders of Giants
Yesterday afternoon, Intel presented a panel discussion entitled "Excellence in Science and Technology." The panelists answered selected, pre-submitted questions from the Intel Finalists.
As noted by a student later, the panelists were down-to-earth and had a great sense of humor! Read on for a synopsis of the discussion.
Dr. Bell-Burnell: Don't know yet; the technology to detect Earth-like planets at Earth-like distances from stars isn't yet developed. I'm representing the United Kingdom, and what we're focusing on is how we'll respond to the first signal we receive from extra-terrestrial intelligence. Do we assume they're dangerous or peaceful? Shall we put them in a zoo? Kill them? Eat them? Send in GIs to bring democracy to them?
Dr. Osheroff: Not much, witness the recent creation-evolution issues.
Dr. Bell-Burnell: The general public is scared of science; to fix this, we need to focus on producing a scientifically-literate population.
Dr. Agre: After Sputnik, which is when many of us came of age and received our training, science was held in high regard. Science was king! Glenn Seaborg and Wernher VonBraun appeared on the Disney show. Scientists must take the responsibility to reach out to the public, at PTA meetings, coffee shops, just to let others know that scientists are human too.
Dr. Lederman: The Large Hadron Collider is an example. Does the Higgs boson really exist? If we don't find it, it'll force us to re-consider the Standard Model.
Dr. Chalfie: We're often wrong!
Dr. Herschbach: Too many are afraid of being wrong. Science is always "wrong" in the sense that it's incomplete.
Dr. Osheroff: We learn just as much from being wrong as we do from being right.
Dr. Agre (I think!): The food!
Dr. Lederman: Teenagers. Too many teenagers aren't even finishing high school. [at this point the young lady seated next to me - who's been accepted at Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale but was stressing over her 16th AP exam - noted that only 33% of New York City's public school students actually graduate from high school.]
Dr. Herschbach: My mentor, I.I. Rabi, noted that "scientists are the Peter Pans of humanity." We're curious and we don't want to grow up. The chance to be around teenagers!
Dr. Curl: You guys are fun, smart.
Dr. Chalfie: This is my first time here. When I got my Nobel, I started getting invited places like this. We're not different than your teachers, other faculty members, etc. This is a chance for us to give back.
Dr. Bell-Burnell: The buzz! You're bright people, I enjoy seeing your interesting projects. Almost one-half of you are female. We need more females up here [on the panel]!
Dr. Agre: I'm the father of four, I know that my own kids are the future of my family. You're all the future of science. If I can provide a little encouragement or a spark of inspiration, I’m happy.
Dr. Herschbach: Continue to achieve; become good ambassadors for science. I took two students to a committee of the US House of Representatives. These two students really impressed the committee.
Dr. Chalfie: Increase public awareness of science, work toward political change. Your own research? Don't worry about getting it funded, think only of your idea, get on with enjoying the science.
Dr. Wuthrich: We need to change the terminology. We're not in recession, we're in recovery!
Question 6: How can we integrate our passion for science with politics?
Dr. Agre: The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world without a scientist in high political office. At some point, the scientists have to reach out.
Dr. Wuthrich: Israel(Chaim Weizmann, chemist), Germany (Angela Merkel, quantum chemist), China(Wen Jiabao, geologist and engineer), the United Kingdom (Margaret Thatcher, physical chemist) and Japan (Emperor Akihito, world-class goby fish expert, 38 peer-reviewed publications) all have had leaders who have been practicing scientists.
Question 7: Einstein claimed that imagination is more important than knowledge. What are your thoughts?
Dr. Bell-Burnell: In the UK, we teach the scientific method, but not where the hypothesis originates.
Dr. Herschbach: We worry too much about assessments and there's not enough emphasis on creativity in the educational system.
Dr. Wuthrich: Use curiosity rather than imagination to drive your work.
Dr. Herschbach: It becomes a passion, even an obsession!
Dr. Curl: Solar. It's all, eventually, solar, and it's abundant. Wind energy? - not enough
Dr. Herschbach: - and wind energy is another form of solar energy.
Dr. Lederman: None of these will mean anything unless, and nobody wants to hear it, we change our lifestyle. The mindset that it doesn't bother you to drive 10 miles to the grocery store for a loaf of bread has to change. We need smaller communities where we can walk wherever we need to go.
Question 9: Science has fallen into and out of public favor. How do you see it being affected by the current economy?
Dr. Bell-Burnell: In the UK, our prime minister has stated that "science is how we'll dig ourselves out of the recession."
Dr. Chalfie: We've seen an increase in funding lately, but quick returns are always demanded.
Dr. Curl: Obama tripled the percentage of funding for science.
Dr. Agre: After Sputnik, we poured our energies into improving science education. We need to do that again.
Question 10: Do you see a future for gene therapy to cure diseases?
Dr. Agre: We can identify the genes that code for a disease, but using it for cures doesn't look promising. To help mortality in this country, decrease tobacco use and the use of cel phones while driving.
Dr. Chalfie: If we include stem cell research, we have to "admit we're fundamentally ignorant of the major players in the system." There are still unknown functions, for example, sickle cell anemia in the heterozygous form provides protection from malaria.
Dr. Herschbach: I actually started out in chemistry and took some physics. Quantum physics requires a lot of math so I ended up with a math degree because my college didn't allow double majors.
Dr. Lederman: That reminds me that there are three kinds of mathematicians: those who can count, and those who can't.
Dr. Chalfie: Classical guitar, father was a professional guitarist
Dr. Curl: None!
Dr. Herschbach: I learned to play the viola at the age of 45 to complete a family quartet and quickly realized I have no musical talent. I do like to draw and paint and have taken several classes.
Dr. Bell-Burnell: It's difficult to admit this to my colleagues, but I read poetry and collect poetry with an astronomical theme - after all, you have to focus because there's a lot of poetry out there. I recently came out with an anthology I edited.
Dr. Osheroff: All scientists have an appreciation for the arts. I love to recite poetry. [Here Dr. Osheroff recited the cowboy poem "Reincarnation."]
Dr. Palca: I made my singing debut on Science Friday awhile back. [Palca here sang a parody, "That's A Moray!"]
Question 13: For Dr. Herschbach - did you find that attaining the rank of Eagle Scout helped in your scientific career?
Dr. Herschbach: Most important was interacting with the other Scouts along the merit badge trail because science is a social enterprise.
Dr. Agre: I was also an Eagle Scout, and it taught me responsibility and gave me experience with nature.
Question 14: Science research demands a lot of money and staff. How can we justify these expenditures?
Dr. Lederman: The total dollars as the percent of our gross national product is very small. Don't give up on the future
Dr. Wuthrich: Science these days is highly collaborative, internationally.
Dr. Curl: In the Middle Ages, it took more than a hundred years to build a cathedral. The planners and artisans who began the project didn't live to see it finished.
Dr. Chalfie: We're all part of a large group, mine is studying C. elegans. The Huntington researchers promised to share all of their data at an annual conference, and then have resulting papers published with everybody's name on it as part of a consortium.
Question 15: For Dr. Dr. Bell-Burnell - what do you advise young female scientists who'd like to have a career and a family?
Dr. Bell-Burnell: You need stamina, organization, and you must be a good multi-tasker. But your question has another answer: "Babies have fathers." The assumption is that "women need this" and "women need that." When my son and his wife expecting their first child they were both in graduate school. He went to his department chair to ask for parental leave and was told, "not on your life." My daughter-in-law asked her department chair for leave and was granted it immediately. The outlook is that the women who need to change, but that the scientific society is okay.
Question 16: If you had to go back and do it again, what other field of science would you choose?
Dr. Curl: The opportunities now are in biology, this seems to be where we're the most ignorant.
Dr. Lederman: Why should I have to give up my current science? But my next choice would be to work with global warming.
Dr. Bell-Burnell: Geology. Back then - in the 1960's - we were told that women couldn't go into the field to do research, maybe because there were no bathrooms in the jungle.
Question 17: What does society usually overlook about science?
Dr. Herschbach: What is unrecognized by society is that it is an adventure of our species.
Dr. Curl: They think it's all about finding a cure for cancer.
Dr. Lederman: They overlook the importance of education.
Question 18: How has the theory you've worked on influenced your life?
Dr. Osheroff: Look at electricity and magnetism, originally thought to be two separate entities. Four simple equations unified them in the 1800's. Now electricity is necessary.
Dr. Agre: Evolution rejection is rampant in the US. The general population needs to acknowledge natural selection in terms of antibiotic-resistant organisms.
Dr. Chalfie: Quantum theory led to lasers led to CDs. If you'd told a record company 50 years ago that quantum mechanics would be crucial to their industry nobody would have believed it. But there's a high demand for "translational science," science that can immediately be used to improve our lives.
Question 19: What do you think is most important for the public to understand about science?
Dr. Herschbach: That science and technology are separate endeavors.
Dr. Bell-Burnell: Two things. That science proceeds by scientists challenging each other, and that proof is not the black or white issue as it's sometimes portrayed.
Dr. Lederman: The scientific way of thinking, how science works. The process of science, and how it's been so successful.
Dr. Agre: That it's a helluva lot of fun!
Afterwards I had the chance to ask Dr. Lederman (champion of the Physics First! program): "Most university and college science departments actively discourage their best and brightest from going into teaching. How can this be changed?"
"With a two-by-four with a nail in the end."
In other words, it's so entrenched in the culture that the situation isn't going to change.
That was a disheartening answer, but not terribly surprising. The popularity of science waxes and wanes, and teaching profession hasn't received much respect as a rule during the last 40+ years. But these giants of science may eventually see some of these kids' footprints on their shoulders, and we know that science teachers had a role in there somewhere.
If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants." - Isaac Newton
(edited 6:43 pm PDT format, links)
Monday, May 11, 2009
Take 1500 teenagers from 56 countries.
The good news is that our Terrific Trio is worn out. The bad news is that I am too!
Our trip to Reno for the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair was uneventful, smooth even. Despite its best efforts, the notoriously destructive luggage handling system at the Denver airport didn't lose our luggage. Jamie Zink of Spirit AeroSystems (corporate sponsor of the Kansas State SEF) had already arrived, had checked us into our hotel and registered at the convention center for us. All we had to do was haul our luggage up to our 17th-floor marbled rooms (with the 42" flat screen in the main area and a 17" flat screen in the bathroom) and get the Trio to their first event: pin trading.
No adults were allowed in this festivity, but reports indicate that SD was immediately popular with his seemingly-magical manipulations of a 3" acrylic sphere. He swirls and swoops it around his hands and arms and makes it look like it's floating in mid-air. There were also rumors of his involvement in a conga line with the kids from the Phillipines . . . but that's what it was all about!
We were all relieved to pass all the inspections this morning and get the exhibit set up. During this process, SF & EN were deluged with questions from passers-by who I noticed (after a while) were mostly young men checking out the young women. Watching this Trio from the middle of nowhere (who are well-traveled by local standards) meet and interact with adolescents from all over the world was an experience I won't forget. They were pleasantly surprised that "these kids are so friendly!" And they are!
The 1500 or so kids who are here have been selected from among millions around the world who entered a science fair. They represent the cream of the crop, the best and the brightest, and you might expect them to be rather full of themselves. So far, that's been the exception rather than the rule. They all share a passion for learning, a curiosity about each other and the desire to get to know people they wouldn't have dreamed of meeting even a year ago.
Tomorrow, there's a panel discussion on "Excellence in Science and Technology." The panel will be moderated by Joe Palca, science correspondent for National Public Radio. Discussants will be Peter Agre (Nobel Prize, Chem, 2003), Jocelyn Bell Burnell (Herschel Medal, Royal Astronomical Society, 1989), Martin Chalfie (Nobel Prize, Chemistry, 2008), Robert F. Curl (Nobel Prize, Chemistry, 1996), David Gross (Nobel Prize, Physics, 2004), Dudley Herschbach (Nobel Prize, Chemistry, 1986), (my hero)Leon M. Lederman, (Nobel Prize, Physics, 1988), Douglas Osheroff (Nobel Prize, Physics, 1996) and Kurt Wuthrich (Nobel Prize, Chemistry, 2002).
Did I mention there'll be Nobel laureates involved? One of the fair volunteers said that some of the 600 judges are also Nobel laureates. (gulp!)
Of course, the Trio is overwhelmed by the sophistication of the other projects they've seen. Many have almost unpronounceable titles, most are professionally printed, and it seems like all are at least graduate-quality research. It's daunting, and I have to remind them that although their idea isn't sophisticated, and they're not trying to cure cancer (or design a neutron generator, or a car that runs on water), their science reasoning is solid. They're reporting all their data - no cherry picking! - they're honest in their conclusion although it contradicts their initial predictions, and they've learned a load of chemistry and statistics along the way. They're freshmen, and just the fact that their project was judged to be worthy to compete here is an honor.
The Trio's win has inspired other students at their high school to start thinking about future projects and how they can get started on them over the summer. Other students are coming in to ask me who they might contact at the hospital or at the university to mentor them on their projects.
The Trio was discussing issues of religion, philosophy, and government at lunch yesterday. A couple of gentlemen sitting next to us were obviously interested in the conversation and remarked that it was good to hear teenagers talking about government. One also was incredulous that these were teenagers who were discussing these subjects. I thoroughly enjoy their conversations, and sometimes manage to ask a question.
That's what it's all about. "Gathering Genius" is the group which is organizing things here in Reno, and it's an appropriate title. And the most important part isn't the "Genius" - it's the "Gathering."
Maybe, more later.
[minor edits 10:36 CDT 5/12]
Saturday, May 9, 2009
You simply. Must. See it.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Maybe your high school had a course called "Business Math" for students who didn't want a second year of algebra after their geometry class, but who still needed another math credit for graduation.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
REAL Science Round-Up
With the end of the school year approaching, I have been feeling the increased pressure of work commitments. Consequently, my blogging has been rather sparse over the last couple of weeks. It is likely to continue that way for a couple more weeks.
Admitting some few exceptions, the considered verdict on these matters among active researchers in the relevant fields is settled, with a statistical weight approaching unanimity. It is inappropriate to ask our high school students to sit in their judgment; we must first simply educate them as to what has been learned. Surely the ultimate truths of science are not up for, nor are ever settled by, a vote of men. As a practical matter however, the science standards of our state are up for vote once each decade. An entrenched mindset bordering on reflexive antipathy to the opinions of our most distinguished scholars has no place on our State Board of Education.
This is the kind of thinking that we need to see more of on local and state school boards.
-An article in the Los Angeles Times shows that an understanding of natural selection theory is crucial for effectively dealing with the swine flu outbreak. So much for natural selection simply being a "figure of speech."
-Susan McCarthy of the Guardian wrote an article in which Don McLeroy has once again revealed his ignorance of evolutionary biology.
"They haven't come up with an explanation of the eye. They haven't. They haven't!"
-Finally, the Texas Freedom Network reports on the slim chances of Don McLeroy being confirmed for a second term as Chairman of the Texas SBOE.
I guess ideas really do have consequences.
What is REAL science?
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