The latest installment from John Boswell at Symphony of Science:
Archive for February, 2010
Prior to the publication of the book that would make him a household name, Charles Darwin spent 8 years studying barnacles. He first became interested in barnacles during his voyage aboard the HMS Beagle when he discovered a tiny parasite that had burrowed into a conch shell. He would later discover that this parasite was a barnacle, even though it lacked certain features found in most other barnacles. Darwin’s curiosity about barnacles would eventually evolve into an obsession and to the publication of four volumes on the subject that would establish his reputation as a meticulous researcher and naturalist. Darwin’s barnacle research made him the world’s foremost expert on the critters and earned him the respect of scientists who might otherwise have ignored his later work.
Interestingly, Darwin’s barnacle studies influenced the development of his ideas concerning evolution, as Darwin himself noted in his autobiography:
At the time of Darwin’s research, barnacles were quite poorly understood. Many naturalists classified them as mollusks. By carefully dissecting hundreds of specimens, Darwin was able to demonstrate that, although their shells make them look like mollusks, barnacles are in fact related to lobsters, crabs, and shrimp. In their larval stage, they look like tiny shrimp and swim around at the surface of the ocean. When a barnacle is ready to settle down, it uses its antennae to pull itself along and find an acceptable location. Upon finding a suitable site, the animal uses a strong adhesive to attach itself head-first to the surface. From that point on, it lives inside its shell, using its feathery legs to filter food out of the surrounding water.
For centuries, barnacles were an enigma. Their relationship to other animals was clouded by their derived traits, features that made them unlike any other members of the animal kingdom. However, careful study of their anatomy led Darwin to correctly conclude that they are crustaceans. Darwin saw through the façade of the barnacle’s shell to the core, or essence, of the creature in order to identify its true nature.
This is a valuable lesson that can be applied elsewhere.
The video below recently showed up as a response to one of my YouTube videos. The audio is from a November, 2002 episode of Science Friday. It features Kenneth Miller, Lawrence Krauss, and Stephen Meyer discussing the dust up over science standards in Ohio in 2002.
To put this in context, this was when the Intelligent Design Movement was still actively promoting the teaching of ID in public school classrooms.
Around the time this discussion took place, John Calvert (leader of the Kansas-based Intelligent Design Network) was gallivanting around Ohio arguing that it was legal for science teachers to teach the “Design Hypothesis” in public school science classrooms. In fact, Calvert went so far as to argue that it was illegal to prohibit science teachers from teaching ID.
Remarkably, these arguments were being made in the absence of an accepted ID curriculum. This is demonstrated by John Calvert’s March, 2001 legal opinion:
Although I am not aware of any accepted curriculum for use in discussing the evidence of design, efforts are being made to develop constitutionally neutral curriculum which would be consistent with the Policy Statement. I expect curriculum may be available within the near future. I will provide copies as soon as it becomes available.
I encourage school districts, school teachers and school administrators who have a desire to develop curriculum, to do so. I believe IDnet can put them in touch with scientists and educators who could provide assistance.
Such a curriculum never materialized. That’s not surprising, of course, since there never has been a positive scientific case for ID. Eventually, ID promoters in Ohio abandoned the teaching of ID and shifted their focus to the “critical analysis of evolution.”
Then came Kitzmiller v. Dover and the collapse of intelligent design. Ever since the Kitzmiller ruling declared that teaching ID is unconstitutional, the leaders of the ID movement have abandoned legal arguments like those made by Calvert in Ohio. They are now simply asking that teachers be given the “academic freedom” to teach the “full range of scientific views” regarding evolution.
But has the essence of their argument really changed?
Of course not.
The material that ID promoters want taught in science classrooms today is exactly the same as it was in Ohio in 2002. Regardless of the current façade, careful dissection will reveal the real core of the ID movement: the religiously-motivated desire to engender unreasonable doubts concerning evolutionary theory in the minds of young people. The currently popular catch-phrases like “academic freedom” and “critical analysis” are merely shells that have been erected to hide the ID movement’s true nature.
Darwin’s work on barnacles teaches us a valuable lesson: Sometimes you have to look beneath outer appearances in order to discover the true nature of something.
I never cease to be amazed by how much the man got right.
No, really, how small is it? Is it dangerous?
Join us next Tuesday, February 23, as Dr. Cathy Clewitt of the FHSU Physics Department instructs and engages us in conversation about nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology is the result and process of manipulating matter at the atomic and molecular scale. Like any other new technology, nanotech inspires its own peculiar risks and concerns. According to Wikipedia,
A study at the University of Rochester found that when rats breathed in nanoparticles, the particles settled in the brain and lungs, which led to significant increases in biomarkers for inflammation and stress response.
A friend of mine expressed concern about the possibilities for harm posed by nanites. I, Robot fears aside, her remark helped me understand that there is a large group of people who have an inherent distrust of technology, and by extension, of the scientists who make the technology possible. These people aren’t necessarily cranks or unintelligent or willfully ignorant; they just don’t know enough about the subject to have an informed opinion. And in the evolutionary sense, it’s smarter to fear the unknown than it is to embrace it.
Thus, we have Science Cafes in Hays, born out of a determination to meet the general public where it is instead of where we’d like it to be. Come on down to Cafe Semolino, 110 W. 11th Street, next Tuesday evening for an invigorating discussion with other science-curious folks, and great science from scientists themselves.
The new RSS feed for the blog will be:
Please update your links accordingly.
Along with the switch to WordPress, I have also made a long overdue update to the html code for the rest of the pages on the website in order to improve the overall functionality and to standardize the appearance. One significant improvement is the new “Contact Us” page that allows you to send us an email directly from the site without having to open your email client.
All of the old Blogger posts will remain in their current locations (although we also imported them to WordPress). If you currently have a link or bookmark for something we have posted previously using Blogger, it will still work for the forseeable future.
This is not an extinction event. Cheryl and I plan to keep advocating for REAL science in public school science classrooms. We’re simply parting ways with Blogger.
Consider it an evolutionary divergence.
Today we celebrate the birthday of Charles Darwin: February 12, 1809. Many of Darwin’s quotes have been quote-mined over the years by creationists trying to smear Darwin and/or his revolutionary theory of evolution. (Well, revolutionary for 1859, anyway.)
But my favorite quote is the one Jeremy uses at the top of this page:
Once again, the (no)Discovery Institute is promoting its “Academic Irresponsibility Freedom Day.” Jeremy showed here how the DI’s campaign is built on a shifty quote mine.
Someone for whom I have a great deal of respect told me,
The Mississippi anti-evolution bill that would have required public schools to present “scientifically sound arguments by protagonists and antagonists of the theory of evolution” has died in committee.
It appears that the Mississippi legislature’s search for “scientifically sound arguments” by antagonists of the theory of evolution came up empty.
Next time, maybe they’ll complete their search before they file the bill.