Monthly Archives: October 2005

Remembering My Brother

My brother, Daniel Neal Elsberry, would have been 39 years old today. Instead, he was murdered at age 30.

There’s a lot of adjustment that happens after a violent act. I’m still dealing with it.

I ran across a picture of Daniel that shows him back at my parents’ house in Lakeland. He’s sitting in the kitchen on a stool, with our two cockatiels, Niomi and Chrismon, climbing on his shirt. He’s smiling at the bird on the front of his shirt. It’s a moment that helps me remember my brother in a role other than victim of violence or in some of the less pleasant times we had. There were times when Daniel would surprise us with sensitivity, and this one I’m describing from the picture was one of those.

Time moves on, and me with it, leaving further behind the young man in the photograph. But I think it is right for me to pause and think back on Daniel, and think to those who are still with me. There is time now to also recall them, and to resolve to make some memories between us.

Evolution in Kansas

An installation of the “Explore Evolution” exhibit will open on Nov. 1 in the Museum of Natural History at the University of Kansas. This is an NSF funded exhibit, with six installations around the country. (My OSLEP class at OU visited the one at the Sam Noble Museum there — I was able to point out a mislabeled dolphin photo: they showed a dusky, but called it a bottlenose.)

The exhibit has a nice balance of scales, with evolution considered, on the small side, in diatoms, and, on the large side, in whales. In between, there are displays about Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos Islands (and the work of Rosemary and Peter Grant there) and the relationship between humans and chimpanzees. This last includes a wall display based upon DNA sequence comparisons.

It’s at least one place that the Kansas Board of Education can’t mess up.

A Confluence of the Sectarian and the Profane

While I was in Salt Lake City, Utah last week for the Geological Society of America’s annual conference, I took a side trip to visit Temple Square. Workers were laying down new roofing on the tabernacle.

Jay Labov pointed out that the choice of roof underlayment material was particularly appropriate:

Hawkwalk 2005/10/23

Diane and I took Rusty hunting today, along with Farli and Ritka. We went to an industrial park, which makes a nice quiet place on a Sunday.

Gotta have transportation. Our van gets the family to hunting spots. Nowadays it helps when the hunting spot is not terribly far from home.
And here’s the spot, or at least part of it. Industrial parks often have undeveloped bottom land in the vicinity. Diane spotted pheasants on an earlier visit here.
Rusty stretched her wings a bit out in the field.
Rusty takes advantage of available perches for height.
Ritka finds field work stimulating. She’s needed a good run for a while.
Farli’s favorite thing is going out to find the birds.
Where you have industrial parks, you also tend to get railroad tracks. Rusty uses a track as a temporary perch as we cross to the field on the other side.
A high perch is very attractive to Rusty.
Rusty flies over me as Diane calls her to the glove.
Rusty on the glove, for a moment.
Diane and Ritka work the field. We saw a couple of jackrabbits, but nobody chased those.
Rusty passes over the field.
Another bird flies over.
Diane, Rusty, Farli, and Ritka all in one spot.
The final call to the glove for Rusty. Time to head home.

Behe and “Pandas” Paleontology

Over on the Discovery Institute blog, Casey Luskin defends Michael Behe’s performance in court:

Behe is a biochemist, and thus it is not likely that the authors of Pandas sought Behe’s input on sections dealing with paleontology.

Too bad. Biochemist Behe might have had more of a clue concerning paleontology than whoever it was that actually wrote the section. From my perspective, Behe could hardly have made the paleontology content of Of Pandas and People worse than it already is.

Casey also notes a reporter making a “fair and accurate” report of Behe responding to the presentation of several books on the evolution of the immune system. Behe was quoted by Martha Raffaele as saying,

“I am quite skeptical that they present detailed, rigorous models of the evolution of the immune system through random mutation and natural selection,” he said.

Casey Luskin doesn’t seem to realize just how damning that response is in the context of a courtroom. Behe has presented himself as an expert, and one of the topics he has taken up as an expert is the unevolvability of the immune system. But does Behe’s response give any indication that his dismissal proceeds from knowledge of the materials presented? No. It documents clearly that Behe is proceeding on the basis of prejudicial ignorance.

Which, come to think of it, does describe the Discovery Institute’s peddling of “intelligent design” quite accurately.

Update: It occurs to me that Judge Jones took Behe’s dismissal of the evidence in much the way that I stated in this post.

The immune system is the third system to which Professor Behe has applied the definition of irreducible complexity. Although in Darwin’s Black Box, Professor Behe wrote that not only were there no natural explanations for the immune system at the time, but that natural explanations were impossible regarding its origin. (P-647 at 139; 2:26-27 (Miller)). However, Dr. Miller presented peer-reviewed studies refuting Professor Behe’s claim that the immune system was irreducibly complex. Between 1996 and 2002, various studies confirmed each element of the evolutionary hypothesis explaining the origin of the immune system. (2:31 (Miller)). In fact, on cross-examination, Professor Behe was questioned concerning his 1996 claim that science would never find an evolutionary explanation for the immune system. He was presented with fifty- eight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not “good enough.” (23:19 (Behe)).

We find that such evidence demonstrates that the ID argument is dependent upon setting a scientifically unreasonable burden of proof for the theory of evolution. As a further example, the test for ID proposed by both Professors Behe and Minnich is to grow the bacterial flagellum in the laboratory; however, no-one inside or outside of the IDM, including those who propose the test, has conducted it. (P-718; 18:125-27 (Behe); 22:102-06 (Behe)). Professor Behe conceded that the proposed test could not approximate real world conditions and even if it could, Professor Minnich admitted that it would merely be a test of evolution, not design. (22:107-10 (Behe); 2:15 (Miller); 38:82 (Minnich)).

(KvD decision text)

Yecke and I Go A Round

Cheri Pierson Yecke, Florida’s new K-12 Chancellor of Education, and I were quoted in a recent Palm Beach Post article by Kimberly Miller.

Elsberry, of the National Center for Science Education, said that during the science rewrite in Minnesota, drafts of curriculum included “maybes” and “possibles” whenever evolution was mentioned. Elsberry said Yecke also gave the committee assigned to rewrite the curriculum a version of the No Child Left Behind Act that included a failed amendment referring to alternative theories to evolution.

Yecke said she gave the committee versions of the science curriculum given high ratings by the Fordham Foundation and Achieve. The Fordham Foundation is a conservative-based education think tank. The Web site of Achieve, an education improvement organization formed in part by state governors, says it is nonpartisan.

Dearest Cheri: whether you inundated the committee with every other standard used in the civilized world does not address the point at issue, which is whether you handed the committee the completely useless “Santorum language” with the implication that it had any legal force with respect to drawing up science standards. On this point, let’s consult another source, Dr. Melanie Reap and Jamie Crannell’s first-person piece on their experiences serving on Yecke’s science standards writing committee in Minnesota:

The Department of Education provided copies of “exemplary” state standards documents (ironically including Minnesota’s recently repealed Profile of Learning for Science! See previous link.). The general committee was also given a copy of the so called Santorum “Amendment.” This precipitated the first discussion of creationism/intelligent design and allowed for the identification of those in the group who supported intelligent design. The “Santorum Amendment” was the only legal advice given to the committee.

The first rough draft of the standards was sent to the Department of Education to be disseminated for public input. It took many of us by surprise when the published standards included a softening of several Nature/History of Science and Life Science standards through the insertion of such phrases as “may explain” and “might account for”; phrases never used by the committee. Through the efforts of several committee members these additions were made public and the Department of Education, in a statement by Commissioner Yecke, retracted the printed version for the original draft.

So, Cheri, would you mind actually addressing the point at issue sometime soon? While it may be too much to hope for responsibility-shouldering for the various problems in the Minnesota science standards process, it would be good to get an explicit indication that Florida is not being set up for a repeat of recent history. Until the education administrators clearly say that science classrooms are only open to those ideas that have passed scientific muster and that they will avoid using legal language that was considered and specifically set aside by the US Congress, Florida’s citizens need to beware of the dangers of playing “trust me” roulette with science education in the state.

Back from OSLEP

I’m back home from a five-day seminar for the Oklahoma Scholars Leadership Enhancement Program (OSLEP). There were nine student participants, with a wide diversity of backgrounds, and two observing faculty. We covered current events, had a primer on evolutionary biology, discussed the various forms of antievolution, went over legal issues, and wrapped things up earlier today. We also had a field trip to the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History and a guided tour of the evolution exhibit there, a visit to the library’s special holdings in the history of science, and a trip to a planetarium. We heard in class from Dr. Michael Strauss on anthropic principles and T. Russell Hunter, OU IDEA Club president, on intelligent design, and Prof. Richard Tepker concerning various court cases.

Dr. Stephen Weldon helped keep the discussions moving and provided a historical perspective. Jeri Smalley kept things organized, and Dr. Helen DeBolt put it all together, including Friday night dinner at her home.

I’m encouraged about how this seminar went, and like the way that higher education in Oklahoma supports educational opportunities like this OSLEP course. Hat’s off to my students, colleagues, and the administrators who made this possible.

Internet News

Take a look at this article and see if you find it disturbing.

It essentially says that the EU and UN are looking to wrest control of the root servers of the Internet away from the US Department of Commerce and ICANN.

I’m thinking that this is an excellent issue for Bolton to tell the UN to get stuffed over.

Panda’s Thumb Receives Accolade from SciAm

Scientific American magazine bestowed one of its 25 Science and Technology Web Awards for 2005 on the Panda’s Thumb weblog. I had barely gotten PT running last year before I ended up in the hospital. We passed our millionth visit at PT early in September, 2005, and now SciAm takes note. Included in that accolade was the After the Bar Closes forum on the site. That’s a happy thing.

The TalkOrigins Archive received a SciAm Science and Technology Web Award in 2001.

Thoughts on Dover

The Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (KvD) trial is about to head into its second week. The plaintiffs’ case so far has included several fact witnesses attesting to the pro-creationism bent of the school board since about 2002 and the harm that has been experienced since the implementation of the DASD “intelligent design policy”. Expert witnesses have confirmed that the book, Of Pandas and People, used by the DASD, is simply creationism with a new label applied, and that what content is has is not science.

Over the last couple of months, those watching the actions and rhetoric of the “intelligent design” advocates cannot but help but notice a precipitate increase in stridency and vituperation in the articles they post online or put out as press releases. They are very likely trying to soften the blow they know is coming this next week, as the plaintiffs bring Dr. Barbara Forrest to testify about the history of the “intelligent design” movement. Dr. Forrest has written extensively on this topic, and is a careful scholar. What her studies — and her source documents — show is that “intelligent design” is just the “creation science” playlist of arguments, re-labeled and cynically re-packaged to avoid the clear legal prohibition against teaching creationism as science.

Surely the ID advocates have known that the “intelligent design” label was in trouble, else they would not have stopped pushing it and started pushing the “critical analysis” label in Ohio in 2002. I think that they were hoping to avoid a test case directly on “intelligent design”. But the KvD trial not only links “intelligent design” with “creationism”, but also links the newer phrase, “gaps and problems in evolution” with “creationism”. The possibility for a drastically inconvenient ruling in this case, from the DI’s perspective, may have colored its relationship with the Thomas More Law Center.

However the trial is decided, though, I think the “intelligent design” label is a casualty. Any future litigant amenable to “intelligent design” would then have to work against all the material now known that links “intelligent design” and creationism; this, I submit, will be too large a burden for such a litigant. Don’t expect the Discovery Institute to concur; they are very likely to commission Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf or a similarly adept denialist to proclaim that all is well with “intelligent design”.