Monthly Archives: July 2006

TOA and Peer-Review

Further on in his “Part 1″ post that I considered recently, Luskin is trying to impugn the TalkOrigins Archive page concerning ID and peer-review.

John Derbyshire points to TalkOrigins as a refutation of all of these papers. He quotes the website saying, “[t]he point which discredits ID is not that it has few peer-reviewed papers, but why there are so few.” Ignoring that the rest of the quote is false, TalkOrigins thus concedes that ID has a “few” peer-reviewed papers. “Few” is more than zero, which means that Derbyshire’s TalkOrigins URL concedes that every single one of Judge Jones statements above is false.

Let’s see the whole numbered point, shall we?

Continue reading

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A Certain Looseness of Standards

“It isn’t Jones that Luskin has an issue with, it is Behe. Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Michael Behe did speak the truth there, truth that Casey Luskin wants to call a lie. For Jones had to rely upon the evidentiary record of the case in making his decision. He couldn’t just pop off to visit the Discovery Institute’s web page to get a quick fix of Bizarro World.”

Over on the Discovery Institute’s blog, Casey Luskin takes exception to some statements from John Derbyshire. He uses the opportunity to take some more pot-shots at Judge John E. Jones III, whose decision in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case still apparently rankles. Luskin simply can’t stop picking at it, like a kid with a scab on a scraped-up elbow.

Continue reading

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Jack Krebs Speaks Out

Jack Krebs, president of Kansas Citizens for Science, gave a talk on “What’s the matter with the Standards” at Johnson County Community College this past Monday. Jack has kindly made the audio available as a set of MP3 format files. Jack’s original post on this is here. If what’s going on in Kansas is of any interest to you, you should check out these files. And these are the direct links to the downloads:

Jack Krebs’s JCCC Powerpoint
Text of John Calvert segment. Calvert is the driving force behind the Kansas IDNet and effort to have the antievolution version of the standards stay in place.

MP3 sound files all zipped together (43 MB)

Introduction (MP3)
Overview (MP3)
The context (MP3)
What was added (MP3)
The Plan (MP3)
Abuse of the process (MP3)
The ID movement (MP3)

Calvert’s explanation (MP3)
The rest of the audio (MP3)

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Science is a Harsh Schoolmistress

ABC News: Scientist says tried to clone mammoth

The news story relates the aftermath of the Hwang Woo-suk case, as South Korea tries to figure out what Hwang did with all the money, given that the research on stem cells wasn’t actually on the up-and-up. The article relates several fairly astonishing admissions from Hwang, including the one that got the headlines: they tried to clone mammoths from DNA and failed. Less headline-ready, for being more plebian, were the expenditures on travel and even a wedding for one of the scientists.

If anyone was thinking that Hwang was going to shrug off this affair and step back into a trusted position in the scientific community, the first sentence of the article would disabuse them:

Disgraced South Korean stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk said on Tuesday he spent part of private donations for his research in failed attempts to clone mammoths, extinct members of the elephant family.

The practice of science relies upon scientists accurately reporting their work. Because of this, fraud in science can be overlooked for some time, but if and when it is noticed, the result is pretty much what is known as shunning in the Amish community. The persons found to have broken that trust are not accorded trust again. There simply isn’t any mechanism there for forgiveness or second chances.

It seems pretty harsh. It is pretty harsh, when you consider that we’re usually talking about people with terminal degrees in a field, and that they will find it difficult to translate what they do know into a career without the ability to fully interact with the scientific community.

Contrast that with the antievolution community. Pretty much no matter how wrong or how embarrassing a behavior some advocate is caught in, you’ll find that there is no penalty imposed by his colleagues. It doesn’t even rise to the level of forgiveness; it’s more like some perpetual perceptual defect where error is never recognized and rarely corrected.

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Texas tops California in harnessing wind power

Texas tops California in harnessing wind power

Interestingly, Texas has pulled ahead of California in total energy production via wind power, by about 47 megawatts of capacity. Texas now has 2,370 megawatts total capacity via wind power. It’s a very slight lead, but at least it shows some promise for expanding use of the technology.

The report notes that wind power is “one of the fastest growing sectors in energy.” It is still a very small part of the total supply of electricity here in the USA, so it could be “fast growing” for some time to come.

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It Must be that Time of Year

While it has been pretty much too hot to move during the day around here, my mind seems to think it is time to get Rusty and Shelby back out in the field. I dreamt last night of scouting fields for rabbits. While I had some uncertainty in the dream about when, precisely, rabbit season opened, a check of the California Department of Fish and Game shows that it opened on July 1st.

At this point, we’re waiting for the completion of the molt. Basically, until Rusty and Shelby have a complete set of tail feathers and primaries, we’re still just going to feed them up. Once that’s been done, though, we go through an annual set of events. There’s the paperwork, getting the new hunting licenses for the year. Go too early and nobody has the additional stamps for upland birds and ducks. Then we also need to affix a tail mount on a deck feather for telemetry. The birds don’t like that process, but they do put up with it.

The field of my dreams had hordes of jackrabbits and at least a couple rabbits. So far, we haven’t had much luck getting Rusty and Shelby interested in jackrabbits. That means that finding rabbits is a key activity. Here in Northern California, though, rabbit populations seem to be way, way down. There’s one place that is about a 40-minute drive from here that consistently has rabbits, but other than that, we’re pretty much stuck with jackrabbits. The opening of upland bird and duck seasons is still a ways off.

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Act Now to Help End Japanese Dolphin Drive Hunting

Dr. Lori Marino, a colleague of mine at Emory University, sent out a call for action to end the Japanese drive hunts that annually kill dolphins and small whales. I got it relayed from Dr. Brenda McCowan at UC Davis. The short version is that scientists and zoological park professionals have gotten together to condemn Japan’s small cetacean drive hunts and are looking to collect a million signatures on a petition to try to get it shut down before the next scheduled drive hunts this coming October.

The petition site is Please visit it soon.

I’ve converted the three MS Word documents that I received as attachments to the safer and more portable Adobe Acrobat PDF format.

Call For Action
Press Release
Statements from Scientists

I’m proud to say to two of my committee members, Bill Evans and Sam Ridgway, are on the “Statements” page above.

I’ll append the text of the email I got. Please pass on word of this to your friends and acquaintances. Please also note here or on O.Z. in the comments if you sign the petition.

(Continue reading at Online Zoologists)

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Activation Energy

I had been interested in the evolution/creation controversy for some time, but while growing up this was just a matter of some curiosity. It wasn’t until 1986 that I discovered that I had to get involved in a more serious way.

In chemistry, IIRC, one sometimes finds that a reaction whose free energy indicates that it should be favored nonetheless doesn’t happen at the rate one might predict. When an intermediate state actually requires an energy input, that’s called the activation energy . It makes possible a significant release of energy in some reactions. Mix together powdered aluminum and iron oxide at room temperature and nothing much happens. Drop a chip of burning magnesium onto the mix and you’d better stand back (or, better yet, run), since thermite reactions are exceedingly exothermic.

What I’m about to share with you is the event that gave me my personal “activation energy” to get beyond simply curiosity and head toward activism. Through high school and college, I had a habit of carrying along small pocket notebooks, the cheap little wire-bound things that just about any convenience store carries. I was going through the boxes here looking for a jewel case for Voyetra Music Write which apparently has a “product ID” number that has to be entered at installation. I have my install CD, but no jewel case, which is frustrating. Voyetra won’t be bothered to help, since “Music Write” is discontinued. Anyway, I haven’t yet found that case, but I did find a collection of my pocket notebooks, including the one I was carrying around in 1986. Here’s the notes I made concerning a lecture I attended:

Gary Kellogg
“The Creation Explanation”

Expected: Creationist pep rally
“Missing link” and other non-issues

Why give lecture? 20 years ago, re-thought claims, changed ideas as college student, from evol. -> creat.

Icelandic studies
Hansen, EE dept.

[I think those were establishing credentials. -- WRE]

Where design is, -> designer

Works studies geology
1. Disconformity
2. Nonconformity
3. Thrust fault
4. Use of fossils alone for dating

* mentioned Dollo’s law as simpler -> complex

Fossil reversals
1. Fishes in Idaho
2. Ammonites
[diagram of suture complexity from Cambrian to more recent]
3. Winged insects, earthworms, humans

[I don't recall exactly what all these were supposed to do. -- WRE]

T. M. George, David Kitts: lack of fossils, “Gaps in record”

The tuatura (iguana) unchanged through f. record.

Young earth not necessary for creat. model

74 ways to date earth
1/3 < 10^4 yrs no assumptions
2/3 > 10^4 yrs unstable assumptions

Time scale — wants to question

uniformitarianism -
the things happening today happened at the same rates in the past

Creat. requires greater rate in the past

Over thrusting of rocks
Said that thrust “older” rock is called that solely because of fossils within

From “Modern Geology and the Deluge”, Billings
No physical evidence of overthrusting

Differential reproduction < --> survival of the fittest
he used as population, not individual

1. Biston betularia
No change in species

2. Drosophila
No change in species

Selection and mutation

* Says creat. accounts for selection, pop. gen.

Transitional forms

Peter Mora – Evolutionist
“no practical chance of life starting from nothing”

Says bird preening zips up feathers otherwise they fall off

G.G. Simpson
“Most families, classes appear suddently without precursors”
Didn’t mention ancestors soft-bodied, don’t fossilize

William J. Moister, Sr.
sandal print embedded with trilobite fossils

Entropy – “the tendency of things to go to pot”

takes work to bring order to a system

Evolution < --> Fossils (Enc. Brit.)

operative science – doing studies bringing order

origin science – can never be falsified, whether evol. or creat.
observational science

Harry Fuller, Osald Tippo: Creat. has as much justification for belief as evol.

“The reason people are afraid of people like me is that they would have to throw out all sorts of order based on evolution.” “not so, I use order every day.”

Claims evol. says man is getting better, that man will save himself through adaptation

Personal application
Man makes an intellectual ascent using evol.

“my model has helped me to organize facts”
Evolution “is a valid scientific model”

Structure of creat.
take geol. data and put it into order

A pretty typical creation science lecture for the time. After it was over, I recall talking to Kellogg and requesting further information. He gave me a book, Henry M. Morris’s “The Scientific Case for Creation”. If Kellogg’s talk hadn’t been enough, Morris’s book certainly put me over the edge. I got into letter writing to papers and online discussions. In the mid-1990s, I helped keep the National Center for Science Education informed of what was going on in Texas concerning textbook adoption. In 1997, I presented at an “intelligent design” event (it was done in stealth mode as a philosophy conference). A couple more high-profile talks, and then I took my job at the NCSE.

So be careful what lectures you attend at college. They could change your life.

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Another Online Spot: MySpace

Reed Cartwright led me over to MySpace, where I set up a profile. Reed is helping Prof. Steve Steve get squared away here. It’s amazing how people take to Steve Steve wherever he goes.

If you are one of the few people left who haven’t already jumped on the MySpace craze, do be careful about banner ads and the like over there. Use a browser that doesn’t invite malware home.

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Earth Faces ‘Catastrophic Loss of Species’ – Environment -

Earth Faces ‘Catastrophic Loss of Species’ – Environment -

Uh, yeah. I’m not sure what’s worse about this, that the basic news it presents is already so well known and so obvious, or how little people care about it. Well, some people care, that’s the point of the biodiversity council idea talked about in the article.

There’s a clue in the article.

There have been five previous mass extinctions in the 3.5 billion-year history of life on earth. All are believed to have been caused by major geophysical events that halted photosynthesis, such as an asteroid collision or the mass eruption of super-volcanoes. The present “sixth wave” of extinction began with the migration of modern humans out of Africa about 100,000 years ago. It accelerated with the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago and began to worsen with the development of industry in the 18th century.

What factor in biodiversity loss would have started with human expansion out of Africa, speeded up with agriculture, and gotten worse with industrialization? The single factor that neatly runs through all that is habitat loss. It’s also the factor that we humans are least amenable to doing anything about. Oh, sure, we might seek out products that avoid environment-damaging packaging. We might pay a premium for vehicles that run cleaner. But to even put a lid on habitat loss would mean giving up developing those undeveloped spaces. Reversing habitat loss would mean giving up some places we’ve already developed and restoring them as places suitable for wildlife.

Yes, there are plenty of other factors that are operative in this “sixth wave” of extinctions. Even if we do something about all of the rest of them, don’t expect a sudden halt to the decline of biodiversity. We will have to come to grips with habitat loss as an issue sometime soon. Whatever way it goes, there will be plenty of pain to go with that. If we continue to blow off the issue, expect the sixth wave to continue unabated. If we make an effort to stem that outcome, there will be some high human costs associated with stemming habitat loss. If we keep or expand human population size, that means increasing density of human populations, especially in urban areas. Trying to keep human population size at its current level, or even work toward a reduction (passively, please — people die naturally soon enough), brings along its own set of hot-button issues in our society.

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Bartering Blogger Turns Paper Clip Into a Home – -

Bartering Blogger Turns Paper Clip Into a Home – -

It’s official. One red paper clip plus the Internet equals a house in Saskatchewan.

That’s the economics lesson that Kyle MacDonald has taught the world. An aspiring writer from Montreal, the 26-year-old MacDonald decided on July 12, 2005 to see if he could use the leverage of the Internet to trade for a house, beginning with a red paper clip.


On July 12, 2006, exactly one year and 14 trades from his start, MacDonald took ownership of the house in Kipling, which, appropriately enough for an aspiring writer, is said to be named for Rudyard Kipling.

MacDonald said he and his girlfriend will live there for at least a year, while he writes a book about the value of a single, red paper clip.

OK, that’s cool.

There’s plenty of stuff here that I wouldn’t mind bartering. Hmm, I’ll have to think about this a bit.

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Clones on Their Own

A study of identical twins confirms that they have individual personalities (duh!) and discusses the findings in the context of issues with human cloning.

A cloned human would probably consider themselves to be an individual, a study suggests.

Scientists drew their conclusions after interviewing identical twins about their experiences of sharing exactly the same genes with somebody else.

The team said the twins believed their genes played a limited role in shaping their identity.

The UK/Austrian research will shortly be published in the journal of Social Science and Medicine.

Co-author Dr Barbara Prainsack, from the University of Vienna, Austria, who worked with Professor Tim Spector, from the Twins Research Unit, St Thomas’ Hospital, London, UK, said: “The birth of Dolly the sheep triggered many questions about what it would be like to be a clone.

“We don’t have clones we can interview – but we do have identical twins.”

Wow. I’m unsure of what to say here. The whole study appears to be an exercise in confirming the bleeding obvious — individual existence is shaped by both genetics and environment, and recognition of individual-ness by humans has never been in doubt. Adding in some talk about “clones” makes it trendy or something, it seems.

It was obvious to me decades ago that “clone” simply did not and could not have the same connotation as one finds in science fiction’s “replicant”, though popular culture seems to think that the two significantly overlap. A person whose existence comes about through cloning starts life sharing the genes of another person, but from there development and experience will contribute to divergence in the ways that personality gets molded. Sure, genetics is a big contributor, but the notion that cloning gets you replicants of someone is — and will remain, IMHO — science fiction.

And, of course, if you mention cloning, you get knee-jerk responses from the anti-replicant faction, Denyse O’Leary in this case.

However, if children are cloned for the purposes of being “just like” whoever has the power of life or death over them, they had better take care not to show much individuality.

I don’t know exactly how that is supposed to work. I don’t see that there are any loopholes in the laws concerning infanticide and murder that would make it OK to kill a human baby or child because of some perceived mismatch with someone else’s personality. There’s some major-league paranoia going on there.

Of course, while Denyse views this study as preparing the way for acceptance of cloning-as-replication (“In what is clearly a bid to soften up the public for human cloning…”), the report already shows that the quoted co-author had made the general argument against replication and other bad aims already.

Dr Prainsack said: “According to the genetically identical people in our study, the problem would not be genetic sameness, but more the motives with which somebody would determine somebody else’s genome.

“The cloning debate would benefit from shifting away its focus from genetic sameness to looking more at social reasons for why the deliberate creation of human beings with a certain genetic make-up could hurt society.”

I wonder why Denyse didn’t mention that?

Update: As usual, PZ Myers got there first with a post on the obviousness of the study.

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Code and Recode

Between 1999 and 2001, I wrote over 50,000 lines of code for data collection and data analysis. Well, we’re starting to look at getting some other values out of the dataset than what I originally extracted. And that means that I need to get back into the code I wrote to work out getting those new values.

Fortunately for me, I was writing code in Borland’s Delphi RAD tool. There’s a lot of code, but the IDE works nicely for navigating around it. Because it is in a Pascal-like language, it isn’t as obscure as C or C++ code left alone for several years. (There’s the old joke about C being a “write-only” language, implying that it was simpler to write any application over rather than try to get reacquainted with an already-written piece of code for modification.)

For instance, I was looking at some code that dealt with intranarial pressure values and thinking, “What exactly are my units?” But this is apparent by reference to the code:

genStringGrid.Cells[ord(crp_iip),ii+1] := format('%8.2f',[mpval]);
genStringGrid.Cells[ord(crp_iip_torr),ii+1] := format('%8.2f',[mpval*10.0]);
genStringGrid.Cells[ord(crp_iip_kpa),ii+1] := format('%8.2f',[mpval*10.0*torr2kpa]);

My original units were cm Hg, multiplied by 10 to get mm Hg or torr, and then multiplied by a conversion factor to get kilopascals.

Not everything is so clear in the code I’ve got, but it should be obvious that taking a little bit of time during coding to use meaningful names for variables and constants can pay some dividends down the road when trying to understand what is going on in the source code.

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Nicotine and Hearing

Nicotine exposure during development leads to hearing problems, Today@UCI: Press Releases:

The study described in the release concerns the effect of nicotine on mice. Pregnant mice were given nicotine late in pregnancy. The offspring had reductions in hearing ability. The study went further, though, to implicate this as a specific developmental problem. The timing of exposure makes a difference. Nicotine apparently damages the acetylcholine receptors in the developing brain in utero, preventing normal hearing response in the adult.

The implication for human medicine is that pregnant smokers who are given a nicotine patch to prevent other harmful effects from cigarette smoke may still be at risk for infants whose hearing may be impaired by third-trimester exposure to the nicotine from the patch.

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Dembski Recruits O’Leary

Over at his Uncommon Descent weblog, William Dembski has set about a reorganization. His “blog-czar” for the last several months, David Scott Springer, is stepping down from moderation duties. In Springer’s place comes Denyse O’Leary, the pseudo-journalist and ID-advocate-who-will-pout-if-you-call-her-an-ID-advocate. Denyse, though, is going to get equal billing on the weblog, a consideration never countenanced for Springer.

You may remember Denyse from the Discovery Institute’s showing of “Privileged Planet” at the Smithsonian Institution in 2005. The DI had arranged the showing via the Creative Response Concepts PR agency, and all was set for essentially a stealth endorsement-by-implication as the Smithsonian routinely permits donors to add its own “sponsored by” line to invitations. Enter Denyse. A few weeks before the event, Denyse announced the affair on her weblog. From there, the Smithsonian became aware of the problem they were letting themselves in for and did what they could to implement damage control. Without Denyse’s timely alert, the event might have slid right by everyone, and we would have had the DI claiming that that Smithsonian approved of at least part of their program forever.

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NCSE News, 2006/07/14

The weekly news summary from the National Center for Science Education is up, including an MP3 of the summary read by Carrie Sager. Don’t miss it.

Dear Friends of NCSE,

Evolution education remains a burning issue in Kansas as the primary election approaches, while in Ohio there are worries about a resurgence of antievolution activity from the state board of education, and in Florida, a popular creationist speaker is in trouble with the law again.


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Kent Hovind Arrested

Apparently, law enforcement has just been collecting various offenses for the past several years, for today they rounded up Kent Hovind and his wife and arrested them, and dumped 58 charges onto the docket.

Of all the antievolutionists around, Kent Hovind has to be a frontrunner in the “unsympathetic” sweepstakes, with his in-your-face tactics and smarminess. And yet I find this latest twist to the Hovind story sad and pathetic. Certainly, he is getting what appears to be his just desserts in this affair, but it still looks to me like someone who just cannot come to grips with reality finding it confusing when reality finally comes to grips with him.

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Hugh Laurie, You’ve Been Robbed

My friend Mark Todd introduced me to the TV series House last week. After watching a number of episodes of the series, let me say to the Television Academy members who didn’t nominate Hugh Laurie for outstanding lead actor: What were you thinking?

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Habitat Loss and Migration

Yellowstone ecosystem may lose key migrant

This study points to the pronghorn antelope’s migration path to and from the Yellowstone national park and how it is in danger from human development. Six out of eight known routes have already been cut by development. On a hopeful note, the release points out that preserving the remaining routes should be relatively easy, if action is taken.

The loss of migratory corridors is one aspect of habitat loss. For conservation biology, it isn’t enough to simply set aside so much area per individual of a threatened population; one must consider the lifecycle and factors like migration. This obviously will require the coordination of effort across many human political jurisdictions in many cases. Exploitation is simple; our cultural and political norms have been honed to aid exploitation. Conservation is difficult; it most often means either reducing the rate of exploitation or deferring, perhaps permanently, some form of exploitation.

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California Burning

Last night, I was driving up I-5 from Castaic, California up to the exit to west I-580. A brush fire was being fought as I drove by in the passes near Castaic. Through the evening, I saw several other, smaller, brush fires as I travelled north.

Coincidentally, there is a report that researchers have examined the records from 1970 to 2003 and found that the duration and severity of the wildfire season in the American west has tracked the rise in temperature. Apparently, as global temperature rises, I can expect to see more wildfires during travel. Another point made is that the expected outcome is for wildfires to make the problem worse, since burnt trees aren’t converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into plant components.

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