Monthly Archives: September 2006

It Figures: Elevated Testosterone Kills Nerve Cells

ScienceDaily: Elevated Testosterone Kills Nerve Cells

The linked article describes research where cultures of nerve cells show apoptosis – a programmed cell death process – when high concentrations of testosterone are present. The link to human medicine is that treatment with testosterone or other steroids may reach concentrations that trigger apoptosis in the human brain. This could explain the various neurological and behavioral changes noted in steroid abusers, like “hyperexcitability, a highly aggressive nature, and suicidal tendencies”.

The testosterone-induced apoptosis described in this study occurs through overactivation of intracellular Ca2+ signaling pathways. Overstimulation of the apoptotic program in neurons has been associated with several neurological illnesses, such as Alzheimer disease and Huntington disease.

So, when someone mentions “testosterone poisoning”, it’s not just a funny saying anymore.

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Dolphin Tails and Animal Models

This morning, Glenn Branch IM’d me a link to the following blog post:

Pure Pedantry : Scientists in FL attempt to make prosthetic dolphin tail

Jake Young follows a quote from the original article with the following:

Crazy town. We should have more programs in animal prosthetics — because animal disability is no laughing matter.

Hmmm. While dolphin tail prosthetics may not have great potential for follow-ons in human biomedical treatment, rather a lot of biomedical progress and medical advances have occurred due to animal models. It seems to me that researchers choosing to work with animals are damned if they do it for the animal’s benefit directly (working on animals is a trivial waste of valuable research time!) and damned if they don’t do it for the animal’s benefit directly (using animals just to help out humans is evil!).

There’s not much that I can see to do about the first; either people get it or they don’t. For the second, though, there is an organization that helps people become aware of the benefits of animal models, the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR). Visit their site, consider joining up.

I sure hope that the researchers in Florida do manage to come up with a useful prosthetic. It isn’t a waste of time.

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Credit Cards and Identity Theft

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about credit card fraud and identity theft here. There’s still a huge problem with it. Tens of millions of people have already been affected, and millions more are victimized with each passing year.

My friend Skip Evans is currently dealing with a related issue, the use of fraudulent websites that steal the look, feel, and sometimes the original code of a legitimate commerical site in order to “phish” for credit card data from consumers. Skip says that he has been trying to interest various law enforcement agencies to deal with a particular case of this, with little interest so far from those agencies. If he writes that up, I’ll post it here as a guest post.

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Weekly Raptor

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Rusty launches from her perch. The time is right around sunset, so the exposure time is long enough to allow the moving wings to blur. Photo details: Fuji S2 Pro, Nikkor 70-200 AFS VR lens, ISO 800, 141mm, 1/125s, f/2.8.

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Targetting NASA

Alexander Villacampa decided to go after NASA in an essay, NASA: Exemplary of Government Waste. There’s certainly room for improvement in the way that NASA has conducted itself, but Villacampa isn’t a reform advocate:

The solution the problem of NASA overspending and endless mishaps is, like all government programs, privatization.

I’m sorry, Alex, but I’m just not comfortable with the notion of a privatized Navy, police force, or water management system. There are some things that are legitimately functions of government, and that afford far too much opportunity for malfeasance and corruption when one considers privatization. There are so many things wrong with Alex’s article, and so little right, that it will take some time to lay things out.

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Engage Cloaking Device!

Over at Bill Dembski’s Uncommon Descent weblog, the administration has found it convenient in the past to excise comments or posts that, once criticism comes in, they belatedly find were ill-advised, or just plain stupid in content. There was the notable incident of Dembski railing about how Jeff Shallit’s deposition in the Kitzmiller case last year must have been horrible, and that was why Shallit didn’t testify, and why the deposition wasn’t available for general access. IIRC, three separate posts made those false claims about Shallit. Once it became clear that the deposition had been publicly available all that time and that Dembski had been talking a bunch of demonstrably false nonsense (as when Ed Brayton quoted from the TMLC brief requesting exclusion of Shallit’s testimony in limine, showing that the defense was the party most eager to keep Shallit off the witness stand [Actually, on review, it was a quote from the ruling on the defense in limine motion.]), those several posts suddenly and silently vanished away.

Of course, people could simply turn to the Internet Archive or the Google cache to see what used to be part of UD and wasn’t anymore.

Apparently, the UD administrators, in their search for the more perfect memory hole, have discovered the power of excluding robots from their site and making specific requests to un-archive and un-cache their site. Good-bye, Internet Archive! Sayonara, Google! Hello, personal revisionism!

Update: David Springer is claiming that the UD departure from Google was not their idea, and that somebody at Google must have had it in for them and expunged UD from the Google cache all on their own.

Update: Now Springer says it was all my fault. Hmm. There’s no evidence, natch, but I’ve password-protected the BUUD site so that if there were some problem inherent in it being accessible to Google, that should now not be a problem.

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ID Advocates Just Can’t Help Themselves

Over at UD, a commenter noted the following:

“only an editor will be able to approve contributions. Otherwise the texts risk being wrong,”

We need to get some ID friendly people on the editorial staff.

This is in relation to the announcement of the Wiki textbook project, which aims to produce textbook-quality instructional materials that will be free, especially aimed at meeting the needs of developing countries.

The response above is instructive. Rather than discuss doing the things that would make ID worthwhile for someone, anyone, to learn about, like produce an actual theory, derive hypotheses from the theory, test the hypotheses with empirical evidence, show that the hypotheses are confirmed rather than falsified, publish their findings to the scientific literature, respond to criticism, and convince the scientific community that their ideas have merit, the immediate response is to game the system. Put in ID-friendly editors to insert ID wherever, whether it merits any discussion in science or not. We’ve already seen the sort of trashy ID apologetics that results from having an “ID-friendly editor” controlling a publication.

The proposed Wiki textbook project sounds like a noble effort. Inserting ID without having it pass scientific muster suborns that effort, adulterating the content with misinformation. Anyone with an ounce of integrity should be repelled by the notion that developing countries need politically mandated biology as an item we would export.

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Climate Change Roundup

Greenhouse gas bubbling from melting permafrost feeds climate warming

A study co-authored by a Florida State University scientist and published in the Sept. 7 issue of the journal Nature has found that as the permafrost melts in North Siberia due to climate change, carbon sequestered and buried there since the Pleistocene era is bubbling up to the surface of Siberian thaw lakes and into the atmosphere as methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Urgent call on carbon emissions

Kevin Andersen from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, based at the University of Manchester, said the government had no time to waste.

“For the UK we’ve seen emissions in carbon dioxide going up year on year since 1990 and we don’t envisage an immediate change in that trend.

“The government needs to set some policies in train now, and I literally mean now – within the next few months; so that say by 2010/2012, we have reversed our current growth in emissions and we then start to see very significant reductions year on year for the next 20, 30 and 40 years.

Human activities are boosting ocean temperatures in areas where hurricanes form, new study finds

Rising ocean temperatures in key hurricane breeding grounds of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are due primarily to human-caused increases in greenhouse gas concentrations, according to a study published online in the September 11 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Using 22 different computer models of the climate system, Benjamin Santer and six other atmospheric scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, together with Tom Wigley, Gerald Meehl, and Warren Washington from the Boulder-based National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and scientists from eight other research centers, have shown that the warming sea surface temperatures (SSTs) of the tropical Atlantic and Pacific oceans over the last century is linked to human activities.

Arctic ice meltdown continues with significantly reduced winter ice cover

As far as temperatures drop in the Arctic winter — on average to -34°C (-29°F) — a new study shows that in the last two years sea ice is shrinking on the surface of Arctic waters to record low levels. Using satellite data, scientists have observed unusually warm wintertime temperatures in the region and a resulting decline in the length of the Arctic ice season.

The maximum amount of sea ice in the Arctic winter has fallen by six percent over each of the last two winters, as compared to a loss of merely 1.5 percent per decade on average annually since the earliest satellite monitoring in 1979. This is happening as summer sea ice continues its retreat at an average of ten percent per decade.

Arctic sea ice diminished rapidly in 2004 and 2005

he Arctic Ocean’s perennial sea ice, which survives the summer melt season and remains year-round, shrank abruptly by 14 percent between 2004 and 2005, according to a newly published study. Researchers found that the loss of perennial ice in the East Arctic Ocean, above Europe and Asia, neared 50 percent during that time as some of the ice moved to the West Arctic Ocean, above North America.

The overall decrease in winter Arctic perennial sea ice totaled 730,000 square kilometers [280,000 square miles]–an area the size of Texas. Perennial ice can be three meters [10 feet] thick, or more. It was replaced in the winter by new, seasonal ice, which was only about 0.3 to two meters [one to seven feet] thick and more vulnerable to summer melt. The research was published 7 September in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The last two deal with readily-quantifiable measures of global climate change, showing that there is an effect. The first indicates that there is at least one positive-feedback loop involved in consideration of global warming. For those who pay attention to the properties of feedback systems, this is a very disturbing development. Once you have triggered a positive-feedback system, trying to get it back into its original state is a difficult task. There has been discussion of manmade means of subterranean carbon sequestration, none of which are anywhere near deployment on a scale that might impact global climate change. In the meantime, the article indicates that a vast natural carbon sequestration system may be currently dumping its load of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

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At the Theater

I was part of a preview audience for a play that will have its world premiere at the B Street Theater in Sacramento Sunday evening, Lune (Pronounced Loony). The setting is the premises and grounds of the Acme Corporation — yes, that Acme Corporation. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it, but take a dose of existential angst from Waiting for Godot and toss in the unseen management of Acme Corporation from the Looney Tunes cartoons and you’ll be in the right ballpark. If you like existentialism, minimalist theater, and being confused, this may be just the diversion for you. As it was, it did give Diane and I an excuse to snuggle up close in a chilly, dark place. I think the actors did fine with what they had, but I couldn’t help thinking that if that could get produced, I’ve gotta try my hand at writing a play sometime.

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Weekly Raptor

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Andrea and one of the Harris’s hawks on the hunt in San Diego. We visited San Diego last December and caught up with Andrea, who had apprenticed to Diane for falconry a few years ago. Andrea was not the usual apprentice; she already was an experienced animal trainer and is employed by the Humane Society there.

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Bicycles are Surprisingly Stable

Think about riding your bicycle… you have one, right? When you have it up to speed, it feels stable. Minor bumps don’t put you at risk for falling over. Isn’t that odd? After all, you have something between 40 and 100 kg of mass with a center of gravity probably a meter or more above the ground, and only two small bits of tire in contact with the ground at any one time. Why isn’t riding a bike more like trying to keep a broomstick balanced upright with just the tip resting in the palm of your hand and the brush part way up in the air?

It turns out that David E. H. Jones did more than idly wonder about it. His 1970 article, “The Stability of the Bicycle”, was reprinted this month in Physics Today (pp.51-56). Jones considers a number of hypotheses about why bicycles should be stable, and sets about constructing a variety of bicycles, aiming to produce the “unridable bike”, a bike that eliminates those features that yield the stability of the ordinary bicycle design.

Jones constructed a bicycle with an extra counter-rotating front tire that did not contact the ground. It was somewhat more difficult to ride, but still worked. He wrote a FORTRAN program to help with finding out about steering geometries. Along the way, the gyroscopic hypothesis of stability took several hits.

Jones’s masterpiece, his “unridable bicycle Mark IV” (URB IV) had an extension to set the front wheel about four inches ahead of its normal position, making the bicycle very unstable and just barely ridable.

It seems a lot of tortuous effort to produce in the end a machine of absolutely no utility whatsoever, but that sets me firmly in the mainstream of modern technology. At least I will have no intention of foisting the product onto a long-suffering public in the name of progress.

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Small Universal Turing Machines

I ran across my copy of Marvin Minsky’s Computation: Finite and Infinite Machines. This isn’t exactly light reading, but it is far more accessible than some other treatments I’ve run across.

One of Minsky’s topics was just how small a universal Turing machine could be made. Briefly and broadly, a Turing machine is a formalism for encoding an effective method, a series of instructions that will perform a particular task, and a universal Turing machine is such a machine that is capable of computing any function that any other Turing machine can compute.

Our universal Turing machine has the property of simulating the behavior of any Turing machine with any input tape. [...] Accepting Turing’s thesis, we conclude that the universal machine can simulate any effective process of symbol-manipulation, be it mathematical or anything else; it is a completely general instruction-obeying mechanism.

If I’ve counted correctly, Minsky’s example of a universal Turing machine in chapter 7 uses 7 symbols and 22 states. This, though, was done to make things easier to explain. One can (or at least Minsky and a few others can) substantially reduce both the number of symbols and number of states needed by sacrificing clarity of operation.

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Santayana and Shrom

I’m making my way through Glenn Shrom’s book, Getting Past the Culture Wars: Regarding Intelligent Design. I’ve run across something that I think is worthy of some immediate attention.

Two separate yet simultaneous battles

In discussing this book that I am writing, my wife, Jane, pointed out to me what I would have called two different approaches on intelligent design – one helpful and the other harmful. She prefers to consider them as two separate battles in the culture wars, both worthy of being fought in their own right.

One approach or battle says:

Of two religions, one is being heard in the science class¬room and the other isn’t. We should level the playing field by either teaching both or teaching neither. Let’s teach both. (This position was also taken by one of the Elizabethtown forum theology speakers, but regrettably I forget which one.)

The other approach or battle says:

Of two scientific theories, one is being heard in the science classroom and the other isn’t. We should level the playing field, etc. (This is what I feel is the winning approach for all parties.)

(Getting Past the Culture Wars, p.42; emphasis added.)

It turns out that, far from advocating “getting past” the culture wars, Glenn Shrom is an advocate of a particular strategy of antievolutionist culture warriors that dates back several decades. (Unless, of course, one thinks that “getting past” the culture wars is accomplished by saying that the pro-science side should simply unconditionally surrender.)

The strategy in question has been called “equal time” and “balanced treatment”. It was developed shortly after the 1968 SCOTUS decision in Epperson v. Arkansas. Antievolutionists were frustrated in their outright attempts to exclude the teaching of evolutionary biology entirely in that case; the courts ruled that scientific concepts could not be excluded from public school science curricula because of perceived incompatibility with sectarian religious concepts.

For the sake of simplicity, I will use one reference to establish the antiquity and the similarity of what Shrom advises us is a “winning approach for all parties” and what represents the documented victory conditions for antievolutionists to win their culture war. The book also shows that both stategies discussed by Shrom have long been part of the antievolution culture war. That book is Louisiana state senator Bill Keith’s Scopes II: The Great Debate. Keith was behind the Louisiana Balanced Treatment Act passed in 1981 and struck down by the SCOTUS Edwards v. Aguillard decision in 1987. Here are some of the relevant passages:

“Having been an adjunct professor of constitutional law, having lectured on origins, creation and evolution from a legal viewpoint, and having studied and having researched this legal issue for many years, it is my belief that the passage of your bill to teach scientific creationism or scientific evolution are not only constitutional, but failure to teach either one without the other is, in my opinion, placing the government and the school board in an unneutral position, which would be unconstitutional. Teach both or teach neither, and you have neutrality and constitutionality.” [quoting Judge Braswell Dean]


“We are not asking that religion be presented in the classroom but we are asking that scientific evidences supporting both of these alternative points of view be presented,” she said. “We call upon all of the school boards, manufacturers of textbooks, concerned citizens, and teachers of educational agencies to resist pressures towards scientific dogmatism and presentation of only one point of view of origins.” [quoting Kay Riebolt]


Creationists answered them and tried to explain that creation-science is pure science and as unreligious as evolu¬tion. Science and not Genesis. Science and not the Old Testament. But most evolutionists’ minds are completely closed because their belief is based on faith and not on facts.


“Both creation-science and evolution-science can be equivalently scientific, just as they can be equivalently religious. I believe the best way to find truth is not to talk
dogmatically about one conceptual framework but to consider pros and cons and to assess alternative conceptual frameworks.” [quoting Scott Morrow]


“The fact that many of the people who advocate that schools teach students about the concept of creation in an unbiased manner do believe the Bible is no justification for banning Act 590,” Sunderland said. “Otherwise evolution should also be banned because it is advocated by people who believe the Bible and who claim that it is completely compatible with the Bible. Furthermore, evolution is explicitly written in the basic statement of belief of humanists — the Humanist Manifesto. So, using Judge Overton’s arguments, evolution must also be banned from public school classrooms.” [quoting Luther Sunderland]


On the subject of religious doctrine being taught in the schools, the suit says:
“The plaintiffs agree that public school instruction in the Biblical account of creation or religious doctrine of evolution would violate the establishment clause, but suggest that public school instruction in the scientific evidences for creation-science and . . . evolution-science fully conform . . . and that the science can be taught without the religion.”

The suit also addresses the religious nature of evolution. It says:
“Creation-science is as nonreligious as evolution-science. . . . The concept of evolution-science is consistent with some particular religious beliefs to the same extent that the concept of creation-science is consistent with some particular religious beliefs; this does not suggest that either explanation is itself inherently religious. . . . Evolution is a doctrine of a number of religious faiths (both Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and non-Judeo-Christian) to the same extent that creation is a doctrine of a number of religous faiths . . . but this does not preclude the existence of scientific evidence and related inferences supporting either. . . . [quoting from LA lawsuit over the Balanced Treatment Act]

Those demonstrate clearly that Shrom’s two strategies are old hat, and that acceding to either is a one-sided victory for antievolutionists, not some middle ground that may be reached with compromise on both sides.

I will provide some more content from Keith’s book to document that this is well and truly a culture war in progress based upon the indicated strategies:

If you are fed up with evolution being indoctrinated into the minds of your children, then it’s time to speak up and take a stand for truth.
Here are some things you can do:
1. Become thoroughly informed on the subject of crea¬tion vs. evolution. Read everything you can find. Vast resources are available. There are a number of scientific groups, such as the Institute for Creation Research, San Diego, California, that will provide materials to help you.
2. Once you are thoroughly informed, go to your public school science teacher and present the information to him/her asking that consideration be given to creation-science, the alternate view concerning origins. Be sure to have some good materials available for the teacher. Never be dogmatic or demanding. Make a good presentation and hope the teacher will have an open mind.
3. Many of the teachers will thank you for giving them the information and some will begin giving equal time to creation-science along with evolution-science. There is no law whatsoever which precludes teachers from teaching both theories of origins.
However, if the teacher fails to implement creation-science in the classrooms, the next step is to go to the prin¬cipal and discuss it with him. Make the same presentation of factual materials and encourage him to institute it in the school. Explain to the principal that as a parent — who pays taxes to build school buildings, pays teachers’ salaries, and purchases textbooks — you want both concepts presented fairly to your children.
4. Should the principal not be open to the idea, the next step is to go before the school board. Take a large group of people with you who believe like you do. Remember this when you go before any body of elected officials: you have a right to have someone represent you and your point of view. That is the basis of true democracy. So don’t be hesitant. You are a taxpayer and a voter and you have every right to expect elected officials to respond to your requests.
If at all possible, it would be good to talk to the school board members one by one prior to going before the full board The reason for this is simple. If there is only one board member who is antagonistic toward creation-science, he might be able to sway the entire group, particularly in a public meeting. However, if each board member has had time to think about the issue and study creationist materials, he may decide it is a pretty good idea. Remember that school boards in Dallas, Texas; Tampa, Florida; Bossier City, Louisiana; and a host of other areas have ruled in favor of the balanced treatment of the subject of origins.
5. Hopefully you will get a favorable response from the board. But what if you do not? Then you need to wait until election time and elect a new board that will favor teaching both theories.
Once people realize how dangerous evolution is in the classroom it will be quite easy to rally support behind a pro¬creation candidate. All the polls show that at least 75 per¬cent of the people believe in the balanced treatment..
If you can organize only 100 people who will work for a candidate, and work hard, you can elect people to office. But it requires time, effort and a lot of hard work.
Let me explain some things you will need to do:
* Find a qualified candidate. People won’t vote for just anyone, regardless of what he or she may believe.
* Raise some financial support for that candidate. He can’t win a political campaign without posters, handbills, campaign cards, newspaper advertising and radio and television exposure.
* A door-to-door campaign must be carried out on behalf of the candidate by the 100 workers. Just imagine what 100 people could do working in a campaign. If 100 people visited 50 homes on a Saturday that would be 5,000 homes. During a period of one month that same 100 people could contact 20,000 homes in behalf of a candidate.
* During the door-to-door campaign on behalf of the can¬didate, you should make sure that you explain to each per¬son what is happening in the schools, why you believe
creation-science should be given equal time, and that your candidate is committed to the concepts of openness and fairness in the public schools.
* You should also select a candidate who is knowledge¬able in various other areas of school life and has a genuine desire to help improve schools. It is wrong to support one-issue candidates and most of the general public feel strongly about those who do so.
6. Contact your senator and representative and tell them you are interested in fairness in the instruction of origins. You can write them a letter or call them on the telephone. But the very best approach would be to visit them personally, discuss the subject at length and provide them with some background reading materials on the subject.
When you visit a legislator it would be good to take a half dozen other people with you so he will understand there is widespread grass-roots interest in the subject.
Public officials are elected to carry out the will of the people. It is only a myth that parents have no right to say what should and should not be presented to children in the public schools.
7. After you have contacted your legislator or other public official, then encourage your friends, relatives and neighbors to do the same.


8. Call on the various groups to help you in your efforts. Some of them are: The Pro Family Forum; Veterans of Foreign Wars; American Legion; large segments of the membership of free trade unions; and the majority of businessmen. Some church groups favor the balanced treat¬ment of creation-science, others oppose it.
9. Start petition drives in your neighborhood. The most effective approach would be to divide neighborhoods up into precincts and then blocks. Choose both precinct and block captains. The block captain would take the petition to every household on the block, then report back to the precinct captain who would coordinate the efforts and compile the petition signatures.
The petitions then should be presented to the elected of¬ficials.
10. Here are some of the basics you would need to know in order to talk to elected officials about creation-science:
* There are valid scientific evidences which point to a Creator as being responsible for everything in the universe. Thousands of scientists all across America believe this.
* Creation-science is just as scientific as evolution-science.
* There are textbooks available which present the balanced treatment of the two theories.
* The law of biogenesis, universally accepted, tells us that living matter does not originate from non-living matter. The law points to creation and refutes evolution. What’s wrong with presenting the law to schoolchildren?
* The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that the universe is gradually running down, not building up as the evolutionists would have us believe.
* In the fossil record, whenever man appeared he was a pure man. Monkeys were pure monkeys. All the so-called “missing links” have been proven to be hoaxes or errors. If man evolved from lower forms during a process which took millions of years, there should be billions of half-monkey half-men in the fossil record. But there are none and that points to creation.
* The creation-science movement in America today is not trying to get rid of the teaching of evolution. We are only asking that the alternative theory of creation be given equal time. This will allow the schoolchildren to make up their own minds and not be indoctrinated in only one point of view.
* You need to note that various Supreme Court rulings have said that government is supposed to remain neutral regarding religion. Yet, evolution is the religion of secular humanists, atheists, religious humanists and theological liberals. Therefore, teaching only evolution advances those religions that believe in evolution — and that’s unfair.
* The balanced treatment prohibits specific religious instruction. For instance, the creation story out of Genesis would not be taught. Instruction would be limited to those scientific evidences which point to creation or evolution.
11. Remember, the school board members or legislators will never know how you feel on the subject unless you tell them.


Remember that creation-science is pure science and has nothing to do with religion. But the strategy of the evolutionists is to try to make it appear only to be religion.

SciCre, “creation science”, “intelligent design”, and whatever antievolutionists decide to call the ensemble of bogus antievolution arguments that make up those movements are sectarian religion, which has no place in public school science classrooms. Even Glenn Shrom notes in the quote at the top that there exist culture wars worth fighting. This is the one i’ve volunteered for. It’s also the one Glenn Shrom is fighting, on the wrong side, picking up the sleazy, deceptive strategies behind SciCre and “creation science” and making them his own. It’s rather ironic that Glenn simply didn’t know enough about this topic when writing his book to accurately title it, Cluelessly Perpetuating the Culture Wars. Score yet another one for Santayana.

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Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network Rummage Sale

Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network Rummage Sale

For those of you in the Houston region, this news item notes that the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network will be holding a rummage sale at the Fort Crockett campus of Texas A&M University at Galveston, Galveston, TX, on September 23rd, with proceeds going to TMMSN.

If you are around, consider visiting and buying something, or donating something for the sale. If not, consider supporting the group with a cash donation.

I worked with TMMSN between 1994 and 1998 as a volunteer. It’s a good outfit, and worthy of your aid.

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Plantinga and Wishful Philosophizing

ID advocate and philosopher Alvin Plantinga has a reputation for operating at a higher level than the mass of ID advocates. Over at After the Bar Closes, a commenter noted that Plantinga had weighed in on the falsifiability of “intelligent design”. One might have expected Plantinga to be somewhat more astute about this than his colleagues, William Dembski and Michael Behe, who have each demonstrated that they didn’t have a clue what the concept meant in the past (or, alternatively, they knew full well and spewed misleading and erroneous material about it on purpose; take your pick). One would be wrong. Plantinga is just as much a patzer (or con artist; again, take your pick) as the other two ID advocates.

The specific problematic reference is in a Plantinga article available online at Science and Theology News.

For example, the statement “God has designed 800-pound rabbits that live in Cleveland” is clearly testable, clearly falsifiable and indeed clearly false. Testability can’t be taken as a criterion for distinguishing scientific from nonscientific statements. That is because in the typical case individual statements are not verifiable or falsifiable.

As another example, the statement “There is at least one electron” is surely scientific, but it isn’t by itself verifiable or falsifiable. What is verifiable or falsifiable are whole theories involving electrons. These theories make verifiable or falsifiable predictions, but the sole statement “There is at least one electron” does not. In the same way, whole theories involving intelligent designers also make verifiable or falsifiable predictions, even if the bare statement that life has been intelligently designed does not.

Sir Karl Popper is the name most noted as promulgating falsifiability as a specific, well-defined concept and as a demarcation criterion for science. Popper’s falsifiability concept is pretty much discounted now in the philosophy of science field as giving a demarcation criterion for scientific statements. But whatever the academic status of falsifiability as a concept in separating science from non-science might be, we can still compare ID advocates’s representations of it to what Popper actually said and determine whether they seem to have a clue or, as the case may be, are simply talking nonsense.

One thing to get out of the way is the silly notion of Plantinga’s that anybody seriously thinks that any falsifiable statement is thus rendered a scientific statement. There are plenty of statements that have nothing to do with the natural sciences that are falsifiable. Popper, for example, never said that falsifiability was a sufficient criterion to make something science; he only asserted that it was a necessary criterion.

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‘Frankenstein protein’ defies biology textbooks

‘Frankenstein protein’ defies biology textbooks – life – 07 September 2006 – New Scientist

This article relates a research finding that the sequence of amino acids in a protein is not completely determined by the sequence of bases in our DNA — some post-transcriptional shuffling can be done by proteasomes. In particular, the research was looking at leukemia cells. The presence of altered antigenic protein on the cell surface means that many more different proteins can be produced from one DNA template.

The article says that the finding makes a peptide vaccine targeting such antigenic proteins more applicable. I think I need to locate my copy of Science to check out what they say in the original, since i’m not making sense of it in the news report. Any molbio sorts who would like to fill me in, please leave a comment. It seems to me that a peptide vaccine would be just as liable to be rendered ineffective as particular antibodies in the immune system when the matching antigen may be changed.

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Reef fish lives fast, dies young

News in Science – Reef fish lives fast, dies young – 08/09/2006

Lifespan of the coral reef pygmy goby: 59 days, tops. This is, according to the report, the shortest adult lifespan of any vertebrate species. The researchers figured this out by examining the otoliths or “ear bones”. These have a daily pattern of accretion, so microscopic examination can count up the rings — just like tree tings, said the article.

Now the diminutive fish, challenged in the dimension of time as well as the usual three of space, has a place in the Guiness Book of World Records. The acceptance of the research findings reported last year are, in fact, what generated media interest at this time.

The otoliths are not “ear bones” in the sense that we use to refer to the malleus, incus, and stapes of our middle ear. They are, instead, the same sort of thing that we have in our vestibular system, that gives us feedback on our attitude: these help tell us which way is up.

Our older dog, Farli, has developed an apparent problem with her vestibular system this week. She is having a hard time figuring out which way is up. This is a not uncommon occurrence in senior dogs. As short as we think our companion animal’s lives are, there’s something sobering about realizing that our Farli has already lived over 81 complete lifetimes of coral reef pygmy goby, and I have lived over 288 such lifetimes.

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News in Science – Reef fish lives fast, dies young – 08/09/2006

News in Science – Reef fish lives fast, dies young – 08/09/2006

Lifespan of the coral reef pygmy goby: 59 days, tops. This is, according to the report, the shortest adult lifespan of any vertebrate species. The researchers figured this out by examining the otoliths or “ear bones”. These have a daily pattern of accretion, so microscopic examination can count up the rings — just like tree tings, said the article.

Now the diminutive fish, challenged in the dimension of time as well as the usual three of space, has a place in the Guiness Book of World Records. The acceptance of the research findings reported last year are, in fact, what generated media interest at this time.

The otoliths are not “ear bones” in the sense that we use to refer to the malleus, incus, and stapes of our middle ear. They are, instead, the same sort of thing that we have in our vestibular system, that gives us feedback on our attitude: these help tell us which way is up.

Our older dog, Farli, has developed an apparent problem with her vestibular system this week. She is having a hard time figuring out which way is up. This is a not uncommon occurrence in senior dogs. As short as we think our companion animal’s lives are, there’s something sobering about realizing that our Farli has already lived over 81 complete lifetimes of coral reef pygmy goby, and I have lived over 288 such lifetimes.

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Are Dolphins Dimbulbs?

Paul Manger has found a fast-track to academic notoriety: say something controversial about dolphin intelligence. Specifically, Manger contends that dolphin brain size and constituent cell type is consistent with rapid size increase to adapt to a cold marine environment, and is inconsistent with brain size increase for increasing intelligence.

Manger’s paper lays out two lines of evidence for high intelligence of cetaceans: encephalization quotient and complexity of vocalization repertoire. The first doesn’t necessarily have to do with increasing intelligence, says Manger; an alternative selective gradient can produce the same. As for the second, Manger pretty much dismisses vocalization repertoires as not being out of the ordinary for non-human animals, and thus not indicative of high intelligence. Confident that he has dispatched the case for high cetacean intelligence, Manger goes on to his neuroanatomical review.

Of particular interest to me was this paragraph from Manger’s paper:

The neuronal control of vocalisation in various mammalian species has been extensively studied, and the neural circuitry that underlies vocalisation can be described (reviewed by Ju¨rgens, 1998). Neurons from the anterior cingulate cortex project to four locations : the medial nucleus of the amygdala, the hypothalamus, the midline dorsal thalamus and the lateral periaqueductal grey matter. The amygdala, hypothalamus, and dorsal thalamus in turn project to the periaqueductal grey matter. The periaqueductal grey matter then projects to the nucleus ambiguus and nucleus retroambiguus, which constitute the phonatory motoneurons and premotoneurons controlling the vocal cords and respiratory muscles. Two interesting features of the mammalian vocal control system of relevance to the cetaceans are : (1) the majority of the vocal control system of the telencephalon belongs to the limbic system; and (2) all telencephalic control of vocalisation is channeled to the brainstem through the periaqueductal grey matter.

If Manger is basing his views of odontocete neuroanatomy as it relates to vocalization as it apparently controls the “vocal cords”, then essentially anything he says about that neural control can be summarily discarded as irrelevant: odontocete vocalizations are primarily produced at the phonic lips, not the “vocal cords”. For example:

Previous studies have shown that the anterior cingulate cortex of monkeys is important in the voluntary control of vocalisations (Sutton, Larson & Lindeman, 1974). Thus, as the cetacean limbic system is reduced, and the anterior cingulate cortex is both reduced and lacks a granular region, it is not unlikely that the voluntary control of vocalisation by cetaceans suffers serious deficiencies. However, as the amygdala appears normal, we can also conclude that involuntary species-specific intonations provided to vocalisations by this structure (Ju¨rgens, 1998) are present.

The first conclusion critically depends upon the mechanism of sound production being the same in both monkeys and dolphins. It isn’t, and the conclusion doesn’t follow. For a review paper, this strikes me as particularly inept on Manger’s part.

I’m hoping to have a chat with a colleague who is a marine mammal anatomist later this afternoon. I’ll let you know whether I’m on track here or have a helping of crow for dinner.

The link to antievolution argumentation lies in the shallowness of Manger’s approach, and the corresponding shallowness seen in antievolution argument. There are more lines of evidence for cetacean intelligence than Manger reviews, yet he acts as if he has accounted for all the relevant data in his dismissal. This is a common tactic among antievolutionists as well.

As an example of the shallowness I referred to, Manger discusses the repertoire of whistle vocalizations in bottlenose dolphins. Having found a handful of references that state that these can be categorized in less than ten types, Manger rests his case that nothing outside the non-human animal norm is to be seen here. Manger completely overlooks the fact that bottlenose dolphins produce another, entirely different, repertoire of vocalizations, those that are based upon click trains. In fact, most of the words used to describe dolphin vocalizations actually describe click train-based calls, not whistles. The scientific literature has rather a lot of information on one particular subset of click-based vocalizations in dolphins: those used for biosonar. It has rather less about click-based vocalizations used for intraspecific communication. Manger does not note the existence of these vocalizations for the purpose of his review of neural control of repertoire. Manger does take up the case of whether the dolphin’s brian needed to be larger to process received biosonar signals, which makes it all the more curious as to why he failed to consider their production.

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