Monthly Archives: June 2007

Another Useless Rating

Online Dating

Mingle2Online Dating

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

* death (5x)
* dead (3x)
* pain (1x)

The “death” and “dead” references come mostly from the imported LA Times Science Files summaries I have up. The “pain” reference occurs in my post about my medical condition and prescriptions.

It seems pretty easy to get to “R” in the linked rating scheme…

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Jo Hovind Sentenced

Jo Hovind, antievolutionist Kent Hovind’s wife and co-defendant in a tax evasion case, was sentenced today to one year and one day in federal prison, to be followed by three years of supervision.

Various comments at the Pensacola News Journal express a wish that both Kent and Jo Hovind share the same sentence. That didn’t happen.

I don’t think that I’m in a good position to second-guess the judge’s decision in sentencing, but I think for myself that given what bit I know and if I were the judge, I would have handed down the same sentence as Kent Hovind got, then suspended it and given Jo the same period on probation, the remainder of the prison term to be served if she violated probation. My thinking behind that is that on the one hand, Jo Hovind was a willing accomplice in the crimes committed. She deserves the same length of sentence on that score. On the other hand, Jo Hovind, by the accounts I have heard, was likely following her husband’s criminal lead, and at least showed some signs of remorse for her actions, and likely not to violate the law again. That would argue for the suspended sentence with probation. It would make it somewhat more likely, also, the the restitution ordered by the court actually got paid.

But as I said, I don’t have all the facts, as the judge did, and I may have been misinformed about the remorse and apparent willingness to “straighten up and fly right” on Jo Hovind’s part.

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LA Times Science Files for 2007/06/29

These are items compiled by staff of the LA Times.

  • GENETICS
    DNA team transforms one bacterium into another

    Biologists have converted one species of bacterium into another by replacing all of its DNA, a critical step toward their ultimate goal of designing entire organisms from scratch, according to a study published Thursday. The transplanted DNA took over its single-cell host in about three days. The resulting bacterium was indistinguishable from the donor species, the researchers reported in the online edition of the journal Science. By Karen Kaplan, Times Staff Writer.

  • SPACE EXPLORATION
    The Lewis and Clark of Mars

    The ruddy surface of the alien world unraveled before Ken Edgett’s eyes in noodle-like strips. Each image from the camera aboard the Mars Global Surveyor covered a two-mile-wide swath of dunes, rock valleys and jagged ribbons of carbon dioxide ice. Twelve orbits a day, for eight years. A total of 243,926 pictures of the Martian wasteland. By John Johnson Jr., Times Staff Writer.

  • FOOD SAFETY
    FDA says Chinese fish tainted

    WASHINGTON – The list of quality-compromised goods from China got longer Thursday as federal authorities slapped a highly unusual hold on shrimp and certain fish from that country after tests showed contamination from potentially harmful drugs. By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Times Staff Writer.

  • ARCHEOLOGY
    Ancient farming in South America

    South Americans were raising crops at least 10,000 years ago, about 5,000 years earlier than previously thought and nearly contemporary with the emergence of agriculture in the Old World, based on new ages obtained for agricultural samples excavated from the Andes 20 years ago. By Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writer.

  • MENTAL HEALTH
    High court spares mentally ill killer

    The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Texas could not execute a severely mentally ill man because he could not comprehend why he was going to be put to death. The 5 to 4 ruling, written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, spared the life of Scott Louis Panetti, 49, who murdered his former in-laws in 1992 after battling mental health problems for years. By Henry Weinstein, Times Staff Writer.

  • GENETICS
    Domestic cats’ origin shifts a bit

    Friendly felines first cozied up to humans in the Fertile Crescent at least 9,500 years ago, not in Egypt as commonly thought, an international team of researchers reported Thursday. While archeological evidence had previously suggested the date for the taming of wildcats, the new study, published in the journal Science, provides genetic evidence that confirms the Near Eastern origin of domestic cats. By Amber Dance, Times Staff Writer.

  • PUBLIC HEALTH
    Mexico City faces smoking ban

    MEXICO CITY – Sure, the dateline says Mexico City, but this place is turning more San Francisco every day. City lawmakers this year have legalized abortion and same-sex civil unions. Next up? A ban on smoking in restaurants, schools, taxis and buses. By Sam Enriquez and Cecilia Sanchez, Times Staff Writers.

  • ENVIRONMENT
    Chairman of state air resources board fired

    The chairman of the California Air Resources Board, Robert F. Sawyer, was fired by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week amid mounting criticism of the agency’s leadership on global warming and air pollution policies. By Janet Wilson, Times Staff Writer.

  • MOVIE REVIEW
    “Sicko”

    Michael Moore is back again examining America’s healthcare system in the aptly named “Sicko.” It’s likely his most important, most impressive, most provocative film, and it’s different from his others in significant ways. By Kenneth Turan, Times Staff Writer.

  • POINTS WEST
    Governor, show a little care for the mentally ill

    Hey, Gov. Schwarzenegger, it’s been too long since our last cigar. You busy the next few days? Yeah, I know. You’re always busy in budget season. But that’s all the more reason for us to get together. If you can squeeze it in, I’d like to introduce you to a few people who have caught some tragically tough breaks in life and now face the possibility of another: a $55-million budget cut by you. By Steve Lopez, Times Staff Writer.

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Yecke in Her Own Words

There has been controversy over a particular quote of Cheri Pierson Yecke. The Princeton Union-Eagle reported on October 9th, 2003 that Yecke had said local schools districts could teach “intelligent design”. I copied that quote in a post here on August 30, 2005. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from ReputationDefenders on Yecke’s behalf asking for removal of the quote on the grounds that it was false.

Several Minnesotans have said that the position noted by the Princeton Union-Eagle was, in fact, accurate. Over on Greg Laden’s blog, “Cat’s Staff” noted that a Minnesota TV station had video of Yecke discussing the science standards. I viewed it, then transcribed the relevant part. As far as I am concerned, the Princeton Union-Eagle is vindicated in this matter; at the time that they reported, Cheri Pierson Yecke was indeed saying that teaching “intelligent design” was a decision that local school districts could undertake. Both the quote from the Princeton Union-Eagle and the subsequent criticism I made of Yecke’s position on the issue are upheld by this source.

Read on for the details.

Continue reading

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LA Times Science Files for 2007/06/28

These are items compiled by staff of the LA Times.

  • MEDICINE
    Birth defect-antidepressant link found

    Infants born to women taking commonly prescribed antidepressants during the first trimester of their pregnancies have an increased risk of serious birth defects, though the danger remains tiny, according to two studies published today. By Denise Gellene, Times Staff Writer.

  • MENTAL HEALTH
    Gaming junkies get no diagnosis

    Video-game buffs might feel hooked on their favorite titles, but they won’t be officially addicted anytime soon. Saying the issue needed more study, the American Medical Assn. on Wednesday scaled back a controversial proposal that sought to declare excessive video-game playing a mental disorder akin to pathological gambling. By Alex Pham, Times Staff Writer.

  • HEALTHCARE
    A $962,120 medical bill error

    Helen Dorroh White thought she was doing the right thing when she called a health insurance company to question a nearly $1-million medical bill. Instead, she said, no one seemed to care. By Daniel Yi, Times Staff Writer.

  • FOOD SAFETY
    Chinese food safety campaign shuts down 180 plants

    BEIJING – Bruised by international reaction to food safety lapses, the Chinese government announced Wednesday that regulators here have shut down 180 food manufacturers this year after finding such potentially toxic ingredients as formaldehyde in candy, pickles, biscuits and other common fare. By Mitchell Landsberg, Times Staff Writer.

  • PETRIFIED FOREST
    A buried treasure of trees

    Yakima, Wash. – Clyde Friend’s life changed the moment his bulldozer hit the first tree on a hot summer afternoon in 2002 as he leveled a hill behind his workshop. Friend spent the rest of the summer, and much of the last five years, unearthing what scientists have since confirmed as an ancient hardwood forest that was buried under lava about 15 million years ago. By Tomas Alex Tizon, Times Staff Writer.

  • ENDANGERED SPECIES
    Bald eagle removed from imperiled list

    The American bald eagle, revered and reviled over more than two centuries, today will be officially declared safe from extinction in the lower 48 states. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which led a four-decade effort to resuscitate the national bird, is taking it off the Endangered Species list. By Margot Roosevelt, Times Staff Writer.

  • HEALTHCARE
    Bush criticizes children’s health plan

    WASHINGTON – Laying down a marker on healthcare, President Bush on Wednesday strongly criticized a push by Democrats and some moderate Republicans to broaden a popular children’s insurance program. Bush called the plan a step toward a government takeover of medicine. By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Times Staff Writer.

  • PUBLIC LANDS
    Army range wants more Arizona desert

    A plan to expand an Army artillery range could annex as much as 500,000 acres of federally managed desert in southwestern Arizona that is home to a variety of wildlife, including desert bighorn sheep, Sonoran desert tortoise and endangered lesser long-nosed bats. By Alison Williams, Times Staff Writer.

  • WILDLIFE
    Opossums: your garden’s evening clean-up crew

    Opossums are nature’s clean-up crew, working the graveyard shift. Like little dust busters, they cruise the landscape, round ears tilted like satellite dishes, fleshy pink snoots to the ground. They feast on snails and slugs, perhaps even a cockroach or two. By Lili Singer, Special to The Times.

  • OPINION
    Is bad medicine better than none?

    If Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital is closed, will the people of Watts, Willowbrook and Compton be worse off? Joe R. Hicks and Earl Ofari Hutchinson debate the fight and the endgame over the troubled medical center.

  • OPINION
    Doubletalk won’t pay the AIDS bills

    Last month, President Bush made headlines when he announced a proposal to double U.S. spending on global AIDS to $30 billion between 2009 and 2013. But let’s take a closer look at the proposal. The fine print shows that Bush is really just extending AIDS funding at its current level for the next five years. By Paul Zeitz.

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LA Times Science Files for 2007/06/27

These are items compiled by staff of the LA Times.

  • EGYPTOLOGY
    Unraveling a mummy from inside out

    Egyptian archeologists say they have definitively identified the mummy of Hatshepsut, the only woman to rule ancient Egypt while the kingdom was at the height of its wealth and power. By Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writer.

  • WILDFIRES
    Tahoe flames resume march

    SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, CALIF. – In a temporary setback for strained firefighters and a ravaged community, flames leaped a containment line Tuesday afternoon, threatening hundreds of homes only hours after residents had felt that it was safe to return. By Tim Reiterman and Lee Romney, Times Staff Writers.

  • MEDICINE
    King hospital gets another reprieve

    Los Angeles County supervisors Tuesday backed off a threat to begin closing Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, opting instead to give the beleaguered facility a reprieve as it prepares for a last-chance government inspection next month. By Jack Leonard and Charles Ornstein, Times Staff Writers.

  • ENERGY
    Exxon, Conoco drop Venezuela oil projects

    BOGOTA, COLOMBIA – Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips have decided to abandon their heavy crude oil projects in eastern Venezuela rather than cede majority ownership and operating control to the government, Venezuelan officials said Tuesday. By Chris Kraul, Times Staff Writer.

  • DISABILITY
    NFL fails on disability issue, House panel told

    WASHINGTON – Four former football players Tuesday told a House panel that the NFL’s disability retirement system is broken, and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) chastised league and union leaders for failing to treat injured retirees and their families in a dignified manner. By Claudia Lauer, Times Staff Writer.

  • ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATION
    Coalition sues in bid to block MTA fare hikes

    Three groups representing local public transit riders and conservation interests united Tuesday in an effort to require the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to hold off on fare increases until their environmental effects can be measured. By Tiffany Hsu, Times Staff Writer.

  • OBITUARIES
    John Todd, 96; Caltech professor pioneered use of computers in math

    John Todd, the Caltech mathematician who was a pioneer in the development of numerical analysis for computers and played a key role in the development of some of the first large computers, has died. He was 96. By Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writer.

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Augustine’s Ghost

David Heddle has a post ripping into the goings-on at William Dembski’s “Uncommon Descent” weblog.

Uncommon Descent is again proving to be a major embarrassment. Or, more accurately, it has not yet ceased its never ending pursuit of making a fool of itself. The state of affairs is so bad that I really don’t know how other members of the ID community refrain from publically distancing themselves from the site’s absurdity. It would be amusing if it were not for the fact that, by extension and association, Christianity is impugned in the process.

There’s a good deal more. Check it out.

Now, you should understand that Heddle is a former non-nuanced advocate of “intelligent design”. Over the past year or so Heddle has repudiated element after element of the Discovery Institute’s version of “intelligent design” and has broken with the “big tent” strategy that mandates that young-earth creationism will not be criticized. His current position, IIRC, is that he still thinks that “intelligent design” can be cast as a valid scientific research program based upon cosmological arguments.

Myself, I think that attempts to rehabilitate the label “intelligent design” are simply wrong. “Intelligent design” as a purported field of human endeavor originated as a new label for “creation science”, and the whole of the intent behind its creation was to allow creation science advocates to evade the Edwards v. Aguillard Supreme Court decision and have their arguments taught in K-12 classes anyway. It is bad civics, and unquestionably morally corrosive.

But then, I’ve found antievolution as a whole to be a field where professional mendacity is rampant. The wholesale telling of falsehoods that underlies the body of argumentation that comprises antievolution has long elicited from me the same reaction that Heddle is having now with respect to the recent UD shenanigans.

I can’t claim any originality, though, in thinking that passing off rampant nonsense as truth harms Christian belief. That goes back at least 16 centuries.

Often a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances,… and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do all that we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, lest the unbeliever see only ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn.

(St. Augustine, “De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis))

I have, by the way, been trying off and on for some time now to fill in the ellipses in the above quote, so far without success. If anyone can clear that up, please let me know.

Update: Glenn Branch sent me a link to a fuller quotation:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]

Thanks. I feel better knowing that the ellipsis is harmless, if inexplicably pointless.

Update: The mainstream media is starting to notice the extremist cant at UD.

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LA Times Science Files for 2007/06/26

These are items compiled by staff of the LA Times.

  • SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, CALIF. – Some fires race across grasslands and others burn miles

    to treetop. The blaze that has destroyed so much so quickly near Lake Tahoe is the latter, the kind known as a “crown fire” to those who struggle to fight them, let alone understand them. By Steve Chawkins and Tim Reiterman, Times Staff Writers.

  • PALEONTOLOGY
    Fossil of giant penguin found in Peru

    Researchers reported Monday that they had unearthed two fossil penguins, one of which stood 5 feet tall, that lived in the warm climate of prehistoric Peru – a discovery that promises to change the way scientists think about penguins and cold weather. By Amber Dance, Times Staff Writer.

  • HEALTH
    NFL disability issue to get airing on Capitol Hill

    Brent Boyd was a 23-year-old rookie scrambling to stick with the Minnesota Vikings when he suffered his first concussion as a professional football player. Nearly three decades later, the preseason-game collision that left Boyd temporarily blind in one eye continues to haunt. By Greg Johnson, Times Staff Writer.

  • ENVIRONMENT
    Owl’s ‘critical habitat’ may be reduced

    For the first time since coming under federal protection 15 years ago, the northern spotted owls’ forest haven may be in jeopardy. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to decrease the owls’ “critical habitat” by 1.5 million acres, or 22%. By Alison Williams, Times Staff Writer.

  • PUBLIC HEALTH
    Ex-EPA chief defends accounts of 9/11 air quality

    WASHINGTON – Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, appearing Monday before a House subcommittee, denounced as “downright falsehoods” criticism of her statements following the Sept. 11 attacks that the air quality in areas around the World Trade Center site was safe for workers and residents. By Claudia Lauer, Times Staff Writer.

  • PUBLIC HEALTH
    New campaign against sexually transmitted diseases

    To combat rising rates of syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea, Los Angeles County officials will launch a public health campaign today that uses drink coasters, murals, sidewalk chalk art and other unconventional approaches to advertise the need to get tested. By Mary Engel, Times Staff Writer.

  • ARCHEOLOGY
    A lively debate over the Dead Sea Scrolls

    SAN DIEGO – Most scholars consider the scrolls to be the articles of faith of a small Jewish sect that lived an ascetic life near the Dead Sea, avoiding what it saw as the corrupt religious establishment while waiting for the Messiah. But dissidents have kept up a literary crossfire disputing the majority’s thinking – and some complain that the public has gotten a slanted view of the scrolls. By Michael Boehm, Times Staff Writer.

  • OPINION
    Put a knot in L.A.’s hose

    Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has asked Los Angeles to reduce water consumption by one-tenth. Asked? A tenth? He should have demanded, and he should have required a 25% cut. By Emily Green.

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Cheri Yecke, Intelligent Design, and Scrubbing the Past

Florida state K-12 education chancellor Dr. Cheri P. Yecke is disputing the accuracy of a newspaper report published back on October 9, 2003. I had quoted that report in a post here on August 30, 2005, so last week I got an email from “ReputationDefenders” saying that they were working for Dr. Yecke, and would appreciate my cooperation in removing or modifying the offending quote.

I’m all for accuracy of content, so what I did was to add a quote from the email just after the disputed quote, showing everyone that the quote is disputed.

Since the dispute centers upon the content of some printed publicity materials given out before a commissioner’s hearing in Minnesota, it seems to me that this is, in principle, a checkable matter: find the printed material and figure out who has got it right, and who has got it wrong. I asked ReputationDefenders about perhaps getting a copy of the material from Dr. Yecke. That was not productive. I called up the original reporter, trying to track things down from that end. Joel said that he has never received a complaint from Yecke over the content of the article. And I asked Ron Matus of the St. Petersburg Times to check into this, since working journalists often can get access to this sort of material quickly. So far, the actual document in question remains unavailable.

Ron Matus has a news item in the St. Petersburg Times relating developments on this so far. I’m hoping that with this publicity, someone will come forward with the document that I’m looking for to make a definitive determination on what really was the case back in 2003.

Update: Readers write to point me to further resources.

Minnesota Academic Standards Committee
Remarks by Cheri Pierson Yecke, Ph.D.
Commissioner of Education

July 31, 2003

“Science Issues

The last time we went through this process, we learned some important lessons that I hope will make your job easier. Perhaps the best lesson that we learned is that controversial issues can stymie the work of a committee. For example, last spring, the high school math committee came to a standstill over the issue of calculator use. A great deal of time was spent debating the pros and cons of the issue, when use of calculators was and was not appropriate – and the group could not reach consensus. Only after the issue was removed from discussion by making it an issue for local school boards was the group able to proceed with its work.

This time, we are faced with some controversial issues in the area of science. Scientific theories such as biological evolution can be the basis for a lot of emotional debate, as strong feelings are held by good people on both sides of such issues.

To prevent such issues from becoming a stumbling block to the science committee, I am suggesting that some congressional language be inserted somewhere in the science document. It might be appropriate, for example, to place this language in the first part of the conceptual framework when history and nature of science is discussed. In this way, we make it clear that decision on the(illegible) be discussed and decided at the local level.

This language is part of the conference report that articulated congressional intent and accommodate the No Child Left Behind Act. It had wide bipartisan support in Congress, having passed the Senate on a vote of 91-8. It reads as follows:

The Conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.

Contrary to some reports, nowhere does this language mention intelligent design or creationism. Instead, it simply states the idea that children should understand that there is a diversity of opinion.

In my desire to learn more about the discussion that surrounded this language I went to the primary source – the Congressional Record (June 13, 2001), which records the statements of members of Congress during floor discussions. Here are the words of Senator Ted Kennedy:

…the language itself is completely consistent with what represents the central values of this body. We want children to be able to speak and examine various scientific theories on the basis of all of the information that is available to them so that they can talk about different concepts intelligently with the best information that is before them. I think the Senator has expressed his views in support of the amendment and the reasons for it (illegible) think they make eminently good sense. I intent to support the proposal (p. S6150).

Clearly, this language has widespread bipartisan support. So, since it is important that no committee gets sidetracked or bogged down with controversial issues, I am asking members of the Science Committee to give consideration to this language.”

(Source: Document downloaded from the Minnesota Department of Education, 2005/09/06)

And things I overlooked on the NCSE website:

NCSE report on a June 9, 2003 radio interview with Yecke: However, in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio on June 9, 2003, Dr. Yecke stated that she believes “every local district should have the freedom to teach creationism if that is what they choose.”

NCSE report concerning Yecke’s invocation of the rejected Santorum language.

See also my previous blog posts concerning Yecke and her association with the rejected Santorum language here and here.

NCSE report on changes made in the Minnesota science standards.

AIBS report on Yecke and Santorum language: “”Yecke has requested clarification from the U.S. Department of Education on the so-called Santorum Amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act. Yecke is waiting to see if she receives the same guidance provided to Ohio. Yecke seems optimistic that teachings about a higher being may be able to be included wherever the topic of biological evolution is covered. A recent article by John Welbes of the Pioneer Press reports that “The group writing Minnesota’s new science standards won’t be asked to choose between teaching evolution or creationism, but it will get a recommendation from the state’s education commissioner that students be exposed to differing views on the subject.” Yecke has also expressed a preference that issues related to evolution education be left to the discretion of local school districts and teachers.”

Discovery Institute file containing Boehner’s “guidance” letter.

North Texas Skeptics archive of Pioneer Press article.

Thanks to Judy Budreau and R.B. Hoppe.

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LA Times Science Files for 2007/06/25

These are items compiled by staff of the LA Times.

  • VACCINE COURT
    High-stakes trial weighs autism claims

    WASHINGTON – The case of Cedillo vs. Secretary of Health and Human Services is the culmination of one of the most wrenching episodes of modern public health. For more than a decade, thousands of families of autistic children have clamored to gain legitimacy for their claim that childhood vaccines are to blame for their children’s plight. Now they are having their day in court. By Jia-Rui Chong and Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writers.

  • HEALTH
    Caffeine may not give a jolt to health

    There’s growing evidence that both coffee and tea can fight cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and more. Because most people equate these beverages with the caffeine in them, it’s tempting to conclude that the stimulant is what gives these wonder drinks their powers. That may not be the case. Caffeine’s effects on health appear to be considerably more nuanced. By Emily Sohn, Special to The Times.

  • FERTILITY TREATMENT
    Multiple birth, multiple risks

    Two weeks ago, Brianna Morrison gave birth to six babies in Minneapolis. Less than a day later, Jenny Masche delivered six babies in a Phoenix hospital. Both of the women had been treated for infertility and had used fertility-enhancing drugs. The two families expressed joy, but many fertility doctors were dismayed. By Shari Roan, Times Staff Writer.

  • ANIMALS
    Elephant’s death puts zoos in spotlight

    SEATTLE – The death of Hansa the elephant remains a mystery. Last week, preliminary necropsy results only ruled out a host of illnesses in the sudden demise of the 6-year-old star of Woodland Park Zoo. Hansa’s death set off public mourning in the city, and again raised questions about the advisability of keeping elephants in urban zoos. By Lynn Marshall, Times Staff Writer.

  • GENETICS
    Decoding the secret lives of dogs

    DNA testing has gone to the dogs. With sequencing technology becoming less expensive, dog owners are having their pets tested – and sometimes finding that unraveling the mysteries of their genetic code can be a mixed blessing. By Karen Kaplan, Times Staff Writer.

  • ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
    Echinacea not to be sneezed at after all?

    The herbal remedy echinacea can prevent colds and speed recovery from runny noses, coughs and other symptoms, according to a study published Sunday that could renew interest in the discredited product. By Denise Gellene, Times Staff Writer.

  • PSYCHOLOGY
    Proud of yourself? Everyone can tell

    Two researchers are probably walking a little taller these days, puffing out their chests, maybe tilting their heads back and smiling slightly. If they’re looking a little smug, perhaps it’s because their recent studies on the nature of pride have added some small but important pieces to a psychological puzzle. Among their conclusions: Pride appears to be a universal, human emotion, and it comes in two flavors: positive and arrogant. By Janet Cromley, Times Staff Writer.

  • GLOBAL WARMING
    Proliferating icebergs may ease global warming

    The proliferation of drifting Antarctic icebergs caused by rising temperatures is creating a vast new ecosystem of plankton, krill and seabirds that may have the power to absorb some of the carbon dioxide that is driving global warming, scientists reported today. By Amber Dance, Times Staff Writer.

  • ENVIRONMENT
    Galveston poised to defy geologists

    GALVESTON, TEXAS – Leaders of this fast-eroding barrier island – the scene of the deadliest hurricane in American history – are about to approve nearly 4,000 new homes and two midrise hotels despite geologists’ warnings that the massive development would sever a ridge that serves as the island’s natural storm shield. By Miguel Bustillo, Times Staff Writer.

  • OPINION
    Generic drugs? No thanks

    RECENTLY, managed-care insurance companies have been increasing their pressure on me and other doctors to change patients over to generic alternatives to some of our most popular drugs. On the surface, this would appear to be a good idea, one that saves money and thus should be a primary consideration when prescribing drugs. Sometimes it is – but not always. By Marc Siegel.

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Flowers, Moths, and History of Science

The 7 June issue of Nature has a pretty cool article by Justen B. Whittall and Scott A. Hodges, “Pollinator shifts drive increasingly long nectar spurs in columbine flowers” (pp.706-709). They take up the famous example of the prediction by Charles Darwin that the long nectar spur in Angraecum sesquipedale indicated the existence of a long-tongued pollinator to match. Darwin didn’t live to see his prediction confirmed in 1903, when Xanthopan morgani spp. praedicta was described, complete with a whopping 22 cm tongue.

Whittall and Hodges, though, are concerned not with the prediction of existence of the specific pollinator, but rather with Darwin’s chosen mechanism by which he thought the situation with the flower and matching pollinator came about.

Darwin proposed that a coevolutionary ‘race’ had driven the directional increase in length of a plant’s spur and its pollinator’s tongue.

[...]

Under a hypothesis first proposed by Darwin and later elaborated by Wallace, nectar spurs and pollinator tongues are engaged in a one-to-one coevolutionary ‘race’.

Whittall and Hodges propose as an alternative explanation what they describe as a “pollinator shift” model.

Spurs may also evolve to exceptional lengths by way of pollinator shifts as plants adapt to a series of unrelated pollinators, each with a greater tongue length.

[...]

Figure 1. Two contrasting hypotheses for the evolution of exceptionally long nectar spurs. Darwin’s coevolutionary race model (a,b), which posits a gradual increase in both the pollinator’s tongue and the plant’s nectar spur, and the pollinator shift model (c,d), where spur length evolves owing to a switch to a new pollinator with a longer tongue. These models differ in whether adaptive peaks are constantly increasing (b), or whether they are relatively fixed optima based on pollinators’ pre-existing tongue lengths (d). They also differ in whether spur-length evolution occurs gradually (b) or in a punctuated fashion (d).

The research looks good, and should prove useful for future studies. Where Whittall and Hodges fall down a bit, though, is in their treatment of the history of ideas. Read on for more.

Continue reading

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A Prime Anniversary

Diane and I celebrated our 23rd anniversary yesterday. Well, “celebrated” may be a bit presumptious a word, but we did at least spend the day in each other’s company.

For most of the day, we were at the AKC agility trial being hosted by the Kalamazoo Kennel Club. We ran Ritka in two novice classes on Friday and Saturday. On Friday, Ritka got two qualifying scores, while on Saturday, my run with Ritka went overlong, and did not qualify. Diane’s run on Saturday, in the Standard Novice course, did qualify, where several of the previous runners had to be led off the course due to issues with refusals or off-course violations.

After Diane’s run, we hurriedly packed up the trailer and got on the road for home. On Friday, we had received an invitation to a spur-of-the-moment game night to be held at Charles Ofria’s house Saturday evening. We made the party only about twenty minutes after the indicated start time.

We introduced Charles and Kaban to GenAbacab, an operant conditioning game designed to improve training techniques. They noted a certain similarity to Zendo, which we weren’t familiar with. While most of the crowd engaged in an evening-long game of Zombies!!! Director’s Cut Game, Diane and I played Coloretto Card Game by Rio Grande Games with Charles, Keron, and Kaban. Bess watched over the gaming while reading a Wodehouse “Jeeves and Wooster” anthology. We finished up the evening with a hand of Fluxx Version 3.1, which Bess joined in, while Keron went off to observe the Zombies!!! goings-on.

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Fraptorday: Weekly Raptor

This week, the picture shows Rusty on her way to try to catch something she has spotted. The way she flies is noticeably different when she thinks she is chasing something from when she is just heading to a new perch.

WRE 1171 rusty 2006 b21

Nikon D2Xs, Nikkor AFS VR 70-200mm f/2.8, ISO 800.

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Visit to the Creation Museum, Part 1

As I mentioned before, various folks associated with the Panda’s Thumb and Scienceblogs showed up on the doorstep of the Answers in Genesis “Creation Museum” yesterday to take the tour.

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Here’s the imposing facade. Mind you, this concave surface of glass is oriented to the south, which means that in the summertime the heat out on that plaza gets to be something fierce. I think it is obvious that people aren’t supposed to hang around outside, they are supposed to head right on in.

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And here’s almost all of our group, including Prof. Steve Steve. I didn’t catch everybody’s name, so please help me fill this list in. From the left to the right, there’s me, Laurie Lebo, Tara Smith, Jason Rosenhouse, Art Hunt, Kay Hoppe, Prof. Steve Steve, Amy Hunt, Richard Hoppe, and Andrea Bottaro. [Thanks to everyone for helping me complete the list!]

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Once one has bought a ticket, the lobby area looms. To the left is the “Dragon’s Lair” bookstore, which sells a bewildering array of DVD videos in addition to the usual books. Ahead are the start of exhibits, where on the left side is a diorama that is a bit odd, to say the least. There is a large aquarium with freshwater fish and turtles, while along the “riverbank” there are animatronic dinosaurs and children. While AiG advances the notion that carnivory did not begin until after the Fall of Adam, one would think that by the time there were children not specifically identified in the bible that carnivory would be an issue. As I pointed out to Kay Hoppe at one point, expecting consistency will lead to disappointment. Off to the right, there is “Noah’s Cafe” and the entryway to the rest of the museum, and also to the special effects theater showing “Men in White”.

That will have to do for now. More later.

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June 17th, Past and Present

Today, a batch of science bloggers visited the Answers in Genesis “Creation Museum” in Petersburg, Kentucky, to see for ourselves what $27 million buys you these days. That much cash can buy you state-of-the-art presentation facilities and machinery, but it apparently is not sufficient to buy a clue. I will have to compare notes to the old AiG list of arguments that creationists should not use, because I think a fair number of the arguments that even AiG thought were bad a while back may have been represented in presentations and displays.

I was reflecting on Father’s Day, and I recalled that six years ago today I was debating William Dembski at Haverford College on “Order and Design: Philosophical Issues”. There is video available online of various of the presentations there.

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Pharmacies, Algebra, and Budgets

It’s been a while since I discussed what’s up with my medical condition. That’s actually been good news. I’ve been doing pretty well, with a good deal less pain than when I still had my colon.

But because I no longer have that large intestine, there are some things that become a matter of maintenance for me that other folks don’t have to worry about. I’m currently on two medications, Imodium and Lomotil (actually generics for each), which slows down my gut motility, giving the small intestine some time to absorb some of the nutrients that would otherwise simply pass through my system. It also means that with those two medications I can be spared the caustic effects of base chemistry, which if things were left to themselves I’d have some pretty immediate problems with. The prescription directions have been the same since just after my second surgery: 1-2 tablets taken with meals and at bedtime. That’s for each of those medications.

In California, Kaiser Permanente’s system simply set me up with getting 3 months worth of medications at a time, so I would get 500 pills per 3 month period. That worked out OK.

Here in Michigan, things are not quite worked out. I haven’t yet had my introductory visit with my primary care physician here, but I’ve needed refills on the maintenance medications. I’m having some difficulties getting the clinic and pharmacy on the right page. While a physician did set me up with the same prescription directions, what the pharmacy actually delivered for one month’s worth of medication was 60 pills of each drug. That was about 8 days worth of medication.

I managed to talk to the clinic, and they put in another prescription order. This time, the pharmacy delivered 120 pills each. Now, the way I calculate that out, I basically cannot plan to take more than one pill at each indicated time; there simply aren’t enough pills in my month’s allotment to actually take 2 tablets each at each meal and at bedtime. And generally I do take 2 tablets each when I take them. I don’t always have three meals a day, but I often do, so this is putting me behind the curve. Like I mentioned before, if I don’t manage to keep my gut somewhat slowed down, I do end up with a painful situation.

When I brought up this issue with my pharmacist, there were two arguments he gave for why they only gave a fraction of the pills needed to actually meet the demands of my prescription directions: they didn’t think I needed that much medication, and the specific number of pills is provided by the prescriber, so I should take it up with them.

Now, every time I get a partial prescription, I’m still getting hit with a full month’s prescription copay charge. So this nickel-and-diming is having a distinct negative effect on my finances, not to mention any adverse effects I may run into if I run out of meds before I can get an order filled that actually provides the medication I need at the rate I’m supposed to take it. I’m hoping that I can work this out when I talk to my primary care physician early in July.

So, if there are some health care pros tuning in who can shed light on why I’m suddenly running into difficulty getting my medications here in Michigan, I’d like to hear about it.

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Research into Minnesota Standards Stuff

I’m interested in obtaining a copy of the advance publicity issued by the Minnesota State Department of Education for the commisioner’s hearing held September 30th, 2003 in Princeton, Minnesota. There is an issue concerning what actually is or is not included within that material, and it is relevant to the future of antievolution in Florida.

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LA Times Science Files for 2007/06/13

These are items compiled by staff of the LA Times.

  • OBITUARIES
    Don Herbert, 89; TV’s ‘Mr. Wizard’ taught science to

    young baby boomers WASHINGTON – Don Herbert, who explained the wonderful world of science to millions of young baby boomers on television in the 1950s and ’60s as “Mr. Wizard” and did the same for another generation of youngsters on the Nickelodeon cable TV channel in the 1980s, died Tuesday. He was 89. By Dennis McLellan, Times Staff Writer.

  • PUBLIC HEALTH
    Tragic Catch-911 for dying woman

    In the 40 minutes before a woman’s death last month at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, two separate callers pleaded with 911 dispatchers to send help because the hospital staff was ignoring her as she writhed on the floor, according to audio recordings of the calls. By Charles Ornstein and Francisco Vara-Orta, Times Staff Writers.

  • GLOBAL WARMING
    Universities pledge to go ‘climate neutral’

    SAN FRANCISCO – The presidents and chancellors of 284 colleges and universities nationwide have signed a pact to combat global warming by making their campuses “carbon neutral” as soon as possible, leaders of the initiative announced Tuesday. By Richard C. Paddock, Times Staff Writer.

  • ENVIRONMENT
    Obama yields to a greener side

    WASHINGTON – With pressure mounting on Democratic presidential candidates to adopt hard-line positions on curbing global warming, Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday backtracked from his long-held support for a controversial plan to promote the use of coal as an alternative fuel to power motor vehicles. By Peter Wallsten, Times Staff Writer.

  • ENVIRONMENT
    Energy bill faces big hurdles

    WASHINGTON – The White House on Tuesday found a lot to dislike about the first big energy bill to come before the Democratic-controlled Congress, complicating passage of the measure. By Richard Simon, Times Staff Writer.

  • FOOD SAFETY
    China says its foods are safe

    China steps up damage control after recent scandals as the 2008 Olympics loom. By Ching-Ching Ni, Times Staff Writer.

  • DISEASE
    Early cholera season adds to Iraq’s woes

    BAGHDAD – Iraq has reported five cases of cholera among children in the last three weeks, a worrying sign as summer sets in and the war leaves sewage and sanitation systems a shambles. By Tina Susman and Zeena Kareem, Times Staff Writers.

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LA Times Science Files for 2007/06/12

These are items compiled by staff of the LA Times.

  • ENERGY CONSERVATION
    Climate looks ripe for fuel-economy bills

    WASHINGTON – Tougher fuel-economy rules, blocked for years by Detroit automakers, now stand their best chance of clearing Congress amid heightened concern about gas prices and global warming. By Richard Simon, Times Staff Writer.

  • SPACE
    After delay, first spacewalk task a success

    The crew of the space shuttle Atlantis successfully attached a 35,000-pound truss to the International Space Station on Monday, preparing the way for Japanese and European science labs that will be added next year. . By Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writer.

  • PUBLIC HEALTH
    How King-Harbor has stayed alive

    Defended by its community, the hospital hangs on to certification despite repeated lapses. By Charles Ornstein, Times Staff Writer.

  • OBITUARIES
    Homer J. Stewart, 91

    Caltech engineer helped in early development of satellites. By Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writer.

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