Monthly Archives: November 2007

Expelled: Texas Education Agency Fires Staffer for Announcing Talk by Barbara Forrest

State science curriculum director resigns

Chris Comer is out of a job. She was a nine-year veteran in the position of director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency (Texas-speak for the state’s “department of education”). The TEA administration essentially forced her resignation.

So, why would TEA do that? Comer forwarded an email from the National Center for Science Education announcing a talk by Dr. Barbara Forrest to several people with the following addition: “FYI”.

The call to fire Comer came from Lizzette Reynolds, who previously worked in the U.S. Department of Education. She also served as deputy legislative director for Gov. George W. Bush. She joined the Texas Education Agency as the senior adviser on statewide initiatives in January.

Reynolds, who was out sick the day Comer forwarded the e-mail, received a copy from an unnamed source and forwarded it to Comer’s bosses less than two hours after Comer sent it.

“This is highly inappropriate,” Reynolds said in an e-mail to Comer’s supervisors. “I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities.

How did that play out?

In documents obtained Wednesday through the Texas Public Information Act, agency officials said they recommended firing Comer for repeated acts of misconduct and insubordination. But Comer said she thinks political concerns about the teaching of creationism in schools were behind what she describes as a forced resignation.

Apparently, not being a team player in the The Republican War on Science is a firing offense at the TEA. Why forwarding an announcement concerning a talk whose topic is highly relevant to the conduct of science education by an internationally recognized speaker should cause TEA administrators a problem escapes me. One is forced to wonder whether Ms. Comer would be looking for a new job if instead she were forwarding emails announcing talks by DI fellows about “intelligent design” creationism.

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Flunked: Guillermo Gonzales and DI Promise More Martyrdom

Backers battle ISU professor’s tenure denial | | The Des Moines Register

The Discovery Institute says that they have proof that Iowa State University’s denial of tenure of Guillermo Gonzales did involve consideration of his advocacy of “intelligent design” creationism. They promise to press on with appeals, perhaps even starting a lawsuit.

I wonder why they would want to do that. Essentially, they will be walking into another courtroom and asking a judge to hear their arguments that “intelligent design” creationism is a legitimate scientific endeavor. I thought they had just spent the last year and eleven months castigating another judge for the temerity of actually ruling on that very issue, which they had urged him to rule upon in their amicus brief in the case.

It’s one thing to shoot yourself in the foot. It’s quite another to plan to do it again. The DI can’t seem to help itself; it seems to be addicted.

Degaussed Moral Compass Alert: John West on Dembski Using “Internet Video”

None other than DI honcho John West has appeared to make some statements. I get the definite flavor of squink from perusing West’s missive.

Tu quoque, anyone?

Now that the internet Darwinists have discovered the glories of copyright, may we hope they will begin to police their own supporters?

The old step away from the perp move:

In the present case, Discovery Institute played no role whatever in the use, alteration, or dissemination of any animation clip from Harvard that our esteemed colleague may have included in some of his lectures. When we first learned several weeks ago that someone had concerns about Dr. Dembski’s occasional use of this particular clip, we contacted Dr. Dembski directly, and he told us that he had stopped using the material as soon as these concerns had been raised with him.

Why do I have the feeling that if this went to court, we’d find out that the DI would have to step away from several more fellows?

More tu quoque:

What I find difficult to take seriously are the recent histrionics by members of the Darwinist internet posse. If would take them more seriously if they applied their concerns a tad more consistently. For example, some of the very Darwinists who are now browbeating Dr. Dembski also posted on their blogs video from his lecture, presumably without his permission.

One doesn’t need the permission of a speaker giving a public lecture to post your own video of the talk. [Commenter Zachriel notes an implicit copyright for speakers, but that fair use allows the publication of excerpts, as is the case here. –WRE] Journalists also get privileges for use of media in the public interest, which bringing to light illegal activity certainly represents. (There remains the issue of whether the video represented someone else’s copyright, but that isn’t the legal argument West invoked.)

And then the grand whopper:

What is apparent from all of this is just how bare the Darwinists’ cupboard must be these days. Every time they try to shift the evolution-ID debate away from the scientific evidence—whether it be by fake reenactments of the Dover trial a la PBS, or through overblown controversies such as this one—they expose the weakness of their position. After all, if they had the evidence on their side, they would be arguing it. Since they don’t, they try to change the subject.

Uh, John, I’m not Darwin-only, I’m science-only. We in the pro-science side of this have delivered on criticism concerning the scientific evidence. I haven’t noticed much in the way of substantive response from IDC advocates to critiques such as “Why Intelligent Design Fails” and “Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism”. There’s oodles of criticism that IDC advocates like to pretend never was written, or which they airily dismiss without dealing with the arguments contained therein. We in the pro-science side of the argument choose to also highlight the apparently highly morally corrosive nature of antievolution activism. This is in addition to, not in lieu of, the already copious criticism we’ve made of the anti-science antievolution position on its dubious-to-absent merits.

It seems like the only time we can get IDC advocates to stay on topic is when they are being deposed and cross-examined. Speaking of which, there were a number of times that Judge Jones used the phrase, “unrebutted testimony”, in his decision. Want to count up how many times it was used in relation to the defense experts as opposed to the plaintiffs’ experts? This seems to be a simple case of projection. Are you sure that you want to go down that road?

(OK, it was four times, all of them refer to plaintiffs’ experts, three of them refer to Dr. Padian, and once for Dr. Miller. The DI Fellows testifying, Michael Behe and Scott Minnich, scored big goose eggs on that metric.)

Back to the moral compass. The deployment of the tu quoque fallacy is a surefire sign that the person deploying it is a moral relativist. West seems to think that something is less of a moral problem if it only occurs “occasionally”. And, of course, that whole last paragraph of West’s falls under the “bearing false witness” category.

Are these the folks that citizens want “renewing” our culture? I don’t think so.

Getting the Help the Discovery Institute Deserves

Recently, the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture announced a new Senior Fellow, radio talk show host Michael Medved.

Chapman saluted Medved “as the national radio host—make that ‘media host’—who is best able to understand science issues, including the current conflict over Darwinism and intelligent design. He’s very smart, quick and resourceful. Yet he also is respectful of those he disagrees with.”

Perhaps Medved’s induction into the ranks of DI CRSC Fellows was helped along by his recent article on how the USA’s reputation should not be considered diminished by its adoption of slavery. Fortunately, I don’t have to engage in deconstruction of this odious dreck, the Sadly, No! blog has taken on that job and dispatched it. As an example of argumentative and persuasive writing, Medved’s effort there consisted of a farrago of irrelevancies, non sequiturs, misrepresentations, and whoppers.

It looks like he’ll fit right in.

Handy Tool for “Ooops”

I heard about DesktopBSD from Skip Evans. This is a configuration of FreeBSD that provides support for automatic detection of hardware, especially that needed to get X11 working properly. It uses KDE as its window manager, and much of the work done integrates KDE with services of FreeBSD. This sounded interesting to me, since I’m used to snappy auto-detection by various Linux distros, but getting FreeBSD running X11 has always required a fair amount of geek work and worry whether one has gotten the actual video card and monitor values right. At least within memory, the graphics subsystem is the place in computers where getting something wrong could actually start a fire in a system.

I downloaded the AMD64 1.6RC3 DVD of DesktopBSD for a trial on my laptop system. This model, a Gateway MT6458, isn’t on the list of known good installs, but I figured it was worth trying. I booted into the Live mode, and, as I expected, the auto-detection worked for everything but the built-in wireless and the sound system. My Linux install, Xubuntu, doesn’t know about those, either.

I didn’t want to disturb my current setup, so I plugged in my external 2.5″ USB drive. It has a 14GB partition for FreeBSD, and the rest is formatted as a FAT32 data partition. I dropped out of the Live mode and started an installation. The menus brought me to selecting a drive, and I selected the external drive. Then there was selecting a partition, and I selected the old FreeBSD partition. I told it to install to that. There was the notice that changes would be permanent, and I was fine with that. A brief whir, and an error message popped up saying that the install was aborted, that “bsdlabel” had failed. Well, OK, maybe I need to let it try to work to a blank hard drive.

Except that on reboot, my external USB drive was no longer recognized. Both the FreeBSD and the FAT32 partitions had vanished. Ooops.

Well, there were things on the FAT32 partition that I was going to miss. I have looked into data recovery stuff in the past and found the commercial ventures offering such to be priced out of range of my wallet. I decided to search for “fat32 recovery “open source””, and one of the things that popped up was TestDisk. Open source, runs on just about anything, handles just about any format… sounded like just the thing. The Wiki for TestDisk handily provides examples. I downloaded the Windows binary, copied over the indicated directory to my Vista installation, and ran it. It found my main hard drive and the external USB drive with no problem. Asking it to analyze the external drive brought results in seconds: it found both the FreeBSD and the FAT32 partitions on the drive. All that looked fine, so I moved on and was prompted to write out the partitions. It did that, I rebooted the laptop, and am now getting stuff backed up so that maybe I won’t have to miss things if I do silly stuff like experimenting with storage media that have unique data on them.

Oh, DesktopBSD guys… a little more attention paid to not doing bad things to partitions on installation failure would be good. I’ll try again, but not with any partition at hand that I care about.

Degaussed Moral Compass Alert: Dembski Using “Internet Video”

Abbie Smith at ERV has the story on William A. Dembski’s unauthorized use of an animation made by Harvard University and XVIVO.

Harvard/XVIVO have a cool animation they call, “The Inner Life of a Cell”. There are a couple of versions that have made it to YouTube or Google Video. Since it all looks very complex and mechanical, in addition to being visually stunning, “intelligent design” creationism (IDC) advocates also think it is cool. Or, at least, would be if the annoying science-talk narration that is part of the original went away and was replaced with somebody intoning about how complex and mechanical and designed it all is.

Enter William A. Dembski, philosopher and mathematician to the IDC movement. Dembski gives lectures, and expects honoraria for these lectures. He gave one at Oklahoma University a couple of months ago. Within his lecture, he embedded a video, an animation. Smith recognized the animation as the Harvard/XVIVO production, “The Inner Life of a Cell”. Smith contacted Harvard/XVIVO about this, and they issued a cease-and-desist letter.

Now, the version Dembski used in his September OU lecture was not identical to the Harvard/XVIVO production. It used video that did not include the opening title and credits. According to a post by Dembski, the musical score in his version is the original used by Harvard/XVIVO. However, an amateur dubbed-in voice on the audio provides an IDC-flavored narration to the video. Dembski claims that the closing credits remain intact, including a Harvard/XVIVO copyright notice. Dembski’s embedded version runs on a PowerPoint slide with the title, “The Cell as an Automated City”.

There are several odd elements to this story. Dembski claims to have tried to order a DVD of the video from Harvard/XVIVO, and was unsuccessful.

The video was so good that I wanted to use it in some of my public presentations, but when I tried to purchase a DVD of it (I sent several emails to relevant parties), I was informed it wasn’t ready.

I don’t know what relevance owning a DVD of the video has for wanting to use it in presentations. If one is making a presentation for profit, which a paid lecture may arguably be, simply owning a DVD does not confer the right to utilize the contents for commercial ventures. Those rights usually must be negotiated specifically and separately, and usually involve the payment of royalties on some scale involving the number of attendees.

Dembski claims to have gotten his version of the video, as it was presented to the OU audience, from “the Internet”. Dembski claims to have selected that version for its IDC-friendliness. Unfortunately, Dembski already admitted knowing what the original video looked like, so this selection process means that he knowingly used a derivative work. Further, Dembski does not even have the thin excuse of crediting the author of the derivative work. If Dembski is claiming that he should be held harmless as someone who used a derivative work in the belief that (1) the author of the changes had obtained permission to do so and (2) that Dembski had the permission of the author of the changes to use the derivative work, uncredited, in a commercial setting, he certainly has not done a good job of supporting that.

Dembski’s post about his use of the Harvard/XVIVO material falls into the category of “notpology” that he has used on past occasions. He says he will stop infringing on the Harvard/XVIVO copyright; he never says that he was wrong to infringe upon it in the first place. This makes good legal sense, but bad moral philosophy. To use a phrase from the time period that IDC advocates prefer that we take our understanding of science from, this whole incident merits a shout from the crowd of, “Oh, basely done!”

Update: John West of the DI has had some thoughts on the matter. I decided to make another post with my response.

“Spiky Issue Solved for Hamish the Hedgehog” News – Scotland – Spiky issue solved for Hamish the hedgehog

The fluffy, feel-good news story relates how a rail company in Scotland responded to a resident’s request to take into account access past the rail line for a hedgehog when performing maintenance on a wall. The company responded with a hedgehog-sized throughway in the new wall.

COLIN Seddon, manager of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ wildlife centre at Middlebank, said it was becoming increasingly important to consider the effect on animals of human developments.

“We are moving further and further out into their territory so we have to do everything we can to make life easier for them,” he said. “We are invading their land, so we have to give something back.”

Well, the fact is that human development subdivides more than just lots in residential areas. As humans work out the most economical ways to connect things up, we arbitrarily restrict the movement of wild animals, and even plants. For each one-off solution to a noticed problem, we tend to overlook building in solutions to lots of unnoticed ones. This is a one-two punch for wildlife; first, there is the outright loss of habitat claimed by humans in development. Each time a home goes up, that plot of land is no longer available for the endemic wildlife to use. Second, when we connect together our separated developments with roads, pipelines for water and sewer services, rail lines, or separate apart property with fences, walls, ditches, mounds, and the like, we curtail the usual and normal means of access that wildlife has with other parts of the same population. “Habitat loss” is the usual term for the first, and it is easily remembered. The second part, though, comes under the daunting rubric of “vicariance biogeography”. Even though the term is a bit on the clunky side, the results from the science are pretty easily comprehended.

Vicariance refers to the events that split taxa. Vicariance biogeography takes as its field the geographical splitting of populations and the resulting patterns of phylogeny. A 1967 book by Edward O. Wilson and Robert MacArthur, “The Theory of Island Biogeography”, got things rolling, and a generalized appreciation for how barriers to intermixing of populations across geographical ranges impacts diversity followed. The short version is that introducing effective barriers that create non-mixing subpopulations reduces diversity and increases the likelihood that populations will go extinct.

On small scales, we see things like “mouse islands”, where interstate clover-leaf engineering puts small patches of green-space within a zone that is effectively lethal to mammalian predators that take rodents. Other than the occasional raptor, the rodents are fairly safe within the confines of a clover-leaf circle. But transfer of genetic material is strictly curtailed; even getting to the “mouse island” in the next clover-leaf over is a highly risky endeavor. These small micro-environments tend to support only depauperate diversity of wildlife, perhaps a couple of rodent species and whatever grass and plant species the road landscapers permit.

But there’s a lot of land that is not next to things like interstate highways. However, at the scale of highways, we see the same pattern emerging. Crossing those barriers is abnormally risky, so they create subpopulations with reduced gene flow on either side. These make for ready application of vicariance biogeography. In wildlife, it isn’t “divide and conquer”, it’s “divide and lose diversity”.

I’m sorry to put a damper on the holiday cheer for the resolution of the plight of Hamish the Hedgehog. The problems for wildlife created by both habitat loss and ignoring the lessons of vicariance biogeography are not the sort that have win-win solutions. Addressing either requires that humans do things that are costly to do. Fixing the problems we are experiencing is going to require addressing both. Making accommodations for an individual family of hedgehogs is a good thing, but we shouldn’t lie to ourselves that we have come to terms with our relationship with wildlife with these small gestures of limited scope.

Antievolution Humor?

Commenter “FtK” at the YoungCosmos YEC cheerleader weblog expands a bit on an opening post that wonders whether commenters at “After the Bar Closes” might choose to neuter themselves.

Oh, and as for neutering the ATBC boys…hey, I’m all for it.

So, going from musing about reproductive choices among critics to espousing some active program (or would that be pogrom?) is, what, exactly? Is this that robust sense of humor that antievolutionists often claim to have, but so seldom demonstrate? Really, it can be tough to tell which statements they will stand by later, and which ones they will conveniently write off as “street theater”.

Behe and Astrology

Over on Ed Brayton’s “Dispatches from the Culture Wars”, Ed comments on NOVA’s attention paid to Behe saying that astrology qualifies as science under his definition of science. This is a comment I left there:

At the time when astrology was of a similar status to other live theories, it wasn’t called “science”, it was just a branch of philosophy. The philosophy of science has changed over time, which means that the things that once qualified as fitting within science may not do so at a later time.

It is within this understanding of science that Behe’s re-definition of science itself and the discussion of astrology can be usefully approached. Whether astrology might have been considered a live option historically doesn’t change the basic facts: a modern definition of science has no place for a mechanism-less “theory”, and Behe’s re-definition of science essentially reverts us back to a pre-19th century natural philosophy that can’t distinguish between explanations with testable mechanisms and those without.

IMO, that’s the real problem with the Behe/astrology issue, and I don’t think that it is readily amenable to sound-bite presentation on TV. It certainly wasn’t explained adequately in the program, judging by the commentary that has resulted.

FTE and Jon Buell’s Day in Court

Over on the Discovery Institute’s weblog, Casey Luskin writes:

In 2005, a federal judge banned Pandas outright from science classrooms in Dover, Pennsylvania — but only after denying FTE [Foundation for Thought and Ethics] the right to appear before the court to defend the book.

Hmmm. Why does that sound odd?

Maybe because the text “Of Pandas and People” (OPaP) is not explicitly mentioned in the order made by Judge John E. Jones III at the end of his decision:


1. A declaratory judgment is hereby issued in favor of Plaintiffs pursuant to [290]28 U.S.C. ?? 2201, [291]2202, and [292]42 U.S.C. ? 1983 such that Defendants’ ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and Art. I, ? 3 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 2. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 65, Defendants are permanently enjoined from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District. 3. Because Plaintiffs seek nominal damages, Plaintiffs shall file with the Court and serve on Defendants, their claim for damages and a verified statement of any fees and/or costs to which they claim entitlement. Defendants shall have the right to object to any such fees and costs to the extent provided in the applicable statutes and court rules

so the blunt statement that OPaP is “banned from classrooms” appears to be an unsupported extrapolation. Can a student check a copy out from the library and have it in his or her possession in a classroom? There seems to be nothing to prevent that. Can a science teacher or administrator teach credulously from OPaP in a classroom? That would appear to be against the sense of the order. Can a civics teacher show that egregious hogwash sometimes intrudes into public policy, using OPaP as a noisome example? I see nothing in the order that would prevent OPaP from appearing in the classroom for that purpose. Given the assessment the book received:

Accordingly, the one textbook to which the Dover ID Policy directs students contains outdated concepts and badly flawed science, as recognized by even the defense experts in this case.

the notion that OPaP is a good fit as an authoritative source in a science curriculum is just laughable. Could a defense by FTE salvage OPaP from that evaluation? That seems quite doubtful.

Maybe Luskin’s statement sounds odd because Jon Buell, President of FTE, did actually appear in the courtroom of Judge John E. Jones III, and there attempted to defend the book. Of course, Buell made a laughingstock of himself, of FTE, and of the sham called “intelligent design” — pretty serious work for just one day in court, I’d say. NOVA’s focus on the bad boys of the Kitzmiller v. DASD case could have been filled out to three “B”s, Bonsell, Buckingham, and Buell, if only Jones had ruled favorably on FTE’s motion to intervene.

Who is to blame for FTE’s inability to take part in the trial portion of KvD? It isn’t Judge Jones. This is a matter of public record, something that Luskin should have been aware of before spinning stuff. One can make a case for either FTE President Jon Buell or IDC advocate and FTE Academic Editor William A. Dembski having tripped up on this one, as becomes clear with just a small excursion to the transcript of the court’s consideration of FTE’s motion to intervene. At the time that FTE finally decided to file its motion to intervene, it was already late in May, 2005. Notably, this only happened about the time that the Thomas More Law Center and the Discovery Institute were apparently having some serious behind-the-scenes disagreements over the conduct of the case. FTE seemed to be far more willing to act on DI orders than the TMLC had proved to be, so having FTE obtain a co-defendant role in the case was likely a high priority for the DI. This may explain the DI’s continuing angst over the exceedingly poor showing that Buell had in court, so much so that they won’t even draw attention to it, but instead place blame — erroneously, of course — on Judge Jones.

Did FTE receive due process? It is hard to argue that they did not, given the copious public record demonstrating that they did. That seems to be why Luskin just tosses off a slur, apparently hoping that no one will take a closer look. There are several elements of interest in Buell’s testimony, including the howler that FTE is not a religious organization, the curious silence of Dembski, and Buell’s ignorance of the one issue that might have given FTE entry to the case.

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An Open Letter to the Polk County, Florida School Board

The Polk County, Florida school board is upset that the proposed Florida science standards include evolutionary science and don’t include “intelligent design”.

I was born in Lakeland, Florida, and lived for eighteen years there. My parents still live there. I still care about what happens in my home town.

To those on the Polk County school board: You’ve been conned. “Intelligent design” is a legal sham, a con game, one whose sole purpose is to insert a narrow sectarian doctrine into public school classrooms. It is not a “paradigm shift”; it’s advocates are not “top scientists”; it generates no hypotheses and stays far, far away from even trying to test any of its claims. It is not science. The latest date that it even could have been considered scientific would be sometime in the 19th century, as our understanding of science developed a cognizance that reliance on untestable mechanisms (or non-mechanistic “explanations”) was unproductive. It is not a slur on you that you have fallen for this; it is the property of a well-crafted con that it should be made believable to the mark. But continuing to believe in the con after it has been explained would be a serious lapse of good judgment.

Please do have a look at the experience of the Dover, Pennsylvania Area School District. They adopted an “intelligent design” policy, having believed the hype handed to them by “intelligent design” advocates. Some of those advocates made them a tempting offer; they would be represented in court for free. What they didn’t get was a guarantee on the outcome. During the course of the case, ID advocate after ID advocate withdrew from roles as expert witnesses in response to a call from the Discovery Institute that they should distance themselves from the case. If you adopt “intelligent design”, you don’t have a choice; you have to get your experts from the Discovery Institute or do without. Even with two primary ID advocates testifying for them, the Dover Area School District lost in court, unable to demonstrate that teaching “intelligent design” had any secular purpose, and unable to counter the clear linkage of the content of “intelligent design” to earlier forms of creationism that had been ruled unconstitutional. They lost the case and were assessed costs for the plaintiffs’ legal expenses in the amount of $1,000,011. If you check with your insurer, I am sure that you will find that adopting “intelligent design” will mean that you forgo coverage when you go to court; any fines or costs assessed will be directly your responsibility.

“Intelligent design” had its day in court and was exposed as the sham it is, without scientific standing and without the ability to sidestep the simple fact that every one of its arguments comes from earlier forms of creationism. You don’t have to repeat that experience.

Now, if you do choose to follow the same path that the Dover Area School District did, please rest assured that I will be doing my best to make sure that you fail as spectacularly as they did. I will offer to assist any legal challenge that is made to any policy you adopt that advocates “intelligent design” with the weight of the public educational system behind it. (Among other things, I helped prepare materials used by Kitzmiller v. DASD expert witness Barbara Forrest, as acknowledged in her supplemental expert report filed in the case.) I will do that because what you are contemplating at the moment is wrong. The history of reaction to antievolution shows that those who object to antievolution are predominantly members or clergy of mainstream Christian denominations. “Intelligent design” scorns the beliefs of a large segment of Christian believers, with an ID advocate famously declaring that “intelligent design” was no friend of theistic evolution. ID is not a generic sentiment even among Christians; it remains a divisive, narrow sectarian viewpoint. It is your responsibility that students receive the best education possible, without adopting particular religious views at the expense of others. This means that you must leave the preaching to the churches, who have access to students outside of the public school context. Please also consult the resources of the Clergy Letter Project, where over 10,000 Christian clergy have signed a strong statement of support for teaching evolutionary science.

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

I hope that you make the right choice.

Wesley R. Elsberry, Ph.D.

The DI CRSC and Plagiarism

Antievolution morals have a definite direction, towards evil. Thus, it should come as no surprise that plagiarism should be one of the ways that they express that.

ERV has the scoop on a blatant rip-off of an animation produced by Harvard University and XVIVO. ID advocates including William Dembski have been using this animation, stripped of its original narration and credits, as part of lectures that they give. ERV reports Dembski used it in his presentation to Oklahoma University, for which he reportedly received a $10,000 honorarium.

I think Dembski could afford to cough up a bottle of single malt scotch to each of them, and if this proceeds to actual litigation, I suggest to Harvard and XVIVO that they make that part of any settlement offer.

Update: Vic Hutchinson says that the actual honorarium value Dembski received has to be less than $5,000. The $10,000 figure is the total that the sponsoring group was looking to get to defray their complete expenses for the event.

Marks and Dembski Acknowledge Withdrawing “Unacknowledged Costs” Paper

Robert Marks and William Dembski co-authored a paper that appeared on their “Evolutionary Informatics Laboratory” website, titled
“Unacknowledged Information Costs in Evolutionary Computing: A Case Study on the Evolution of Nucleotide Binding Sites”. After bragging about how their work was going to overturn the findings of all those folks working on evolutionary computation in the real world, and bragging that they hadn’t had criticism of their latest offerings, people did have a look and made some criticisms. Well, when the criticisms arrived and pointed out that the program that supposedly countered everything people knew about evolutionary computation was, in fact, dependent for its conclusions upon the fact that it improperly initialized some of its variables, the paper was de-linked from the main website. There was no notice given that the criticism specifically discussed as missing by the authors had played a role in the de-linking.

Now, about a month later, there is an acknowledgment that the paper was withdrawn.

Thanks to those who pointed to a bug in our software. This paper has been withdrawn.

For revised analysis, see HERE.

Well, Bob and Bill, while I appreciate the thanks, at this point I’d be astonished if this were actually credited such that the IDC cheerleaders could figure out who exactly deserves that thanks.

And one would expect that the “revised analysis” either would utilize a correct methodology to support the original claims, or it would retract the strong claims made and assert weaker claims, but one would be wrong. Instead, the “revised analysis” continues to claim that “ev”‘s performance is due to “perceptron structure and error measure”, but offers nothing except the fact that it outperforms blind search on the problem of interest as support. It’s a great big instance of begging the question, without even the poor support of a bogus script to spew phony numbers.

Concerned About “Objectivity”, But Not Accuracy?

Martin Cothran whines about the NOVA “Judgment Day” program, treating us to the following:

In one scene, the ACLU attorney hired by the parents who sued the Dover School District to overturn its pro-ID policy asked ID proponent Michael Behe (a scientist himself) if, under his definition, astrology counted as science. Behe said that, yes, it did. The attorney (or, rather, the actor playing the attorney) then asked if astrology hadn’t been proven false, to which Behe (or, again, the actor playing Behe) again agreed.

Of course, the attorney who cross-examined Michael Behe was Eric Rothschild, not Vic Walczak. Rothschild is a partner in the Pepper Hamilton law firm, and Vic Walczak is the attorney from the Pennsylvania ACLU.

I attempted to leave a comment last night: “Eric Rothschild is affiliated with Pepper Hamilton, not the ACLU.” So far, the post remains erroneous, and the comment has not yet appeared.

JPEGs and Rotation

My Nikon D2Xs has an orientation sensor, so if I take a vertically-oriented photo, that information gets placed in the EXIF data in the JPEG file. Depending upon my viewing software, I may be presented the photo horizontally, or in the correct vertical orientation. Since I often am looking to do batch processing of all the files taken at a particular event, it would be nice if the EXIF data could be applied before making resized pictures, where I may need to manually rotate three versions of the original.

Enter JPEG-EXIF AutoRotate, a software package that brings together several utilities to do this job. When installed, this adds several options to the context menu under Win32 operating systems. One can ask for a file to be rotated, or selected files, or selected folders, possibly including subfolders. Best of all, the rotation is performed without incurring a loss due to JPEG de-compression/re-compression cycles. So now, at least with my most recent camera, I can reduce some of the workflow: download, autorotate, then run my resize script.

The only thing better would be if they included a way to invoke it from the command line. I haven’t dug through all of that site, though, so maybe they mention something of the sort there.

Something else that would be useful would be if someone could do the same job for Mac OS X and Unix systems.

Update: I should have noticed that a command prompt pops up when autorotation is selected from the context menu. I still apparently need to either copy the relevant executable files to somewhere in my path, or set the path to include their current installation directory, but I feel I’m close to having that working.

Update: The elements of doing this via the command line are there. Three utilities, “jhead”, “jpegtran”, and “mogrify” from ImageMagick are installed by the software I linked above. The context menu items launch batch files. The relevant command for autorotate of all JPEGs in a directory is then:

“C:\path to\jhead” -autorot -ft “dir with jpeg files”\*.jpg

So now I have this incorporated into my general resize batch process. It launches autorotate, then handles resizing, normalizing, and unsharp mask at three different final image sizes.


I was looking into information about plugin development, and happened across a reference to both the Sansa e280 MP3 player and something called RockBox. I have a Sansa e280, so I had to have a look into what the RockBox thing might be.

RockBox is an alternative, free, open source firmware for several different brands and models of MP3 players. The models that seem to be best supported are made by Archos, but the Sansa versions were listed as “Usable”, so that sounded like something to check out.

Working from the RockBox for Sansa user manual, I eventually got an installation going. I had tried initially to do that on the Mac laptop, but for some reason the Mac refused to recognize the Sansa more than once. I shifted over to the Windows laptop, and was able to get the installation completed and a run of “sansapatcher” to update the boot system on the MP3 player. I also selected a number of themes, including some featuring large type.

Well, it works, all right. I’m still getting used to its navigation scheme and its focus on playlists, but I figure that will come with some experience. Some things that I find better immediately are that the buttons and slide wheel are recognized instantly. The Sansa firmware apparently requires a slide or button press event to “wake up”, which can make things ambiguous. I’ve also installed a “talk” file, which means that RockBox “speaks” the current menu selection as I navigate menus. This means that I should not have to pay attention to small type on the little screen if I need to change something while doing other tasks.

I’ve also checked, and I can get right back to the Sansa firmware by holding down the “left” button while powering the unit on. Nice.

I’m using the DockPod Aqua Large theme currently, which gives me large type. I also set the foreground color to something very close to black. Full black is flagged as an invalid color for some reason.

There are a number of features that I hope to test soon. Rockbox provides support for displaying JPEG images and MPEG video. I may set up essentially a small portfolio and snapshot set. The video option might be good for air travel. It also comes with a number of games, including ports of classic arcade games like Asteroids and Qix, as well as chess and solitaire. It even provides several applications like “Clock” and “Calculator”.

If you like getting more out of your MP3 player, I think RockBox may be worth trying.

Update: There are two problems that I’ve noticed so far. First, the USB connection doesn’t happen under Rockbox; I have to reboot into the Sansa firmware to be able to transfer files. This is a known issue, and folks at the RockBox site are working on getting USB functionality going. Second, and far less important, is that my installation doesn’t seem to handle the Doom port. I’d like to have that working just for the nerd factor.

Campbell Wins in North Mason

Kitsap Sun Reports on John Angus Campbell Win in School Board Race

I guess that over the next couple of years we will get to see whether Campbell’s disclaimers concerning his being a Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture were sincere.

Good luck, voters of North Mason; you may well need it.

And if it turns out that you end up needing more than luck, remember that the National Center for Science Education put in a lot of man-hours preparing to rebut Campbell in court back in 2005 when he was still supporting the Dover Area School District’s “intelligent design” policy. Help is, I’m sure, just a phone call away.