Monthly Archives: May 2008

Beckwith Reviews Numbers

The personable Baylor prof Francis Beckwith has a review of Ronald Numbers new edition of “The Creationists”. Beckwith praises Numbers for something Numbers gets wrong (an arbitrary distinction between “creationism” and “intelligent design”), corrects Numbers on details of the Baylor Polanyi Center affair, and alludes to a “mistake” that supposedly is common among “ID critics”:

These subtle, though important, distinctions are sometimes lost on critics of ID, who often confuse an argument offered by an ID advocate with the ID advocate who offers the argument. Ironically, this mistake is likely the consequence of a wider Protestant culture that separates faith and reason in a way that influences ID critics to think of all theological (or theologically-friendly) claims as arising exclusively from a believer’s private interpretation of the Bible rather than in tandem and symbiotically with natural theology and/or philosophical reflection. It is not surprising, therefore, that Judge John E. Jones, a devout Lutheran, in his opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover1 should make this particular mistake the centerpiece of his judgment.

Maybe there’s a point in there somewhere, but Beckwith’s convoluted construction and vague implications don’t add up to anything particularly intelligible, I’m afraid. Do “ID critics” really mistake an argument for a person? I don’t think so. Nor is there any help within the essay in trying to figure out what Beckwith considers a “centerpiece” of the Kitzmiller decision, though I know from Beckwith’s Greer-Heard Forum presentation that he thinks any consideration of religious motives of advocates in establishment cases to be unconstitutional, so there is at least the possibility that what Beckwith is trying to say above is something along those lines. I thought the argument Beckwith made at Greer-Heard was simply bizarre, in that he advocated that the courts completely leave aside any examination of intent when it comes to religious motivation of individuals, claiming that this was something prohibited by the “religious test” language of the US Constitution, even though the context is all wrong for that.

As an IDC critic, I don’t particularly care whether a religiously-motivated antievolution argument is purely formed out of “private interpretation of the Bible” or purely derives from “philosophical reflection”. The point is that privileging a particular sectarian view with government imprimatur is wrong, both morally and constitutionally. The “two-model” thinking common to all modern religious antievolution, whether called “creationism”, “scientific creationism”, “creation science”, “intelligent design”, “strengths and weaknesses”, or “academic freedom”, means that for the antievolution advocate it all amounts to the same thing, that a diminishment of one alternative is a support for the other.

In the legal context, precedent says that one does need to examine motives of advocates in religious establishment clause cases. It would be a mistake to say that the “purpose” prong of the Lemon test, for example, is about the particular provenance of an argument at issue. (Although for most antievolution arguments, the provenance is clearly from religious considerations and supports that point directly.) It is, rather, about the intended purpose the advocate has for the argument. Even if one were to (likely erroneously) attribute some antievolution argument to a not-explicitly-religious source (the generic “philosophical thinking” thing), the purpose to which an antievolution advocate puts it is pretty plainly not just generically religious, but narrowly sectarian.

We have a record of increasingly deceptive practices being used by antievolution advocates in order to get as many arguments from the ensemble of tired, old, bogus, long-rebutted religiously-motivated antievolution argumentation into public school science classrooms. Our courts don’t need to be hobbled in getting to the truth of what is going on, which would be the upshot of Beckwith’s argument that even considering purpose should be discarded out of hand.

Francis, care to try again on expressing your argument?

Equipment Malfunction

I’ve had two items malfunction on me recently.

I have a Canon S2 IS camera, and was surprised to be presented with a black screen upon powerup. So far, this happens intermittently, but the discussion available via search indicates that soon it will only show a black screen and record completely black images. The problem is well-known for this piece of gear and relates to the failure of a connection between the sensor and the rest of the electronics.

I also have a Samsung SC-D353 mini-DV camcorder, and was unpleasantly surprised to discover that its fold-out LCD screen now only displays white when deployed completely. I can see that there is an image displayed at just the angle where the LCD screen activates, but any further angle causes it to switch to just a white screen. I suspect a connector failure here, too.

I guess I’ll be finding out just what sort of support is available from the manufacturers in each case. Other people have reported receiving free repair of the S2 IS camera sensor problem from Canon even though the gear has been out of official warranty periods. Both of my problem items are likewise out of warranty.

Casey Luskin and Hypocrisy

Casey Luskin is quick off the mark to assert a charge of hypocrisy against Barbara Forrest.

When asked about her own anti-religious ideological views, a news article reported that “Forrest said her religious beliefs shouldn’t be an issue.”22 This is a blatant double-standard given Forrest’s attacks on other people for their religion. But she happens to be correct: She has every right to hold her anti-religious ideology, and her personal beliefs should be considered irrelevant to her public arguments about science and law. However, she refuses to extend the same courtesy to her opponents in the debate over evolution, constantly harping on her opponents’ supposed religious affiliations, while hypocritically claiming that her own anti-religious agenda is irrelevant.

Golly, how dare Forrest hold some people to account over their religiously motivated campaigns to alter public school science curricula to provide theistic science. What might be missing in the case made by Luskin for hypocrisy on Forrest’s part? That would merely be showing that Forrest is engaged in stealth campaigns to have her own particular religious views taught in public school science classes. Luskin, of course, slurs vaguely, having nothing to demonstrate that a comparable state of affairs obtains for Forrest as it does for, say, himself.

As for the rest of Luskin’s article, what Luskin fails to point out is that whenever pressed on what things they hope would be taught by teachers making use of “academic freedom” aka “academic irresponsibility” bills, it comes down to the very same old, tired, bogus, long-rebutted religious antievolution as they have always been peddling. Like “irreducible complexity”, famous in pre-“intelligent design” creationism as expressed in the query, “What good is half a wing?” The Discovery Institute’s own entry in the textbook stakes, “Explore Evolution”, offered as just the thing for “academic freedom”-loving science teachers, delivers a plethora of arguments easily recognized as recycled from earlier creationist materials. Yes, this is creationism in content, with no quibbling about it.

United Methodist Church in the News

I just got an email from Michael Zimmerman about the recent United Methodist Church convention. The UMC has incorporated proposed accepting acceptance of evolutionary processes into the Book of Discipline, endorsed the Clergy Letter Project, and opposes religious intrusions into the science classroom.

“Therefore be it resolved that the General Conference of the United Methodist Church go on record as opposing the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools.”

(Apparently, the early report is jumping the gun a bit, as the acceptance of evolutionary science one is passed by the committee but not yet acted upon by the plenary.)

Zimmerman notes:

This is fabulous news and we owe a debt of gratitude to Daniel Oertel, Al Kuelling and the Kansas East Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, respectively, for making these three resolutions possible. Please help spread the word about this good news.

Thanks Daniel, Al, and my fellow UMC folks in Kansas. That news brightened up my morning.

Maine: School Board Director Seeks to Exclude Evolution

SAD 59 debates teaching of evolution

Mike O’Risal at Hyphoid Logic points out that there is trouble brewing in Maine.

I think the following from the news report conveys the essence:

Director Matthew Linkletter claims evolution is an unprovable theory and shouldn’t be taught as fact. He’s urged the SAD 59 Board of Directors to consider his view during its May 19 meeting in Madison, with a goal of removing evolution from science classrooms.

But David Connerty-Marin of the Department of Education says evolution must be taught because, in the state’s view, it’s a proven science.

“For our students to be prepared for college work and life in the 21st century, it’s necessary,” said Connerty-Marin.

Connerty-Marin said the Maine Learning Results program mandates the study of evolution in public science classes.

You have a local school board seeking to overturn statewide standards concerning teaching of evolutionary science, with typical “equal time” and “balanced treatment” claims being made here.

The state of play has progressed since 1987’s Edwards v. Aguillard ruling, though. Now, the federal government under the “No Child Left Behind” law will withhold federal funds from schools whose students do not perform to the adopted state science standards. That means that if the state has evolutionary science in its science standards, efforts to exclude it from the classrooms and tests means that the schools involved are saying they they don’t want the monetary support that comes from compliance.

Maybe Linkletter hasn’t gotten the memo yet.

More Commercials

Visa has a commercial based on turning getting snacks and into seats at the theater into a mini-action flick. The protagonist couple get their tickets and see a clock showing “8:59”. The music ramps up and our heroes almost manage to screw up pay trying to find cash, but the woman saves the day with her Visa card. They enter their theater just as “9:00” shows up on the clock.

But I don’t understand why have all the rush and fuss just to make it for the “Please turn off your cellphone” notice and the fifteen to twenty minutes of advertising and previews.

True-Value Hardware features a commercial in their “empathic employees” series, this one with a woman as a customer with a dirty face. The empathic employee asks, “Squirrels?” She nods, and the employee has a flashback to working in a garden plot and encountering a squirrel damaging his plants, whereupon he presses his dirty hands to his face. “Repellents and fertilizer,” he tells the woman, “will bring your garden back.”

Now, the sort of arrogant or nearly oblivious squirrel portrayed in the commercial is what Diane and I call a “snack squirrel”. Depending on the state, it is possible that such are in season even now, in which case I think the proper response is, “Harris’ hawks. Harris’ hawks will take care of that problem in no time.”

I suppose red-tails would, too.

At Last, Quantum Mechanics Makes it to the Back Alley

A gentle touch for better control, a quantum mechanical con, and milestone PRL papers

Gaming and gambling have inspired a number of advances in science and technology, going from Babbage’s fascination with horse racing through the invention of Unix to support a game of “Space Wars” to the upward climb in personal computing capabilities driven by video game performance. The article above finally shows that people are starting to think about exploiting quantum mechanics for the purpose of rigging games and winning bets off classically-thinking suckers.

The basic gist is that, in theory, particle-sharp Alice will fleece classic physics chump Bob by allowing him to examine one of two boxes. Bob’s task is to observe a particle in the box; he notes whether he does or does not detect a particle in the box he has selected. Alice’s pitch is that the particle is in one of the boxes, and that she will try to guess whether Bob did or did not observe the particle in his choice of box. Because Bob is thinking in terms of classical physics, he thinks it is a fair game; Alice should only be able to guess at chance levels, in this case with a fifty-fifty chance of being right. With many repeated plays, the number of wins for Alice and Bob should be about the same, or so Bob thinks. However, Alice isn’t about to let Bob leave with cash left in his wallet, and actually has three boxes. The particle at issue is set up before each round to have a quantum superposition such that it could be in any of the three boxes. Alice’s third box, though, has a detector in it, so if Alice checks after Bob attempts an observation, she either detects the particle, in which case she answers the Bob didn’t observe it in his look, or she doesn’t, in which case she answers that Bob did observe it, since Bob’s observation thus collapsed the superposition and means that there is nothing for Alice’s detector to detect anymore. Alice can win every time this way.

It’s good to know that quantum mechanics has finally made it out of the dull and boring role of providing the basis for modern electronics and stuff like LASERs, and now shows theoretical promise for displacing the three-card-Monty game in the back alley near you.

With advances in quantum technology, it may someday turn out that gambling is only risky for those of us who don’t understand quantum mechanics.

Part of the reason that gambling is risky has nothing to do with understanding the game at hand and everything to do with human cognitive wiring. Gambling tends to payoff on a variable schedule, and that happens to increase the frequency of the behavior via operant conditioning even more than fixed payoff schedules.

Meijer Dumps HSUS Donation Scheme

Meijer ends Humane Society contest after sportsmen complain – Latest News – The Grand Rapids Press –

Meijer is a grocer/retailer that operates in the Midwest. Recently, they offered customers the opportunity to donate a $1 towards a $5,000 goal for a donation to aid people who have pets and whose homes have been foreclosed upon.

Sounds OK, doesn’t it?

The problem is that a couple of layers underneath that bright, shiny surface, one finds the poser group HSUS (“Humane Society of the United States”) as the folks being aided by the donations. HSUS is a radical animal rights organization masquerading as an animal welfare group. From the name on, they borrow legitimacy from the hard work and effort of local shelters and the national 130-year-old animal welfare group, the American Humane Association.

The US Sportsmen’s Alliance, a hunting advocacy group, criticized Meijer for its donation plan. Meijer decided to truncate the donation period in response.

Meijer Inc. ducked Monday after finding itself in the cross hairs of a national hunting group over donations to help families and pets going through foreclosure.

The Foreclosure Pets Fund is run by the Humane Society of the United States — an organization the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance charges is anti-hunting.

I’ve noted before the problem of animal rights groups feeding off legitimate concerns of animal welfare:

This isn’t to say that the fakes haven’t gotten on the bandwagon of pushing legitimate reforms already suggested by animal welfare advocates. But their participation is best considered a form of crypsis, since they have an agenda that goes far beyond the laudable aims of animal welfare.

Support animal welfare. Don’t get conned by animal rights groups trying to disguise themselves as animal welfare advocates.

Essentially, the radical animal rights groups appear to be implementing a plan to become the only voices for animal welfare, though their aims go much further than those of legitimate animal welfare groups. The radical animal rights groups want an end to any human “exploitation” of animals, and that includes pet ownership and the extinction of domesticated animal species, as well as any take of wild animals for any reason. Eating meat is right out. Hunting and fishing are targets. Biomedical research using animal models would be history. However, selling the general public on those goals is not a public relations winner right now. How would Meijer, Inc. care to contemplate a grocery store without milk, butter, eggs, meat, fish, or any other animal-based product? How would Meijer customers take it? That’s right, no sale. On the other hand, animal welfare is an incredibly popular idea and causes people to open up their wallets for charitable giving. There’s only some much money in the animal welfare charitable giving pot, though, and those pesky folks running the local animal shelters and the AHA as the national organization for them are soaking up quite a bit of that money. If, though, a radical animal rights group spends enough money on a public relations campaign to “own” some particular animal welfare issue, they can get most of the money that gets donated by people interested in that cause, say shutting down puppy mills or, as in current events, aiding pet owners in financial straits. That money does not go to the local shelter or the AHA, and they are able to do less in making progress on those animal welfare concerns, making them appear less effective than the disguised radical animal rights groups, causing a further shift in charitable giving toward the radicals.

Many of the comments following the news item linked at the top take issue with Meijer and those against the donation scheme as unfairly depriving the people at the end of the charitable giving chain, the pet-owning foreclosed, of needed funds. They simply don’t understand how having the cash flow go through a radical animal rights organization is a problem. They note the activism and enthusiasm of these groups for specific animal welfare issues and call it “good, good, good”. The problem is that, just like a legitimate front organization for the Mafia, that’s not all that is going on. If we are going to have our established animal welfare groups, locally and nationally, it is they who need to be able to receive our limited donations, and not the radical animal rights groups who are seeking to displace and silence them.

Michigan: Call to Action on Falconry Bill (SB 1085)

I got the following notice from the Michigan Hawking Club:

Attention Michigan Falconer

Last Wed April 23rd the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Affairs Committee passed Senate Bill 1085. This bill will allow a continued take of Wild Raptors for Falconry use. It Ends the Sunset and puts the rules and regulations concerning wild take in the hands of the DNR and Natural Resources Commission. Please write your Senator and Representative and tell them you want them to support this Bill. Do it Now!!! Follow it up with a phone call to their office in Lansing. Please….. the fate of a wild take is now up to YOU!!

Michigan Hawking Club

I’m not nearly as enthusiastic for the bang punctuation, but the message is spot on.

Find contact information for your Michigan State Senator

This is the info for my senator.

  Senator Information
State Senate District: 23
Senator: Whitmer, Gretchen
Address: 415 Farnum Building

Office Phone: (517)373-1734
Office Fax: (517)373-5397


Find contact information for your Michigan State Representative

My representative is one or the other of the following. I’ll get it down to one tomorrow.

S 1086 HOB
S 1088 HOB

Flunked, Not Expelled: Expelled Enjoined

There was a hearing in the Yoko Ono copyright infringement case this past week, and Premise Media has been enjoined against further distribution of “Expelled” until the case is settled next hearing on May 19th.

That means that theaters that already have a copy may continue to show it, but no further prints may be sent out to other theaters, and no CD or DVD versions may be distributed, either.

Florida: Squeaking By

The Florida legislature failed to pass either of two forms of the Discovery Institute’s draft “academic freedom” bills, and adjourned Friday evening. We have until the legislative session next year to make sure that those in the legislature know exactly what the history and intent of bills like that are. But it doesn’t feel like a “win”; those of us who invested our time in advocating for good science education in Florida essentially got lucky this time.

Read the rest at the Panda’s Thumb.

The Discovery Institute is not pleased.

Oxygen depletion: A new form of ocean habitat loss

Oxygen depletion: A new form of ocean habitat loss

We take breathing for granted. And especially we take the availability of oxygen for granted. For air-breathing animals, things are relatively simple on the physics. If there is adequate ventilation, the air is comprised of about one-fifth oxygen, and only things like altitude really impinge on how well that can be utilized. The relevant principle for we air-breathing sorts is partial pressure, and for everybody but folks on mountains and those flying at high altitudes, it simply isn’t a matter of much thought or import.

Once one goes aquatic, though, things are different. Oxygen tension is highly dependent upon a number of factors, including salinity and temperature. Of the non-biotic factors, temperature is the most important. And temperature is the thing at issue when we are talking about climate change. Relatively small changes in temperature can trigger fish kill situations, though for most people large scale death of fish is most commonly associated with biotic anoxia through agents like algal and dinoflagellate blooms.

The research linked above looks at the abiotic issue of declining oxygen tension due to increasing temperature. And that, in turn, is linked to climate change.

Scientists confirm computer model predictions that oxygen-depleted zones in tropical oceans are expanding, possibly because of climate change

An international team of physical oceanographers including a researcher from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego has discovered that oxygen-poor regions of tropical oceans are expanding as the oceans warm, limiting the areas in which predatory fishes and other marine organisms can live or enter in search of food.

As the title says, this is yet another aspect of habitat loss. Where oxygen tension drops, fish may either have to leave or die, and over broad enough areas, leaving just isn’t an option. The study also discusses how low-oxygen tension waters can be carried into coastal areas, creating problems for all sorts of organisms dependent upon a continuous supply of oxygen in the water. As global warming progresses, the regions of low oxygen tension enlarge and more often are carried to coastal areas. This adds yet another stress to already decimated fisheries.

Oxygen is not omnipresent in aquatic and marine environments. As the temperature goes up, the places where enough oxygen can be found in the water for fish and other species of commercial interest goes down. Though the physics is more complex than for air-breathers, the situation just comes down to managing to keep in places where the oxygen stays high enough, all the time. It just will be getting tougher as the heat rises.

World first: researchers develop completely automated anesthesia system

World first: researchers develop completely automated anesthesia system

My first science-related full-time job was in the Anesthesiology Department of the College of Medicine at the University of Florida. My job required me to be at the continuing education lecture series the department held, those starting promptly at 7 AM each weekday. While I didn’t have the benefit of medical school and residency in anesthesiology, there was quite a bit of information appreciable to the lay audience as well. For one thing, anesthesiology is a very demanding specialization in medicine. As various lecturers made clear, a person under anesthesia is about as close to death as medical practice allows, notwithstanding whatever surgical procedure might be going on. Another thing oft repeated was to choose your anesthesiologist with care, but surgeons… hah, they’re a dime a dozen.

One of the large projects going on in the lab toward the end of the time I was there was a study on vigilance. Residents participating in the study were given several hours of a video to watch, after they had completed one of their usual mind-numbing marathon shifts on duty. The video was of monitoring equipment used for anesthesiology, and at points within it would be fluctuations that could indicate a problem. The residents were supposed to note these. Of course, their performance was neither perfect nor was it close to what they could do if well-rested before starting to watch.

The result of the linked article is a computer-automated anesthesia system. It sounds like they have incorporated something very much like an expert system in software, as well as sensors and actuators such that precise dispensing of anesthetic agents can be delivered and results monitored. This is something that may be the harbinger of a means to help reduce the vigilance problem that I got acquainted with back in the early 1980s. It sounds like a good step forward, in any case, though it seems that the initial notion of the market for this system is to fill in for an absent anesthesiologist. I’m thinking that it is more likely to help reduce the strain on anesthesiologists on the spot.

Florida: The Legislature Countdown

The Florida legislature’s session ends tomorrow. Today, the Florida Senate basically tossed the ball into the House’s court, to amend their wording to match the Senate version of an antievolution bill. The House is still in session going on into the evening. There’s a lot of actual legislation needed to keep the state government going that needs to be considered and voted on. So various places have discussed the possibility that the session will end without further action on the antievolution bills in play, including a bizarre claim from Discovery Institute Carpetbagger-Plenipotentiary John West that if the session expired without an “academic freedom” (DI’s sense of “academic irresponsibility”) law resulting that Florida Republican lawmakers would have “a lot of explaining to do”.

But no one’s livelihood or property are safe while the legislature is in session, or so it is said, and there’s another day where the House could decide to capitulate to the Senate and pass the Senate’s version. It likely would not take them long if they decided to just do it, and that would leave the issue in the hands of Governor Crist. Unfortunately, Crist’s reputation for having a low backbone quotient doesn’t bode well if that comes to pass.

Update: Word is that Rep. Alan Hays is planning to bring the Senate bill wording before the House today, just as I mentioned as a possibility above. This is the last chance to inform your representatives just how bad a bill this is.

Update: And the scoop appears to be that the House failed to pass the Senate version of the “academic freedom” bill. Florida gets a one year breather on legislation. Expect a stiff breeze out of Seattle.

Another OS Upgrade

I have a Gateway MT6458 laptop. It came with Windows Vista pre-installed. I pretty much immediately shrank the partition to make room for a Unix boot partition and a shared data partition. I chose the Xubuntu Linux distribution to install for my Unix desktop.

I’ve been through one bungled upgrade that was my fault, and had to reinstall from scratch. Today, I tried upgrading to the latest Xubuntu release, 8.04 LTS “Hardy Heron”. And this time, it appears that all has gone well. I did have to change repositories, for a prerequisite noted on upgrading is that all recommended system upgrades be applied before the OS version upgrade is attempt. The “update-manager” application handles this, and it worked for all but two files: an update of itself and its GUI. I got a “Failed to fetch” error message. After retrying the downloads periodically, I figured that the issue wasn’t temporary. A bit of Googling revealed that sometimes better luck is had if one changes the repository used to obtain files. OK, fine, I thought. I was going to pick one essentially at random when I noticed a “Choose Best Server” button. That sounded like just the thing, so I hit the button. It took about five minutes, and it selected a host server in the USA on the west coast. When I tried the updates again, this time they went through.

Then it was time to upgrade the OS itself. I turned off all my running applications, then started the upgrade to 8.04 LTS. That took about 43 minutes to download everything needed, and then another hour or so to install things. Every once in a while, I’d notice that there was a prompt for my attention. After dealing with those, the process finished up and requested a reboot. I did that, and the system went through GRUB and I selected my Linux partition to boot to, and “Hardy Heron” did indeed come up without a hitch. So far, so good.

Flunked, Not Expelled: Ben Stein Says Scientists Are Murderers

Expelled Friendly Atheist » Scientists Are Murderers

According to Ben Stein, at least.

Stein (speaking about the Holocaust): …that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you.

Crouch: That’s right.

Stein: … Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.

Crouch: Good word, good word.

Reprehensible and insane seem to be the only adequate descriptors here.

Now we can see why Ben Stein was recruited for this job. I hope that someone on the spot is able to read out Stein’s statements above in the legislative sessions where “Expelled” is being touted as a reason to pass antievolution legislation. It would go some way towards informing the legislators as to just what they are signing themselves and their constituents up for.

Update: Check it out on YouTube.

Fishing throws targeted species off balance

Fishing throws targeted species off balance, Scripps study shows

Back on my birthday in 2006, I had a post about fishing as a cause of evolution in fish stocks. The linked article at the top of this post dances around the implication, saying that fishing makes the age structure of a population “dynamic” and “unstable”, but they keep a relentlessly ecology-only mindset on the issue. Nonetheless, the answer remains the same so far as regulatory policy is concerned.

Fishing typically extracts the older, larger members of a targeted species and fishing regulations often impose minimum size limits to protect the smaller, younger fishes.

“That type of regulation, which we see in many sport fisheries, is exactly wrong,” said Sugihara. “It’s not the young ones that should be thrown back, but the larger, older fish that should be spared. Not only do the older fish provide stability and capacitance to the population, they provide more and better quality offspring.”

If you want a population to produce bigger fish, you need to stop taking the very biggest fish available.