Monthly Archives: January 2009

A Commercial You Won’t Be Seeing

Verizon Wireless has acquired Alltel Wireless.

Remember the perky commercials featuring Chad, the personable Alltel Wireless salesman? And the four dorks representing the competing firms of Cingular, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon?

Recent corporate events should, for completeness sake, be reflected in one last commercial with the line-up of actors. In this one, though, Matthew Brent would close his cell phone, and get to tell Chad, “The merger’s done. You work for me now, Chad.”

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Missing Mike Majerus

Mike Majerus, the Cambridge zoologist and lepidopterist, died overnight between this past Monday and Tuesday. Majerus patiently rebutted both religious antievolutionist and scientific misunderstandings of the evidence for evolution provided by industrial melanism seen in the peppered moth, Biston betularia.

NCSE has a summary rebuttal to antievolutionist claims about resting places of moths mostly based on the research of Majerus.

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Fuz Rana: Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

An old joke can be recycled…

Q. How do you know when a professional antievolution advocate is lying?

A. Their lips are moving.

Sometimes it seems like the derivative above comes close to the truth. Take, for instance, Fuz Rana’s article, “What Darwin Didn’t Know”, appearing in Charisma magazine. Here’s an example of a whopper that Rana passes on with all the confidence that gave us “con man” as a phrase:

Researchers have traditionally maintained that hundreds of millions of years would be necessary for abiogenesis. They also claim that the first life to emerge would be extremely simple, evolving toward complexity.

Darwin embraced the protoplasmic theory-the idea that the cell consisted of only a wall surrounding a nucleus and a homogeneous, jellylike protoplasm. This understanding made early evolutionary explanations of abiogenesis plausible. Biologists and chemists easily envisioned chemical routes that could produce the single ingredient believed to form the cell’s protoplasm.

Fuz Rana joins a plethora of other antievolutionists who push the same lie. Darwin famously propounded an incorrect mechanism of inheritance, pangenesis, that required an enormously complex sub-cellular organization, and Darwin published scientific work showing complex sub-cellular changes induced in living cells when exposed to certain chemicals. The notion that Darwin was a proponent of the idea Rana and other liars assert would be fully worthy of being taken up by the Mythbusters folks, except I don’t see how they’d work a large explosion into such a segment.

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Linux and Marvell Topdog Wireless

I got a Gateway MT6458 laptop computer back in October of 2007. One of the first things I did was to resize the Vista partition, giving me about half the disk to install Linux on for a dual-boot system. I used the Xubuntu version of the Ubuntu Linux distribution.

A fly in the ointment was that Xubuntu did not recognize the built-in PCI-E wireless card, a Marvell Topdog card. My solution to this point was simply to carry an Atheros-based PCMCIA wireless card and plug it in if I was using Linux.

Unfortunately, I seem to have misplaced the PCMCIA card.

So I looked for people who had managed to get the Topdog card working. The main problem I had, it turned out, was trying to be too specific in my search string. Trying to locate “xubuntu gateway mt6458 wireless” didn’t work, but when I tried just “ubuntu marvell topdog” I hit paydirt. That thread has step-by-step instructions (not all in one comment, though) and a link to a working driver archive (on page 2).

To summarize, once you’ve unpacked the driver archive:

sudo ndiswrapper -i NetMW14x.inf

sudo ndiswrapper -a 11ab:2a08 netmw14x

sudo ndiswrapper -m

sudo depmod -a

sudo modprobe ndiswrapper

As another commenter noted, I had to repeat the last two commands, but my Xubuntu now can do wireless via the built-in card.

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Travel

I’ll shortly be on the road headed for Canton, Ohio to attend my aunt’s funeral tomorrow. I expect to be back Tuesday, but I don’t know that I’ll have Internet access in the meantime.

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Begley and the Grand Conclusion

Sharon Begley had a piece in Newsweek magazine about scientists rethinking positions. Begley is not the retiring sort, apparently:

Rare, however, are changes of mind by scientists identified with either side of a contentious issue. No one who rose to fame arguing that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by sticky brain plaques and who has now been convinced by evidence that the plaques are mostly innocent bystanders, not culprits. No one who once pushed hormone replacement therapy to prevent heart attacks in menopausal women who now realizes that the drugs increase the risk of heart attacks (as well as stroke and breast cancer). No one who cast his lot with the theory that a killer asteroid sent the dinosaurs into extinction who now reads the impact-crater evidence as implicating worldwide volcanism instead. But really, we shouldn’t be surprised. Proponents of a particular viewpoint, especially if their reputation is based on the accuracy of that viewpoint, cling to it like a shipwrecked man to flotsam. Studies that undermine that position, they say, are fatally flawed.

All this based upon the results of the 2008 “Edge” question, a remarkable achievement in meta-analysis on Begley’s part.

Was there anyone who “rose to fame” on the basis of advocating a particular mechanism for Alzheimer’s in the respondents to the 2008 Edge question? Not that I can see. Begley does not justify her sweeping conclusion in terms of the expected prior probability of scientists who are confronted with a major change in evidence in their field of study in their lifetime, modulated by average point in career of the correspondent. I guess Begley thinks that happens to everybody every other week, but that would be baseless speculation. A brief look at the respondent list demonstrates that it wasn’t just scientists contributing, as the presence of thespian Alan Alda exemplifies. Beatrice Golomb was a respondent to the Edge question, but she is on record as being skeptical of the benefits of proposed treatments based on the particular mechanism Begley disses. Golomb also is on the side of the angels concerning Begley’s next sentence about hormone replacement therapy, as her response to the Edge question is specifically on that topic and criticizes HRT advocates for sloppy experimental design. Begley’s next target is puzzling, because Scott Sampson’s essay in the collection discusses his change of mind because of the evidence between explanations for the KT boundary event that did in the dinosaurs — but he went the other way, dropping his preference for gradualist volcanism for the catastrophic impact explanation. Why Begley insists that only changes of mind in the other direction should count toward the good remains a mystery. Is Begley in command of facts not yet available to the researchers who are closest to the question? If so, she doesn’t divulge them here.

There certainly exist scientists who have long clung to favored pet theories long past when the weight of the evidence should have caused them to change their mind, with Louis Agassiz perhaps serving as the archetype. But Begley’s argument is not about an existence proof, but rather a hasty generalization supposedly applicable to the vast majority of the scientific profession. And that Begley has no basis for, not even within the limited sample of the Edge question results.

Maybe a question in the journalist profession could be the basis for changes of mind, too, specifically whether anything filling column-inches is better than a far more accurate void.

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The 23rd of January Rolls Around

I’m up late, so when it turns early on the 23rd, I’ll post this. On this day in 1960, the bathyscaphe Trieste visited the bottom of the Marianas Trench, and I was born in Lakeland, Florida. Shortly I’ll turn in for the night, and time will slide smoothly by like the dark waters of the Pacific slid past the windows Walsh and Piccard looked through on the way down and back. I’d like to think of the life I’m leading as a continuing voyage of discovery, though many of the discoveries are also dark. My aunt on my mother’s side died earlier this week, and her funeral will be held Monday.

Tomorrow Today is shaping up as a busy day. I have a meeting scheduled to discuss a short-term programming project that will carry me through the end of April, and later in the day an interview for a position that could pick up thereafter. I’m sure that there must be eating establishments in the area that give discounts on birthdays; maybe I’ll see about doing something for a birthday dinner out.

Cheers to all my fellow voyagers. Be prepared to learn something, and perhaps the day will surprise you.

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Academic Free-For-All Day

The Alliance for Science has a page up for Academic Free-For-All Day.

Ever since that sad debacle known as the “Enlightenment”, a cult of knowledge-and-learning has insisted that any investigation be based on what has been learned in the past. How limiting! If we can only free our minds from the yoke of wisdom, the possibilities become endless. Also, there is way too much hero worship these days. Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, blah, blah, blah. They are just a bunch of old dead white guys. Why stand on the shoulders of giants when we can peer from between their ankles?

On Academic Free-for-All day, everyone can have it their way. Don’t worry if 99.9% of the experts on some subject agree on one conclusion about the facts — if your ‘gut’ says differently, then go for it! No matter how wacky the idea is, you can usually find a handful of cranks with Ph.D.s to back you up!

Check it out.

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Louisiana: Clearing the Way for Antievolution

This article points out what we knew from the outset, that the “academic freedom” law passed there was about nothing other than making it likely that teachers could adopt various of the standard religious antievolution arguments for classroom instruction. The state department of education had a policy that the board of education altered:

The section removed said: “Materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes.”

The folks arguing for the removal say that that is implicit in other rules in force. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

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The Latest PETA Lunacy: “Sea Kittens”

NPR reports on the latest “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals” (PETA) publicity campaign, this one aimed at reducing fishing and use of fish as food. One can imagine the PETA brainstorming session for this: what might make people treat fish differently? And some unknown genius there got the idea that they could rename “fish” as “sea kittens”.

“PETA thought that by renaming fish sea kittens, compassionate people who would never dream of hurting a dog or a cat might extend that sympathy to fish, or sea kittens,” PETA campaign coordinator Ashley Byrne says.

Byrne says that rebranding fish as sea kittens was obvious.

“Fish not only have the same ability to feel pain as a dog or a cat, but they also communicate with one another,” she says. “They have complex social interactions; they form bonds; they express affection by gently rubbing against one another.”

That’s an anthropomorphic mess there. Fish certainly can feel pain, but the “same ability” statement just doesn’t do anything. As for the communication thing, fish often do defend territories and attract mates. Maybe that’s what is meant by “complex social interactions”. I don’t know what fish-rubbing Byrne has witnessed, but there’s a lot of fin-nipping and worse out there as well.

A child’s response disputed PETA’s view of fish mentality:

“It just doesn’t look right,” Harmony says. Harmony, the fourth generation of a commercial fishing family, looks at the cartoon fish and reads through the information on the site. “They say that they’re intelligent, but they’re not really,” Harmony says. “They have tiny, tiny little brains. Very miniature.”

I wouldn’t agree with the dismissal made there, either. I’ve been able to use operant conditioning to train fish myself, and C. Scott Johnson wrote a book about training goldfish with the same techniques that are used for training dolphins (which seems to have become a collectors item). I certainly long ago discarded the Cartesian view of animals as automatons, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating a couple of catfish filets with lemon juice and butter.

The issue of job loss in the commercial fisheries has a PETA answer:

But Byrne says that even if people lose jobs in the fishing industry through the success of the campaign, they could find work in more sea-kitten-friendly environments.

“So as there is less of a demand for foods like fish, there is more of a demand for other foods, and jobs open up in those industries,” Byrne says.

So how many soybean and peanut farmers does the country need, especially now in the recession we’ve got going? PETA doesn’t mention what “other” food industries might take in the former fishermen, but one can bet that they don’t mean anything that comes near a domestic animal.

Though PETA’s regard for fishermen is likely on a par with the 72 to 90% of animals they euthanize at PETA-run shelters, it may well be the case that many commercial fishermen will be out of work anyway. Perpetual stock mis-management by politics and hope rather than biology has put many commercial fisheries into the danger zone. Idiotic campaigns about “sea kittens” is not a substitute for actual biology-based stock management.

Remember, PETA’s long-term goal is a world in which all humans are obligate vegans, all domestic animals of any sort are extinct, and no human use of wildlife happens. It’s sometimes easy to overlook in those cases where PETA hops on a convenient bandwagon (“Puppy mills are bad!”), but stunts like this “sea kittens” thing help make the point that these folks are far, far removed from where most people in the USA are at.

Hat tip to “Spottedwind” at AtBC.

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Discovery Institute: More Propaganda Misuse of “Academic Freedom”

The Discovery Institute, who told everybody for years that they should “wedge” “intelligent design” creationism into the public schools (and even went so far as repeatedly suggesting that various administrators and officials “follow the law” when referring to the vestiges of the failed Santorum Amendment buried in the “No Child Left Behind” conference report), are hard at work to get most of the very same arguments into the public schools. The new effort promotes a misused label of “academic freedom”; see for yourself at academicfreedomday.com.

The website design utilizes a pop-art retro cartoon look, and features a snippet from Charles Darwin:

“A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”

Of course, the DI doesn’t take note of the context. I’ve discussed this before.

And an antievolution site without a quote-mine of Darwin would be incomplete, so obviously Gornoski’s site dishes it up in the header of his theme. Darwin’s message was that his book was too short to collect all of the opposing arguments, too, not that he would be seeking that fair result. In our modern situation, the clear message is that science classes have too little time to spend on teaching students both science and anti-science as if they were the same thing. Evolutionary science has passed muster through rigorous test and scrutiny; the “weaknesses” that the DI promotes are just the same old discredited tosh that has been seen from religiously motivated antievolutionists for decades and centuries. Evolutionary science is accountable through the record of hard work of scientists seen in the scientific literature, and antievolutionary drivel is not.

As an example of just how mendacious our merry band of antievolutionists from Seattle are, check out their page on the site concerning online resources. Do they take the quoted snippet in the way they want others to take it? Of course not. Every single link is to credulous “intelligent design” creationism or other religiously-motivated antievolution advocacy, and none whatever to criticisms of their arguments, though many such sites are available.

Note also that many of the resources are explicitly about “intelligent design” creationism advocacy. The Discovery Institute has been steadily denying that they were advocating IDC to various and sundry boards of education and the like; it’s good to see such clear proof from them directly that they were lying when they made those denials. METHINKS IT IS LIKE A CONFESSION.

Hat tip to Greg Laden.

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Go Gators!

I was able to catch the game last night from part-way into the third quarter. As I tuned in Oklahoma was on their second touchdown drive, and it looked like they had the Gator defense all figured out. As time went on, it became clear that was not the case.

The Ahmad Black interception that killed a Sooner drive late in the game was stunning, and clearly a decisive moment in the contest.

Congratulations to the team.

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Why Your Neighbor Hates Evolution

Lansing Community College had an in-service day today with round-table discussions. Diane and I had volunteered to lead three such sessions, using the topic, “Why Does My Neighbor Hate Evolution?”

The first session had a small group entirely composed of people who saw antievolution as a problem, but the second and third sessions included self-proclaimed creationists or antievolutionists in the groups.

The reason explaining most of the phenomena of the title, Diane and I explained, was commitment to a particular religious doctrine that put it at odds with the findings of evolutionary science and various other disciplines. And within that, most cases are explained by adherence to young-earth creationism, saying that the earth must be 20,000 years old or less.

One of our participants was explicit in preferring a 6,000 age of the earth. That person also told us of a trip made to the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Kentucky, saying that it was well done, fairly presented both sides, and made a good case for the young earth view. It took some restraint, but I didn’t call this person out directly on the whopper about AiG presenting evolutionary science fairly. After a later Gish Gallop, I made clear that in over twenty years of close examination of antievolution claims, I had yet to encounter one that stood up to scrutiny. I think that was taken badly, the person left the discussion at the first opportunity.

One thing that the first discussion delved into was how science teachers who embrace antievolution could motivate themselves to teach a curriculum including science which they personally doubted. This is a real issue; upwards of 30% of science teachers either teach creationism or would do so if they got the slightest hint from adminstrators that it might be OK to do so. After some discussion about curricula, standards, and accountability of information in the field being taught, the argument that seemed to resonate was that if one believes that the current status of some scientific concept is incorrect, then one still must do one’s best to teach it accurately and completely, the better to prepare students to analyze it and find the problems that one believes must be there. Inaccurate or incomplete presentations will contribute to extending the time an incorrect concept is retained. This argument has the advantage of offering the opportunity for a payoff even to avowed antievolutionist teachers for teaching to the curriculum. Back many years ago when I was casting about for opportunities to teach at the K-12 level, I got a job offer from a private fundamentalist Christian school that wanted someone to teach biology. (Unfortunately, the amount offered would have essentially been a pay cut from the job I had, as it would have entailed significant costs for commuting.) The principal interviewed me, and during that broached the topic of teaching evolution. Once he ascertained that I personally did not have an issue with that, he went on to discuss how he needed to have the students learn the concepts of evolutionary science, but also needed a teacher with discretion who could do so without setting off hordes of angry fundamentalist parents. Even within the ranks of those who see evolutionary science as flawed, there are those with the perspicacity to recognize that accurate and complete education is valuable and necessary. Bringing that recognition to others seems like a good goal.

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Another Lawsuit Norm Coleman Can Look Forward to Losing

Al Franken will be certified as the winner next Monday in the Minnesota race for Senator against Republican Norm Coleman. It took a protracted recount process, at the end of which Franken was up by about the same number of votes as the initial count had him down by, a little over 200.

Expect Norm Coleman’s campaign to make a pro forma complaint that will in due time be dismissed. Suing other people just seems to be what happens when Coleman is thwarted.

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Bush’s Partial Protection

A news item notes that President Bush signed three new national monuments into effect and is being praised by various people for the action. Somewhat less prominent is the information that the area of these monuments, all in the Pacific Ocean, is a fraction of what marine biologists had requested receive protection. 2.2 million square kilometers were designated, and Bush protected about a quarter of that, 505,000 square kilometers.

The move, which has become known as Bush’s Blue Legacy, tops his 2006 designation of 360,000 square kilometers of ocean off the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a national monument.

“Bush’s Blue Legacy”? Tell me you’re kidding me, Christopher Pala. Who, precisely, told you that anyone besides a Bush flunky is using that phrase?

The article ends with this inane sound bite:

“This move, coupled with the strong team the Obama Administration is putting in place, gives the ocean a fighting chance,” said Vikki Spruill, president of the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, D.C.

I think that better oversight may help improve things, but I don’t see any obvious reason to think that simply designating little-used ocean acreage as a “monument” does much by itself to help with the problems that beset ocean habitat. Is there any indication that any government agency is tasked with actually enforcing the paper protection that area has received? Or is it possible that an already overstretched part of our government has been tasked with that, meaning that their enforcement of regulations where known problems are occurring becomes more spotty and less effective? I certainly feel entitled to a modicum of cynicism where “conservation” and “George W. Bush” are mentioned in proximity to one another.

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Medical and Journalistic Shading

Marcia Angell has an article in the New York Review of Books that considers three books touching upon modern medicine and unseemly links to corporate pharmaceutical companies.

Angell takes up various problems, but I was intrigued when she got around to how companies now control research, sometimes shading a negative experimental result in a way that is perceived as a positive outcome for their product. See if the following paragaph from Angell strikes you in the same way it did me:

The suppression of unfavorable research is the subject of Alison Bass’s engrossing book, Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial. This is the story of how the British drug giant GlaxoSmithKline buried evidence that its top-selling antidepressant, Paxil, was ineffective and possibly harmful to children and adolescents. Bass, formerly a reporter for the Boston Globe, describes the involvement of three people—a skeptical academic psychiatrist, a morally outraged assistant administrator in Brown University’s department of psychiatry (whose chairman received in 1998 over $500,000 in consulting fees from drug companies, including GlaxoSmithKline), and an indefatigable New York assistant attorney general. They took on GlaxoSmithKline and part of the psychiatry establishment and eventually prevailed against the odds.

I wonder whether the fact that the last person referred to in the next to last sentence was Eliot Spitzer, subject of a sex scandal, led to the elliptical references all around. It stands out in the article as one place where Angell eschews naming names. Would the fact that someone with an all-too-human failing was involved in standing up to corporate misdeeds really detract that much from the force of the article? [Comments point out that Bass's focus was not on NY AG Spitzer, but to NY AAG Rose Firestein, and thus there is not a specific reason to avoid naming the cited person. My apologies to Marcia Angell.]

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Texas: Religious Antievolution’s Silly Season

An astounding experience related by Nelson Thompson in a previous thread deserves more attention.

A recent experience has shown me that there is another attack upon evolution (and science in general) going on in Texas public schools.

I recently visited a relative in rural Texas, east of Huntsville. While there, I went for a walk down a dirt road that passed a neat farm house, barn and horse paddock. A foal saw me and came to the fence, expecting a treat, no doubt. His owner, a 16-year old lad, followed thereafter and we commenced to talk about horses.

I pointed to a scablike structure on the posterior side of the front legs (”chestnuts”) and asked what they were. The boy told me, and then added that he had been told (by his biology teacher, no less) that evolutionists claimed that the chestnuts were vestigial remains of what had been an extra pair of front legs!

I tried gently to let him know that no scientists I had ever read had ever said anything so obviously silly.
The young man angrily lectured me on several other silly things that evolutionists claimed, including the gem that bovine horns were vestigial wings.

He was quite clear about these “facts” as they were given him by his 9th grade Biology teacher at the local public high school, a gentleman who also served as preacher in a local church.

You may not be able to “balance” science with nonsense, but you can use nonsense to undermine any hope that science will take root in the mind of a child.

Nelson Thompson
Senior Aerospace Software Engineer

This sort of outright mendacity peddled in the name of religion is exactly what motivated me to get involved years and years ago. The sort of people who do this are enemies of faith as well as of reason.

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Fragmentary Fossils

Mr. Elsberry;
I came across the talk origins site on accident as I was doing some browsing about the subject of origins (particularly intermediate or transitional forms). As a complete neophyte to paleontology I had a couple of questions and your answers seemed to be some of the most cohesive that I found. How are partial fossil remains (I am supposing that most fossil finds are at least partially incomplete) classified and dated? Is a date deduced first then a classification or the other way around? And is most of the dating done by strata location or radioisotope dating of surrounding material? Sorry for my ignorance I am a professor of languages and this is new but interesting material for me.

I think that the example of “conodonts” may help illuminate all your questions.

First, check the Wikipedia page on conodonts.

And second, take a look here.

Conodonts were first described in 1856 on the basis of phosphatic tooth-like fossils. This sort of fossil was the only type of fossil remains known until 1983, when the same tooth-like fossils were found with soft-tissue preservation showing the organism that bore them. So for over a century, this group was solely known from highly fragmentary fossil evidence. There was plenty of conjecture, but the actual affinity of conodonts as members of Phylum Chordata was only worked out relatively recently.

The easily discovered conodont fossils are in the Cambrian or pre-Cambrian, and are commonly found in strata dating to the late Triassic period, so conodonts were around for somewhere near 350 MY. As fossils go, conodonts are relatively common. The group was diverse, too, and those two things meant that they were nearly ideal as index fossils. Index fossils are those fossils that are reliably found only in a limited range of strata. Because of this, they are used for assigning relative dates to those strata based on standard geological heuristics like superposition (a rock layer above another rock layer is generally a younger rock layer).

Conodont fossils are extensively used in petroleum geology for locating oil deposits. Besides their use there as index fossils, they also give evidence of paleoclimates due to temperature-dependent changes in their phosphatic composition.

Now, recall that all of this utility came well before anyone had any good idea of what a conodont might actually look like. In the absence of complete evidence, conodonts were assigned their own phylum. Classification within Conodonta proceeded entirely based upon morphology and chemistry of the tooth-like fossils. Despite knowing next to nothing about the organisms themselves, geologists and paleontologists found conodont fossils highly useful for assigning relative dates to other fossils found in association with them.

In this case, most of the dating associated with conodonts was relative, not absolute, and classification played a very minor role, as it was based on known-fragmentary information.

I can’t really say what the typical approach might be toward fragmentary fossil evidence (since I’m not a paleontologist), but the conodont story indicates that paleontology has successfully and fruitfully dealt with that situation before.

I think that you should have a look at the TalkOrgins “Fossil Hominids” sub-page.

There’s quite a bit of discussion there about the partial skeletons of various hominids and what we can learn from them.

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Steve Fuller’s Crusade

Sociologist and post-modernist Steve Fuller has joined the posting crew at Uncommon Descent, joining such luminaries as David Scott Springer and Denyse O’Leary. Fuller has a couple of posts up already, and is offering his analysis of what “intelligent design” argumentation ought to be. That is, a sociologist is proposing a prescriptive philosophical take on “intelligent design” on the weblog of “intelligent design”‘s leading philosopher.

Fuller is looking at the challenge posed by the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” (FSM) response to “intelligent design” creationism (IDC) [No, Fuller doesn't properly call IDC as IDC, but here it will be.] Bobby Henderson’s 2005 letter to the Kansas State Board of Education requesting that, so long as non-science was being inserted into classrooms, his own non-science of a “Flying Spaghetti Monster” creator should also go into the curriculum, has attracted nationwide attention. Most IDC advocates and cheerleaders are pleased to call FSM arguments “silly” and there leave it, a reasonable tactic given that they don’t actually have a substantive response to the core issue of why one brand of pseudoscience should be preferred over another. Will Fuller actually address that with anything but forks and hope?

Maybe my fears are ungrounded, but I have been always struck that when the media put out a boilerplate account of a key ID concept like ‘irreducible complexity’, they tend to interpret the ‘irreducibility’ as something like ‘unfathomability’. But in fact, the spirit of the concept is to show how things had to be put together in a certain way to serve a certain function, such that even minor changes would render the thing dysfunctional. This strikes me as the very opposite of ‘unfathomability’. If anything, it speaks to the hyper-rationalism, or at least hyper-mechanism, of ID thinking.

This isn’t looking good. Fuller claims something applies as a blanket or at least common description, yet I don’t recall ever seeing the particular sort of interpretation that Fuller asserts is common in media reports. Let me go look at recent uses… Dan Jones in New Scientist got it right. Dale Husband in Nolan Chart got it right. Ian Galloway didn’t actually go into detail about what IC meant in The Scotsman. Stephen Torrence in the Daily Toreador got it right. John Timmer in Ars Technica got it right. Georgina Ferry got it right in The Guardian. I see no sign yet that the media has any such “tendency” as Fuller asserts is the case. That last sentence of Fuller’s is, so far as it may be parsed, an assertion of facts not in evidence. Please browse the Uncommon Descent site. One need not do much browsing to come to a conclusion that sub-rational thinking is the norm in the defense of IDC there, not “hyper-rationality”. As for “hyper-mechanism”, one wonders whether this verbal hiccup of Fuller’s comes from his post-modern background. Basing arguments on false premises, as Fuller does above, is bad form, or at least it is for the non-post-modern crowd.

Fuller then gets on to criticizing text from, if I am not mistaken, Denyse O’Leary.

With the aid of improved technology, the formerly fuzzy “canals” of biology (Darwin’s blobs of gelatinous combinations of carbon) are not becoming fuzzier and more easily explained by non-ID theses — they are now known to be high-tech information processing systems, with superbly functionally integrated machinery, error-correction-and-repair systems, and much more that surpasses the most sophisticated efforts of the best human mathematicians, mechanical, electrical, chemical, and software engineers.

Well, what does this mean exactly? I hope it doesn’t mean that we have discovered a limit to human bioengineering capabilities. On the contrary, the fact that we can make increasingly more sense of the cell by conceptualising it in information processing, etc. terms shows that our own minds work very much like that of the original intelligent designer, and moreover that fact should provide a spur for us to inquire further – to do more science. In any case, I remain unclear about what ‘surpasses’ is supposed to convey here. After all, how would we have been able to discover the information-processing capacities of the cell, if its design ‘surpasses the most sophisticated…’? Nevertheless, I see a lot of this potentially science-stopping rhetoric in ID. I hope it is ‘mere’ rhetoric and not indicative of some deeper sensibilities that may end up giving Judge Jones the last laugh.

Yes, Dr. Fuller, one does see a lot of science-stopping rhetoric in IDC, and not just in the prose of religious commentators like O’Leary. Props to Fuller for at least getting a glimmer that this could be a problem.

The ‘science of God’ that I shall developing in the next few posts presupposes that we get closer to understanding the ‘intelligence’ behind ID, the more our own mental and physical creations turn out to model what actually happens in nature.

Let’s hope that Fuller does more homework in his future postings than was evident in his initial outing on the topic. I’ll suggest this essay as something he might find useful as background information.

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