Monthly Archives: March 2010

Latest from Thompson and the Thomas More Law Center

Richard Thompson’s latest lawsuit by the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) is a foray to obtain a permanent injunction against the health care law recently passed.

Readers here probably recall TMLC for suborning the Dover Area School District (DASD) into passing an “intelligent design” policy late in 2004, claiming that they could blow off advice of their legal counsel; TMLC would be there to defend them in court. The TMLC and DASD ended up losing spectacularly in 2005, with DASD getting a negotiated fine of $1,000,011. (The eleven dollars were $1 each for the plaintiffs in the case; as far as I know, none of those checks were ever cashed, and most if not all are framed and on display.)

Thompson is also known for a long series of unsuccessful cases attempting to prosecute Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the doctor who advocated assisted suicide for terminal patients. Kevorkian eventually went on national television with a video showing Kevorkian actually administering a lethal injection to a patient who was incapable of doing that himself, and given that suspect-supplied evidence, the state of Michigan was finally able to successfully prosecute Kevorkian.

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On the Home Front: Ryobi and Batteries

Back in 2004, Diane was looking at getting a reciprocating saw. Despite the indications that one simply should get the Milwaukee Sawzall and be done with it, we instead got a kit of Ryobi power tools that included a reciprocating saw. Ryobi is the Home Depot’s own brand of power tools, and occasionally Home Depot marks down kits deeply. In 2004, they had a pretty deep discount on the Ryobi 18V kit that included a reciprocating saw, 10″ chainsaw, circular saw, jigsaw, drill-driver, flashlight, and handheld vacuum. We found the purchase relatively disappointing, though, for one specific reason: the batteries and charger that came with the kit made the tools practically useless.

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Taking Questions from Students

William Demsbki includes credit in his course for students for participating in online exchanges. Someone claiming to be a student of his has shown up at AtBC and asked some questions. I felt moved to provide some answers.

BJRay:

 

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Dembski has in fact mentioned “respectful treatment” in so many words. From my class experience thus far, he is very respectful and seeks to explain the various viewpoints many mainstream scientists hold (ie: Francis Collins, Dawkins, Behe, Gould, etc.).

It's nice that Dembski's demeanor in class is sanguine. However, he isn't always so reserved. Check out his Intelligent Design Coming Clean essay, where he refers to yours truly as an "Internet stalker". Those of us who have seen this aspect of Dembski's behavior aren't so quick to give him a pass on it.

BJRay:

 

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Unfortunately I cannot comment on your second question as I am not as read-up on the Kitzmiller v Dover case as I should. My assumption would be that Dembski has perfectly good reason for the action he took (if you’d like I can ask him :) ).

One of my treasured memories from 2005 is when Stephen Harvey called on Friday to say that Bill Dembski was withdrawn as a witness and would not be deposed as planned the following Monday. He told us that the last communication Pepper Hamilton had with the Thomas More Law Center was to inform them that Jeff Shallit and myself would be coming to assist Harvey in deposing Dembski. Coincidence? Perhaps, but also perhaps not.

BJRay:

 

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Why is there such an irrational disgust for scientific data or theories that might combat evolutionary theory? For example, just this past week I was listening to a radio broadcast taking questions/comments on the Texas textbook issues. A gentleman phoned in and suggested that evolution be the only theory taught (period). When the broadcaster questioned, why not teach theistic evolution, creationism, intelligent design, and evolution? The man erupted and was distraught at the idea of any separate (inaccurate – the man’s wording) theory being taught other than evolution. He confidently asserted that evolution was the ONLY and wholly ACCURATE theory. Why be so dogmatic against other views?

There is quite rational disgust for the unseemly way that the socio-political religious antievolution movement seeks to undermine science education in this country. Perhaps you have been misinformed about this?

Some explanations have gone through a process of having hypotheses generated, tested against empirical data, published in the technical literature, discussions concerning the ideas leading to refinement and further tests, and eventually the scientific community comes to accept the idea as having merit if it consistently passes tests, and discarded as implausible if it fails to consistently pass those tests. These are the concepts worthy of being taught in a science class. Evolutionary science meets that standard. The other conjectures you list (not theories; they are not anywhere close to having the status of theory) have not been through that process and do not have that status, and thus are not suitable to bring up in science class. After all, treating something that isn't science as if it were science is a recipe for sowing confusion about what science is.

In 2006, I had the opportunity to ask Dembski himself about whether "intelligent design" should get a pass on this process. I pointed that that "cold fusion", the archetypal not-ready-for-prime-time physics theory, had over 900 peer-reviewed articles on the topic, while the Discovery Institute's list of articles was still in the double digits. Nobody claims that public school K-12 students should be "taught the controversy" over cold fusion. Should ID get a pass? I transcribed Dembski's response, which is long but works out to be the same as Michael Ruse's immediate, "No."

BJRay:


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Most mainstream scientists that I have read so far would all agree to something of this effect: Creationists are irrational and fail to objectively look at scientific evidence. Help me understand how this might be true and if evolution proponents can live up to the same scrutiny?

Religious antievolutionists are not always irrational; they quite commonly show areas where they perform quite well. Forrest Mims III is an excellent electronics engineer. John Baumgardner writes good modeling code for a national lab. But when it comes to the topic of evolution, religious antievolutionists seem not to be able to process the information in any way that can be considered scholarly. They make the most egregious misrepresentations repeatedly, which either indicates that they don't know what they criticize or that they are choosing to tell falsehoods knowingly. There is a tendency for religious antievolutionists to pass on and exaggerate material from other religious antievolutionists.

As for scientists living up to the sort of scrutiny that we'd hold religious antievolutionists to, please do check out the scientific literature. It is pretty common there to find extended debate over methodology and interpretation, and the amazing thing is that you can join in if you can get up to speed. However, getting up to speed often requires years of study and preparation in the field of interest, not just a weekend reading the latest propaganda book from the Discovery Institute crew.

BJRay:


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Why do you automatically suspect that what his students have to say might be inherently false and what you (or others) have to say is truth?

Part A: Past experience is not a perfect predictor of future performance, but it often works well as a guide.

Part B: I'm only speaking of science, not "truth" in the abstract. Science delivers knowledge with a degree of uncertainty. It is a limited enterprise, and gains much of its power because it is a limited enterprise.

On the other hand, I have no reservation in pointing out the rampant falsehoods promulgated from the religious antievolution movement. Correcting what is obviously wrong is a worthwhile endeavor in my opinion. You mileage may vary.

If you are interested in even more information about Dembski's ideas, you should read this. It is likely that you would get no response from Dembski other than a dismissal that the essay is somehow "out of date", even though he has not bothered to retract any of the stuff criticized there. Don't you think that if a claim has been made that is wrong, that an author should acknowledge the error and seek to correct it?

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Zimmerman on Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum is a man with his eye on making a run for the presidency. He’s also known for his Catholocism and for his promotion of “intelligent design” creationism. Michael Zimmerman, the organizer behind the Clergy Letter Project, has a post up at the Huffington Post noting the hypocrisy of Santorum criticizing someone for ignoring their church’s teaching on the abortion issue, while Santorum has ignored his church’s clear policy on evolution for many, many years. Check it out.

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State of Zen for Sage Grouse

The Los Angeles Times reports on how the US Interior Department made a decision about sage grouse:

The Interior Department declared Friday that an iconic Western bird deserves federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, but declined to offer that protection immediately — a split decision that will allow oil and gas drilling to continue across large swaths of the mountainous West.

The department issued a so-called “warranted but precluded” designation for the greater sage grouse, meaning that the bird merits protection but won’t receive it for now because other species are a higher priority.

Yes, that’s right, sage grouse are an endangered species, but not so endangered as to have us do anything about it.

The “other species” bit is a particularly bogus piece of argumentation. The fact is that listing sage grouse as an endangered species would put most of the burden on developers, who would have far more stringent requirements to meet to show that their projects would not unduly impact sage grouse. Plus, I’d like to hear the list of endangered species that are getting better attention within the Department of the Interior because they don’t have to pay attention to sage grouse. That ought to be darkly amusing for a while as we contemplate what the Department of the Interior has done for them.

Now let’s have a look at what Department of the Interior head honcho Ken Salazar had to say:

“The sage grouse’s decline reflects the extent to which open land in the West has been developed in the last century,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in an issued statement.

“This development has provided important benefits, but we must find common-sense ways of protecting, restoring and reconnecting the Western lands that are most important to the species’ survival while responsibly developing much-needed energy resources,” Salazar said. “Voluntary conservation agreements, federal financial and technical assistance and other partnership incentives can play a key role in this effort.”

Let’s see, Salazar correctly notes that the problem for sage grouse is one of habitat loss. Then, Salazar goes on to emit some bafflegab that doesn’t actually imply that anything will be done that has any effect on habitat loss. There’s already a history of “voluntary conservation” when it comes to sage grouse: I don’t think that the rate of habitat exploitation has even slowed due to this; I’d appreciate comments from people who have the numbers. The feds are broke, so there isn’t much that we can expect in the way of financial assistance there. The feds have given the technical assistance that would be of help (“If you build it, they will go away.”), and it has been ignored. I’m not sure what a “partnership incentive” is, but my suspicion is that it is merely pretty pettifoggery to try to obscure the fact that the Interior Department has decided that corporate interests are more important than the survival of the sage grouse as a species.

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Reagan, Grant, Roosevelt, and Currency

Republican legislators are looking for another memorial for former President Ronald Reagan: put his face on US currency. They’ve encountered resistance for two denominations that have been suggested so far: the dime (displacing Franklin D. Roosevelt) and the $50 bill (displacing Ulysses S. Grant).

I can see Reagan’s visage on a piece of US currency, but I think forcing a currently-honored citizen off of something sends the wrong message. The treasury should issue a new denomination of currency for this purpose. I’d recommend the Ronald Reagan $20,000 bill as the appropriate way to go. $200 or $2,000 would be too common for the task. But a $20,000 bill would make sure that the people encountering the Reagan bill were truly among those who Reagan’s policies were intended to benefit most.

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Texas: Don McLeroy is Out

Don McLeroy, former chairman of the Texas State Board of Education and pusher of “intelligent design” creationism, has lost the Republican primary election for the District 9 seat on the SBOE to Thomas Ratliff.

Hat tip to “carlsonjok” at AtBC. (But a point off for spelling McLeroy’s name wrong, and one off for me not catching it earlier. I wish I could claim to have misspelled it purposely to annoy him, though.)

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Spoonbill Bowl on March 6th, 2010

The regional National Ocean Sciences Bowl, the Spoonbill Bowl, happens this next Saturday, March 6th, 2010. The location is at the USF Marine Sciences and Fish and Wildlife Institute (100 SE 8th Ave., St. Petersburg, Florida 33701). It gets going pretty early in the morning. This is a quiz competition with each game pitting two teams of four players against each other. There are two rounds of toss-up questions requiring fast responses, with bonus questions for correctly answered toss-ups. In between, there are two “team challenge” questions that give each team a set time to collaborate on answering more involved questions. The questions are drawn from topics contributing to marine science, including

1. Biology
2. Chemistry
3. Geography
4. Geology
5. Math
6. Physics
7. Marine Policy
8. Social sciences (including economics, history and human interactions)
9. Technology (including instrumentation, remote sensing, & navigation)
10. Current Events

The public is welcome to attend the event.

I’ve volunteered to help with the event, where I will be one of the moderators. I think that we are planning on running eight rooms for the round-robin initial phase of the event. The final phase will be run as a double-elimination tournament. I’m really looking forward to this. In April, the NOSB nationals will be held here in St. Petersburg, where teams winning at the regional competitions around the country will compete.

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