Evolution News

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It’s been a while since I touched bases with Evolution News, the Discovery Institute blog site. The Discovery Institute out of Seattle is the major organization in this country promoting creationism, in this case in the form of “Intelligent Design.” The Texas Freedom Network clued me in to this Evolution News story. Here’s what’s new:

Texas Textbook Story: New York Times Abandons Journalism for PR

John G. West September 30, 2013 12:42 AM

The New York Times used to be a serious newspaper. You know, the kind of media outlet where reporters actually bothered to interview people on different sides of an issue. But if its weekend story on the science textbook adoption process in Texas is any indication, such by-the-book journalism is now an endangered species at the Times.

Consider the article’s lopsided use of sources: Of the seven people interviewed in the story, four (57%) are ardent supporters of evolutionary theory and opponents of efforts to encourage critical analysis of evolution in textbooks. The other three offer neutral background information. None of the people interviewed defend critical analysis of evolution in textbooks. Not one. Zero.

That’s right, in an article purporting to examine a controversy over science textbooks, the only people interviewed by the reporter were those favoring one side of the controversy.

Concerning “the article’s lopsided use of sources,” I read through the Times article, attempting to figure out who was interviewed and who was not. I must confess, I do not come up with the same numbers the DI did. I count four people interviewed who are likely to favor evolution: Kathy Miller, Jessica Womack, Joshua Rosenau and Michael Singer.

Kathy Miller is a political operative who heads up the Texas Freedom Network PAC. She seems to be in favor of evolution, since the TFN is always defending the teaching of evolution in public schools and also works hard to prevent the introduction of creationism into the curriculum. Jessica Womack was interviewed, and actually did not express any favoritism toward evolution. She simply commented that her daughter in a Texas public school was once shamed by a teacher for professing belief in evolution. Josh Rosenau is definitely in favor of evolution. He is Programs and Policy Director for the National Center for Science Education and also writes the Thoughts from Kansas blog on Science Blogs. The NCSE is just the flip side of the Discovery Institute. About everything the DI is for the NCSE is against and vice versa. Actually, in his Times quote, Josh did not comment one way or another on the validity of evolution (or Intelligent Design). Michael Singer is a biology professor at the University of Texas, just a few blocks from the text book hearings. He is definitely in favor of evolution.

The DI has more to say:

Alas, lopsided sourcing far from the only problem with the article. Here are some others:

    • The story uses the slippery terms “creationist,” “creation science,” and “creationism” nine times without ever defining the terms.
    • The article likewise twice cites the term “intelligent design” without defining it (unless you count slamming intelligent design as creationism’s “cousin” as a definition).
    • The story insinuates that scientist Ide Trotter is a “creationist,” neglecting to inform readers that Trotter accepts the standard dating of the earth and the universe.
    • The article uses matter-of-fact language to describe partisan lobbying groups such as the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) and the National Center for Science Education, while smearing the opponents of TFN with the less-than-neutral epithet “far-right” (another term the Times fails to define). In reality, TFN is a left-wing lobbying group that opposes pro-life and other mainstream conservative groups.
    • The article avoids discussing for the most part the actual scientific criticisms being raised by critics of the textbooks and whether those criticisms might be valid.

These points are well taken. We need to examine them in turn:

The use of the terms “creationist” and such. These terms should be defined. In a scholarly work or in a well-researched blog post such as this one, these words would be defined. However, the Times article is only a filler piece for a newspaper, so a dictionary will have to suffice.

Same thing for Intelligent Design.

I have spoken to Ide Trotter on several occasions. He is a creationist. Are there any further questions?

The TFN defines itself in language such as “opposing the far right.” That should be descriptive enough. I do take issue with the opposes “other mainstream conservative groups” part. The TFN seems fairly even handed regarding mainstream conservative politics. Full disclosure: I contribute money to the TFN and to the NCSE.

Regarding the DI’s last point, it is best for them the Times article did not get into discussing the “criticisms being raised by critics of the textbooks and whether those criticisms might be valid.” I have examined some of these criticisms, and have found them to be abominable pieces of pseudo scientific commentary. During the text book hearings, creationist Ray Bohlin seemed to be embarrassed that his own criticisms were made public with his name attached, and he spoke before the Board of Education to complain about the disclosure.

Agitating for evolution in front of the William B. Travis Office Building on Congress Avenue in Austin

Say what I will about the Evolution News blog, it really is a fun read. I need to remember to keep coming back to it whenever there’s a slow blogging day. Most likely I will be able to count on the TFN to remind me from time to time.

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Now I Remember

Offical government photo

Monday, it’s a slow day for me. I had to drag through the post about Mike Huckabee’s weird video. Then I had enough time to head out of the house to make a video of the school bus not stopping at the stop sign (it almost did). Back home, refilled the hummingbird feeders, made myself a huge glass of lemonade then settled back on the couch upstairs and caught the news while munching some peanuts.

Wow! The government is going to shut down. In seven hours. I thought we had until midnight. Then I realized, the government is in Washington, DC, and that’s in the Eastern Time Zone. They’re going to shut the government down an hour earlier just because they’re further east. I was hoping they would shut down in stages as midnight rolled across the time zones. But, no. They’re going to do it all at once just as soon as pumpkin time hits the White House.

Then they announced the president was going to speak. At 4 p.m. Readers, you know I will believe that when I see it. When was the last time I ever saw this president give a speech on time. Four p.m. (CDT)? How about 4:30?

No, came 4:00 CDT, and there he stepped up to the podium. He came to talk about the shutdown and how it was all the Republicans’ fault. Well, not all the Republicans. Just those in the House of Representatives. And not all the Republicans in the House of Representatives. Just a faction of those Republicans in the House of Representatives. Here’s the deal.

First Republicans said they did not want the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). That got passed. Then they sued. The Supreme Court said it was legal. Then they tried to repeal the act. Over 40 times at my last counting. That didn’t work either. Then they had an idea.

What if you refuse to pass a budget unless money for Obamacare was stripped out of it. That might not kill Obamacare, but it would seriously wound it in the knee cap.

The president didn’t budge on that. He said, “Send me a budget without conditions.” The Senate was OK with that, but the House Republicans still needed to get their way, or at least part of it.

Then the House Republicans said, “We’ll leave funding for Obamacare in the budget, but we won’t pass it unless the insurance mandate is postponed for one year.” It took me a while to figure that one out. About two seconds. Yes, postpone for one year, then take another lick at it this time next year.

But the president was speaking live this afternoon, and he told how it was. “You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job.”

That’s when I remembered. That’s when I remembered why I voted for this man. Twice.

The Wells Fargo Wagon

It’s here.

O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’ down the street,
Oh please let it be for me!
O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’ down the street,
I wish, I wish I knew what it could be!

But now the waiting is over. My order has arrived, and what a wonder it is to behold.

One Nation Underpaid

If you don’t already know what this is about I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. It’s the new DVD from that learned and courageous historian Mike Huckabee. To refresh your memory, here’s what I had to say about the DVD in a previous post:

Give Your Family The Most Fascinating Stories Of Our Nation With Learn Our History!

Friends,

I’m passionate about America, and I’m proud of our history. And, I think it’s important that we keep our history alive by passing it on to our children in a way that makes it fun to learn. That’s why I co-founded the children’s education company called “Learn Our History”. Our mission is simple; to help our younger generations learn and appreciate history for what it is — a compass for our future. We do this through a series of fun, animated DVDs that kids love. The series follows the adventures of a group of history students who build a time-traveling bicycle that takes them back in time to see history in the making. When your kids or grandkids watch the videos, they gain an immediate understanding—and appreciation—of American history. And because the videos are so entertaining, kids don’t even realize they’re learning! I invite you to preview the series with a FREE DVD called One Nation Under God.

So, my readers, as with all things, this came to pass. As the morning follows the night, as the sun follows the rain, the Wells Fargo Wagon (USPS delivery truck) arrived at my house. And I looked in the mail box. And there it was. And what a glory it was to behold. And I got it for free (just $4.95).

And I inserted it into my computer. And I played it. And it lived up to my expectations beyong all my expectations. It was the consummate, the most impelling, the most convincing argument for God in our nation’s history I have ever beheld. Unfortunately for historians like Huckabee.

Enough of the hype. Let me get to the details. Here’s what the DVD is all about:

As you can see from the cover the creators want us to “Take pride in America’s past.” I already did that. “Learn our history.” I did a bunch of that previously, as well. What’s different is this product wants us to look at American history in a special way.

It’s a cartoon dramatization. Think South Park with a bit more gloss slathered on. Like South Park, One Nation Under God uses children to tell adult stories. In this case, one of the kids is very smart (kids are really smart these days), and he’s invented time travel. That helps in the story development.

Heroic children travel through time on their bicycles

The story starts in a class room where the teacher has the kids recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, with the “under God” wording. One kid refuses because of the under God language, and later the teacher is threatened with dismissal for this breach of school protocol.

OK, right there I hit a snag. I’ve been around the sun a few times, and I recall the time before the “under God” language was added, and I as yet unaware of any public school that disallows the “under God” language. Actually, a few years back Michael Newdow sued his daughter’s school, the United States Congress, et al, over the use of the “under God” language. The Supreme Court ultimately dismissed Newdow’s suit, since he was not the custodial guardian of his daughter and really had no legal standing in the matter. More recently, a family in Massachusetts has sued over the pledge as a violation of that state’s own equal protection clause in its constitution. So far as I know, all attempts to prohibit the “under God” language have been thwarted. So, where did the producers of One Nation get this scenario. We may have to ask learned historian Mike Huckabee.

Anyhow, to help save a favorite teacher from being fired, the students decide to travel through time and learn the history of God in this nation’s foundation. They start with the famous Pilgrims of Massachusetts, and for that they travel back to Nottinghamshire in England in 1609.

Puritans meet God in Nottinghamshire

Back in the bad old days in England there was the Catholic Church, which forbade divorce. Also there was bad old King Henry VIII, who desperately needed a divorce, possibly since he was tired of cutting off the heads of wives who fell in disfavor. The pope refused to allow Henry to divorce, so the king abolished the Catholic Church and replaced it with the Church of England. And the Protestants all said hooray!

Except, not all Protestants. Out from under the yoke of the Catholic Church this freedom of religion thing sort of ran wild. People thought, mistakenly, they now had the choice of any kind of worship they pleased. Were they ever mistaken. You need to read the history of the Puritans to get the full picture.

The accession of James I brought the Millenary Petition, a Puritan manifesto of 1603 for reform of the English church, but James wanted a new religious settlement along different lines. He called the Hampton Court Conference in 1604, and heard the views of four prominent Puritan leaders including Chaderton there, but largely sided with his bishops. Well informed by his education and Scottish upbringing on theological matters, he dealt shortly with the peevish legacy of Elizabethan Puritanism, and tried to pursue an eirenic religious policy in which he was arbiter. Many of his episcopal appointments were Calvinists, notably James Montague who was an influential courtier. Puritans still opposed much of the Catholic summation in the Church of England, notably the Book of Common Prayer, but also the use of non-secular vestments (cap and gown) during services, the sign of the Cross in baptism, and kneeling to receive Holy Communion. Although the Puritan movement was subjected to repression by some of the bishops under both Elizabeth and James, other bishops were more tolerant, and in many places, individual ministers were able to omit disliked portions of the Book of Common Prayer.

Anyhow, the kids in our drama arrive at a church in Nottinghamshire and meet the pastor and the congregation. All is going swimmingly well until suddenly armed officials burst in and demand the congregation be disbanded. Parishioners are advised that failure to comply carries the sentence of death. The children witness first hand the denial of religious faith.

What the story does not point out is that those men from the king’s government, those men who ordered the church be disbanded, those were God’s own enforcers. The scene is cast as a denial of God by the government, but the producers of this drama apparently missed the irony. This is what it looks like when the government decides to protect the word of God.

So, the Puritans (pilgrims) go to Massachusetts and the children go there, as well, in 1621. The story line follows the religiously-driven migration of Europeans to America, which is a historical fact. The story describes the continuance of religious intolerance by the colonial governments leading to fragmentation of some colonies and the formation of Rhode Island.

I don’t think the producers got across the point that religious persecution by England and the colonial governments ultimately led to the adoption of the First Amendment to the Constitution. The story line does highlight the inclusion of the “endowed by their creator” language the Declaration of Independence, but it over plays the religiosity of Adams and Jefferson.

Jefferson idealized the independent yeoman as the best exemplar of republican virtues, distrusted cities and financiers, and often favored decentralized power. He suspended his qualms about exercising the powers of the federal government to buy Louisiana. Jefferson disliked the European system of established churches and called for a wall of separation between church and state at the federal level. (But this was hardly a new idea; Roger Williams (1603–1683), the Puritan-turned-Baptist founder of Rhode Island, had established such a wall at the state level about a century before Jefferson was born, and extended freedom of religion to Quakers and Jews.) Jefferson supported efforts to disestablish the Church of England, called the Anglican Church in Virginia after the Revolution,  and authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. His Jeffersonian democracy and Democratic-Republican Party became dominant in early American politics. Jefferson’s republican political principles were strongly influenced by the 18th-century British opposition writers of the Whig Party. He had high regard for John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton.

Adams was closer to what the One Nation producers have in mind:

Frazer (2004) notes that, while Adams shared many perspectives with deists, “Adams clearly was not a deist. Deism rejected any and all supernatural activity and intervention by God; consequently, deists did not believe in miracles or God’s providence….Adams, however, did believe in miracles, providence, and, to a certain extent, the Bible as revelation.” Fraser argues that Adams’ “theistic rationalism, like that of the other Founders, was a sort of middle ground between Protestantism and deism.” By contrast, David L. Holmes has argued that John Adams, beginning as a Congregationalist, ended his days as a Christian Unitarian, accepting central tenets of the Unitarian creed but also accepting Jesus as the redeemer of humanity and the biblical account of his miracles as true. In common with many of his Protestant contemporaries, Adams criticized the claims to universal authority made by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1796, Adams denounced political opponent Thomas Paine’s Deistic criticisms of Christianity in The Age of Reason, saying, “The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity, let the Blackguard Paine say what he will.”

In all this the producers have missed the point that government and religion are a bad mix.

The kids later review the case for God during World War II and also the history of the Pledge. The World War II part is almost too bizarre.

They travel to the aircraft carrier Yorktown (CV-10) in the Pacific Ocean in 1945. CV-10 replaced CV-5, which was sunk during the Battle of Midway in June 1942. On board the Yorktown the kids meet a sailor who mistakes them for a group of special civilian trainees. He recounts how the United States fleet was luck to survive the attack on Pearl Harbor over three years previous. While our entire battleship fleet in the Pacific was knocked out in the surprise attack, the carriers survived, because they were luckily out on maneuvers at the time.

The sailor tells the kids that luck had nothing to do with the carriers’ survival. It was God. And that’s the kicker.

God saved the carriers? God saved the carriers, but left the battleships to their fate? God, who by simply whispering in the fleet commander’s ear could have had all hands at battle stations and all aircraft off the ground when the Japanese attackers arrived in time for church services that Sunday morning? Yes, that God saved us on that terrible day. Anybody who takes this notion seriously would by now be looking around for a more diligent God to protect them.

As the sailor thanks God for saving the carriers at Pearl Harbor (all were later sunk during the war), there is an attack by Kamikaze planes. Again God saves the day, and the sailor is thankful God is on our side and not on the side of the Japanese with their pagan religion (my own interpretation). The anti-aircraft gunners and the air defense planes could have just stood down and let God take care of the attackers? Why not? This is the same God that created the universe, the Earth and all living things in just six days. Putting a flight of attacking Kamikazes into the drink should have a easy walk for this God.

The producers conclude with the message that religious freedom includes also Jews and Muslims. Hindus and followers of other gods are obviously left to fend for themselves without the protection of the First Amendment.

Thus spake Mike Huckabee’s interpretation of American history. I presume this sprang from one of his more lucid moments. In other parts of his life Mike Huckabee, former candidate for United States president, has expressed a belief in the supernatural:

He has claimed that angels guide his bullets when he hunts. Seriously.

“I decided that one way or another, this hunt is about to be over, because I can’t stand any more of this cold. And somehow by the grace of God, when I squeezed the trigger, my Weatherby .300 Mag., which has got to be the greatest gun, I think, ever made in the form of a rifle — for my sake in hunting, I’ve never squeezed the trigger and not gotten something — did its work and somehow the angels took that bullet and went right to the antelope, and my hunt was over in a wonderful way.”

Summation of the video: Not a bad piece as propaganda goes. The dialog and story lines could have been punched up some more, but this is, after all, a free DVD (just $4.95).

Wait, there’s more. I have just added this:

Today I received the following e-mail from the producers of One Nation:

Dear Barbara, [I ordered the free DVD, $4.95, using Barbara Jean’s credit card.]

Thank you for your business. We hope your family has been enjoying Learn Our History.

The next video in the series, Columbus and the Great Discovery, is scheduled to ship and be available for instant online streaming on 10/7/2013. In this video, viewers will sail along as our time travelers join the adventures of Columbus and learns why he is celebrated with the discovery of America. If you want to receive the video, there’s nothing you need to do. We’ll send it and activate your online streaming automatically, then bill your card on file.

You’re under no obligation to receive Columbus and the Great Discovery. If you don’t wish to receive the video, please call us any time at (877) US HISTORY (877-874-4786) by 10/6/2013.

You can always purchase the title at a later date.
Thanks again for your business.
If you have any questions whatsoever, feel free to call us at (877) 874-4786.
Sincerely,
Jodie Craig
Customer Service Manager
Learn Our History

As I mentioned before, I placed the original order for the free DVD ($4.95) using a one-time number. That number is no longer valid after the first charge levied against it, so any attempt to “automatically, then bill your card on file” would come a cropper. I wanted to save Learn Our History an accounting train wreck, so I phoned the number tonight and told them I only wanted the one DVD. I said I got it to do some research (this blog post), and the one was all I needed.

The Great Chili Cookoff

Threats met with counter threats. A showdown was inevitable. It finally came down to a time for action. On Sunday I made the chili.

Chili, it's what's for dinner.

Chili, of course, is short for chili con carne. That’s pepper with meat. Notice there is no mention of beans. That would be chili con carne y frijoles. That’s another dish. That’s another recipe. That’s another day and also another world. This is Texas.

Here’s the video.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

So, I was getting old, and I went to see my doctor. He told me I was getting old.

He asked me if I was getting enough rest, and I told him I thought so. “Do you sleep all right at night?” he asked.

I thought about it and responded, “I sleep all right at night. I sleep all right mornings, too. But afternoons I just seem to toss and turn.”

Big Oil

I needed a catchy title for this post, and Big Oil came to mind. The problem is, this post is not about Big Oil—it’s about something else. But I needed a catchy title. That’s the way journalism works.

Pumping oil along side Interstate 20 in West Texas

Anyhow, the United Nations announced the results of some findings. Yesterday that left wing liberal rag The Wall Street Journal carried the following headline:

U.N. Affirms Human Role in Global Warming
Major Report Reasserts Link Between Rising Temperatures, Fossil Fuels; Warns of a Tipping Point With Severe Effects

See what I mean. Everybody is getting into the act. Here’s what the UN had to say:

UN urges global response to scientific evidence that climate change is human-induced

27 September 2013 – United Nations officials today called for a global response to combat climate change, following new findings by a scientific panel stating it is “extremely likely” that humans have been the dominant cause of unprecedented global warming since 1950.

“The heat is on. Now we must act,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a video message to the launch of the report of the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“This new report will be essential for Governments as they work to finalize an ambitious, legal agreement on climate change in 2015,” Mr. Ban said. “The goal is to generate the political commitment to keep global temperature rise below the agreed 2-degree Celsius threshold.”

The IPCC report, released today in Stockholm, Sweden, calls global warming “unequivocal,” and confirms that there is a 95 per cent probability that most of the warming since 1950 has been caused by human influence.

That’s the bad news. The Earth’s surface (including oceans and atmosphere) is warming up, and there is going to be trouble.

Of course, we liberals all know the cause behind the problem. I shouldn’t have to spell it out, but I will. It’s Big Oil. And Big Coal. Yes, those are the villains. It’s those greedy capitalist, multi-national corporations who, with no regard to the future, are extracting carbon from the Earth, where it’s been safely sequestered for millions of years. They’re the cause of the trouble, and they need to be punished. They need to be taken to court. And sued. CEOs need to go to jail. Right!

Oops. I just noticed something. While investigating this heinous crime I did what I sometimes do. I followed the money. I figured somebody might be paying these criminal enterprises to commit these crimes, and I determined to follow the money trail back to the source and make that person accountable. I did just that, and it did not take very long. Here’s what I found:

My payoff to Big Oil

Shit, man! I’m the one paying Big Oil to do this. I’m the money bags behind the whole operation. They’re going to be coming after me! I’m the one who’s going to jail. And I’m still young yet.

All right, enough of this charade. The whole point—actually two points—is:

  1. Big Oil is not to blame for global warming.
  2. I guarantee you that if we quit paying them, they will stop drilling.

I’m going to have more fun with this topic in future posts, because that’s not all of the story. Keep coming back and keep reading

It only gets better

Actually, it turned out to be a good day at the Texas SBOE text book hearings in September. Of course there were the creationists who got up to speak, but that just made for more fun. Icing on the cake were the fans of science who came from all over. One of these was Zack Kopplin.

Zack Kopplin speaks at the rally outside the William B. Travis Building prior to the Texas SBOE text book hearings on 17 September 2013

In case you are not acquainted with Zack Kopplin, here is a short clip from his Wikipedia entry.

Zachary “Zack” Sawyer Kopplin (born July 20, 1993) is an American political activist, writer, organizer, researcher, and academic, and television personality from Louisiana. Kopplin has campaigned to keep creationism out of public school science classrooms and been involved with other separation of church and state causes. He has opposed school vouchers because they provide public money to schools which may teach creationism. As a high school student, he organized seventy-eight Nobel laureate scientists in a campaign against the Louisiana Science Education Act, a creationism law. He is also involved with science funding policy and curriculum and textbook policy. His new campaign calls for a launching Second Giant Leap for Humankind, through a reinvestment in science and through ensuring students learn science.

It gets even better. At the rally prior to the text book hearings, Texas Freedom Network president Kathy Miller disclosed the good news that Zack had moved from Louisiana to Texas. Louisiana’s loss is our gain.

Later, speaking before the Board, Zack disclosed the startling news that major scientific societies, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, supports the theory of evolution, proclaiming that evolution is the underlying theory of the biological science. Don’t you just hate it when some smart guy comes all the way from Louisiana to Texas just to tell you something you already know? That’s Zack Kopplin for you. A video clip of Zack’s talk is available on YouTube.

He also explained, patiently I am sure, that requiring the teaching of “strengths and weaknesses” is superfluous law. Science does that already. That’s the way science works. The only reason, according to Zack, some Board members want language like that in the science standards is to provide a hint that something might be wrong with the theory of evolution. See what I mean? There he goes again. Zack came all the way from Louisiana to tell the SBOE what they already knew—that some members were proposing such language just to put a special twist on the requirements in order to cast doubt on the purely natural explanations of science.

Anyhow, now that Zack Kopplin is here, here’s hoping he plans to stay a while.

Informed Advice for the SBOE

One of a continuing series from the Texas State Board of Education text book hearings in September

There is more dark news from the SBOE hearings earlier this month, but before I dig into that, here is a bit of fresh air.

Ron Wetherington addresses the Texas SBOE 17 September 2013

Ronald Wetherington is a Professor at Southern Methodist University teaching, among other subjects:

Human Evolution
Forensic Anthropology: Stories Told by Bones
Concepts of Evolution: A History
Special Topics in Anthropology: Human Osteology

You can review his remarks on YouTube. He addressed the Board and praised open discussion but  “that is still not an excuse to suggest that, in effect, my ignorance is just as as good as your knowledge.” He also asked the Board to not again let Texas become a national embarrassment.

Oops, too late for that.

Some of the country’s most prominent evolution deniers are also on the review teams. They include Ide Trotter, a retired chemical engineer who has served as a spokesperson for a Texas creationist group; Walter Bradley, a retired professor of engineering at Baylor University who wrote a founding text of “intelligent design” creationism; and Ray Bohlin, vice president for Probe Ministries, a Plano-based evangelical Christian ministry that rejects evolution. Bradley and Bohlin are also fellows with the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based institutional home of the “intelligent design” creationism movement.

Nice try, Professor Wetherington, but you are several years too late. Texans have been embarrassing themselves for decades by electing education board officials who seek these low-pay positions only to promote their own world views.

Professor Wethering further urged the Board to give due examination to complaints that were submitted by some reviewers. In viewing these complaints the Board should analyze the specifics and differentiate between scientific validity and personal preference of the reviewer.

Small chance of that. Conversations with some of the Board members and listening to some off their remarks brings me to the conclusion these people came to the Board with a religious or political agenda. As noted in the article quoted above, board members appointed these creationists to the review panels with the purpose of detracting from key points of modern science.

Ron Wetherington occupies a position I can only dream to attain. He’s on the creationists’ hit list. Back in 2009 the Discovery Institute, the major organization in this country opposing modern theories of evolution, posted the following on their Web site:

At the January 21, 2009 expert’s hearing to review the draft TEKS, SMU anthropologist Ronald Wetherington confidently assured the Texas State Board of Education that there were no weaknesses in Darwinian evolution for students to learn about. Yet as the following review documents, Dr. Wetherington in his testimony frequently misstated or exaggerated the scientific evidence for his position, and he made repeated outright errors in what he told the Board. Dr. Wetherington’s inaccurate testimony reflects the unfortunate tendency of some members of the “evolution lobby” to offer unsubstantiated arguments to public officials that they would never make to their professional colleagues.

The DI posting went on to develop nine rebuttals to Professor Wetherington, one of which I have the ability to analyze:

I. Prof. Wetherington dogmatically asserted that biochemist Michael Behe’s arguments about irreducible complexity have been refuted, claiming: “That debate is over” because “the evidence for irreducible complexity had been satisfactorily falsified.” Clearly, this debate is not over since there are scientific publications that have supported Behe’s notions of irreducible complexity, including:

Followed by a number of citations to support their argument.

The problem boils down to a single point.  Behe’s arguments have been repeatedly refuted by main stream scientists working in the field. Behe’s argument for irreducible complexity has never been published in a legitimate scientific journal. The DI has, on occasion, cited Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box as a peer-reviewed publication. However, a review of the review process indicated one cited review consisted only of a brief phone conversation.

In 2005, while testifying for the defense in the Dover trial, Behe claimed under oath that the book had received a more thorough peer review than a scholarly article in a refereed journal,[16] a claim which appears to conflict the facts of the book’s peer review.[17] Four of the book’s five reviewers (Michael Atchison, Robert Shapiro, K. John Morrow, and Russell Doolittle) have made statements that contradict or otherwise do not support Behe’s claim of the book passing a rigorous peer review.

Michael Atchison

Atchison has stated that he did not review the book at all, but spent 10 minutes on the phone receiving a brief overview of the book which he then endorsed without ever seeing the text.

Robert Shapiro

Shapiro has said that he reviewed the book, and while he agreed with some of its analysis of origin-of-life research, he thought its conclusions are false, though the best explanation of the argument from design that was available. Had the book been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal and this comment had appeared, the review provided by Shapiro would have forced the conclusions regarding intelligent design to be changed or removed.

K. John Morrow

Morrow criticized the book as appalling and unsupported, which contributed to the original publisher turning down the book for publication.

Russell Doolittle

Doolittle, upon whom Behe based much of his discussion of blood clotting, described it as misrepresenting many important points and disingenuous, which also contributed to the original publisher turning down the book for publication.

In the same trial, Behe eventually testified under oath that “There are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred”. The result of the trial was the ruling that intelligent design is not science and is essentially religious in nature.

The Dover reference is to the Federal Court trial Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Here is a choice section of the court record from Michael Behe’s cross examination by Erik Rothschild, attorney for the plaintiffs:

Q. We’ll return to that in a little while. Let’s turn back to Darwin’s Black Box and continue discussing the immune system. If you could turn to page 138? Matt, if you could highlight the second full paragraph on page 138? What you say is, “We can look high or we can look low in books or in journals, but the result is the same. The scientific literature has no answers to the question of the origin of the immune system.” That’s what you wrote, correct?

A. And in the context that means that the scientific literature has no detailed testable answers to the question of how the immune system could have arisen by random mutation and natural selection.

Q. Now, you were here when Professor Miller testified?

A. Yes.

Q. And he discussed a number of articles on the immune system, correct?

A. Yes, he did.

Q. May I approach, Your Honor?

THE COURT: You may.

Q. I’m just going to quickly identify what these articles are. Exhibit P-256, “Transposition of HAT elements, links transposable elements, and VDJ recombination,” that’s an article in Nature by Zau, et al. P-279, an article in Science, “Similarities between initiation of VDJ recombination and retroviral integration,” Gent, et al.

“VDJ recombination and RAG mediated transposition in yeast,” P-280, that’s in Molecular Cell by Platworthy, et al. P-281 in the EMBO Journal, “En vivo transposition mediated VDJ recombinates in human T lymphocytes,” Messier, et al, spelled like the hockey player. P-283, it says PLOS Biology, do you recognize that journal title?

A. Yes. It stands for Public Library of Science.

Q. And that’s an article by Kapitnov and Gerka, RAG 1-4 and VDJ recombination, signal sequences were derived from transposons.” P-747, an article in Nature, “Implications of transposition mediated by VDJ recombination proteins, RAG 1 and RAG 2, for origins of antigen specific immunities,” Eglewall, et al. P-748 in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, “Molecular evolution of vertebrate immune system,” Bartle, et al., and now finally Exhibit P-755 in Blood , “VDJ recombinates mediated transposition with the BCL 2 gene to the IGH locus and follicular lymphoma.” Those were the articles in peer reviewed scientific journals that were discussed by Mr. Miller which you listened in on, correct?

A. I recognize most of them. Some of them I don’t recall, but that’s fine.

Q. They discuss the transposing hypothesis?

A. Yes, they do.

Q. And the kind of mutation being discussed in here is a transposition in most of these?

A. You have to — it depends on how you look at it. In many of them they’re not actually discussing mutation. They’re discussing similarities and sequences between parts of the immune system in vertebrates and some elements of transposons.

Q. But it does discuss the transpositions, correct?

A. It does, yes.

Q. In many of the articles, maybe all of them?

A. That’s correct.

Q. You indicated earlier when we were discussing your paper with Dr. Snoke that transpositions are a kind of mutation, correct?

A. Yes, they are.

Q. Now, you on Monday showed the court, or maybe it was Tuesday you showed the court that you had done a literature search of articles on the immune system looking for the words “random mutation,” correct?

A. Yes.

Q. But you didn’t search for transpositions, is that correct?

A. That’s correct.

Q. And that word appears in a number of the titles here?

A. It does, but the critical difference is the word random. There’s lots of mutations, and it’s entirely possible that intelligent design or some process of the development of life can occur by changes in DNA, but the critical factor is are such changes random, are they not random, so just there are also many occurrences of the word mutation, but it was not just mutation that is the critical element of Darwinian theory. It is random mutation.

Q. But in modern Darwinian theory transposition is one of the kind of mutations that natural selection acts upon, correct?

A. It is a mutation, and natural selection can act upon it.

Q. So the word mutation didn’t show up, or random mutation, but a form of mutation that natural selection can act upon appears throughout these articles, correct?

A. Yes, that is right.

Q. And you also noted that natural selection does not appear in these articles?

A. That’s correct.

This went on for a while, during which Mr. Rothschild piled in front of Professor Behe a stick of journal publications addressing “the question of the origin of the immune system.” At the end Behe had to ask Mr. Rothschild to take the pile away.

Anyhow, that’s the nature of DI attacks on scientists who speak out against the absurdity that is Intelligent Design. My view: they attack with the same contrived evidence they use to support Intelligent Design in the first place.

Ronald Wetherington is in an enviable position. My thinking has long been that you can measure your own worth by the character of the people who attack you. It was really good to see you at the hearings, Professor Wetherington, and I hope you continue to render fine public service.

David Walls at the SBOE Hearings

One of a continuing series from the Texas State Board of Education text book hearings in September

Obviously things were not all sturm und drang at the SBOE hearings. Many people showed up who actually made sense. Here is one of them. David Walls of Texas Values is one of those people the creationist can’t stand, because he is overtly religious and yet gives strong support to  natural evolution and other aspects of modern science. I have posted his presentation on YouTube.

David Walls of Texas Values

David previously worked on the campaign of Texas State Senator Brian Birdwell and interned for the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. Mr. Walls has received a MA in Political Science and Legislative Studies from the University of Texas at Dallas and was honored as an Archer Center Graduate Program in Public Policy Fellow. He has also received a MBA from the University of Texas in Arlington and received his undergraduate degree from Southern Methodist University. David is a native Texan who grew up in the Dallas area. He currently lives in Austin with his wife and son, and is a member at Grace Covenant Church.

At the hearings he noted the adoption of standards that require critical evaluation in all fields of science. In years past the Board had supported similar language that applied only to evolution, climate science and other fields that are at odds with conservative politics.

So much for that. Following David’s presentation my SBOE representative, Ken Mercer of San Antonio, got on the microphone. He noted Walls’ reference to the process for correcting factual errors and praised this accomplishment. Then he had his say:

I’ll make you the same offer I’ve made every time. … If you find me one example in biology or chemistry the word God or Jesus, Buddha or Mohamed, one time, I’ll give you five hundred dollars.

Ken Mercer at the SBOE hearings 17 September 2013

What Mr. Mercer from District 5 is saying is that assertions that members of the Board are attempting to inject religion into the curriculum are completely fallacious. Of course the biology and chemistry texts do not mention famous religious figures. These texts are about biology and chemistry, not religion. Religion is not in the content of the curriculum but it is in the focus of some Board members.

I concede there are people who oppose natural evolution, though they are not religious. However, Mercer is not one of these few. All indications are that Mercer is of the Christian faith, and we will note that a basic tenet of Christianity is belief in the God of Abraham, who by all accounts in the Bible, created the Universe, the Earth and all living things. Mr. Mercer may claim he only wants legitimate arguments against natural evolution to be included in the biology curriculum, but the fact is he wants arguments against evolution included because this provides comfort in the class room for his Christian faith. If, in fact, Ken Mercer does not have such a goal, then he is going to a lot of trouble for nothing. If he did, in fact, desire to warp the curriculum to accommodate his Christian beliefs, then he would be advised to do exactly what he is now doing.

This blog is not finished with a review of creationist activity in the 2013 review process. Read more in subsequent posts.

Creationists at the SBOE Hearings

Yesterday I posted an item A Creationist at the SBOE Hearings. Today is the same topic, only I’m going to pick up on some stuff I didn’t cover before, because I was really spending too much time on the computer.

Yesterday was about creationist Ray Bohlin’s presentation at the State Board of Education hearings last week. I made a video, and I posted some of it. The remainder of the video has some interesting stuff I left out. Here is some more.

Ray Bohlin at the SBOE hearings 17 September 2013

[Apparently SBOE chair Barbara Cargill] tells Bohlin that she appreciates his contribution to the review process, and she asks him what degrees he holds. This has got to be rich. As sure as it’s going to be hot in San Antonio today Barbara Cargill already knows about Bohlin’s degrees, because she worked to get him and other creationists on the biology review panels. “I’m one of you.” But she had her agenda for the day, and part of it was to defend the creationists and to show up the evolutionists. For the record, Ray Bohlin holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Texas at Dallas, along with other degrees in science.

Cargill agrees that Bohlin is very qualified to serve on the review panel, and she states she is “very protective” of the volunteers. I could add, “the creationist volunteers,” but then I would be prosecutorial. She goes on to express her concern that the process was supposed to be evaluating the text books and instructional material, but now we see the evaluators being evaluated. Sacrebleu!

OK, let me get this straight. Barbara Cargill worked the machinery to get creationists other anti-science types on the review panels. Then some people pointed this out and notified the public that these people were being placed on the panels to review educational material for the public schools. Then these creationists reviewed the course material and from time to time placed factually deficient comments on the review forms in their attempts to discredit certain fields of legitimate science. Now people are complaining about that, and Barbara Cargill is shocked. Shocked! Sacrebleu!

Let me give you an analogy:

There’s a cookie factory, and they need volunteers to inspect the cookies coming off the production line, so Barbara Cargill appoints some people of like persuasion to herself to help inspect the cookies. Now people are complaining that inspectors are eating some of the cookies. And Barbara Cargill is complaining about these complaints. Sacrebleu! What is the world coming to?

It gets better.

The next voice is that of my own representative on the SBOE, Ken Mercer of District 5 (San Antonio).

I just want to ask again, because this has been… It really hurts me, because we try to get people to be reviewers, and they’re having their comments [from the preliminary rounds] published…

Mercer goes on to complain:

And now they’re fearful for their jobs.

The Board is trying to get people to be reviewers, and they couldn’t get enough reviewers from all the public school teachers and university professors to take the positions? Really? I was on the physics review panel, and we did not seem to any trouble getting people to review those books. And nobody was recommending that objections to the theory of quantum mechanics be taught, as well.

When it comes to people fearful of losing their jobs, I am sure Mr. Mercer is not talking about Ray Bohlin, because Ray Bohlin is not fearful for his job. He heads up Probe Ministries out of Plano, Texas, and he has been doing his job to the best of his ability to discredit the science behind evolution and climate change. We also know the other creationists on the review panels are not fearful of their jobs. Ide Trotter is founder of Trotter Capital Management Inc. and is a well-known creationist. Walter Bradley “is on the selection committee for the Trotter Prize, which rewards work on intelligent design.” All three of these have spoken publicly on their positions on evolution, positions they brought with them when they volunteered to review biology texts.

There’s more. From the Texas Freedom Network I learned that Richard White was also scheduled to review biology text books.

Richard White, a systems (network) engineer in Austin, testified at an SBOE hearing on the proposed science curriculum standards on March 25, 2009. At the time, he advocated the inclusion of phony “weaknesses” of evolution in Texas science standards.

The “strengths and weaknesses of evolution is code language meant to encourage teachers to focus on “weaknesses” of evolution. The weaknesses are essentially arguments that have been put forth for decades by creationists and refuted for decades by mainstream science.

I am guessing that with his previous testimony before the SBOE Richard White has been effectively outed as a creationist. Will somebody please give me a nickel for every software engineer, network administrator who is an avowed creationist. I need to take a vacation in Acapulco. None of these people, to my knowledge, have ever lost their job because their bosses found out they were creationists. I once had a Young Earth Creationist working for me, and he did not lose his job, although I was subsequently reluctant to trust his judgment in other matters. David Coppedge was one such who claimed he lost his job because of his “religious convictions” because he was advocating Intelligent Design to his co-workers. A court has thrown out his wrongful termination suit against JPL.

And another:

David Zeiger is a seventh-grade teacher at a Christian private school in North Texas. He holds a biochemistry degree from the University of Texas at Dallas. In 2009 he and his wife, Heather, opposed removing from the state’s science curriculum standards the requirement that students learn about so-called “weaknesses” of evolution. Creationists has [sic] used that requirement to insist that publishers include discredited arguments challenging evolution, such as supposed “gaps” in the fossil record. We don’t know whether Zeiger is participating the review panels this week.

It is doubtful David Zeiger will lose his job at a Christian private school for opposing evolution.

And there’s Daniel Romo:

Daniel Romo is Professor of Chemistry at Texas A&M University. His BA is from Texas A and M and his Ph.D. is from Colorado State University. His postdoc [sic] is from Harvard.

My opinion: One way to get outed as a creationist is to comment against evolution in the text book review process. Another, and even better, way is to get listed in the Creation Hall of Fame.

Mr. Mercer, really?

I just want to ask again, because this has been… It really hurts me, because we try to get people to be reviewers, and they’re having their comments [from the preliminary rounds] published…

And now they’re fearful for their jobs.

Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much.

Ken Mercer may have a point, however. A publicly elected official who professes ignorance of modern science (and is proud of it) could be in danger of losing his job. I, for one, vow to never vote for him again. Wait! I didn’t vote for him last year. OK, not only will I not vote for him, I will give money to whoever runs against him. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy!

I just love it. Ken Mercer went on about needing to believe, not just preach and teach, but believe in evolution to keep your job. “It became almost like a religious test,” he went on. So, people are losing their jobs because they don’t believe in evolution? Really? Jesus! The courts must be clogged with wrongful termination suits. Just look how long David Coppedge’s case went on. And he was not even a public school teacher. Has anybody noticed recently how much effort it takes to fire a public school teacher?

Just for fun, I’m going to set that aside for a moment. Suppose not believing in the science behind natural evolution or the science behind climate change were ever used as a reason for termination. Would that be reasonable? Are there comparable situations? Let me pose an example.

Coming to work with your fly unzipped would not keep you from teaching good science, and it may not even be illegal. But how many times would a teacher (software engineer) have to do this before his boss called him around to talk things over? My point? Missing the facts behind natural evolution and the science behind global warming is the intellectual equivalent of going around with your fly unzipped. It demonstrates to all who will observe that there is something missing in your personal makeup.

Creationists may claim this is an unfair comparison, but they need to step back and look at this from the viewpoint of the real world. The real world does not hold to reincarnation, snakes that can talk and magical, yet invisible, people who go around tinkering with nature to make things come out in favor of a select world view. And neither should people in responsible positions in public education.

A Creationist at the SBOE Hearings

This is a continuation of posts on my experiences at the Texas State Board of Education text book hearings in September. Previously I discussed the presentation of Young Earth Creationist (YEC) David Shormann.

Earlier this year I participated in the SBOE reviews of high school physics curriculum materials. This involved reviewing materials on-line at home and this summer with a team of reviewers in Austin. What was surprising (not really) was there were a number of creationists at the Austin review session, as well; reviewing biology texts. Out of band channels had indicated these people were appointed by members of the SBOE who, in turn, had sought election to the Board to do just this sort of thing. More on that later. The Texas Freedom Network has covered a lot of this, and I am going to be reposting some of their findings on this blog.

One of the creationists at the Austin review session this summer was Ray Bohlin, a Ph.D. in biology and also head of Probe Ministries in Plano, Texas. Surprise again. Bohlin was present at the hearings in Austin this September, but apparently he didn’t come to talk about the books he had reviewed, he came to complain about being outed for his outlandish review comments. I made a short video of Bohlin’s presentation and posted it on YouTube. Here’s the gist.

Ray Bohlin at the SBOE hearings 17 September 2013

Bohlin reviewed, among other things, the Pearson Biology, Texas Edition, and this review is a public document. I have previously commented on his review, which drew a lot of attention, said attention being the focus of his comments to the Board. Specifically, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills requirement included the following Student Expectation:

(3)  Scientific processes. The student uses critical thinking, scientific reasoning, and problem solving to make informed decisions within and outside the classroom. The student is expected to: (D)  evaluate the impact of scientific research on society and the environment

The Pearson text has also been made available publicly for review, and it addresses this expectation, but not in a manner satisfactory to Dr. Bohlin. The Pearson book, by Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine, has the following chart plotting temperature Earth surface temperature rise.

Miller and Levine Biology page 177

Bohlin did not reject the coverage of this expectation, which would have required the publisher to respond and present a defense to the Board. Bohlin did, in the Comments column, add the following:

Case Study #3 on Climate Change needs extensive revision. The temperature graph in Figure 6-30 wrongly indicates that temperatures have continued to rise. It is well recognized that global temps have stalled for the last 16 years. This graph does not indicate that. Since the publisher indicated these case studies as fulfilling 3Dii I cannot approve this TEKS breakout. Additional problems can be found in the CO2 graph on page 178. One axis uses ppm and the other uses ppb. This discrepancy will be asily lost on many HS students and therefore will lead to misinterpretations of the graph. No mention is made of the benefit to plants of higher CO2 concentrations. There is jjst so much wrong with this case study.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Bohlin’s comments were reviewed by more knowledgeable academics and scientists, and these comments received some public ridicule. Now at the SBOE hearings Bohlin objected to being publicly revealed as the author of the comments. His opinion is these reviews should have been kept anonymous.

Bohlin also remarked on the practice of painting Christians and creationists with the same brush.

In general I would like to point out that dissatisfaction with the neo-Darwinian evolution is not in any way limited to some imagined, religiously-motivated, uneducated minority. As one small example, I offer this book for you today called Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, by Thomas Nagels (sic), from Oxford University Press. Nagel [is] university professor of philosophy from New York University, and he is convinced, even though he is an atheists, that the materialistic evolutionary stories can’t answer important questions about the mind’s evolution and the origins of life, specifically the origin of the [genetic code?].

The next voice on the video is apparently Board Chair Barbara Cargill, District 8, of The Woodlands, Texas. I would be at little risk if I concluded she promoted the appointment of Ray Bohlin to the biology review team. According to the Texas Freedom Network:

Cargill is the third creationist in a row appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to serve as SBOE chair. She first won election to the board in 2004 with substantial backing from wealthy school voucher advocate James Leininger.

My personal observation from the review session in Austin this summer is that she is on friendly terms with creationist Ide Trotter, who was also there reviewing biology texts. Cargill thanked Dr. Bohlin for his commentary and asked for questions from the Board. The next voice is that of my very own District 5 representative, Ken Mercer, from San Antonio. The TFN has this to say about Mercer, among other things:

Claims that established science on evolution can’t be true because he’s never seen a “cat-dog” or a “cat-rat”

Board member Mercer engaged Bohlin in a short dialog:

Mercer: Just one quick [unintelligible]. Because you doubt evolution, does that make you a creationist? And I think you are saying… No.

Bohlin: Not at all.

Mercer: [unintelligible] If you have a question—you want to raise your hand, you have a concern about the fossil record [unintelligible], you must be a Christian creationist. And that’s not a true statement, is it?

Bohlin: Well it seems to be that’s how some people respond to that.

Mercer: Thank you, Doctor.

I have to say I salvaged a lot of humor out of that exchange. A Christian creationist asks another Christian creationist why it is that people who deny the science behind evolution are assumed to be Christian creationists. What came immediately to mind is a quote attributed to English poet John Donne, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

When we say “Christian creationists,” members of the Board, we are talking about the Christian creationists on the State Board of Education who came to sit on the Board for the purpose of promoting Christian creationism.

Outside of that, Bohlin’s point needs to be taken. Not all who doubt naturalistic explanations of biological science are Christians and not all are creationists. As far as Christians are concerned, they are in good company. Many Jews and Muslims also doubt materialistic evolution, and they all tend to be creationists. As far as non Christians (non Jews, non Muslims) who doubt evolution science, very few can pass as non creationists. Strictly, a creationist is a person who thinks something besides natural processes is behind at least one of the following: the creation of the universe, the creation of life and the origin of the human species. That’s the definition of creationism.

People like Bohlin may deny being creationists, because they do not adhere to a literal interpretation of Genesis, which describes the creation of the universe and all living things by the God of Abraham. If 50 years of debating the creationists has accomplished anything it’s been the application of such a stench to biblical literalism that many modern creationists want to put some distance from it. We can only be grateful for small favors.

Thomas Nagel is not the first professional philosopher I have come across who denies natural evolution.

David Berlinski is a Senior Fellow with the Discovery Institute based in Seattle. The DI the leading supporter of the Intelligent Design form of creationism in the United States. Berlinski does not seem to have any religious affiliation. Rather the drive behind his distaste for natural evolution seems to be his antipathy towards materialism in any form.

David Berlinski received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University and was later a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics and molecular biology at Columbia University. He is currently a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institutes’s Center for Science and Culture. Dr. Berlinski has authored works on systems analysis, differential topology, theoretical biology, analytic philosophy, and the philosophy of mathematics, as well as three novels. He has also taught philosophy, mathematics and English at such universities as Stanford, Rutgers, the City University of New York and the Universite de Paris. In addition, he has held research fellowships at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques (IHES) in France.

We came across Robert Koons, a philosophy professor at the University of Texas at Austin, during a meeting of the IDEA club at the University of Texas at Dallas in 2004. The IDEA (Intelligent Design Evolution Awareness) clubs were set up by Discovery Institute staffer Casey Luskin.

Casey Luskin is an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his B.S. and M.S. in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law. In his role at Discovery Institute, Mr. Luskin works as Research Coordinator for the Center for Science and Culture, assisting and defending scientists, educators, and students who seek to freely study, research, and teach about the scientific debate over Darwinian evolution and intelligent design. He formerly conducted geological research at Scripps Institution for Oceanography (1997-2002).

I previously posted my scripted comments for the SBOE hearings, and I concluded with a few sentences. These included some remarks about the creationists:

They were here yesterday, they are here today and they will be here tomorrow. They are not going away

I can only hope so. Without creationists my life would be so very devoid of excitement.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

This is an old old one. Back from when I lived in a small Texas town.

The old country doctor had just delivered a baby boy, the fifth of farmer Felix McAffee. He knew also it would be the fifth time he would not be paid for his services, because farmer McAffee never paid his bills.

Felix was beaming as always, happy to see a new hand on the family farm. “What do you think I should name the young tyke?” he asked the doctor. What’s popular name these days?

“How about RFD?” the doctor suggested.

“Oh, you must mean FDR, for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”

“No, I mean RFD for Rural Free Delivery.”

Last Day of Summer

Comfort, Texas. It’s only a few miles up the interstate from our house, so this seemed an appropriate place to say goodbye to summer.

Comfort was established in 1854 by German immigrants, who were Freethinkers and abolitionists. Ernst Hermann Altgelt, at the age of 22, is credited with surveying and measuring the lots that would later be sold to the incoming German immigrants. He stayed and married Emma (Murck) Altgelt, and they raised their nine children in the township of Comfort. Fritz and Betty Holekamp built the first house in Comfort having started construction before Comfort’s official founding on September 3, 1854. The first churches were not established in Comfort until 1900. After some controversy, a cenotaph honoring “the Founding Freethinkers” was dedicated on November 2, 2002.

The downtown area is possibly one of the most well-preserved historic business districts in Texas. There are well over 100 structures in the area dating back to the 1800s, and seven of them were designed by the noted architect Alfred Giles. Mr. Giles lived in San Antonio, and he would ride horses, the stagecoach, and later the train to check his building sites in Comfort. Most of the population today is composed of descendants of those original pioneer families of the 1850s and the 1860s.

Comfort is also known for a tragic event that took place during the Civil War. The Treue der Union Monument (“Loyalty to the Union”) was dedicated in honor of 35 men who died at the Battle of the Nueces, which took place because they opposed the state’s secession from the Union. The German settlers were killed on their way to Mexico during the Civil War. They were attacked by Confederate forces near Brackettville on August 10, 1862. The bodies were not buried and the bones were retrieved and placed here in 1865. The monument was erected in 1866.

A bit of Texas history

Comfort is a lot like my home town, but more so.

And it’s a place to buy one more skien of yarn for a winter project.

Lunch in Comfort with friends

All of this on the last day of summer

Outside Comfort, a visit to the winery. They make wine with their own grapes. We chose a bottle of their merlot, aged a year in oak.

This is how we unloaded the summer of 2013 at the Singing Springs Winery.

Young Earth at SBOE

Part of a continuing series on the SBOE text book hearings in Austin

I have studied creationism for over 20 years, but this is the first time I crossed paths with Young Earth Creationist (YEC) David Shormann.

B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas
Masters Degree in Marine Chemistry from the University of Texas
Ph.D. in Limnology from Texas A&M University

At the State Board of Education hearings on Tuesday I noticed Ray Bohlin among the scheduled speakers, and I wandered over to talk and also to take some photos. I had seen Bohlin previously at the TFN conference in Dallas back in 2003, but at the time I did not get a chance to talk. Anyhow, David Shormann was there, as well, and I introduced myself.

David Shormann addresses the SBOE on 17 September 2013

He told me he runs a concern that produces educational materials for home school and I presume for private Christian schools, as well. So I wanted to get his position on creationism, evolution and the whole debate. He quickly confirmed his YEC position, and I mentioned I had some previous experience with YECs, and I wanted to check on how he compared. I told him that in my previous encounters with YECs and other creationist types, the work of mainstream scientists was often declared to be fraudulent, and on occasion specific scientists were declared to be liars. This instruction, I told him, was also passed on to their children.

Shormann would not be boxed into that position. He declared the critical aspects of modern biology, geology and paleontology (that’s what we were talking about) were based on false assumptions and misinterpretations of the evidence. When pressed on the matter, he declined to call these scientists liars.

He also brought up a YEC argument that sounded very familiar. Radiometric dating of recent volcanic activity had yielded an age of 5.5 million years, even though the event happend just the previous century. The event in question was the Novar­upta-Katmai eruption of 1912. I was not aware of this particular case, but I had previously heard the same argument put forth from a YEC concerning a Hawaiian volcano eruption.

Following up, I pulled up a publication by Shormann to see what he had to say. Here is the abstract:

40Ar/39Ar Calibration against Novarupta: No Good Reason to Believe in Millions of Years

* David E. Shormann, PhD, drshormann@gmail.com, Magnolia, TX

Accepted for publication May 2, 2013

Abstract

June 6–8, 2012 marked the one hundredth anniversary of the Novar­upta-Katmai eruption in southwest Alaska. It was one of the biggest eruptions in recorded history, and the largest since Krakatoa in 1883. A bulk sample from the top of the Novarupta lava dome, collected in July 2009, was age-dated in 2012 using the 40Ar/39Ar method. A key as­sumption in the method is that an igneous sample has no argon when it solidifies. Environmental conditions were ideal for setting this sample’s “argon clock” to zero, and atmospheric contamination was accounted for. Yet the 100-year-old rhyolite from Novarupta still gave apparent ages as high as 5.50±0.11 million years old. Bias is introduced to the Ar/Ar method because, prior to analysis, technicians request an age estimate for the sample. Because Scripture, not experimental evidence, is the ultimate authority for Creation researchers, the burden of proof lies with “deep time” historians to explain why anyone should believe radiometric methods determine actual sample ages. Radiometric methods are bet­ter suited for interpreting a rock’s environmental history. In addition to discussing known environmental effects on argon solubility, the effect of event energy on accelerated nuclear decay is explored as a possible cause of the excess argon.

OK, I fully understand that “scripture, not experimental evidence, is the ultimate authority. I get that. This paper was published in Creation Research Society Quarterly 2013. 50:13–24. The Creation Research Society is not your grandfather’s scientific society.

The Creation Research Society is a professional organization of trained scientists and interested laypersons who are firmly committed to scientific special creation. The Society was organized in 1963 by a committee of ten like-minded scientists, and has grown into an organization with worldwide membership.

The primary functions of the Society are: Publication of a quarterly peer-reviewed journal.
Conducting research to develop and test creation models.
The provision of research grants and facilities to creation scientists for approved research projects.
Providing qualified scientists to speak to groups or churches.

Other functions of CRS include maintenance of a comprehensive directory of creationist organizations throughout the world. The CRS also runs a secure online bookstore for ordering books and videos on special creation.

The CRS was incorporated in the state of Michigan as a nonprofit corporation for educational and scientific purposes. Shortly thereafter it was granted 501(c)(3) not-for-profit tax-exempt status by the IRS. The first issue of the Creation Research Society Quarterly was published in July, 1964.

The CRS is independent and unaffiliated with any other organization, religious group or church body. The CRS advocates the concept of special creation (as opposed to evolution), both of the universe and of the earth with its complexity of living forms. Membership in the Society requires agreement with the CRS Statement of Belief. Members of the society include research scientists from various fields of scientific accomplishment who are committed to full belief in the Biblical record of creation and early history.

In my own presentation (such as it was) at the hearings I pointed out that creationists do not publish their research supporting creationism in peer-reviewed scientific journals. I held up a copy of Science magazine as an example.

If you pull down Shormann’s paper and read through it you will be impressed, as I was, how much like a real scientific research publication it is. It has an abstract and a summary (conclusions) and in between a whole lot of explanation, plus charts and illustrations. There is a quantity of citations to the works of others, and therein the reader will begin to get a clue.

For example, Shormann cites works by real scientists, including Brent Dalrymple and Garniss H. Curtis. It would have been best had he stopped there. Unfortunately his paper goes on to cite Steven A. AustinDavid Coppedge, Donald DeYoung, Jonathan Edwards, Richard L. Overman, himself, Andrew Snelling, Larry Vardiman, Eugene Chaffin, Tas Walker, John Woodmorappe, John C. Whitcomb and Henry Morris.

That’s an interesting collection, and many I have seen around for years.

Steven A. Austin has a legitimate Ph.D. in geology from Penn State. He is most famous for his argument that the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980 demonstrates that geological features to not require millions of years to form.

David Coppedge is best remembered as the creationist who sued JPL after he lost his job as a system administrator. He is, or was at the time, on the board of Illustria Media, the entity that produced some of the slick creationist videos of recent time, including Metamorphosis, a beautifully produced video about butterflies that attempts to make the argument that insect metamorphosis cannot be explained by Darwinian evolution. This is an Old Earth Creationism (OEC) theme. Illustria also produced Darwin’s Dilemma, Unlocking the Mystery of Life, and The Privileged Planet.

Andrew Snelling is a YEC with a legitimate Ph.D. in geology, and he made his name several years back by extrapolating the historical strength of Earth’s magnetic field back to the time of creation, just a few thousand years ago, when the field strength must have been infinite.

John Woodmorappe may be one of the most curious of the collection. That’s not his real name. Jan Peczkis has published extensively for the Institute for Institute for Creation Research. In his paper Stormann cites Piczkis’s paper, The Mythology of Modern Dating Methods:

Radiometric dates from samples of unknown age cannot be verified. Problems with the Potassium-Argon (K/Ar) method were noted early in its application, particularly the problem of “excess” argon contained in samples (Aldrich and Nier, 1948). Some samples had so much excess argon that they gave apparent ages of 9 Ga (billion years ago); almost twice Earth’s secularly assumed age (Harrison and McDougal, 1981). Woodmorappe (1999) showed how the “excess argon” label is invoked as a way to discount once-accepted Ar-Ar dates. Since the secular Earth age is actually not verifiable, is it also possible that most, if not all K/Ar and Ar/Ar samples contain excess argon? Results from a study of over 500 articles suggest there is excess (Overman, 2013).

Lacking any real science of their own, creationists, and especially YECs like Shormann, rely on works of similar worthiness by other creationists to bolster their own claims.

At the hearing Shormann was given two minutes to speak, and I made a short video of the interchange. What I found most curious is that Shormann’s world involves only home school and (supposedly) private Christian schools. So, why is he at the SBOE hearing making objections to texts used in public schools? The world wonders.

He started off by telling us he was “on the outside looking in.” He was somebody who does not participate in public education, but he chooses to examine and critique it. He stated that his curriculum standards for math and science are higher than those of any state in the U.S. I guess I’m going to have to take Shormann’s word at face value on that, because I have no way to verify it. So, it turned out that what Shormann was objecting to is the lack of coverage of epigenetics in the texts. He said the curriculum is lacking in “21st century science.” He was one of the reviewers of the biology curriculum in 2011, and he found no or else inadequate coverage, so he found it necessary to “go against” his team members and object to the acceptance of the material.

He went on to say that he has to keep up with the latest science in order to maintain a market for his curriculum product (my interpretation of what he was saying). His curriculum is “already at least two years ahead of what Texas text books have.” He soon got to the point, as I understand it. He wants the current texts rejected because they don’t cover the latest science. He urged the Board to reject the books “unless they put a definition, explain it…” (epigenetics).

Board member Patricia Hardy, representing District 11 (Fort Worth) objected to Shormann’s objection. A specific requirement for defining and explaining epigenetics is not in the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills), which is the driving requirement given to publishers. It would be unreasonable to reject a text that did not include material not required by the TEKS.

Shormann pressed the issue, perhaps a bit beyond the pale. Apparently in his handout given to the board he referenced the TEKS breakouts he had in mind. Here are the expectations and breakouts I caught from his conversation with the Board:

(7)  Science concepts. The student knows evolutionary theory is a scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life. The student is expected to: (F)  analyze and evaluate the effects of other evolutionary mechanisms, including genetic drift, gene flow, mutation, and recombination
(7)  Science concepts. The student knows evolutionary theory is a scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life. The student is expected to: (G)  analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell (ii)  evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell

The standards require the student to “evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell.” Shormann wanted the texts to include specific coverage of epigenetics in order to satisfy this requirement.

In fact, the one biology text I looked at has coverage required by the TEKS. The Miller-Levine book by Pearson (Prentiss Hall) has, starting on page 484, a section titled Sources of Genetic Variation. This section covers gene flow, mutation, and recombination. A section starting on page 490 is titled Genetic Drift.

This is not a discussion of epigenetics, but to a dispassionate reviewer this would cover the TEKS breakout.

Breakout 7 G ii is covered starting on page 555:

Complexity in Eukaryotes Eukaryotic cells contain several kinds of complex cytoplasmic organelles, including lysosomes, endoplasmatic reticula, cilia, and flagella. Two other organelles, chloroplasts and mitochondria, are even more complicated. For more than a century, cell biologists have wondered how eukaryotic cells with such complex organelles might have evolved.

This section of the book, pages 555-558, also discusses the workings of eukaryotes (cells with a defined nucleus). It discusses the Krebs cycle (citric acid cycle) that is essential to cell respiration and also ribosomes, used by cells to translate mRNA (messenger RNA) molecules into amino acids, which make up proteins. Page 558 has a section that would warm the heart of any Intelligent Design proponent.

Do We Understand the Cell Completely? Of course not. Many uncertainties remain in our current understanding of cellular complexity. Biologists are still learning how cells function in response to their environments, and how they  interact with each other. Such uncertainties are part of biology, as they are for any experimental science. In many ways, this is good news, because it means that there are plenty of mysteries to be solved by the next generation of biologists. Meanwhile, what we do understand suggests that complex cell structures and pathways were produced by known mechanisms of evolutionary change.

Oops, that last sentence would not go over well with OECs like Michael Behe.

Anyhow, all of that is not enough to satisfy David Shormann’s quest for perfection in a curriculum neither he nor his customers and students will ever use. Call me cynical, but my feeling is Shormann’s quest is not so much the uplifting of Texas science standards as it is to strike a blow at any curriculum that adheres only to natural processes.

Also, what is not clear to me is why the SBOE saw fit to put up with his shenanigans on Tuesday. As Shormann mentioned in his talk on Tuesday, he has been here before and has done this before.

Creationists Target Publisher in Texas Adoption
By Dan | Published July 21, 2011

Update: TFN has obtained a copy of letter addressed to the state board signed by five members of the official biology review panels. The letter challenges the alleged “errors” identified in the report presented to the board late yesterday, concluding:

“Holt McDougal’s supplement, as well as the publisher’s response to the reviewers, accurately describes the current state of the science, satisfies the TEKS, and matches the other supplements already approved by the board on Thursday.”

***

The Texas State Board of Education’s public hearing and debate over proposed new science instructional materials today went well — until a big bump at the end. Most of the instructional materials the education commissioner has recommended for adoption received preliminary approval from the state board. The board has scheduled a final vote tomorrow.

But toward the end of the debate this afternoon, Texas Education Agency staff revealed that a review team had identified eight objections to content in the Biology instructional materials submitted for approval by publisher Holt McDougal. Board members were told that Holt McDougal is arguing that the objections are based on bad science.

Indeed, the objections appear to be largely the work of a young-earth creationist — David Shormann — on the team that reviewed the company’s materials. Here is a review Shormann wrote about the Holt McDougal materials and shared with his review team. We obtained this document last week through a Public Information Act request to TEA.

As on Tuesday, Shormann addressed breakout 7 G (see above) in 2011. He had this to say in his objections to the Holt McDougal material:

The red blood cell is referred to as a simple eukaryotic cell, but it has no nucleus, no organelles, and no membranes inn its cytoplasm. Therefore, it cannot be referred to as a eukaryotic cell.

I am not a biologist, and the first time I read this I did not realize it was written by a creationists. I thought to myself, “Holy shit! Have I been wrong all this time?” Then I read the response in the next column from the publisher:

The red blood cell is indeed a highly derived eukaryotic cell. Red blood cells, or erythrocytes, form from eukaryotic progenitor cells that do have a nucleus, organelles, and cytoplasmic membranes. These structures are extruded from erythrocytes during the course of their development from the progenitor cells.

This is one of the things that happens when a non-biologist gets involved in reviewing biology curricula. The fact is that Shormann’s degrees are in aerospace engineering, marine chemistry and limnology.

Limnology … also called freshwater science, is the study of inland waters. It is often regarded as a division of ecology or environmental science. It covers the biological, chemical, physical, geological, and other attributes of all inland waters (running and standing waters, both fresh and saline, natural or man-made). This includes the study of lakes and ponds, rivers, springs, streams and wetlands. A more recent sub-discipline of limnology, termed landscape limnology, studies, manages, and conserves these aquatic ecosystems using a landscape perspective.

Limnology is closely related to aquatic ecology and hydrobiology, which study aquatic organisms in particular regard to their hydrological environment.

Shormann is not much more a biologist than I am, so it’s possible a mistake with the red blood cells can be explained.  Other errors are not so easily explained except by poor scholarship or else a smidgen of duplicity. Reviewing TEKS breakout 7 A against the Holt McDougal text, Shormann had this objection:

7 A Comparing Hominid Skulls

Lab Activity: comparing hominid skulls: 2010 research confirms humans and chimps differ by 30%. This fact is not discussed in the lab activity. The human/chimp skull homology does not match the genetic homology. Including the human skull leads students to a conclusion that differs from 21st century scientific research that is testable and repeatable, and should be removed from the activity. “The difference in MSY gene content in chimpanzee and human is more comparable to the difference in autosomal gene content in chicken and human, at 310 million years of separation.” The similarities in human skulls with other hominids may be convergent evolution, but it is erroneous to pretend that common ancestry is the cause.

Holt’s response is telling:

There is no error with this Virtual Lab. The comment from the panel appears to refer to a research paper published in the January 28, 2010, issue of Nature: Hughes et al, “Chimpanzee and human Y chromosomes are remarkably divergent in structure and gene content.” The study found a 30 percent difference in the genetic makeup of the male-specific region of the Y chromosome (MSY). This region accounts for a tiny percentage of the overall genome in humans and chimps, which the paper explicitly refers to as “our closest living relative.” In the sentence immediately preceding the one quoted in the panel comment, the researchers point out that “in the remainder of the genome, comparison of chimpanzee draft sequence with human reference sequence suggests that the gene content of the two species differs <1%.” The researchers conclude that the major difference in MSY sequence indicates rapid evolution during the 6 million years since humans and chimps diverged from a common ancestor. Thus the article itself does not support the assertions made in the panel comments.

The biology TEKS student expectation 7 A states:

(7)  Science concepts. The student knows evolutionary theory is a scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life. The student is expected to: (A)  analyze and evaluate how evidence of common ancestry among groups is provided by the fossil record, biogeography, and homologies, including anatomical, molecular, and developmental

In his 2011 review of the Holt text Shormann listed seven objections to—and suggested revisions to—Holt’s coverage of 7 A, some in the student TEKS and one in the teacher TEKS. Each case gives the impression of an amateur complaining and a professional scientist/educator responding.

After wading through my own review of the Shormann/Holt exchange I came across a more thorough analysis of the Shormann/Holt exchange by Steven Schafersman.

Schafersman holds a B.S. in Geology and Biology from Northern Illinois University, a M.S. in Geology, and a Ph.D. in Geology (1983) from Rice University. He currently resides in Midland, Texas with his wife Dr. Gae Kovalick, a University of Texas of the Permian Basin professor of Biology. He specialized in invertebrate paleontology, stratigraphy, and sedimentary petrology.

Schafersman taught at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin (2000-2002), Miami University (Ohio) (1994-1999), University of Houston (1984-1989) and Houston Community College (1974-1978 and 1984-1994).

He has been a pro-science activist since 1989.

In addition, he created the Free Inquiry website, dedicated to educating the public on humanism and skepticism and the Texas Citizens for Science website, committed to opposing the representation of religious concepts such as intelligent design and creationism as science in Texas textbooks. Schafersman contributes to a blog column for the Houston Chronicle at Evo.Sphere Blog.

Schafersman also addressed the SBOE on Tuesday, and his analysis concluded:

In this analysis, it is clear that David Shormann—with his identification of bogus errors and faulty suggestions about how to correct them—is trying to confuse and mislead students about the accuracy and reliability of evolution as a natural process. Holt’s original text was perfectly scientifically accurate and needs no revisions. The only possible acceptable changes would be to add a few sentences to clarify or explain topics with a little more detail. It is important for such additions to be positive and not confusing since students can be easily misled by poor presentation or pedagogy. That is why experienced scientists and science educators should be responsible for the content of these instructional materials, not anti-science reviewers or elected public officials.

Finally, the TFN press release quoted above also cited a letter dated 22 July 2011, written to the Board by members of the biology review panels. This letter included the following:

We write as members of the biology review panels, deeply concerned about the claims of factual errors in the submission from Holt McDougal. We do not agree that the claims listed are errors, and in examining the response from Holt McDougal, we find the publisher’s rationale scientifically valid, correct, and aligned to the TEKS.

Indeed, we considered many of these same topics in the supplements we reviewed. Holt McDougal’s supplement, as well as the publisher’s response to the reviewers, accurately describes the current state of the science, satisfies the TEKS, and matches the other supplements already approved by the board on Thursday.

Moreover, the claims advanced by at least one member of committee that reviewed Holt McDougal’s submission are scientifically inaccurate and seem entirely dedicated to undermining the presentation of evolution. Many of the claims derive from overtly creationist literature and arguments.

It is signed by

Dr. Ronald Wetherington, Southern Methodist University
Kevin Fisher, Lewisville ISD
Kelly Hall, Grapevine-Colleyville ISD
Cynthia Tanner, Corpus Christi ISD
Dawna Schweitzer, Eagle-Mountain-Saginaw ISD

Four apparently are teachers in Texas school districts, and the other is Ronald Wetherington, a physical anthropologist and a professor at Southern Methodist University:

Professor Wetherington has long been active in seeking ways to improve learning and to motivate students at all educational levels. He developed and has conducted an annual four-day interdisciplinary science and humanities curriculum for 8th grade students, “The Taos Odyssey”, held at SMU-in-Taos, since 1997. Dallas’ Christ the King School added the Odyssey to their formal curriculum in 2002. Other participating schools have included Bishop Dunne and Prince of Peace.

He also developed and conducted a week-long “Professional Development Workship” (sic) at the request of the Episcopal School of Houston, held in Taos in the summers of 2004 and 2005. At the other end of the educational continuum, Wetherington devised a series of adult education short-course modules as a proposal for SMU-in-Taos. In 2005, the first of these “SMU Cultural Institute” offerings was held, with an enthusiastic response. On campus, Professor Wetherington organized the initial “Teaching Effectiveness Symposium” in 1992, which has become the flagship event for the CTE at the beginning of the fall term, and the “TA Seminar”, held each August for first-year graduate students at SMU.

In 2008 Professor Wetherington was appointed as one of six science experts by the Texas Education Agency to advise the State Board of Education on the decennial revision of the science standards for K – 12 public schools. When this concluded in 2009 and the social studies standards were revised, Wetherington again testified against interpretive errors in many of these proposed changes.

A 2012 documentary film on this 2008 – 2011 debate, The Revisionaries, has won several awards and is in general theatrical release in the U.S. It will be featured as a PBS film in 2013.

Here is a link to David Shormann’s talk. My video clips from the Tuesday’s hearings include talks by Professor Wetherington, Dr. Schafersman and numerous other science advocates and also creationists. Those I failed to get on my own apparently were snared by the TFN, which had a highly competent crew on hand. I will be posting my videos to YouTube in the near future, and I will cover these presentations and will provide links in future posts. Please keep reading.

I gave money to the Texas Freedom Network and all I got was this t-shirt

Only joking. T-shirts were free to the first 50 to show up at the rally in front of the William B. Travis Office Building in Austin yesterday. However, since I have long blown hard about giving money to the TFN and also the National Center for Science Education, I got my t-shirt and gave some money, as well. You should, too. Here’s the link.

Here's what a day in Austin will get you

The big deal was the Texas State Board of Education had hearings on Tuesday, taking comments from citizens. School texts for the 2014 year are up for adoption, and I previously participated in the review process. On Tuesday I took my turn telling the Board what was wrong with the process. I could have just kept my seat. I was in the company of professionals.

Kathy Miller heads up the TFN and was there, of course. Zack Kopplin was there. He’s moved from Louisiana and now lives in Texas. Their loss, our gain. Also Josh Rosenau. And that was not the entire team present standing up for Texas science. On Tuesday the SBOE suffered a severe indictment for its political mechanizations directed at the school curriculum.

Did I forget to mention creationists were there, as well? Don McLeroy, former SBOE spoke, giving living proof that dinosaurs have not gone extinct.

Former SBOE chair Don McLeroy at the hearings

Not to disappoint anybody, creationists Ide Trotter and Ray Bohlin showed up to speak, as well as David Shormann, whom I had never met before. It was a worthwhile trip.

I am working up a number of posts centered on the hearings, so return to this blog for more later on.

State Board of Education Testimony

Following are the remarks I have prepared to deliver at the Texas State Board of Education hearings in Austin on Tuesday.

Good afternoon,

I wish to thank the Board of Education for giving me this opportunity to speak, and I will keep my remarks brief.

My comments concern how I came to be here today, and you will see that they relate to the business at hand.

Over 50 years ago I came to Austin to attend the University of Texas. I had intended to get a degree in physics, but understanding the employment realities, I registered, instead, in the School of Engineering, and I obtained an engineering degree.

What I find humorous is that my degree program required an elective course, and that could include either biology or geology. I was aghast at taking either of these courses. Biology I found messy, and geology too hard. I elected, instead a course in Russian literature. But first I needed two course in Russian grammar, which did not count toward my degree. So I took those, as well, and I got an engineering degree and a smattering of foreign language. But no biology and no geology.

I began my career in engineering, and eventually had a man working for me who told me firmly the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. He was a creationist. I thought it was so odd that an educated person refused some to acknowledge some obvious facts of science, and I began a private study of creationism.

I purchases books by creationists and also books by legitimate scientists, and I attended presentations by creationists. Since creationists talk a lot about geology and biology, I began to learn more about geology and biology.

One day a creationist told me the sun cannot be billions of years old, because it is not fired by nuclear fusion. The explanation he gave was the character of neutrinos from the sun was wrong for that type of reaction. This was information I should have known already. Then I remembered I was originally supposed to get a degree in physics, so at the age of 50 I went back to college and got a degree in physics.

In the mean time, some real physicists worked out the sun neutrino solution and went off to Stockholm to pick up their Nobel Prize. And I continued to study the works of the creationists.

Last December I quit my job and retired. This provided me the opportunity to volunteer to review physics texts for the Texas Education Agency, and for that I am most grateful for being selected.

Then an amazing thing happened. While participating in the team reviews in Austin this summer I met again some creationists I had met in my previous 25 years studying creationism. These creationists were reviewing biology texts for our public school students. Some of these people have no more formal training in biology than I do, and I have since learned of their attempts to influence the biology curriculum to fit their personal beliefs.

How these people were selected to review the biology texts is by now public knowledge, and the people involved are in this room today. I will say no more about that.

This is so ironic. Because of creationism I wound up learning about modern biology, geology and paleontology, and I also got a degree in physics, which is how I came be here today. I have the creationists to thank for furthering my own education, but not in the manner they envisioned.

So, finally I address those of you here today who are sincerely interested in Texas public education and in the validity of modern science. Look around you. Think about why you are here today. The creationists already know. The ones I know personally are all basically good people, and you would appreciate having them as neighbors. But they have a skewed view of science and how it works. They are dedicated, they are diligent, and they are persistent. They were here yesterday, they are here today and they will be here tomorrow. They are not going away.

To all who support real science I post this challenge. What are you prepared to do?

Creationist Climate Science

Just when you thought it could not get any more weird. Did I forget to mention that this involves creationists?

Previously I posted an item about meeting some creationists at the Texas Education Agency book review session.

I also ran into some other people from out of my past, and that was rather gratifying. Early in my first Austin session I noticed the projector screen at the front of the room had messages for people. One was for Walter Bradley.

I thought, “That’s strange, because I know a famous creationist named Walter Bradley.” Surprise! I later got a chance to hook up with him again after many years.

Anyhow, it turned out that not only was Walter Bradley there, but so were two other creationists I had met previously, plus at least one more. Present also and reviewing curriculum materials for Texas high school biology were Ide Trotter and Ray Bohlin. At the time I thought this was odd, because although Bohlin has a legitimate Ph.D. in biology, neither Bradley nor Trotter have any academic standing in biology. The whole thing was about to get even more weird.

Here’s how the review process works. Three review sessions were scheduled this year. In April and May we were supposed to review materials, working individually, at home. My case is typical. The TEA sent me some materials by mail, and they also provided links to other materials to be reviewed on-line. A final session involved reviewing materials as a team on-site in Austin. An evaluation instrument—a specialized Excel document developed by the TEA—was provided with each item under review. Each Excel file comprised separate tabs for student and teacher TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills), student and teacher ELPS (English Language Proficiency Standards) plus a tab for the overall assessment and a tab for identifying errors and proposed corrections. In the latter tab reviewers can note actual problems they have identified and also suggestions for improvement. In the TEKS tabs there is a column for registering comments about how well the publisher is addressing the specific requirements.

That explained, when I stopped by to talk to the creationists reviewing the biology materials in Austin I didn’t get involved in what they were actually doing. It was not really my business. Only later, after I finished my review in Austin and was back home for several days did I get wind of “the rest of the story.” Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education posted the amazing details.

As I mentioned before (and as discussed in the TFN/NCSE press release), evolution was the main focus of denialist comments in the Texas textbook reviews. But given a chance, the creationists were happy to attack climate science, too.

Climate change isn’t part of the biology standards in Texas (unfortunately), so science-denying reviewers had to work a bit to find a way to attack climate change. One reviewer in particular, Ray Bohlin, a fellow with the Discovery Institute and vice-president of the anti-evolution Probe Ministries, focused on a climate change case study in the best-selling Pearson/Prentice-Hall biology textbook. The four-page discussion covers the physical causes of climate change, its impacts on biological systems and the oceans and atmosphere, and discusses what can be done to limit climate change. For the space available, it’s a thorough and thoughtful discussion that gives students the information they’ll will need in order to be scientifically literate citizens of the 21st century.

Ray Bohlin’s evaluation form for this text has been made public, and I obtained a copy from the TFN. Here is what Bohlin had to say about one section. In the following I have reproduced pertinent text from a particular TEKS “breakout.” Each part is from one row in an Excel spread sheet, and the different parts are in separate columns in that row.

The first part is in a column titled Knowledge and Skills Statement:

(3)  Scientific processes. The student uses critical thinking, scientific reasoning, and problem solving to make informed decisions within and outside the classroom. The student is expected to:

The next part is the particular requirement, broken out from the Knowledge and Skills Statement:

(ii)  evaluate the impact of scientific research on the environment

In the next part the evaluator is expected to identify the page or section of the book containing the material that satisfies the requirement:

175-179

In the next part the evaluator identifies the pertinent material:

Case Studies 1, 2, and 3

Following that  is a column for the evaluator to optionally enter remarks. Here is what Ray Bohlin had to say about this particular material in the Miller-Levine biology text. Typos are in the original:

Case Study #3 on Climate Change needs extensive revision. The temperature graph in Figure 6-30 wrongly indicates that temperatures have continued to rise. It is well recognized that global temps have stalled for the last 16 years. This graph does not indicate that. Since the publisher indicated these case studies as fulfilling 3Dii I cannot approve this TEKS breakout. Additional problems can be found in the CO2 graph on page 178. One axis uses ppm and the other uses ppb. This discrepancy will be asily lost on many HS students and therefore will lead to misinterpretations of the graph. No mention is made of the benefit to plants of higher CO2 concentrations. There is jjst so much wrong with this case study.

The problem is, there is not “just so much wrong with this case study,” as Josh Rosenau explained. Recalling that the second word in the title of my blog is “Analysis,” I decided to dig a little deeper. I went to the Internet and drilled into the facts behind Figure 6-30. The publisher has made this book viewable on-line, and I looked up this particular item. Here is Figure 6-30 from the Miller-Levine book:

Miller and Levine Biology page 177

I’m just looking at the top graph. This is what Bohlin is complaining about. “The temperature graph in Figure 6-30 wrongly indicates that temperatures have continued to rise. It is well recognized that global temps have stalled for the last 16 years. This graph does not indicate that.”

So, where did the publisher get their information? Could be from the same source as this graph:

And also from this source:

These graphs are from the NASA Web site on a page titled GISS Surface Temperature Analysis. Readers will note that Figure 6-30 in Miller-Levine looks a lot like the Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index graph, only smoothed out a lot. There’s a dip around the year 1910, a peak around 1940 and a mostly steady rise since 1970. The graph in Figure 6-30 only goes to 2005, so it misses what has happened in the last eight years.

So what is Bohlin complaining about? His key wording is “It is well recognized that global temps have stalled for the last 16 years.” Miller-Levine does not cover the last 16 years (1997-2013). If Bohlin had more room to explain himself he would have pulled out additional temperature plots. Since Bohlin did not, Josh Rosenau has done it for him.

Josh’s rebuttal to Bohlin includes a link to the following:

One of the most common misunderstandings amongst climate change “skeptics” is the difference between short-term noise and long-term signal. This animation shows how the same temperature data (green) that is used to determine the long-term global surface air warming trend of 0.16°C per decade (red) can be used inappropriately to “cherrypick” short time periods that show a cooling trend simply because the endpoints are carefully chosen and the trend is dominated by short-term noise in the data (blue steps). Isn’t it strange how five periods of cooling can add up to a clear warming trend over the last 4 decades? Several factors can have a large impact on short-term temperatures, such as oceanic cycles like the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) or the 11-year solar cycle. These short-term cycles don’t have long-term effects on the Earth’s temperature, unlike the continuing upward trend caused by global warming from human greenhouse gas emissions.

The data (green) are the average of the NASA GISS, NOAA NCDC, and HadCRUT4 monthly global surface temperature anomaly datasets from January 1970 through November 2012, with linear trends for the short time periods Jan 1970 to Oct 1977, Apr 1977 to Dec 1986, Sep 1987 to Nov 1996, Jun 1997 to Dec 2002, and Nov 2002 to Nov 2012 (blue), and also showing the far more reliable linear trend for the full time period (red).

Here is the animation, a GIF image that plots temperature averages through the years and displays a trend line, showing an inexorable rise since 1970. It then steps through the process of assigning short-term trends that can be picked out of the total.

Bohlin is likely taking the most recent of these short-term trends to make the argument that global temperatures have stalled for the past 16 years. Bohlin feels his argument is good for today, and he may be betting on tomorrow. If the temperatures trend upward again in the next 20 years, Bohlin and others like him will most likely look around for another argument. This is a typical creationist ploy—something I have encountered in the past 25 years researching creationists and their arguments.

But wait! This is climate science. This isn’t creationism. Why a creationist like Ray Bohlin getting involved in climate science? I have an idea, and it’s not good news. A basic aspect of creationist thought is a mistrust of science. Not all, but the basic creationist is a religious conservative. These people hang their lives on religious ideals, which are underpinned on belief in the supernatural. Science has long discarded the supernatural. It doesn’t fit, it doesn’t work, it doesn’t exist. Science gets along very well without God, and creationists do not. Science must be the problem.

Besides that, typical creationists, relying heavily upon religion in their lives, are politically conservative, as well. Science has identified a problem, anthropogenic global warming. There is a way to fix or at least to forestall the problem—quit pumping so much greenhouse gas, including carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. Government action is required to work this solution. Political conservatives have an aversion to massive government action. The science must, therefore, be wrong.

Tomorrow I’m driving up to Austin to present as much of my case against creationism as I can in the three minutes I will be allowed at the SBOE hearings. In the mean time, readers are invited to follow some of the links above and consider making monetary donations to the NCSE and the TFN.


I’m one of you

For me this has to be about the most remarkable quote of the year. The comment came from Texas State Board of Education chair Barbara Cargill while I was participating in the review of curriculum materials for the Texas Education Agency. I posted this topic some days ago.

I struck up a conversation with Ide Trotter and reminded him of our meeting, nearly ten years previous. He remarked on my keen memory, but he should not have been amazed, because I had taken his photo at the time, so my memory was quite fresh. Dr. Trotter is a noted creationist, and I was very interested in talking to him about any progress his movement has made with Intelligent Design in the past ten years. He assured me Intelligent Design is on solid ground.

Also, Barbara Cargill joined us in our conversation. Dr. Trotter and I were discussing Intelligent Design when she walked up, and I am afraid she was confused and thought I was a creationist. She remarked “I’m one of you,” and gave us a reassuring clap on the shoulder. She conferred for a moment with Dr. Trotter over some notes, and she went off to visit other volunteers.

“I’m one of you?” That was so embarrassing. The chair of the Texas SBOE mistook me for a creationist. Wait until I tell the guys back at the North Texas Skeptics about this. In the  course of researching creationism and meeting with creationists over the past 25 years I have had many and varied experiences. In my life I have been called worse. The United States government used to pay a guy to insult me, humiliate me, call me names and in general make my life miserable. So over the years I’ve developed a thick hide.

Here’s a photo of Ide Trotter and also creationist Ray Bohlin taken about ten years ago at a symposium hosted by the Texas Freedom Network.

Creationists Ide Trotter and Ray Bohlin in 2003

Which brings us finally to the subject of the Texas Freedom Network (TFN). The TFN works to oppose the influence of what they call “the religions right,” but which turns out to be all kinds of bad actors in Unites States politics and public life. They’re an Austin-based political action committee, and they provide a free e-mail news service. Visit their site, subscribe to the mail and send money.

Somehow the TFN picked up on my blog post, possible because I sent them a link, and their most recent mailing included a comment. Here’s the entire post from the TFN:

New post on TFN Insider
Cargill: ‘I’m one of you’
by Ryan

Another first-hand report from the science review panel meeting last month in Austin has emerged, and it seems to corroborate some of the concerns about the flawed process expressed last week by biology panel participant Jimmy Gollihar. Specifically, it raises more questions about what state board chair Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, was doing at that meeting.

This report comes from a member of the physics review panel, John Blanton, who writes about the experience on his blog Skeptical Analysis. During a break in the review session, Blanton struck up a conversation with biology reviewer Ide Trotter, long-time supporter of “intelligent design”/creationism, when suddenly:

…Barbara Cargill joined us in our conversation. Dr. Trotter and I were discussing Intelligent Design when she walked up, and I am afraid she was confused and thought I was a creationist. She remarked “I’m one of you,” and gave us a reassuring clap on the shoulder. She conferred for a moment with Dr. Trotter over some notes, and she went off to visit other volunteers.

(Blanton is not an “intelligent design” supporter, as he makes clear in his account.)

So not only did Cargill engage in extensive discussions with members of the biology panels (per Gollihar’s letter), now we learn that she was lending moral support to panel members who shared her personal anti-evolution beliefs.

As a reminder, TFN asked Cargill on August 1 some basic questions about the integrity of the review process and her participation in that process. We’ve yet to receive a satisfactory reply. Given the additional details emerging from multiple sources, we think the chair has an obligation to provide the public with some answers. Here, again, are the questions:

• When you attended the review team meeting on Wednesday, July 30, did you try in any way to influence the decisions of any review team members on questions of a particular submission’s content, TEKS coverage or factual accuracy?

• It appeared that you spent considerable time with the high school biology review teams on Wednesday. In talking to the biology reviewers, did you discuss the coverage of evolution/human origins and related issues in instructional materials?

• Is it your position that:

– It is appropriate for an SBOE member to join the formal deliberations of a review team?

– It is appropriate for an SBOE member to engage in extensive discussions with members over issues regarding the content of specific textbook submissions?

– It is appropriate for an SBOE member try to influence the decisions of that review committee?

• Do you have any concerns about a process that could allow SBOE members – in a meeting where the public has no access – to lobby review team members for specific recommendations to textbook publishers?

Ryan | September 15, 2013 at 4:28 pm | URL: http://wp.me/p2lkhk-5Qs

OK, my cover is really blown now. The whole world knows I am not a creationist. Is there no privacy on the Internet anymore?

Anyhow, all of this could make for some dicey conversation when I show up on Tuesday to provide my comments at the SBOE text book hearings in Austin. A lot of people are going to pointing me out and whispering “He’s really not a creationist, you know.” There’s no way I’m going to be able to keep this under wraps. Especially when I show up wearing my t-shirt from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Won’t that go over big with the creationists! Photos to follow.

As dirty as it gets – how the blog gets done

Bad Joke of the Week

Old Age: Not a joke but a collection of aphorisms related to getting old.

Eventually you will reach a point when you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it. This is so true. I love to hear them say “you don’t look that old..”

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The older we get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for.

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Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me! I want people to know why I look this way. I’ve traveled a long way and some of the roads weren’t paved.

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When you are dissatisfied and would like to go back to youth, think of algebra.

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You know you are getting old when everything either dries up or leaks.

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One of the many things no one tells you about aging is that it is such a nice change from being young.

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Ah, being young is beautiful, but being old is comfortable.

The Rant, The Rant

From Wikipedia

This was kind of cool. I saw it on the Internet news a few weeks back.

(CNN) — An eastern Pennsylvania police chief who went on profanity-laced video rants against those who disagreed with him on gun laws has been suspended for 30 days without pay.

On first glance it might appear Mark Kessler is some kind of liberal civil libertarian. He’s very strong on upholding the First and Second Amendments of the United States Constitution. On a second look, maybe not so liberal. Here’s what he has to say:

Well, I guess I upset a few people the other day when I made a video, I used some profanity, and some people didn’t like that. Well I’m here to say I’m sorry. OK, I didn’t mean to upset anybody, or insult anybody or hurt anyone’s feelings. So please accept this as my sincere apology.

[Walks out of camera view. Then walks into view carrying an automatic rifle and continues.]

Yeah, I don’t think so. This boy don’t roll that way. For all you people out there who cried and cried about, oh, I used profanity—fuck you! Here’s what I gotta say: If you didn’t get enough the first time around, go fuck yourself and get some more.

[Fires a long burst from the automatic rifle.]

You get that? You get that one? Huh? You bunch of cock suckers.

[Walks out of view again, then later returns with a different weapon.]

Now just in case.. you missed that… I’ve another message for ya. Go fuck yourself again.

[Fires a burst from the weapon]

How ’bout that?

[Walks out of view and returns with a different weapon.]

Oh, yeah! It’s gettin’ better isn’t it. I’m really hurtin’ some feelings today. All you fucking libtards out there, all you fucking crybabies, grow a pair of balls and man the fuck up. All right? You’re a fuckin’ bunch of pussies. Oh, Chief Kessler said the F-word. I’m going to say it again. Fuck you!

[Fires a burst from the weapon and the video ends.]

OK, that will do for today’s anger management class.

See what I mean? With his forceful expression of support for the Constitution, Chief Kessler has got to be some kind of bleeding heart liberal. Maybe not so fast there. What does libtard mean? My spell checker went absolutely crazy with that. Wait, I get it. It’s a contraction of the words liberal and retard. Oh, that is so cute. Way to go Chief Kessler.

Of course, one way to strengthen the First and Second Amendments is to stress them to the limit. Move over, Miley Cyrus. On the First Amendment Chief Kessler is king of pushing the envelop. And nobody compares when it comes to demonstrating the strength of the Second Amendment. Call me a bleeding heart liberal if you want, but I always say that if you want to check the status of the Bill of Rights the surest way is to abuse it.

Some people may be alarmed at Chief Kessler’s outward show of aggression and hostility, but I’m here to defend all that. When you’re the only cop in a rough and tumble frontier place like Gilberton, you need a tough guy to take on the riffraff.

Wait! I just checked a map. Gilberton’s not lawless town in eastern Nigeria. It’s right here in the U.S.A., in eastern, not western, Pennsylvania. Not so much No Name City, Gilberton is more like Mayberry.

As of the census of 2000, there were 867 people, 385 households, and 219 families residing in the borough. The population density was 608.3 people per square mile (234.1/km²). There were 474 housing units at an average density of 332.6 per square mile (128.0/km²). The racial makeup of the borough was 97.92% White, 0.35% Native American, 1.61% Asian, and 0.12% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.35% of the population.

There were 385 households out of which 23.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.3% were married couples living together, 10.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 43.1% were non-families. 40.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 22.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.25 and the average family size was 3.10.

In the borough the population was spread out with 21.8% under the age of 18, 6.8% from 18 to 24, 29.3% from 25 to 44, 22.6% from 45 to 64, and 19.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 100.2 males. For every 100 women age 18 and over, there were 98.2 men.

The median income for a household in the borough was $24,792, and the median income for a family was $34,500. Males had a median income of $27,875 versus $21,000 for females. The per capita income for the borough was $14,785. About 9.5% of families and 10.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.4% of those under age 18 and 7.7% of those age 65 or over.

I have never been to Gilberton, but I am sure if I ever went there I would sooner or later expect to meet Chief Kessler strolling down the street, his trusty weapon on his hip. Why, it I did, I would just walk up to him and shake his hand. And offer him a bullet.

One major comedic source is Barney’s lack of ability with a firearm. After numerous misfires (usually a Colt .38 caliber revolver), Andy restricts Barney to carrying only one bullet in his shirt pocket, “in case of an emergency.” But, the bullet always seems to find its way back into the gun, where Barney usually accidentally shoots it. Usually into the floor, or the ceiling. The accidental discharge of Barney’s gun becomes a running gag. Another gag has Barney locking himself or together with Andy in one of the jail cells, with the keys just out of reach. Realizing that they can’t get out, they shamelessly yell for help.

All right, that’s a bit of a cheap shot, but the truth is a little better.

GIRARDVILLE – The Gilberton police chief’s handgun that discharged during a scuffle in a borough bar early Sunday has yet to be recovered by state police.

Troopers are investigating an incident where Mark Kessler, who was off-duty at the time, became involved in an altercation already under way among patrons inside a crowded 2nd Street Pub about midnight when his pistol discharged, shooting him in the hand.

Sgt. Barry Whitmoyer, commander of the Frackville station, said Friday the weapon had not been accounted for and it is not known if the gun was fired intentionally or went off by accident.

“We don’t have the weapon and still have a lot of questions to answer,” Whitmoyer said. “At this point we really don’t know what we have.”

However, Whitmoyer said all indications show that no other weapons were involved.

It’s really good news that no other gun was involved, because it there had been another gun, then there would have been a gun fight for sure, and we know who’s going to win any gun fight in Schuylkill County.

Wait! The news gets even better:

FRACKVILLE — A new hat has been thrown into the ring for the election of Schuylkill County sheriff with Mark Kessler declaring himself a write-in candidate for the office.

The embattled police chief of Gilberton, Kessler announced his candidacy on his “Chief Mark Kessler” Facebook page and his website at http://www.chiefkessler.com. Kessler is running as an independent against incumbent Sheriff Joseph G. Groody, a democrat, and republican challenger Patrick Reynolds in the Nov. 5 general election.

A Frackville resident, Kessler said in a phone interview that he had been considering running for sheriff for some time.

Hot Dog! Better watch out, Sheriff Taylor. Barney’s got his eye on your job.