Archive for the 'Intelligent Design' category

How many blue lobsters does it take to start a business?

Uncommon Descent, for some reason, just posted a link to an article about a blue lobster. This isn't the first time that a blue lobster has been found, and there are even rarer yellow and albino variants that are known. Since there is, as the UD article points out, a trade in blue crayfish, it's reasonable to assume that the blue coloration in lobsters is a heritable. All that leaves me wondering something: exactly why did the folks at Uncommon Descent decide to highlight this example?

The UD article contains the following gem:

Apparently, there is a trade in blue crayfish for aquariums, but any similar trade on blue lobsters depends on finding another one, of the opposite sex.

Does it really?

I didn't take a lot of time to research the genetic mechanisms underpinning lobster coloration (frankly, it's not a topic that fascinates me). I did find, however, that there's reason to suspect that the blue coloration is the result of a recessive trait (a paper I found noted that a prior study had found that blue offspring only occur when two blue lobsters mate). If that's the case, does a would-be purveyor of blue lobsters really need two blue lobsters to get the business off the ground?
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18 responses so far

An interesting parallel between Intelligent Design and Birtherism

Oct 05 2009 Published by under Accidental, Humor, Intelligent Design

As I wrote that title, I realized that it's probably insufficiently informative - there are, after all, multiple parallels between Intelligent Design proponents and the crackpots dedicated defenders of the Constitution who continue to insist that Barack Obama is not eligible to be the President. Both groups, for example, have a blind devotion to a concept that has no actual basis in reality. Both appear to be remarkably skeptical toward the enormous amounts of evidence challenging their views while simultaneously demonstrating a remarkable credulity toward any evidence that might possibly be remotely construed as supporting their views, and both demand that they be proven wrong beyond an unreasonable doubt.

As obvious as the parallels between the two groups are concerned, I was actually struck more by their use of a similar tactic. Earlier today, I was watching the insane train wreck that is Orly Taitz reading through court documents in some of the not-yet-laughed-out-of-court still pending birther suits. One paragraph from one of the many motions filed caught my eye:

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15 responses so far

Casey Luskin, Galloping Paranoia, and Not Taking Intelligent Design Seriously.

Mar 20 2009 Published by under Intelligent Design

Casey Luskin is once again hard at work in the Discovery Institute quote mines. In his latest effort, he tries to make the case that a recent review article by Kevin Padian and the Panda's Thumb's own Nick Matzke contains "veiled threats" designed to intimidate cdesign proponentsists. Casey dives into the quote mines in the first paragraph of the post:

It's always amusing how evolutionists continually proclaim, and then re-proclaim, the apparent demise of intelligent design (ID) (i.e. 'no really, this time ID actually is dead!'!). We're pretty used to that, but then it gets a little creepy when they exude what appears to be an unhealthy pleasure in ID's (purported) demise. Such was recently the exact case when National Center for Science Education (NCSE) president Kevin Padian and former NCSE spokesman Nick Matzke, in a January issue of Biochemical Journal, published a "review article" claiming that the "case for ID" has "collapsed," gleefully asserting that "no one with scientific or philosophical integrity is going to take [Discovery Institute or ID] seriously in future."

Whenever someone from the Discovery Institute quotes a scientist, it's a good idea to go back to the original source. That's particularly true in cases like this, where the quoted material consists of several sentence fragments. Unsurprisingly, when we check the original source, we find that the quoted passages occur several paragraphs apart.

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48 responses so far

Beavers of the Gaps

Dec 12 2008 Published by under Humor, Intelligent Design

There's a very interesting article over at Uncommon Descent about beavers, and the things that they do. I'm not entirely sure why they posted the article - Barry seems to be trying to make the point that because Beavers clearly can commit criminal acts but just as clearly can't form criminal intent, their brains are different from humans, and there's therefore something "non-materialist" and special about the human brain. I'd like to take a look at the same story, but with a slightly different focus.

Here's the story:

Green campaigners called in police after discovering an illegal logging site in a nature reserve - and rounded up a gang of beavers.

Environmentalists found 20 neatly stacked tree trunks and others marked for felling with notches at the beauty-spot at Subkowy in northern Poland.

But police followed a trail left where one tree had been dragged away - and found a beaver dam right in the middle of the river. A police spokesman said: "The campaigners are feeling pretty stupid. There's nothing more natural than a beaver."

Let's look at this story from the perspective of detecting design. That's a topic that's particularly relevant right now, given that Dembski himself has recently abandoned, then abandoned his abandonment of, the explanatory filter.

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27 responses so far

Dr. Michael Egnor: Neurosurgeon, Stony Brook Faculty, and all around Dishonest Twit

I've been dealing with creationists for a long time now, and I thought that I'd gotten over being surprised by dishonest behavior in their ranks. In fact, I thought I'd gotten over it even when I'm on the receiving end of the false witness, and when the person dishing it out is someone who really should know better. As it turns out, I might not have quite as far over it as I thought.

As regular readers know, Dr. Michael Egnor is one of the more impressively credentialed denizens of the Discovery Institute's media complaints blog. He has decades of experience as a neurosurgeon. He's on the faculty at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, where he serves as a professor of neurosurgery. And, based on the level of intellectual integrity that he just demonstrated, he's not someone I would trust to train a dog, much less a doctor.

That's a harsh statement, I know, but I just got through reading his response to my recent critique of some of his Discovery Institute ramblings. Or, rather, his response to what he says was my recent critique. It was actually an interesting experience. He managed to take what I wrote so far out of context, and distort it so thoroughly, that I actually had problems recognizing some of the quotes as being my own work.

I may (or may not) deal with the nonexistent scientific merit of Dr. Egnor's reply later on. I'm not even going to try and catalogue all of the cases where Egnor was less than honest in his characterization of my writing. Instead, I'm simply going to highlight the most egregious case of flat-out, nose-growing, pants-on-fire lying.

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74 responses so far

Egnor shoots! He scores!

(another own goal, of course.)

There he goes again. Creationist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor's latest post over at the Discovery Institute's Why's Everybody Always Picking On Me blog may have actually reached a new standard for missing the point. And, as both my loyal regular readers know, that's not an easy mark for Egnor to hit.

The current contender is his latest post in a back-and-forth that he's been having with PZ and Orac. Once again, Egnor is attempting to argue that evolutionary biology has not provided any useful insights to the field of medicine. That much is familiar ground. What's new this time is the hypothetical that he's dredged up in an attempt to prove his point. His hypothetical is long and involved, which should provide you with your first warning that the argument is perhaps not as sound as he believes:

What I'm arguing is that the truth or falsehood of Darwinian stories is of no tangible value to medicine. Consider the following example.

I would suspect that careful epidemiological studies of the British population would show that the prevalence and incidence of spina bifida increased following World War One. To my knowledge, this has not been investigated, but it would make sense if it were true, for the following reasons:

Britain suffered enormous casualties during the Great War, as did many other European nations. (I'm just using Britain as an example). It has been said, with asperity, that Britain lost a generation of men on the Western Front. Britain suffered 2,300,000 war casualties -- forty four percent of mobilized men, with 703,000 men killed in battle or by disease. On just one day -- July 1,1916 -- 19,240 British soldiers died in the battle of the Somme. The young men who died were the best of their generation -- healthy, and by definition capable of meeting the rigorous physical standards required for military service.

Of course, other British men with debilitating genetic disorders, such as men with spina bifida (which renders the afflicted congenitally paralyzed), were not in the trenches that day, because they were physically unfit for military service, or at least service on the front lines as infantrymen. It's safe to say that military age British men without spinal bifida were at greater risk of death in the war than were military age British men with spina bifida. Whatever the impediments faced by people with spina bifida -- and they face many impediments -- they were not called to serve and die in the trenches.

Spina bifida would then be a fine example of an environmental adaptation; it was protective against "acute lead poisoning" -- protective against being mowed down by German machine gun fire on the Western Front. So, assuming for argument's sake that my hypothesis about the post-war epidemiology of spina bifida is true, the genes that give rise to spina bifida conferred a selective advantage on young British men in the period 1914 to 1918, and the differential survival (and reproduction) of that age cohort would explain a (hypothetical) increase in the incidence and prevalence of spina bifida in England in the post war period.

Where to begin?

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46 responses so far

Tenure and Money

With all of the renewed fuss the Discovery Institute is trying to stir up over the Gonzalez tenure thing, this seems like a really good time to talk about the role of money in the tenure process. I'm not going to do this because the money issue is one that the Discovery folks are frantically trying to distract attention from (they are) or because Gonzalez's inability to land external funds means that he'd be a very weak candidate for tenure even if he wasn't involved in ID (it does). I'm going to look at the role of money in the process because it's hugely important, for more reasons than people unfamiliar with the inner workings of science realize.

The best place to start is probably with a rough description of what's expected from tenure-track faculty at a research university. Undergraduate teaching, which is probably the first thing that jumps to mind for most people when they hear "professor" is a relatively small part of that. A professor at a research university is expected to direct a research program - and there's a lot more to that than just doing research on your own. A good research program consists of a number of people working on either different aspects of a single question or on a group of related research questions. The professor who serves as the primary investigator running the program shapes the research, but doesn't work alone. Sometimes, there will be other faculty members who collaborate on some aspects. Sometimes, there will be postdocs who work on the project. There will almost always be students who are involved at different levels. There are as many ways to set up a research program as there are scientists with research programs, but they all have one thing in common: they involve more than one person. And that's where the money gets important.

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9 responses so far

The Discovery Institute and the Gonzalez Tenure Issue: Why Should Intelligent Design be Privileged?

The Discovery Institute is currently making hay (again) over Iowa State's decision to deny tenure to Discovery Institute Fellow Guillermo Gonzalez. They've held a press conference and issued a press release claiming to have proof that Intelligent Design was "the" issue that resulted in Gonzalez not receiving tenure. I've read the release, and I'm unconvinced.

For starters, their release relies heavily on fragmentary quotes taken from emails that they obtained through an open records inquiry. Given the notorious track record of the entire anti-evolution movement when it comes to quoting scientists, I'm somewhat reluctant to accept the quotes provided at face value, particularly since the DI has not made the full text of the sources available for examination. Even if all of the quotes the DI uses do accurately capture the spirit of the full emails they are taken from (and does anyone want to offer me odds on that), I still don't think they've made their point. At most, they've demonstrated that Intelligent Design was a factor in the decision. Since people who were involved in making the decision have already said as much publicly, that's not exactly a shocking revelation.

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Intelligent Design was the overriding factor in the tenure decision. Heck, let's assume that it was the only factor that came into play in the tenure process. Let's pretend, in short, that the Discovery Institute has actually provided overwhelming evidence to support their argument. Let's set aside the facts and evidence that the Discovery Institute's using to support their claims, and look instead at the truly strange nature of the claims themselves.

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60 responses so far

The Discovery Institute, Casey Luskin, "Judicial Activism", and Blatant Hypocrisy

One of the joys of procrastination is that sometimes if you wait long enough, someone else really will take care of things. I mention that because Ed Brayton just did a good job dismantling Casey Luskin's latest whine about how big bad Judge Jones was such a nasty judicial activist for daring to issue a ruling in the Dover, PA Intelligent Design case that addressed the question of whether or not ID is good science. I was planning a long and detailed post on the same thing, but now all that I have to do is highlight one point that Ed didn't make in his post.

As Ed points out, there were a number of reasons for Jones to rule on that point. For starters, he had to look at that if he wanted to handle the case in front of him the same way that the Supreme Court handled its last creationism case. (That's called following precedent.) He also needed to look at that point in order to apply the test commonly used by the Federal Courts when they look at Establishment Clause cases. (That's also called following precedent.) As Ed also notes, both the plaintiffs and the defendants specifically asked the judge to rule on that point.

What Ed doesn't mention is that the plaintiffs and the defendants were not the only ones who asked Judge Jones to rule on whether or not Intelligent Design is good science:

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26 responses so far

Disclosure and the Discovery Institute

Nov 12 2007 Published by under Church/State, Creationism, Intelligent Design, Religion

The fine folks at the Discovery Institute aren't happy with tomorrow's PBS documentary on the Dover Intelligent Design case, and they're doing their best to make sure that everyone knows just how unhappy they are. They've been frantically tossing articles up on their Media Complaints Division Blog trying to make sure that their version of reality gets some exposure. I'm not going to bother going through all of their complaints right now. Most of their new material consists of a rehashing of discredited arguments from when the ruling came out. There's one post that caught my eye, though, mostly because it's such a fantastic exemplar of the level of honesty and academic discourse that makes Discovery what it is.

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17 responses so far

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