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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Recent events in the intelligent design controversy

This isn't the tenth of it, but I am tired and the rest will have to wait ...

■ Apparently, in Britain, where the ID controversy (that was supposed to disappear after some court decision in the United States) rages and rages, an ID-friendly group called Truth in science is taking on one of the most famous frauds in biology - Haeckel's 19th-century embryo drawings, reproduced in hundreds of textbooks worldwide, and in Britain in a museum as well, to demonstrate the incontrovertible truth of Darwin's theory of evolution. The only problem is that Haeckel made up most of it. Embryos from various classes of vertebrates simply do not look as similar as he made them out to be.
In September 1997, Science magazine acknowledged that "Generations of biology students may have been misled by a famous set of drawings of embryos published 123 years ago by the German biologist Ernst Haeckel."

Michael Richardson, an embryologist at St. George's Hospital Medical School in London, uncovered serious flaws in Haeckel's work, concluding "It looks like it's turning out to be one of the most famous fakes in biology." You can find Truth in Science's article on this here.
Despite this, Haeckel's drawings are still displayed on the website of the Science Museum, in the section "Who am I?"

A sentence in accompanying text reads: "It seems that an efficient way of marking out the body plan arose millions of years ago, and has remained virtually unchanged throughout animal evolution."

Truth in Science stands against the use of fake evidence and calls for the Science Museum to remove Haeckel's drawings from their website.

No wonder the Darwinists hate Truth in Science. Do you have any idea of the work that will have to be done to come up with something that is anywhere near as convincing as the fake embryo drawings were? In reality, the resemblance pattern between vertebrate embryos appears kind of disjointed and accidental. That does not mean that we are not all related, but it does mean that you can't just smash your fist into the pulpit and shout that it is obvious. Not from the embryos, it is not obvious. Unless the pictures as faked or the examples are cherry picked.

■ One of Canada's national papers, the National Post, ran an op-ed (November 22, 2006) by a scientist who is a global warming skeptic. S. Fred Singer, professor emeritus, University of Virginia, and former director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service, talks about how he was horsed around by ideologues, and it makes for interesting reading. For example, he writes that he was accused of being "in the pay of the tobacco lobby," because he questioned extreme claims about the dangers of second hand smoke:
... I hate tobacco smoke and sit on the board of the anti-smoking American Council on Science and Health. But I don't tolerate the misuse of science, even by anti-smokers. So I gladly assented when, more than a decade ago, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute asked me to serve as a consultant for a couple of months to review and contribute to a report on misuse of science in environmental policies.

I soon discovered that in their anti-smoking zeal the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had cooked the data on second-hand tobacco smoke, claiming 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year. Specifically, I uncovered a report to the US Congress by the Congressional Research Service (CRS-95-1115) that documents how the EPA had "cherry-picked" the available evidence. My contribution in all of this was simply to use the CRS analysis.

Now, that situation rang some bells with me because, years ago, when I was an editor on a high school anthology, I was asked to process an article providing "scientific evidence" of the dangers of second-hand smoke. The article turned out to be a Statistics Canada study of how much Canadians feared second-hand smoke. As I pointed out to the head ed, the fact that so many Canadians fear second-hand smoke is interesting and valuable to know, BUT it no more proves that the stuff is dangerous than beliefs about the health benefits of broccoli prove that broccoli prevents cancer. I got the distinct impression that the head ed wished I would just go away, and I wouldn't be very surprised if that study did indeed end up getting billed as "science evidence that second hand smoke is dangerous", after I transferred out. Unnecessary disclaimer: I have never smoked and also hate tobacco smoke. But I hate earnest, politically correct nonsense even more.

■ On October 21, Discovery Institute (ID Central) held their 10th anniversary dinner for their Center for Science and Culture. They proudly quoted Ted Koppel saying
"Discovery Institute seems to have done an absolutely brilliant job of taking a difficult position and, in effect, infusing the mass culture with it about as effectively as anything I’ve seen in recent years" said longtime news anchor Ted Koppel, opening an ABC News Nightline program on intelligent design last year.

Ted's right. As an old hack, I have watched in amazement and admiration at the way in which the Discos have managed to get the Darwinists to do just exactly the things that advance the Discos' interests. Three are times I am convinced it is a put-up job - that the Discos are paying the Darwinists to self-destruct. I mean, the Darwinist Pandoids are mostly the usual village-atheist road show. But their PZ Myers can't be a real person. Can he? Like, if I were writing a short story for a serious fiction course, and I put in a character like that, my instructor would reprove me for fantasizing a completely stereotyped mad Darwinist, tear it up in front of the class, and make me take Myers out of the plot altogether. No matter how I protested that I reasonably believe that such a person exists, she would merely say, "Truth is stranger than fiction. Truth can be whatever it wants to be. You are here to learn fiction. Reform your imagination." And yet ... and yet ...

■ A friend asks whether UMinn prof James H. Fetzer 's forthcoming Render Unto Darwin: Philosophical Aspects of the Christian Right's Crusade against Science is "Barbara Forrest on steroids." Exposing "the unholy alliance between Christian evangelicals and right-wing politicians" in the US (despite which the Republicans lost both houses this time out (yeah, go figure)), Fetzer apparently has a lot to say about how ID, etc., figures in the big plot. But then he is into 9-11 and JFK conspiracies too. As a hack for whom the intelligent design controversy is a major beat, the big problem I can see with conspira-fables is that the ID guys don't tend to have secret lives. They are more likely to just have, well, kids. By their wives, no less. Can you believe it? Maybe that should lead to a big investigation. I am sure that some conspira-crap can cover that one off too.

The view from O'Leary's point on why all conspiracy theories are fundamentally crap: Every journalist knows that most people cannot keep information to themselves if revealing it would put them in the spotlight, even briefly. Heck, a skilled police investigator can get half the lowlifes in Toronto to spill their guts, just for the thrill of believing that someone is actually listening to them.

■ Can virgin births of males happen naturally? Australian biologist Stephen E. Jones tackles this one at CreationEvolutionDesign. He writes, "Thanks for your asking me if I wanted to comment on Dave Scot at Uncommon Descent saying that:
"Paul [P.Z. Myers] quotes someone on the virgin birth of Christ saying that it defies everything science has revealed in regard to mammalian reproduction. This is utter dreck."
I was going to answer you privately, but my response has become so extensive that I will take up your offer to blog about it." Sure, great. 'Tis the season, I guess. Lots of helpful info here but you must search on "parthenogenesis."

My other blog is the Mindful Hack, which keeps tabs on neuroscience and the mind.

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

My review of Francis Collins’ book The Language of God , my backgrounder about peer review issues, or the evolutionary biologist’s opinion that all students friendly to intelligent design should be flunked.

Lists of theoretical and applied scientists who doubt Darwin and of academic ID publications.

My U of Toronto talk on why there is an intelligent design controversy, or my talk on media coverage of the controversy at the University of Minnesota.

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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