Archive for: November, 2006

It's not simple, stupid.

Nov 21 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

As many of the other Sciencebloggers have already mentioned, Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute is up to his usual stupidity. In this particular instance, he's attempting, in a typically inept fashion, to fisk Carl Zimmer's recent article in National Geographic. So far, I haven't chimed in, mostly because everyone else has done such a good job that there wasn't much to add.

Today, though, Karmen pointed out a passage that I'd somehow missed the first time I read Luskin's piece. In the first part of his "rebuttal," Luskin wrote:

The article called evolution a "simple" process. In our experience, does a "simple" process generate the type of vast complexity found throughout biology?

Karmen and PZ have both already pointed out the silliness of claiming that simple processes can't lead to complex results. I'm going to talk about something different, but every bit as silly: the idea that evolution is a simple process.

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12 responses so far

Peer Review

Nov 17 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

Over at the ARN blog, Denyse O'Leary has a four-part article up attacking the peer-review system. Rob Crowther, of the Discovery Institute's
Media Complaints Division, has chimed in with his own post on the topic. There's a great deal of humor in watching anti-evolutionists try to dismiss peer review as not worth the effort anyway. It bears an amazing resemblance to this really cute old fable about a fox, but I'll be kind and pretend that there is actually something more to the O'Leary and Crowther rants than good old sour grapes.

Their major complaint about peer review is, of course, that their stuff, for some bizarre and unaccountable reason, has a really hard time surviving the process. In Crowther's words:

To sum up, science journals that are wedded to Darwinian evolution refuse to publish authors who explicitly advocate intelligent design. Then Darwinists attack intelligent design as unscientific because it isn't published in peer-reviewed journals.

O'Leary puts it a bit differently, but the basic concept is the same:

There is a modest but growing number of ID-friendly peer-reviewed publications. But - given the woeful state of peer review - papers that support or undermine ID hypotheses would probably be neither better nor worse recommended if they were never peer reviewed, just published, amid cheers and catcalls..

Of course, they try to justify their criticism of peer review on grounds other than their inability to reach the grapes. Peer review, they claim, doesn't identify fraud. It's not that good at catching incorrect findings. It squelches new ideas. It places "intellectual pygmies" in judgement of intellectual giants. It favors consensus. It sucks the life out of people, and is entirely responsible for global hunger and bad hair days. OK, I made the last two up, but you should still get a taste for the basic strategy that's being employed here - it's an oldie, but a goodie. Throw as much crap as you can at the wall, and hope that some of it sticks.

In this case, some of it does stick. It should. Peer review is not a perfect system. It is absolutely flawed. It is, in fact, not good at catching fraud. It does not catch many flawed studies. It does make it more difficult to publish new ideas, and it is absolutely capable of sucking the will to live from people. (Just because I made that one up doesn't mean it isn't right.) To paraphrase Churchill, peer review is the worst system out there, except for all the others that have been tried.

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24 responses so far


Nov 16 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

Via Bitch, PhD and Pharyngula, we find this video of a Tuesday night "incident" in the UCLA library. According to the campus paper, the incident is "under investigation." After watching the video, which shows a student repeatedly being tasered for failing to obey officers orders to "get up" (after having already been tased), I really hope that the investigation is being conducted by the local DA.

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Fire him. Right Now.

Nov 16 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

As some of you have already seen at Pharyngula, Dispatches, and the Lippard Blog, a New Jersey public high school teacher was caught on tape teaching religion instead of history. One of the audio recordings is available online. The quality is poor, but a with a little bit of equalizer work it is mostly understandable. The material that is on it is absolutely and completely outrageous. Things were said that don't belong within ten city blocks of a public school classroom, and it's a damn shame that the worst than can be done to the teacher is terminating his employment. Some of the things said really make me wish that it was possible to criminalize, and jail people for, establishment clause violations.

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8 responses so far

Kilauea Nights

Nov 15 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

The fieldwork I did earlier this month left me behind at work, so I haven't been able to post much over the last week or so. I'll be able to get back to regular posts soon. In the meantime, here's a picture I took during a little break from my fieldwork.
For those who might be interested in such things, the picture is a 2 second exposure at F3.5 taken using an 18mm lens and a Pentax *istD dSLR camera.

4 responses so far

My war.

Nov 07 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

When someone you love is deployed, you do your best to put your fears out of your mind. You take things as they come, you do what needs to be done, and you very quickly get good at not thinking too much about other things. Most of the time you can keep most of your mind away from things like IEDs, and ambushes, and sectarian violence. With daily phone contact and email, it can be easy to think of the deployment as nothing more than a long, long business trip. You can keep that up for day after day, as the long deployment slowly - glacially - moves along. You can keep that up for day after day, but only if you are lucky. But not forever. If you can work hard enough, you can get the fear to lie dormant, sleeping, in the back of your mind. Keeping it that way is the trick.
As you go through the days, part of your mind keeps a quiet watch out for certain things. Mostly, these are things in the news. Some stories, like the ones about a general increase in violence, give the sleeping fear a little nudge - just enough to remind you that it's there. Other stories - like the ones about some unit getting extended in the sandbox for another few months - give you a hard shake. And then there are some stories - two soldiers killed when their helicopter crashes near Al Amok - that make the fear jump to life and grab your heart with both hands.
That's part of the life of the modern military spouse. During the deployment, there's always a part of your brain that scans the background for the really important stories. You know your loved one's area of operations. You know the major cities. You know the unit, you know the types of missions that go on, and there's a part of your brain that instantly compares all of the new stories with that knowledge base. It's a necessary filter, because if you had to consciously figure out whether or not you needed to worry about each individual death, you'd go nuts. Instead, most of the deaths can go past in an almost-blur. A marine dead here, two soldiers there, but you don't start to worry until you hear a report of deaths in one of those areas, doing one of those missions.
That's when you start to really check the news, and when you try to squeeze every possible detail from the few that are available. Only two dead in the crash, and no reports of injuries? OK, that's probably an OH-58D, and she doesn't fly in those. OK, it's her brigade, but it says that the soldiers were with Task Force Yankee, and she's with Task Force Zebra. Usually, anyway. Of course, sometimes...
And then the waiting starts.

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4 responses so far

Gone Flyin'

Nov 02 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

If you're looking for an update to this blog, you'll have to wait until Monday. I'm off to the Big Island for a few days of fieldwork. I'll be observing flies in their natural habitat over in Volcanoes National Park.

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