Archive for the 'Anti-Evolutionism' 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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"ID theory" hasn't been "reduced to" a tool in the Culture Wars - that's what it was designed as.

Nov 30 2009 Published by under Anti-Evolutionism

Over at The Austringer, Wes Elsberry has been engaging in a bit of debate with BeliefNet blogger David Opderbeck over Opderbeck's views on the Dover Intelligent Design case. The bulk of their disagreement seems to center on the appropriateness of Judge Jones' decision to rule that Intelligent Design is not a scientific concept. Opderbeck thinks Jones should have avoided the topic; Wesley disagrees.

This is long-familiar ground, of course. The Discovery Institute has been complaining that Jones should have stayed a long way away from the question of whether or not ID is science for years now - despite the fact that they themselves submitted an amicus brief in the Dover case that seems to ask Jones to address that topic. Given that the plaintiffs and defendants both asked the court to rule on whether or not ID was science, I think that Wesley is on much firmer footing than Opderbeck.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about right now.

When I was looking at Opderbeck's side of the argument, something he said about the Intelligent Design movement caught my eye - mostly because it seems to reflect a certain ignorance of the Intelligent Design movement as it actually exists:

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Armor in Freshwater Sticklebacks: Selection Against, or Just No Selection For?

Jan 12 2009 Published by under Anti-Evolutionism, Biology, Science

There are certain organisms that you hear about a lot in evolutionary biology. In some cases, like Drosophila flies or E. coli bacteria, that's because the organisms are easy to use in experimental studies. Other organisms, like Hawaiian silversword plants or Galapagos finches, come up frequently because they're fantastic examples of evolution happening out in the "real world". And then there are those rare cases where an organism is both a fantastic example of evolution in the field, and a convenient organism to work with in more controlled circumstances. The three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) is one of those doubly-convenient organisms.

There are populations of three-spined sticklebacks in the ocean and in many freshwater streams and ponds. The oceanic populations have been around for a long time, but the freshwater populations are all relatively recent in evolutionary terms - they're found in bodies of freshwater that were formed after the ice sheets retreated about 12,000 years ago. These populations appear to have evolved independently of each other, but they share a number of similar traits.

One of the more notable of the traits concerns the bony "armor" along the sides of the fish. The marine populations typically have a line of over 30 bony plates along their sides. The freshwater populations typically have only 6-9 of these plates. Why this is the case is a classic evolutionary biology question: do the freshwater populations lose the armor because there is a real advantage to losing the plates, or do they just lose them because there's no real disadvantage to losing them.

Casey Luskin cites a news story about a recent scientific paper to support his view that the loss of the armor is just the result of the freshwater populations not facing the selective pressure seen in the oceans:

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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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Today's required reading

Aug 24 2008 Published by under Anti-Evolutionism

If you're going to read anything today, you should read Amy Harmon's article on teaching evolution in Florida. I haven't taught high school, but I've had similar experiences teaching evolution in an introductory level college course.

Evolution shouldn't be this hard a subject to teach, but it is. It could be worse, of course. Keeping it from getting worse is the reason we spend so much time trying to deal with the narrow-minded bigots who fight so hard to keep our children in the dark.

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It's a bought and paid for bragging point, but it's still a bragging point.

On Sunday, Chris Mooney and Randy Olsen both tried to make the case that Ben Stein's "Evolution Caused the Holocaust" movie was a success at the box office. Both of them have been rather spectacularly condemned for calling Expelled a success, but I'm not sure that they're entirely wrong. I just don't think that they took a hard enough look at some of the issues involved.

Let's start with the basic facts. Expelled hit theaters on Friday. It was aggressively marketed prior to release, and opened on 1,052 screens - the most ever for any documentary. On Sunday, estimates suggested that the movie would bring in well over $3 million for the weekend, but the actual figures were not quite that high. That's probably because (Randy Olsen's assertion notwithstanding) ticket sales fell off rapidly over the course of the weekend. (Expelled brought in $1.2 million on Friday, but only $990,000 on Saturday, making it the only movie in the top 50 in theaters this weekend to drop from Friday to Saturday. The slide continued on Sunday, when the movie brought in $775,000.)

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Richard Sternberg, Casey Luskin, and Gross Dishonesty

Apr 17 2008 Published by under Anti-Evolutionism

Casey Luskin is currently in the middle of a multi-part "rebuttal" to Michael Shermer's review of Expelled. In the latest installment of his whine, Casey (again) brings up the case of Richard Sternberg. Sternberg, some of you might remember, orchestrated the publication of a pro-Intelligent Design paper near the end of his term as editor of Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

As punishment for this heinous crime, Sternberg suffered the indignity of not getting fired from the unpaid editorship that he had quit months before the paper actually appeared. His punishment further included the cruel and unusual steps of not dismissing him from his unpaid position as a Smithsonian Research Associate, not declining to renew the unpaid position when the term expired, and not firing him from his paid job at NIH. The draconian nature of the consequences that he ultimately suffered - some of his colleagues said bad things about him - obviously makes him the ideal example of an open-thinking scientist railroaded by the Darwinian Inquisition.

I'm not going to deal with the vast majority of Casey's attempt to obfuscate the real events that surrounded the whole Sternberg affair. He raises absolutely no new points, and all of the points that he does raise have been rebutted before. Instead, I'm going to focus on two points in Luskin's post where he massively misrepresents things that other people wrote.

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Summary Judgment in California Creationist Case: Behe Shoots, Scores, We Get Point (Part 3 of 3)

Given that today really is April 1st, let me start by saying that although Behe is a fool, this post isn't a joke. Everything you're about to read is real. This is the third part of my post on the summary judgment decision in the California Creationist Case. Part 1 is here, and part 2 is here.

It would seem that Mike Behe has, once again, managed to shoot an own goal in the courtroom. The last time that he was an expert witness, during the Dover case, the judge quoted extensively from Behe's testimony, but not in a way that he particularly liked. Ultimately, it seems that he scored more points for his opponents than he did for his friends. He's also an expert witness in the California Creationism Case, and he seems to have once again managed to put the ball right through the wrong goal.

Behe's contribution to the pro-science side of the case appears on page 40 of the written order:

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Summary Judgment in the California Creationist Case: The Lawyers for the Creationists Argue Like Creationists (Part 2 of 3)

(This is Part 2 of a three part post on Friday's summary judgment ruling in the ACSI v. Stearns creationism lawsuit. Part 1 is here; Part 3 will be up later today.)

If you read Judge Otero's ruling on the summary judgment motions in the California Creationist Case, you'll see that he discovered something that most of us already know: if you're looking for dubious argument tactics, you'll almost always find them when you're reading things written by professional creationists. In the case of the California lawsuit, the Christian schools are being represented by the law firm of Wendell Bird. Bird is no stranger to creationism battles - he served as the general counsel for the young-earth creationist Institute of Creation Research, threw a wrench into Arkansas' efforts to defend it's pro-creationsim policies in the McLean v. Arkansas case, and represented Louisiana's interest in promoting religion during the Edwards v. Aguillard case. After so much time spent working on behalf of creationist groups, it probably shouldn't be surprising that Judge Otero spotted many of the same argument tactics in the Christian schools' legal filings that we see when we look at the day to day output of anti-evolution groups such as the Discovery Institute.

There are some real gems scattered through the ruling. I'm just going to hit on a few of the high points.

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Summary Judgment in California Creationist Lawsuit: Bottom Line, and What's Next (Part 1 of 3)

On Friday, Judge James Otero of the Central District of California issued a ruling granting the University of California's request for partial summary judgment in the California Creationist Lawsuit. I've written about this case several times before now, but it's been a long time since the last update, so before I get into the details of the ruling, I'm going to quickly review the details of the case.

In 2005, a group of plaintiffs that includes the Association of Christian Schools International, Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murietta, and the parents of several students filed a lawsuit against the University of California. In their suit, they claimed that UC unfairly and unconstitutionally refused to accept a number of courses taught at Christian schools as meeting UC's admissions criteria. The courses in question covered a range of topics, including English, history, religion, and government, but I've mostly focused my attention on the biology courses that failed to make the grade, because that's the area that I know the most about.

One of the specific issues that the Christian Schools are challenging in their lawsuit is UC's decision to reject any course that uses either the A Bekka Books or the Bob Jones University Press biology textbooks as the primary text for the course. As I've said before, this decision makes perfect sense to me. Even the most cursory look at some of the things that these books claim is enough to show that the unfortunate students who are forced to use this text are being taught things that are totally incompatible with science. The Christian schools, it should go without saying, disagree with my assessment.

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