Posts Tagged 'science'

A Biological Joke

I’ve gone all quiet on here again, but I must issue a ‘standing order’ to anyone coming across the blog in the future (or until I update next): let me know if any Creationists take the following seriously.

A new study into the transfer of genetic material laterally, or across taxonomic divisions, has shown that evolution does not proceed as Darwin thought, and that in fact the present theory of evolution is entirely false. Instead, it transpires that lateral genetic transfer makes new species much more like Empedocles‘ “random monster” theory over 2000 years ago had predicted.

Publishing in the Journal of Evolutionary Diversions, the major journal in the field, Professor Augustus P. Rillful and his colleagues of the paragenetics laboratory at the University of Münchhausen in Germany have shown experimentally that the ability of DNA to cross species boundaries at any distance makes the origin of species a solved problem, only it is solved in a way that Darwin never envisaged. This new theory, called Empedoclean Evolution, explains why novel traits can be found in many different taxonomic groups independently. Instead of being “discovered” by natural selection and then passed on to descendants, a solution can be “found” entirely by chance and shared throughout the living world, even between single celled organisms and plants or animals. (Source)

Okay, I’ll admit it: at first I actually thought this was serious, although I was wondering why the hell nobody was making a bigger deal about it. (At the very least, I’d expect news like this to cause every biologist on Earth to collectively swoon and faint – in that order.) It’s an April Fool’s day joke, of course, but posted a bit early.

Now, how long before some Creationist starts to triumphantly declare that ‘the Darwinists are changing their story again!!!!!’? I’d give it twelve hours, maximum.

Creationist Nonsense – A Brief Roundup

I haven’t got much time for blogging right now, so here are two oppurtunities for you to go and laugh at Creationists:

Via that ‘Community Post’ thing on the WordPress dashboard, this exasperated plea for some sort of intelligence (or reading comprehension skills) among Creationists. The comments section has really exploded, too, so wade in if you feel like it.

Sickening at times, frustrating and maddening always. The claims of a Y.E.C. (Young Earth Creationist), who purports the earth is less than ten thousand years old, have nothing to base their claims upon other than a book deemed sacred by its creators. Instead, with little to substantiate any assertion they make, the YECs go on the offensive and attempt to attack evolutionary theory, a well supported scientific understanding in regards to the process of change in biological organisms over time and how this explains biodiversity on the planet.

A noble endeavour, but how many times has your average YEC been told this? They just aren’t listening.

Elsewhere, P.Z. Meyers is also pleading for some sort of return to common sense, but his rather magnificent smackdown is aimed solely at the Texas Board of Education, which seems to be enthusiastically running science education into the ground:

The Texas Board of Education is led by Don McLeroy, a creationist dentist and plagiarist who believes that the earth is only 6000 years old.

Just stop there and savor it. The man who wants to dictate what all of the children in one of the largest educational systems in the country should learn about science believes his pathetic and patently false superstition supersedes the evidence and the informed evaluation of virtually all the scientists in the world. There is no other way to put it than to point out that McLeroy is a blithering idiot who willingly puts his incompetence on display. His job is not at risk, and he’s even advancing his freakish agenda with some success.

[…]

But wait! The unbelievable insanity is not yet complete! The Texas school board is debating and will vote on a revised curriculum this week, a curriculum in which the uninformed, uneducated doubts of this arrogantly ignorant man will be enshrined in the lesson plans of every child in Texas. And the board is about evenly split!

I’m usually fairly polite when I talk to Creationists, but I feel this is the appropriate tone to take when they turn dangerous (that is, get some sort of actual power or influence).

Do you live in Texas? Are you opposed to raging lunacy? If so, get out there and do something!

Obama Lifts Stem Cell Funding Ban

Obama has fulfilled his promise to lift a Bush-era ban on assigning federal funds to stem cell research, a move whic has predictably been applauded by many scientists and condemned by many people with no scientific qualifications whatsoever.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama this morning overturned a Bush administration ban on using federal funds for embryonic stem cell research and signed an order intended to restore “scientific integrity to government decision making.”

In a White House signing ceremony attended by some of the nation’s most prominent scientific and medical researchers as well as lawmakers who had worked to overturn the Bush-era ban, Obama said “the full promise of stem cell research remains unknown… . But scientists believe these tiny cells may have the potential to help us understand, and possibly cure, some of our most devastating diseases and conditions.” (Source)

This represents a very good example of Obama’s attempts at keeping both sides of the fence happy. Although he’s unabashadly in support of stem cell research, it’s very obvious that he’s pre-emptively heading off the many, many right-wing commentators who represent stem cell research as a complete straw man. We’re often told that stem cell research is posited as a kind of miracle cure by those who want to…well, it’s never entirely clear what supposedly motivates hundreds of scientists to lie about stem cell research’s utility. Presumably, they just really like destroying embryos. Obama has been very careful to make sure that he doesn’t unwittingly give more ammo to right-wing pundits, which is a pretty sensible move on his part.

As for the funding itself, look forward to more politicians and religious leaders demanding instant results – and if any miraculous breakthroughs are forthcoming, sit tight and wait for the ‘Too little, too late’ spiel.

The Plague Spreads

I’ve recently come across a rather unwelcome piece of news: one-third of science teachers in the UK want Creationism taught in some form in schools.

Three in 10 science teachers believe creationism should be taught in science lessons, according to a new survey.

And more than a third (37%) of primary and secondary teachers in general believe that the subject should be taught alongside evolution and the Big Bang theory.

The Ipsos Mori poll of more than 900 primary and secondary teachers in England and Wales found that while nearly half (47%) believe it should not be taught in science lessons, two thirds (65%) agree that creationism should be discussed in schools.

This rises to three quarters of teachers (73%) with science as their subject specialism. Two in three science specialists (65%) do not think that creationism should be taught in science lessons. But few teachers think creationism as an idea should be dismissed outright.

Just one in four (26%) agree with a view expressed by Professor Chris Higgins, vice-chancellor of Durham University that “creationism is completely unsupportable as a theory, and the only reason to mention creationism in schools is to enable teachers to demonstrate why the idea is scientific nonsense and has no basis in evidence or rational thought.”

Higgins has the right idea. I agree that Creationism absolutely should be brought up in science classes, but only as part of a comprehensive lesson on how to not do science. Teachers could work through it point-by-point, exposing and explaining each fallacy and piece of minsinformation as they go. The students could even join in! (And I’m not just being snarky here. I actually think this would teach a lot of valuable lessons that kids too often don’t learn in school. It might also equip them with properly working ‘bullshit detectors’.)

In the USA, Creationism is part of an attempt by the Religious Right to defeat what they see as a materialistic, ‘Darwinist’ bias in society. In the UK, I fear it will come under the far more agreeable guise of multiculturalism.

Fiona Johnson, head of education research at Ipsos Mori and director of the Ipsos Mori Teachers Omnibus, said: “Our findings suggest that many teachers are trying to adopt a measured approach to this contentious issue, an approach which attempts not only to explain the essential differences between scientific and other types of ‘theory’, but also to acknowledge that – regardless of, or even despite, “the science” – pupils may have a variety of strongly held, and arguably equal value, faith-based beliefs.”

It does not matter if someone’s belief is strongly held. You can claim that 1+1=3 until you’re blue in the face, but that doesn’t make it right. Nor should science teachers refrain from teaching evolution just because it might offend students with more delicate constitutions. A school has an obligation to teach the best and most certain ideas in a given field, and in biology the theory of evolution absolutely fulfills those criteria. In no sense could a ‘faith-based’ creation story be of ‘equal value’ in a science class to a rigorously tested theory like evolution. What standard is Johnson using to define ‘value’ here? Whether something makes people feel all warm and fuzzy inside?