I is on da teebee!

Monday afternoon, I was, with very little warning and only about an hour to do frantic house-cleaning in preparation, interviewed by local TV news channel KEYE 42. The story was about a new Coalition of Reason billboard that’s gone up on the north side of town (I haven’t actually driven past it yet). And I think I pretty much got the interview because I used to work with a fellow who works at the station. So that was nice of him to recommend me. (In case you’re wondering why they came to me and not, say, Matt.) The reporter, Chris Coffey, was a terrific guy and I think the piece does a fine job of being fair all around. And I’m sure you’ll all get a huge kick of the B-roll clip, where I’m standing at one of my shelves pretending to read The God Delusion, looking like I just had half a blue whale for lunch. You know what they say about the camera adding ten pounds? In my case it seems to add a whole second Martin. Back to the gym!

So, enjoy. And if you want to register at the site to leave comments responding to some of the charming Christian ones already left, well, it’s a free country!


Addendum: I wasn’t aware when I posted this just now that another station, KVUE, did a piece on the sign as well, which is embedded in the post below. They didn’t talk to me, and as far as I can tell, KEYE’s coverage was a lot fairer.

Interview in “MediaShift”

I was recently interviewed by a group that is loosely affiliated with PBS. The resulting online article is called Public-Access TV Fights for Relevance in the YouTube Age. A couple of other Access personalities and I discussed the difference between live TV and a pure internet show. There are a couple of quotes in there from me, although I deny any blame for Matt being characterized as “my co-host.”

Fairly interesting article, although obviously my own thoughts were not news to me. :)

This is what we need to see more of in the papers!

In today’s Statesman there is a wonderful editorial by Steve Bratteng, a science teacher at Westwood High School, in which he takes on the IDiots and evo-deniers the right way: not by going into the usual routine of debunking creo canards and falsehoods (which is certainly necessary to do, but likely to fall on deaf ears), but by introducing a series of 13 examples of real-world situations having to do with health and biology that evolution explains (e.g.: Why does each of your eyes have a blind spot and a significant tendency for retinal detachment, but a squid’s eyes, which provide equally sharp vision, do not have either problem? Why do people of European descent have a fairly high frequency of an allele, which, in the homozygous condition, confers resistance to HIV infection?). Then he challenges readers who might think these can be explained by recourse to intelligent design to do so. I can’t wait to hear what answers the creos try to invent for these.

This is what I want to see more scientists and pro-science citizens getting into our media: positive presentations and understanding of science, not just the usual bashing of “creos as morons” that makes them all defensive and further resistant to education. A lot of creos are pig-headed and stupid, sure, but most, I think, simply accept ideas like ID because they haven’t been taught science very well and ID “sounds pretty good” to them.

I know the answers to #5 and #11!

Lena, care to give the creationist answers to Steve’s questions?


Here are the answers.

Two headlines

Via a friend living in Tennessee, these two stories showed up in the same paper on the same day.

Story number one:


Testing for STDs offends parents

Juvenile detention facility insists policy protects children’s health

For some parents, the testing is the usurpation of their authority and obligation to make sound decisions concerning their children’s health.

Story number two:


State’s STD rate among highest

Tennessee in top 10 for cases of syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show that the state ranks eighth for syphilis infections, ninth for chlamydia and 10th for gonorrhea. All three diseases are caused by sexually transmitted bacteria and can be treated with antibiotics.

They seem like they might be related somehow, but I can’t quite put my finger on it…

Liveblogging the PBS Dover trial special, hour 2

Continued from previous post

8:02 – The Kitzmiller family is getting scary mail and, I assume, death threats. They now mention that eight of the nine school board members (!!!) resigned.

8:05 – Enter the villains! Eight members of the Discovery Institute are shown, all of whom originally wanted to testify. For unknown reasons, five dropped out. (Or not so unknown. See Martin’s comment below for more information.)

8:06 – ACLU guy says “It was pretty clear that everything [for the defense side] rested on Michael Behe’s testimony.”

8:07 – Dramatization of Behe’s testimony. That’s definitely an actor. Now I am not so sure that’s really Jones either. He’s mugging too much. I think they’re all actors.

8:08 – Flagellum bullshit, with Behe’s favorite diagram. Now they show animations illustrating the flagellum up close.

8:14 – Now they’re also showing a similar genetic thing to the flagellum, which does not spin but serves a completely different purpose. It is made up of many of the same components as a flagellum. This is a great illustration of adapting pieces that may have evolved for different reasons.

8:15 – Ken Miller picks apart the irreducible mousetrap analogy.

8:16 – This actor who plays Behe is pretty good. He’s portraying exactly the right amount of smugness and condescension.

8:17 – Rothschild-actor enacts the amusing stunt of stacking up a pile of books which refute his claim that there are no publications about evolution of flagellum. Behe-actor sits there opening and shutting his mouth, fishlike. Okay, that’s probably a bit over the top.

8:24 – Now Judge Jones (the real one) is talking about first amendment, establishment clause issues. We’re getting into the “smoking gun” evidence that Pandas & People was once explicitly billed as a creationism book. Lots of shots of Eric Rothschild googling things with an intense look in his eye.

8:27 – Barbara Forrest uncovers the famous typo. One of the lawyers pronounces the words “cdesign proponentsists.” Hilarity ensues, in my house anyway.

8:31 – ACLU guy gives Forrest major props as the hero of the trial. Then they re-enact the scene where Behe admits that his definition of “science” applies to astrology. They’ve now hit both of the high points of Behe’s testimony, IMO. And, again with the fish-mouth. In my house, Paul says: “And the Discovery Institute didn’t take him home and lynch him, after that performance?”

8:34 – A nice image of the wedge document. Then Barbara Forrest explains its significance. Then an announcer explains its significance some more, with close-ups on significant phrases. Phil Johnson bloviates on camera: “I know it SOUNDS conspiratorial and sinister. But it’s really very simple. I just want to chop the theory of evolution into little pieces. And I’m just a humble lawyer, but surely SOMEBODY must know more than me and still support my position. The wide end of the wedge would be smart sciency sounding people like Michael Behe and, um… well, pretty much just Michael Behe.” (That’s a paraphrase, if it wasn’t obvious.)

8:38 – Scenes of Buckingham replay on video footage, where the dumbass says “creationism” many many times, thereby completely tipping his hand about promoting religion. In the courtroom enactment, Buckingham pleads that he “just couldn’t think of the words Intelligent Design at the time.” This is, of course, contrary to how he was portrayed earlier, where he just wanted to stick in creationism and had never heard of ID before.

8:39 – Buckingham apparently lies under oath, saying he doesn’t know where the money came from to buy the Pandas & People copies, or who donated them. Turns out he collected the money from his church personally. Then gave that money to a businessman. Who gave it to Buckingham’s dad. Who bought the books. Asshat.

8:43 – Rothschild-actor gives a theatrical summation. Defense attorney-actor also gives quite a stirring summation himself, doing a passable imitation of Alan Shore as he makes an impassioned plea to think of the children and please just let them decide for themselves on the validity of Intelligent Design.

8:45 – Clip of Pat Robertson is shown, threatening Dover with the wrath of God for rejecting Him from their city. And here I am without any popcorn to throw.

8:46 – Fourteen minutes left, and they’re just now getting to Judge Jones’ lovely ruling on the case. But at least they have him reading it out loud. Actually that’s not so great; he’s kind of an awkward and slow reader. Soon an announcer takes over to explain the ruling instead of listening to Jones tell it. Speaking freestyle and not reading, Jones then expounds on the ruling and sounds much better. They replay highlights including showing the term “cdesign proponentsists” again.

8:49 – Bill Buckingham: “To put it bluntly, I think he’s a jackass. I think he went to clown college instead of law school.” He does not add: “And I would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids!”

8:50 – Other members of DI fall all over themselves to alternately bad-mouth Judge Jones and distance themselves from the rotten performance of their colleagues. Jones talks about receiving death threats.

8:52 – You know, Phillip Johnson really looks a lot like Skeletor on camera these days. “I’ll get you next time, evolution! Next time!” No wait, that’s Dr. Claw.

Final verdict on this show: It was not bad, but I wouldn’t call it riveting television. For people who didn’t follow the trial closely, it’s a decent academic introduction to the events. For those of us who did, it’s mostly a retread that didn’t offer a lot of new stuff. The re-enactments were a bit distracting in their amateurishness. The interviews were the most interesting part, and I would have liked to see more of that. Plus, as I said before, much more creative computer animations.

Liveblogging the PBS Dover trial special

I’ve never tried something like this before. Martin asked me if I would post a review of the Nova Special, “Judgment Day,” since he wouldn’t get to watch it. So I thought I’d take some live notes during the show, either as an aid to or in place of this review. I’ll update this post periodically throughout the two hour show. Paul Wilson is here, we’re having a couple of beers and kibitzing. Feel free to join the comments, whether you’re watching or not.

7:09 – Still on background material. They showed shots of the town, had clips from various people (Kenneth Miller, Phillip Johnson) on the conflict. Had some people talking about how they should teach that God did the creation. As usual, these people are blissfully aware that ID isn’t really religion. (Wink wink.)

7:12 – clips of the Spencer Tracy classic “Inherit the Wind”. Great movie, good artistic choice. Mentions that teaching creationism is today considered a violation of church /state separation.

7:14 – Dover school board member is whining that the textbook they were initially going to approve was “laced with Darwinism.” OMG! It’s like complaining that a physics book is laced with Newtonism.

7:15 – they talk about Darwin’s finches, with background provided by Ken Miller.

7:18 – nice 3d animated rendering of a “tree of life.” Well, actually kind of cheesy. :) Also, there’s that awkward mixed metaphor of going UP the tree while talking about “descent.”

7:20 – They show the mural drawn by a Dover HS student depicting evolution. It was thrown out and burned without asking anyone.

7:22 – Tammy Kitzmiller (bringer of the suit) makes an appearance, talking about the heated school board meetings.

7:24 – So it was the lawyer from the “Thomas More Law Center” who had the bright idea to bring “Intelligent Design” to Dover. Buckingham, the school board lackey, just wanted a book that had evolution AND creation. This lawyer advised him to try Pandas and People, and the rest is history.

7:27 – Buckingham is still trying to talk about Genesis, and is in fact frustrated by the failure of P&P to mention God. Oh goody, here’s that blowhard, Phillip Johnson.

7:28 – Buckingham sees ID as “A good compromise” even though it’s not religious-y enough. Science teachers come on one by one to say that the book is crap and they see right through it as creationism. Ultimately, the board rejects Pandas and approves the Miller textbook. But “an anonymous donor” generously supplies a crate full of P&P, and the same school board slips through a 6-3 mandate to use the “free” books. WTF? The three resign in protest.

7:31 – The lawsuit is introduced. The science teachers collectively agree as a unit that “we have standards, we’re not reading this stupid disclaimer about alternative theories.” This is clearly not a case of big bad government oppressing poor innocent teachers who want to teach the controversy; it’s a bunch of school board creeps with an agenda trying to order teachers to read this disclaimer.

7:34 – Re-enactment of the Dover trial starts. This is a minimalist set with dim lighting I can’t tell if this the real Rothschild talking to the real Judge Jones. They look like the real people, but I don’t know them that well. Now the real Jones is being interviewed. Hey, did you know he was not only approved by Bush, but recommended by Rick Santorum? I guess they’re establishing his “true conservative” cred before he tears ID to shreds.

7:39 – Fundamental questions of the trial: 1. Prove that the one minute statement is a promotion of religion. 2. Show that ID is not science.

7:41 – Here’s that cheesy tree animation again. Paul makes the excellent point that for all the work they did on panning the camera, it’s still a STATIC TREE. To be a really good analogy, they should show a tree that’s actively sprouting in the animation, while elsewhere it would show branches falling off where species go extinct. Paul’s right, I think that would be way cool.

7:49 – Alan Bosnell and other Dover school board members predictably make a horrible botch of the word “theory.” The courtroom re-enactors correct the public understanding of the word. I think this is the real Judge Jones in the fake courtroom, but this guy playing Ken Miller is definitely not him. Not-Miller agrees with the ID lawyer that “evolution is tentative,” but correctly adds that ALL science is tentative. Pretty well played.

7:52 – An excellent point made by the show: genetics provided a genuine test for evolution. It’s not just an ad hoc theory. There were major missing pieces from Darwin’s theory, and genetics filled them in. As Paul points out, it’s an important counter to the idea that evolution makes no predictions: evolution predicted genetics.

7:58 – Yaaaaay Robert Pennock! (I am such a geeked out fan.)

8:00 – The plaintiffs rest, and the show fades to black. This seems like a good time for a page break. This commentary continues in the next post.

On the show today: Bias

I’d like to say a few words on the Atheist Experience today on the subject of bias.

I’m for it.

I’m going to be talking a bit about how religious people think that science is biased against them. What I want to talk about first is how science is inherently biased towards empirical evidence, and toward things that are testable and can be shown to be true with a high degree of confidence.That’s not just about the bias of scientists, it’s how we find things out with any kind of accuracy.

Then I will be shifting gears and talking about the media, and how, at their best, they are supposed to have the same biases as science. They are supposed to check and verify claims and report things that are accurate and important to the best of their abilities.

Here are some links that I plan to refer to in the course of the show.

News posts from my blog, which will be mentioned in a discussion of the way the media covers news.

Update: Watch this show now at Google Video