Is this the new Intelligent Design creationist strategy?

If you watch the Discovery Institute, you’ll discover they’re constantly playing games, trying to find that winning PR technique that will persuade the hapless ignorati. Some of them are effective, even if dishonest: “irreducible complexity” injected all kinds of misleading chaos into the brains of their followers, and “teach the controversy” was a potent slogan. They’ve been flailing about in recent years, trying to emphasize their pretense of scholarliness with tripe like West’s efforts to use pseudohistory to blame Darwin for Hitler, or Meyer’s farcical, long-winded distortions of modern biology in Signature in the Cell. Those haven’t worked so well.

The one thing that is always a constant, that has been true of everything the Discovery Institute has ever done, is that they don’t have any new ideas to offer, and everything is focused on being anti-evolution, or as they call it, anti-“Darwinism”. I really think that one of their big problems is that they’re actually anti-something-they-don’t-understand-at-all, so all their efforts fall flat. They especially fall flat with real biologists, who are gobsmacked that anyone would seriously say this crap.

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Check your pantry and shelves


There are two phrases that should compel you to immediately grab an item and throw it in the garbage. If you see them in the store, turn away; warn other people that they are a waste of time.

The two magic phrases: “detox” and “fat burner”. There are others, as well; “cleanse” comes to mind when it’s on a box of something you consume, rather than scrub dirty things with.

I just had to deliver this warning after reading this story about a man who lost his liver due to a reaction with an herbal weight loss supplement. That is a rare reaction, so I don’t consider that cause to reject a medication; well-tested, useful medications also have a degree of risk. A good reason to be suspicious of such “supplements” is that they are not well-tested or useful — “fat burner” or “fat blaster” is meaningless noise suitable for snake oil salesmen like Dr Oz, and “detox” or “cleanse” products don’t actually do either. That’s not how biology works!

Just on general principles, run away from things with lying advertisements splattered all over them. All you’re getting is the risk and none of the benefit.

Oh, look

The “About FtB” link at the top left corner of every FtB page now actually says something about Freethoughtblogs, and also includes the instructions for how to apply for a blog here, so you don’t have to remember where my post about that is.

I can tell this may be my weekend for fussing with administrative stuff, in addition to the usual grading and prep work for classes.

Whoa. You like us!

Well, that was a little bit overwhelming. I put out our new instructions for how to apply for a blog here, and we got a flood of responses. Now a few things I have to mention:

There was a glitch in our setup, and so some people got emailed back some initial evaluations, and some of them were critical. That was bad. Those were supposed to be private. I think we have the problem nailed down, but one thing I have to say: if somebody said something negative about your blog, that was one person. We’re going to have a back channel discussion about them, and we have different views. No one has been rejected already. I actually like essentially all of the applications so far.

That said, the turnout was a lot higher than I expected, partly due to initial enthusiasm. I was actually expecting a handful of applications to trickle in over the next month, or maybe even none. We’re going to have to think about how to manage so many — we may simply have to turn down some. We may have a staged rollout, with a couple of people added at a time over a longer period. We may just have to tell some of you to hang in there and wait for the next quarterly review.

We are going to wait until mid-March to announce new blogs — this is one of those things we don’t want to rush. Patience, everyone!

How to join freethoughtblogs


We’ve been shaking things up a bit behind the scenes here at FtB. One of our enduring annoyances has been recruiting new bloggers — the way we set it up here (again, behind the scenes) was to appoint a committee and tell them to do all the work. Then, every once in a while, someone would write to me or someone else and ask how to be considered for FtB, and I’d blithely pass their name along to the committee.

That didn’t work. We don’t have a staff. No one signed up here to do administrative work, we were here to write, so passing a name to the committee was more like casting it away into the eternal void.

So we’re trying something different. No committee. Instead, we have an email link, and you’ll write to us with your qualifications. It then gets passed into a private application channel, and we all have an opportunity to look you over and vote yay or nay.

So if you want to blog here, here’s what you do: send an email to, in which you give us this information:


Contact email

Do you want your email public?

Twitter account, if any

Link for donations, if any

Links to your current blog, any biographical material, or best examples of your writing in comments or forums or other media

Why do you want to write for us?

It’s that easy. This is a private communication to the bloggers here; none of this information will be made public without your permission. So if you’re interested in trolling us, it won’t be very rewarding, since your application will vanish into our application channel, never to emerge into the public, and we’ll snigger at it before deleting it.

Serious applications will be examined for their suitability. Our requirements are simple: we want godless Social Justice Warriors. If that’s you, why aren’t you writing for us already? (Oh, because applicants vanished into the darkness of the eternal void of the committee).

We really want to encourage diversity, too, and we also want to see some sort of track record of your writing. Anything will do; if you don’t have a blog of your own, give us links to your substantive comments, or your participation in an online forum, anything to show that you’re actually able to write coherently, and that your views align with our intent. If you don’t have a history of regular blog-like writing, that’s OK — we’re creating a guest blog, and will give you keys to that so you can try it for a few months and see if you take to it.

Group blogs are fine. You can be pseudonymous, too, we’ll just need to have a way to contact you.

What are the rewards, you ask?

  • You get space for a blog of your very own!

  • You get to join a group of supportive people!

  • You get paid! OK, not much. We take the profits from each months advertising and divide it among all bloggers by their proportion of traffic. So you get a free cup of coffee every month!

  • Fame and glory!

  • You’ll be able to shape the future membership of FtB! Review the next set of applicants, if you want!

  • Trolls galore! We’ve got a crop of dedicated assholes who will plague you until you block them. We’ll show you how!

If this sounds fun, send us an application. We’re also planning on quarterly review of new applications, so we’re going to possibly invite new bloggers to join us in mid-March. If anyone applies. If anyone makes the cut. Remember, godless SJWs only, please.

If you think later that you’d like to join, these instructions will be available at the “About FtB” link in the top left corner of this window, at some time in the next few days.

The structuralist heresy

Larry Moran has heard the words of Michael Denton, and has come away with a creationist interpretation of structuralism. I have to explain to Larry that Denton, as you might expect of a creationist, is distorting the whole idea. Here’s the Denton/Intelligent Design creationism version of structuralist theory.

As Denton says, the basic idea is that the form (structure) of modern organisms is a property of the laws of physics and chemistry and not something that evolution discovered. He would argue that if you replay the tape of life you will always get species that look pretty much like the species we see today because the basic forms (Baupläne) are the inevitable consequences of the underlying physics.

Say what? Look, I’m a developmental biologist; I was baptized in the Stygian stream of structuralism by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, I reacted and diffused with Alan Turing, I danced disco by the light of the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction, and no, that is not the structuralism I have studied. There is a grain of truth to it, in that structuralism does imply that there are physical/chemical constraints on form, but only the extremists would suggest that that means life on Mars would evolve to look like life on earth. That overlooks the fact that structuralists are thoroughly familiar with the diversity of life on this one planet, and since those physical laws can generate both mushrooms and monkeys, it’s clear that there is some room for exploration of form.

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