Frauds through and through

Perhaps you’ve heard of these absurd creationist challenges: Kent Hovind challenge of $250,000 for scientific evidence of evolution; Joseph Mastropaolo’s challenge of $10,000 to “prove evolution”; Ray Comfort’s challenge of $10,000 to show him a transitional fossil. They all sound like easy money, but don’t try: they’ve loaded the dice in every case.

Dana Hunter gives a 19th century example I did not know about before. Alfred Russel Wallace accepted a bet to show the curvature of the earth by a flat-earther, and he did it, too, with a simple and clever observation. You’d think he’d be wallowing in the cash — £500 — that he’d won, but you don’t know denialists. They never change.

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Why do we die?

I finally got around to finishing Greta Christina’s Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God. It’s good! This book is the sort of thing atheism needs more of: an acknowledgment that the phenomena most important to human beings can be addressed effectively without imagining fantastic supernatural creatures. Atheists have this reputation of being nerds all wrapped up in abstract concepts and making arguments against the superstitious props that people claim to find useful in day-to-day life, and it’s good that some of us make the effort to show that no, we do deal with real-world concerns, and no, your myth is actually a terribly ineffective way of handling that problem.

So I guess it’s not surprising that my strategy for coping with death isn’t in Greta’s book. I take a developmental and evolutionary view of death.

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It’s a fun game

Jennifer Raff, in her recommendations on how to read a scientific paper, dared to suggest that the scientific affiliations of the authors mattered, and flatly recommended that you dismiss any papers coming out of Seattle’s own temple of ignorance, the Discovery Institute. I agree! I have not read a single paper out of that group that wasn’t stupid, ignorant, dishonest, or all three — and I think it’s significant that just about the only place they manage to publish is in their own little hothouse journal, BIO-Complexity (a few of the authors occasionally get papers published elsewhere by a) making sure it’s not about intelligent design, or b) finding crappy journals like Life).

The creationists holler “bias!”, but what it actually is is knowledge of their track record. When all you do is publish garbage, and you have it on record that you’re going to stuff journals with your ideology, then it only makes sense to see the imprint of the Discovery Institute as a mark of trash. Also, they aren’t ignored — every once in a while, someone will take a look at their scientific output and verify that yep, they’re still churning out garbage.

Raff did just that in response to Casey Luskin whining about how unfair it was to reject their work simply on the basis of their prior slush; so she took the time to look at the latest article in the latest issue of BIO-complexity. I’ll do a little slumming and dig up one of their articles every once in a while, too — it’s a fun game.

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A primer in eyes

Michael Land was one of those people who totally warped my brain. I’ve been interested in science since I was a kid, but I’m embarrassed to say that I never heard a whisper about evolution in the public schools I attended. Although I read about it avidly, I came out of high school and charged off to college eager to learn about neuroscience. And I did!

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George Will: not so strong on the logic thing

His latest column chides the climate Cassandras, and makes a really bizarre argument. Did you know that there have been severe disruptions of human activity by non-anthropogenic climate change in the past?

And if climate Cassandras are as conscientious as they claim to be about weighing evidence, how do they accommodate historical evidence of enormously consequential episodes of climate change not produced by human activity?

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