Louisiana, where even the Democrats are science denialists

Watch State Sen. John Milkovich make his case for creationism before the Louisiana legislature. He’s a Democrat. I’m so embarrassed.

This guy just sits there and lies his ass off, supremely confident that the truth doesn’t matter in the least.

Scientific research and developments and advances in the last 100 years — particularly the last 15, 20, 10 years — have validated the biblical story of creation by archaeological discovery of civilizations in the middle east that seculars said did not exist …

No, science has not validated Genesis. The Earth is not just a few thousand years old, there was no global flood, all animals were not created in a single week. Finding evidence of a civilization mentioned in the Bible that “seculars” never heard of is not evidence for all the miraculous poofing described in the book.

And what civilization is that? It seems entirely reasonable to me that the authors of the Bible would have good knowledge of contemporary cultures, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some obscure people mentioned in the Bible were confirmed by trustworthy evidence. On the other hand, some of the treasured stories of the Bible are being found incredible and lacking in evidence. The Exodus almost certainly didn’t happen, for instance.

there is some published research that a large boat or ark was found on top of Mt Ararat …

Published…where? On the web pages of Ron Wyatt? Because no, there is no credible evidence of a 4000 year old big boat sitting on a mountaintop in Turkey.

But hang on, here comes my favorite part of his argument.

the notion of instantaneous creation has been validated by the scientific study of heliocentric circles in rocks which is consistent with an instantaneous…I guess I’m asking this. Are you aware that there’s an abundance of recent science that actually confirms the Genesis account of creation?

He doesn’t say instantanous what — he just lurches off into more assertions. But still, I’m amazed at heliocentric circles in rocks. What does that even mean? Is he saying something in the rocks circles around the sun? Or is this some strangely garbled version of Gentry’s bogus polonium halos claim, which, even if you believed it, does not say anything about instantaneous anything — he uses them to claim that the earth is young.

I think he’s just pompously pleased at being able to seem wise by babbling out a 5-syllable word. Incorrectly. Which makes him look like a world-class fool.

And no, there is no recent science that actually confirms the Genesis account of creation. All of the science says that the literal interpretation contradicts the evidence.

Friday Cephalopod: Squid in Spaaaaace!

The Squid Scientists take a photo of their baby animals, and unwittingly reveal what they’re actually doing.


Look behind the squid — I know it’s hard, why would you want to look past cephalopods? — and what do you see? That blurry poster in the background? It’s a space shuttle launch.

And now you know. This is a top secret program to train Euprymna scolopes to pilot spacecraft. They’d probably be better at 3-dimensional thinking than us, so it’s only natural. Quick, reboot Star Trek with a more appropriate cast!

Oh, I think it’s been done–the Thermians from the Klaatu Nebula in Galaxy Quest. Man, that was a prescient movie.

April science talks

I’m doing some sort-of local (on the other side of the state, that is) talks in April, so my Minnesota pals will have an opportunity to stop by and argue with me. The first is on Sunday, 17 April, in the Rondo Library in St Paul, at 2pm. It’ll be a slightly updated version of a talk I gave a few times last year.

Bad Biology: How Evolutionary Psychology Corrupts Evolution

The most powerful and versatile tool in your toolbox is the adjustable wrench. Not only can it tighten and loosen both nuts and bolts of all sizes, but it also makes an excellent hammer, can be used to punch holes in objects, and it also performs as a serviceable canoe paddle.

If that lack of respect for tools makes you cringe, now you know how PZ Myers feels. Natural selection is one of the most powerful concepts in evolutionary biology, yet many people use it excessively and inappropriately as a kind of quasi-miraculous explanation for everything. Most biologists know better, though, and realize that there are many other forces operating on evolution.

The dangerous aspect of the abuse of natural selection is that it allows the naturalistic fallacy to run rampant. If selection inevitably optimizes everything, then whatever is must be for the best – so human nature must be exactly what allows us to survive. This attitude is used to justify the status quo, whether it’s racism, or the superiority of Western culture, or the inferiority of women. This can only be done by ignoring the multiple forces that drive evolutionary change.

Prof. Myers will be explain what these other forces are, and giving examples of the abuse of science to justify several fallacies: so-called “scientific” racism and evolutionary psychology. He’ll also discuss how lack of knowledge of basic evolutionary biology can lead professional scientists astray.

Yes! Let’s annoy the evolutionary psychologists some more! They deserve it.

Then, the next weekend on Saturday 23 April at 10am, I’ll be joining the West Metro Critical Thinking Club to talk science education for a while.

STEM and the liberal arts: How do we teach science?

There is a constant push to change education from an experience that broadens the mind to one that focuses students on a vocation. We’ve got universities hiring business people with no educational experience to make them more profitable, and people seriously questioning the value of disciplines like philosophy, psychology, sociology, or anything that others disparagingly call “soft” subjects. At the same time, there are advocates of reform who think algebra is useless, and that we waste too much time teaching mathematics that, they think, no one will ever use.

I’ll be presenting an interdisciplinary, liberal arts perspective on science education — we need all facets of human knowledge if we are to adequately comprehend our own narrower fields of interest. I’ll be interested in getting a discussion going about what attendees expect from a college education.

I’m not sure of the location just yet — somewhere near the Ridgedale Mall.

Come on by to either one or both!

Strangely enough, it all turns out well


Speaking of genetics, this is the week the results from our big triple point cross (it’s a kind of mapping cross where we determine the distances between three different genes) come rolling in. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking for me, because this is the first time these students have worked with flies, it involves a series of crosses with multiple points where they can screw up, and if they all messed up, we don’t have enough time in the semester to repeat it. So every week I go into the lab, and there are students who are staring confusedly at their bottles, and wondering if they did something wrong, and telling me they are are afraid they might have added males of the wrong phenotype, or they have confused which generation is which, or things are just addling their brain and they can no longer understand what they are doing.

And my job is to puzzle it all out, or figure out how we can test and make sure they’ve got the right flies, or to explain everything to ease their addlement. This is a simple experiment, but with a mob of novice Drosophila geneticists the natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster. Every time. I feel a bit like Philip Henslow in this clip from Shakespeare in Love all semester long.

And he’s right! It does turn out well in the end, for mysterious reasons that always puzzle me. They’ve started turning in the numbers from the first few groups who are ready, and they’re pretty much what I expected, and there are no major anomalies, and everyone did every single one of the crosses correctly (major errors would lead to obviously and sharply different results, so I can tell). I think we can just trust the students to try hard to do everything right.

Now they just have to analyze the data and write up a formal lab report. Where is the report? Oh, it’s coming. It’s coming.

How not to teach genetics


Robert Dillon teaches genetics at the College of Charleston…or rather, he is officially assigned the job of teaching genetics, but one might question whether his students are actually learning anything. He’s tenured, but is currently suspended from teaching over a dispute about his syllabus that has snowballed into a mess of a case.

I started reading this article with some sympathy for Dillon. I teach genetics, too, and I’ve been teaching it almost as long as he has. I’m a little bit demanding in the classroom — this is conceptually difficult material for many students, and you can’t lead them by the hand through every step of figuring out every problem, and at some point the students have to figure out for themselves how to do the work, or they haven’t succeeded in being independent thinkers. I also get annoyed at some of the dictates from on high, where we are told to fit our work to a template designed by people who don’t teach our classes. I can feel for his resentment.

But we also have a job to do. It looks like he’s not doing it.

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Speaking of bad science, never trust the American College of Pediatricians


I know! It sounds so official and sciencey! It’s got “college” in it, which is formal and academic, and “pediatricians”, which are a kind of doctor, and you can never go wrong slapping “American” on your brand label. But they are a lie.

It’s also because the ACP is not a legitimate medical organization; its name is designed to be mistaken for the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is a national organization with some 60,000 members. The ACP, by contrast, is estimated to have no more than 200 members, and it has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-LGBT positions.

“The American College of Pediatricians urges educators and legislators to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex,” the statement reads. “Facts – not ideology – determine reality.” The “facts” that follow actually reflect a social conservative ideology that rejects the very reality of what transgender children experience.

They’ve issued a statement that transgender kids are being harmed, based on claims that believing you are of a gender other than the one you were born with is a mental disorder (psychologists disagree), that it’s just a phase kids go through (nope, again — that’s based on some bad studies), and that sex reassignment surgery, rather than discrimination and hatred, triggers suicide at a high rate (you can figure that one out).

I’m all in favor of facts. Unfortunately, painting the word “fact” on a lie does not make it true.

Mary’s Monday Metazoan: Rorqual!

This is a Minke Whale, in life.

Unfortunately, it’s going to be a little harder to see them in life. The Japanese whaling fleet has just returned to base with a lot of carcasses that will be destined for cans and pet food.

Japan’s whaling fleet has returned to base with the carcasses of 333 minke whales, in apparent violation of a ruling by the International Court of Justice.

Reuters quoted a statement by Japan’s Fisheries Agency that said 103 male and 230 female whales were caught during the fleet’s summer expedition to Antarctic waters. Ninety percent of the mature females were pregnant.

Did you know that Japanese whaling was banned by the International Whaling Commission, with one little loophole left for scientific research? They’ve been abusing that loophole for years.

The court said the research program had generated only two peer-reviewed papers that together refer to nine whales.

‘In light of the fact that [Japan’s program] has been going on since 2005 and has involved the killing of about 3,600 minke whales, the scientific output to date appears limited,’ the court wrote in its judgment.

By a 12-4 vote, the court based in The Hague decided Japan must ‘revoke any extant authorization, permit or license granted in relation to’ its whaling program, ‘and refrain from granting any further permits’ related to it.

You had me at your contempt for mowing lawns

The Roaming Ecologist has a few words about lawns.

Lawns – those myopically obsessive (and evil) urban, suburban, and increasingly rural monoculture eyesores that displace native ecosystems at a rate between 5,000 and 385,000 acres per day* in favor of sterile, chemically-filled, artificial environments bloated with a tremendous European influence that provide no benefits over the long term; no food, no clean water, no wildlife habitat, and no foundation for preserving our once rich natural heritage. And there’s the unbearable ubiquitousness of mowing associated with such a useless cultural practice, which creates a ridiculous amount of noise pollution, air and water pollution, and a bustling busyness that destroys many peaceful Saturday mornings. The American lawn is the epitome of unsustainability.

I would like to subscribe to your newsletter, and attend your weekly meetings protesting grass, rather than mow my lawn. That season is soon upon us.

But then he also shares this excellent illustration of native prairie plants. They’re all roots! Unlike that scrubby shallow Kentucky bluegrass film on the left, that just forms a superficial mat of roots.

Illustration by Heidi Natura, 1995, of Living Habitats.  Click on image to see larger version.  80% of a prairie’s biomass is below ground, which is a part of the reason why prairies are the greatest soil carbon factories in the world.  Those roots break up compacted soil, and as a portion of those roots die each year, they add organic matter and decompose into carbon, further enriching the soil; all of this is done without deadly pesticides or equally deadly petrochemical fertilizers.

Illustration by Heidi Natura, 1995, of Living Habitats. Click on image to see larger version. 80% of a prairie’s biomass is below ground, which is a part of the reason why prairies are the greatest soil carbon factories in the world. Those roots break up compacted soil, and as a portion of those roots die each year, they add organic matter and decompose into carbon, further enriching the soil; all of this is done without deadly pesticides or equally deadly petrochemical fertilizers.

OK, now what can I do to kill the ground hugging parasites covering my yard and replace them with cool plants like that?

The struggle never ends

Over the last few days, there have been some ups and downs in crank medicine. The Tribeca Film Festival scheduled Andrew Wakefield’s anti-vaccine documentary to be shown, and Robert DeNiro defended it as a legitimate contribution to the discussion of the causes of autism. It isn’t. It’s rank nonsense from a discredited quack.But then DeNiro changed his mind and yanked it from the schedule. Good for him!

But now, lest you think the problem is solved, let me remind you that there are bad parents medically abusing their children everywhere.

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