Open Thread

This is the place to bring up any old thing that strikes your fancy. I’m also asking some of the commenters from The Panda’s Thumb to bring their gripes about the ludicrous management of Uncommon Descent, that bastion of Intelligent Design close-mindedness, over here, just because the outrage is spilling over into far too many irrelevant threads.

But don’t let that stop you from mentioning anything else of far more interest than Dembskian dogmatism…


  1. Bayesian Bouffant, FCD says

    Edward O. Wilson has an opinion piece in USA Today. It doesn’t seem particularly coherent or persuasive. He points out that evolution is one of the better supported scientific explanations around, the Fundies will never agree, but why can’t we all just get along and save the environment? He doesn’t explain why Evangelicals would be motivated to save the environment, what with the rapture coming Any Day Now.

  2. says

    Not sure how relevant this post is, but the transition to Pharyngula caught me mid-post so I figured I might as well copypaste.

    We know ID is about religion, but DaveBrat is claiming to be, what, agnostic?

    Either he’s faking it or he’s a believer in something like the interestingly-names Endogenous Adaptive Mutagenesis (EAM for short), which to the best of my understanding is Animism in denial. Basically says that living organisms have found a loophole in the laws of nature that they can apply in times of need to, for example, grow flagella on the spot.

    Any questioning about how exactly the organism knows what set of genetic changes will do it the most good has so far been met with either slightly sulky silence or somewhat frenetic commentary on a hypothetical Fifth Force of nature, which can miraculously be harnessed by living organisms despite the fact that it can’t be detected by the most sophisticated scientific equipment. Oh, and the force is kind of intelligent only not.

    In the wake of this discussion, I have given up using the “Pokemon world” counterexample to the idea that God created all organisms on the spot (the principle being that if this was the case then there’s no reason not to have magnemites and gastlys floating around in the world we see). I have instead had to start using the “XMen world” counterexample to EAM. This depresses me somewhat.

  3. tacitus says

    Heh, I noticed that UD has a new post about the Senator Buttar’s new attempt to sneak ID into Utah schools. He no longer mentions “Divine Design” (if that would fool anybody) but he has to win the award for the most pig-ignorant quote about evolution in the past 12 months:

    “You have big dogs, and you have little dogs,” he said. “And you have big cats and little cats, but you don’t have a dat.”

    I mean, honestly…

  4. Thinker says

    I read an interesting article today in NYT about the discovery by Decode Genetics of a gene variant linked to Type 2 diabetes.

    “He [Dr. Stefanson of DeCode] said he could not yet say if the genetic variant was more common in African-Americans and so might explain their greater burden of Type 2 diabetes. But he noted that the variant was ancient, having arisen before the dispersal of modern humans from Africa some 50,000 years ago, and would probably be found to exist to varying degrees in all populations.”

    I find this kind of information very useful when discussing evolution with lay people, and would wish that these connections and conclusions were made more often by scientists. (However, I have no hopes it will convert any hard core IDC believers, cut off from fact based reasoning as they are…)

  5. steve s says

    Uncommon Pissant is so dysfunctional and funny these days there should be a permanent Panda’s Thumb thread instantiated.

  6. Bayesian Bouffant, FCD says

    The Stardust probe’s sample capsule has returned. Bringing with it a little sample of the stuff the solar system is made of. Will there be any amino acids, or nitrogenous bases on board?

    I saw the movie version. I think it was called The Andromeda Strain

  7. george cauldron says

    does anybody else find it humorous that regular UD posters are actually spending time debating their arguments on PT because UD is doing what it always did?

    I’ve often thought that IDC is basically parasitic off legitimate biology. It essentially needs biology to lift ideas from (and to do all the actual research they can’t/won’t do), while at the same time trying its hardest to harm its ‘host’.

    So in that sense, UD has the same relationship to PT/Pharyngula that a remora has to a shark.

  8. arc_legion says

    Yep, UD is looking pretty broken now. I mean, I knew that before it wasn’t the place to go for a rational discourse, and maybe DaveScot’s just trying to clean that up, but the dude’s lookin’ idiotic right now.

    Regardless, there are better places/ways to carry on a discussion of what little discussion-worthy material there ever was in ID.

  9. says

    Was waiting for an open thread to bring this up.

    Is it just me, or did anyone else see Dr.Myers’ frontal shot on the sidebar and think his hair totally merges with the black background?

    Now every time I look at the picture, I can only see Dr.Myers with a clean shaven head – a bespectacled bouncer at the distinguished, exclusive and happenin’ science-only club that everyone wants to get into. :-)

    Sir, May I see some peer-reviewed journal entries before I let you in?

    Hey you! Over there!! Do NOT cross the church-state-seperation line! Or I’ll have to take you to the back and rough you up.

  10. Bob O'H says

    Back to Uncommon Dissent (sorry)

    This comment seems to sum things up:

    Now I know why all the evolutionists love coming here. It�s like watching Discovery Channel�s Shark Week.

    Its a feeding frenzy and, like sharks, they don�t care who they bite, friend or foe. I�m just going to lurk in the shadows and wait and see if someone bites their own tail off in the frenzy.

    Comment by Neotoma � January 16, 2006 @ 12:22 pm

    which rather sums up my feelings about UD too.

    P.S. Francis: try Ctrl+ to increase font size. Or Ctrl- to decrease it, come to that.

  11. SEF says

    Ooh a gripe thread. Just what I need.

    This is the sort of defamation which routinely passes the BBC’s moderation system:

    The poster is a persistent troll of the BBC’s forums who’s on pre-moderation as a result. So the post had already been looked at and passed as OK by at least one moderator. However, when the BBC published it on the site I pressed the complaint button anyway (as people are supposed to do for serious complaints about content). Some time later that complaint was rejected though. Thus the post was left up having passed another round of moderators.

    Meanwhile, here’s another post defaming scientists more generally (complaint made and rejected again):

  12. taalinukko says

    Hey PZ when you get a chance to stop by the cities you should check out the new dinosaur attraction at the Mall ‘o America. It is both really cool and somewhat disconcerting. You gotta see the way they have decorated the walls, lots of pictures of people of primitive people and dinosaurs happily coexisting.

    Who paints that stuff?

    That really made me wonder if they were set up to present their spiel in a YEC friendly manner to better attract business from the heartland.

  13. biosparite says

    I am processing small, silicified trilobite parts from the Upper Ordovician limestones of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia; I collected the bulk rock samples at Christmas 2004, but it takes awhile to etch and then look at all of it, particularly the microscopic fractions. I watch the wingnut crazies here in SE Texas rage against the theory of evolution and marvel not only at their willful ignorance but also their ability to turn Republican politicians into their servile lapdogs. Sheesh.

  14. FishyFred says

    Just to pile on to that shark/feeding frenzy quote, it was part of a larger story:

    Apparently DaveScot banned Josh Bozeman (he made a post about if further up the thread where I linked to the comment) for proselytizing Christianity or being a Christian apologetic or for something to do with associating ID with religion. Josh came back and told DaveScot that he was ruining the blog, then called Uncommon Descent a joke of a site.

    The kicker at the end was that DaveScot posted that Josh is “so bright and well informed it really pains me to see him go and I will miss him as much as anyone.”

  15. Rey says

    “You have big dogs, and you have little dogs,” he said. “And you have big cats and little cats, but you don’t have a dat.”

    Oh hell, please don’t let anyone tell Senator Buttars about pygmies and dwarves…

    Oh, and it’s closeD-minded! Closed, not close, is the opposite of open!

  16. Anne Elk (Miss) says

    I would like to step in here for a moment and ask people to stop calling the theory of Intelligent Design to be unscientific. For it is a theory, which the Discovery Institute and I have, and it’s ours and it belongs to us and we own it, and what it is too. What it is, that is to say, the theory that is ours, is ours, and we came up with it. The Theory of Intelligent Design is as follows. The next thing I’m going to say is our theory, the Theory of Intelligent Design by the Discovery Institute and A. Elk. Brackets, Miss, brackets. The theory goes as follows and begins now: At some point in the past, life appeared. There must have been a reason for this, but this reason is impossible for us to understand. That is our theory, and we own it, and what it is too.

  17. Nix says

    Hmmm, PZ, have you noticed you’re sharing a site with Gene Expression now?

    (Does this mean you can still diss them when they go out on their next ludicrously fairy-storied evolutionary psychology limb? Does it make it easier? ;) )

  18. djlactin says

    Phraseology Rant

    (This is a bit long but, I think, important)

    In discussions of evolution with my colleagues, intelligent men who are educated but not in biology, I have discerned several misconceptions about evolution and I believe that they all occur because we evolution-types tend to obscure our case by rushing over important concepts by choosing inappropriate shorthand terms, i.e., which mean something to us and something different to people outside our small realm.

    Here’s one example. In a discussion of the peppered moth. my colleague was familiar with the example and summarized it by saying: “after the soot started to accumulate, the moths turned black.” After some cross-examination it became clear that he believed that individuals evolve. It took me a few minutes to get it across that individuals are stuck for life with one set of genes, and that it is populations that evolve. I spelled it out: there were always a few black individuals in the population, but these had a disadvantage under preindustrial conditions and therefore remained uncommon because birds picked them off. After industrialization the advantage shifted, so that birds picked off more of the peppered form and the average coloration of the population darkened. You could see lights coming on! His lifelong misunderstanding resulted from a poor (shorthand) explanation and could have been averted by a few extra minutes of clarity.

    Another case had to do with the origin of humans… a different colleague opined that the origin of humans was an inevitable outcome of evolution. The proximate cause of his misunderstanding was that he looked backwards on our evolutionary history and saw a straight line back to the ur-biont. I explained the ‘evolutionary shrub’ concept and he grasped this but remained unconvinced that we are a fluke. However, the ultimate cause of his confusion surprised me: it was the use of the word “process”, as in “the evolutionary process”. I can understand his confusion because in common usage (AND in literal deconstruction), this word means “going forward”, as in “the process of building a house…” the word carries connotations of goal-directedness.

    In fact, by having this discussion with him, I came to realize that evolution should not be referred to as a process, but as a consequence! Processes follow specified routines; consequences just happen.

    A final example is more general. I frequently hear discussions of evolution by workers in the field phrased as: ‘trait X evolved “to” or “for” some reason’; as in “skunks evolved a bad scent to deter predators”, or “the panda’s false-thumb evolved for grasping bamboo”. This kind of shorthand is teleological in that it implies both some sort of foresight on the part of the genome (i.e. “Intelligence”) AND a capacity to change appropriately to modify the phenotype as necessary (i.e. “Design”)! Aaargh! If we speak like this, how can we be surprised the the ID movement scooped up so many adherents so easily?

    “We” all understand that this is not what such writers means, but educated non-biologists get a very wrong impression. (And creationists seize on such misstatements to foster doubt — or to abstract the implications of “Intelligence” and “Design” to amplify our misinformation into disinformation.)

    And this, finally is the point of my post:

    To all who have occasion to explain evolution to layfolk: They often use words differently than we do. PLEASE be careful in your choice of words and metaphors! this will require some forethought, and some critical restructuring of your standard phraseology. In fact, you may have to resort to some ‘ground up’ educating, but the
    results will be worth it. We owe it to them (and to the evolution ‘movement’) to be clear and precise

  19. Alexander Whiteside says

    There’s some fantastic use of logic on that site. For example, because nanotechnologists are adopting clever tricks of protein folding, proteins must have been designed in the first place. Just as a watering can, producing faux rain, proves that raindrops are designed.

    One marvels at the confusion of ideas that must give birth to such notions.

  20. chris says

    djlactin, will you marry me?

    As a layman, I think this is sooooo important, and so often overlooked, or not felt to be worth addressing. In the ‘trait X evolved “to” or “for” some reason’ stakes, Dawkins, a “Professor of Public Understanding of Science”, for crying in the beer, is one of the worst offenders, and in “Extended Phenotype” he actually defends this terminology, which is why I threw the book across the room and never finished it.

    Using non-misleading language might appear a bit stuffy and pedantic at first, because, let’s face it, the concepts are counter-intuitive and not like much that happens to us on a day to day basis, but if an effort was made to create a new vocabulary for discussing natural selection on the radio, people would soon get used to it.

    Side issues 1: I believe the dark population of bloody peppered bloody moths was never genetically isolated from the light population, so, while it’s a very interesting case, it isn’t an example of speciation and is vulnerable to attack by any half educated creationist (“This proves nothing!”) Can’t we find a better example to make a cliche of?

    Side issues 2: “a different colleague opined that the origin of humans was an inevitable outcome of evolution”. It wasn’t this silly bugger, was it?

  21. chris says

    Sadly I’m both XY and happily married for 25 years. But you do make an important and underappreciated point.

  22. djlactin says

    …happily married for 25 years

    how can you be sad about this remarkable accomplishment?! my record is 8. my hat’s off to you, man!

  23. jbark says

    Great post Djlactin.

    Regarding your point about “evolving for/to”, is the punchline that the better phrase would be “evolved because”?

    As in, the skunks smelliness evolved because skunks with slightly stinkier anal glands tended to avoid predation better?

  24. Bayesian Bouffant, FCD says

    Disgraced scientist offered cult job

    From correspondents in Paris
    January 18, 2006

    SOUTH Korean cloning expert Hwang Woo-suk, a science superstar disgraced when his pioneering stem cell research was unmasked as a hoax, has a new job offer from a UFO cult that says it has produced six human clones.

    Clonaid, a company linked to a group that believes humans were cloned from prehistoric alien visitors to Earth, said it had offered him a post in one of its laboratories.

    The firm has never provided proof of the six clones it says it has produced and does not reveal where the laboratories it says it has are located.

    Hwang quit his post at Seoul National University in December after his claim to have cloned human embryonic stem cells, which could be used to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s, was shown to have been faked.

    “We at Clonaid believe that Dr Hwang has cloned human embryos and has the knowledge to develop stem cell lines,” the company said in a message posted on its website.

    Clonaid is linked to the Raelian Movement, whose leader Rael – a former French sports journalist named Claude Vorhilon – says cloning is the first step towards eternal life.

    When it announced that its sixth cloned baby had been born in Sydney in 2004, Australian Health Minister Tony Abbott called the announcement “the medical equivalent of a UFO story.”

  25. ivy privy says

    Test of blockquotes

    Why does Chief Justice Roberts hate states’ rights?

    Jan. 17, 2006 � In a stinging rebuke to the Bush administration, the Supreme Court sided with Oregon in upholding the nation’s only physician-assisted suicide law.

    Justice Scalia was joined in his dissent by Justice Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts. Roberts’ vote came as a surprise in the first controversial case of this term. A strong proponent of states’ rights, Chief Justice Roberts was expected to support Oregon’s right-to-die law but instead backed the administration’s efforts to prosecute physicians.

  26. djlactin says


    is the punchline that the better phrase would be “evolved because”?

    Yes, but even that would require elaboration.

    An intelligent but misinformed listener might then ask: “so why aren’t all prey animals stinky?”

    (i have just deleted a detailed discussion in the interests of brevity — but remember, all that i deleted would be self-evident to biologists but not to interested laypeople.)

    Summary: you’d have to explain (simply and thoroughly, avoiding jargon and inappropriate shorthand) the concepts of: contingency [the “starting point]; population; variation; differential survival*reproduction; genetic constraints and a whack of other stuff. You mus be clear that individuals are genetically immutable and that the important driving force is competition among members of a population, with evolution occurring as a consequence.

    It’s a long haul and may be tedious to “us” biologists (who spent years learning evolution), but by spending a few minutes to explain in detail to an interested listener, it’s easy to impart the concept that evolution is mega-generational and unguided.

  27. says

    I have just joined the ranks of UD outcasts as a result of a fairly hilarious post by Dembski, my comments about it, and DaveScot’s impotent-but-funny attempts to defend his master. You can read about it here