Flap those gills and fly!


I am going mildly nuts right now—somehow, I managed to arrange things so multiple deadlines hit me on one day: tomorrow. I’ve got a new lecture to polish up for our introductory biology course, a small grant proposal due, and of course, tomorrow evening is our second Café Scientifique. Let’s not forget that I also have a neurobiology lecture to give this afternoon, and I owe them a stack of grading which is not finished yet. I’m really looking forward to Wednesday.

Anyway, so my new lecture for our introductory biology course is on…creationism, yuck. What I’m planning to do is to describe some of the most common creationist arguments and then give a biologist’s rebuttal. Creationism is really a waste of our class time, but using it to explain some general concepts that any informed biologist should understand (and that the creationists, including Mike Behe, are astonishingly clueless about) will make it a little more productive, I hope. We’ll find out tomorrow.

One of the common creationist claims I plan to shoot down is the whole idea of “irreducible complexity” as an obstacle to evolution. I was going to bring up two ideas that invalidate it: the principle of scaffolding (which I discussed here), and exaptation, in which features evolved for some other purpose than the one that they play in an organism we observe today. I was looking for a good example, and then John Wilkins fortuitously sent me a paper that filled the bill (we evilutionists, you know, are sneakily sending each other data behind the scenes to help in our assault on ignorance. We’re devious that way.)

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Inanity squared

Yikes—it’s like some kind of horror movie: Inhofe meets Robertson.

Look, Pat, I don’t have to tell you about reading the Scriptures, but one of mine that I’ve always enjoyed is Romans 1, 22 and 23. You quit worshipping God and start worshipping the creation — the creeping things, the four-legged beasts, the birds and all that. That’s their god. That’s what they worship.

I’m not a big fan of the Bible, and every time I do dig into it, I find myself disgusted—and this is no exception. I had to look up Romans.

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Rapture Insanity Watch

I keep waiting for the padded ambulance to roll up and men in white coats to leap out, shoot these bozos with a trank gun, wrap them up in a straight jacket, and go howling off to the nearest sanitarium, but no…instead, they get invitations to appear on cable news and babble about the apocalypse. And it’s not just the airhead news media…

…Rosenberg is just one of several conservative media figures who have identified and expounded upon the purported signs of the Apocalypse to be found in the Israel-Hezbollah conflict. During his appearance on Live From…, Rosenberg claimed that he had been invited to the White House, Capitol Hill, and the CIA to discuss the Rapture and the Middle East, and noted—several times—that the apocalyptic events described in his novels keep coming true.

What’s really frightening is that these people don’t exhibit an ounce of critical thinking, and these ridiculous attitudes are endemic in the people who run our country. I’m waiting for some smart, pragmatic, sensible guy in government or the press to stand up and truncate that famous quote: “You have done enough. Have you no sense?”

(via Atrios)

Defenders of Kansas

Forgive me, but I find it hard to take Casey Luskin seriously. He’s a mouthpiece for the Discovery Institute who always reminds me of a voluble squirrel: he chatters away frenetically, but the brain behind his words is tiny and ill-prepared to cope with any substance. I always feel this urge to throw some peanuts at his feet to distract him. Anyway, his latest frenetic missive is a collection of angry chitterings, protesting that ID isn’t about the supernatural at all (it’s just about undermining naturalism…hasn’t he read Philip Johnson yet?), and no, they aren’t trying to sow doubt and confusion by mangling the science standards in Kansas. Meanwhile, John Rennie is more like a sleek, swift Doberman who gives the squirrel a quick shake, a chomp, and the nuisance vanishes with a squeak. For now. Anticipate Luskin’s further shrill whining to continue from within the belly of the beast.

Hey, and if you want to hear more about the distortions of science in the Kansas standards revisions, Jack Krebs has been barnstorming the state, and there’s lots of material to expose the Discovery Institute fraudulent campaign there.

Peter Doran in the NY Times

Peter Doran published a paper several years ago showing that parts of Antarctica were actually cooling, rather than warming—that there were local variations in temperature trends. This is not surprising. It’s also not surprising that he was quote-mined like mad by the global warming denialists. He has now written a calm, solid rejection of the misuse of his data in the NY Times.

Our results have been misused as “evidence” against global warming by Michael Crichton in his novel “State of Fear” and by Ann Coulter in her latest book, “Godless: The Church of Liberalism.” Search my name on the Web, and you will find pages of links to everything from climate discussion groups to Senate policy committee documents—all citing my 2002 study as reason to doubt that the earth is warming. One recent Web column even put words in my mouth. I have never said that “the unexpected colder climate in Antarctica may possibly be signaling a lessening of the current global warming cycle.” I have never thought such a thing either.

Our study did find that 58 percent of Antarctica cooled from 1966 to 2000. But during that period, the rest of the continent was warming. And climate models created since our paper was published have suggested a link between the lack of significant warming in Antarctica and the ozone hole over that continent. These models, conspicuously missing from the warming-skeptic literature, suggest that as the ozone hole heals—thanks to worldwide bans on ozone-destroying chemicals—all of Antarctica is likely to warm with the rest of the planet. An inconvenient truth?

This is great stuff, but anyone want to take any bets on whether the anti-scientific global warming crackpots will now extract that penultimate sentence and use it to urge easing the ban on fluorocarbon release?

Is there an entomologist in the house?


I got a request to help identify this bizarre creature. I’m guessing it’s a slug caterpillar, from the family Limacodidae, although I couldn’t possibly narrow it down further, and could be completely wrong. Whoever was filming it can be heard telling someone not to touch it—which is a good idea. These things shed fine hairs that can cause a painful allergic rash.

It’s kind of cute, anyway.

I think the collective wisdom of the internets has convinced me that it is a puss caterpillar, Megalopyge opercularis.

Francis Collins, doofus for the Lord

I just watched the Francis Collins/Charlie Rose interview (it starts at about 35 minutes on that clip), and although I struggled manfully to appreciate the fellow’s accomplishments and status in science, I failed. All I could see is that he was illogical, irrational, and downright goofy—all the symptoms of a severe affliction with a bad case of religion. That video ought to be a warning to scientists: even a prestigious scientist can suffer Christian mind-rot.

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