The DI and the astonishingly tepid petition

Whoa. This is amazing. A NY Times reporter got a Discovery Institute press release, and he didn’t just accept it on their say-so—he actually went digging to find out how accurate it was. I have to give Kenneth Chang his due for going below the surface and investigating a claim.

The Discovery Institute has been circulating a petition since 2001, trying to get people to sign on to a statement of dissent from Darwin. They’ve now got over 500 signatures on it, but as the article shows, the majority are not biologists, and in interviews with some of the signers, many seem to have signed because of religious sensibilities. When asked, they did dig up two signers who were not religious, and one is David Berlinski, who is not a scientist but is instead a professional pompous ass and semisupporter of astrology. The list includes Phil Skell, a major crackpot.

That’s why these petitions are meaningless: there will always be fringe characters who will sign on to anything that pokes the establishment in the eye.

As Josh Rosenau shows, there’s another reason the DI petition could get that many signatures: it’s meaningless and gutless. The thing is titled “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism,” for Odin’s sake…”Darwinism”? I dissent from “Darwinism”—it’s a theory that’s over a century old, that has been extensively revised, and Darwinism sensu strictu doesn’t exist as a major theory anymore. It’s a straw man that creationists flail at.

Look at the cowardly statement they ask people to sign:

We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.

That’s it? They can’t even mention their pet guess of Intelligent Design, but instead ask people to sign off on a statement professing the values of skepticism and careful examination? Weak, man, weak. Pathetic.

Hey, I’ve got this idea that Martians are zapping George Bush’s brain with their orbiting lasers, causing it to shrivel and collapse. Do you think the NSA, FBI, CIA, EPA, NCD and RRB will pay attention to me if I get enough people to sign a petition deploring neurodegenerative diseases?

Biblically Correct Tours

This article by Catherine Tsai on ghastly creationist museum tours is getting syndicated all over the place, so I’m getting lots of mail from people complaining about this dreck appearing in the local paper. Basically, there is a group, Biblically Correct Tours, that is parasitizing museums, leeching money off people and leading them on tours through the museums while coughing up idiotic religious interpretations of their contents. It’s not just lying about the age of the earth, either; it’s accusing scientists of deep evil.

The tours are not all fun and games, with the guides claiming that evolutionist thinking supports racism and abortion. This happened on a recent NCAR tour, when Carter told a dozen children and their parents abortion was an act of natural selection carried out by humans.

Other tours suggest Hitler was playing his version of survival of the fittest by favoring whites, and note that museum dioramas of early humans have black “subhumans.”

“My contention is evolution kills people,” Jack said in an interview. “It’s not that evolutionists don’t have morality, it’s that evolution can offer no morality. Ideas have consequences. If you believe you came from slime there is no reason not to, if you can, get away with anything.”

One interesting comment is from one of the tour guides who is spewing this nonsense.

Carter, who has a degree in biblical studies, admits feeling somewhat intimidated when he first gave tours, knowing scientists were listening. “I used to think, ‘What are they thinking? Are they going to come out and correct me?'” he says.

I don’t think he needs to worry. Most people will simply ignore other people saying stupid things—why, it would be rude to correct misinformation—and even the people behind these museums make excuses for them.

Teri Eastburn, an educational designer at NCAR, said she would never engage in such discussions during a tour. She said the complex welcomes anyone, but notes in-house tours only espouse scientific views of the world.

“We try to explain it using evidence that we find in the natural world, whereas religion is dealing more with spirituality, ethics and morality, which science does not deal with at all,” she said. “It’s different ways of knowing. How people reconcile the ways of knowing is an individual choice.”

I would direct your attention to the quote a couple of paragraphs above, where the clueless twit from Biblically Correct Tours is telling people that the science of evolution is tied to abortion and Hitler and killing people. If religion is involved with “spirituality, ethics and morality”, this is a clearly a case where its influence is pernicious and vile. A museum is a place that is supposed to be dedicated to informing and educating the public (yeah, and making money…), and this is a case where a contemptible group is perverting its purpose to misinform and miseducate (and make money for itself.) I would consider it an obligation of the staff to speak out against it, not to make excuses.

That nice article by Matthew Nisbet I cited earlier has a fourth point: GOING ON THE OFFENSIVE IS GOOD. This is an excellent example of a place where the public and scientists and our institutions ought to be going on the offensive: when one of these tour groups goes through, and some biblical studies major babbles stupidly and misstates a scientific fact, everyone around him should turn around and shout, for the benefit of the group, “THAT’S NOT TRUE!” Make ’em sweat. Make the tour groups realize that all these smart people visiting the museum are looking at them like they’re a mob of dumb hicks and gomers, if they aren’t willing to listen to legitimate scientific explanations. And take the time to tell them what those scientific explanations are—they’re far more interesting and satisfying than the Biblically Correct Nonsense the guide is giving them.

A better strategy for advancing science

Matthew Nisbet has a good list of things we ought to be doing. Number one on the list is what I also think is the biggest thing we have to do:


And I have to admit that educating you, the readers of this weblog, is actually a small part of the task. The real job lies with our public school teachers—they’re the ones shaping the education of the next generation—and no matter what we do right now, the evolution-creation struggle in the public consciousness is going to be going on for at least the next 20 years. It’s very easy to wreck a school and foster ignorance; it’s very difficult to crawl out of the rubble.

The cephalopod sex series

As part of the ongoing migration to the new site, I’ve brought over some strangely popular articles: Tentacle sex, Tentacle sex, part deux, Squid nuptial dances, and Octopus sex. All across the world, people are wondering what the etiquette is if they should find themselves in a romantic situation with an amorous cephalopod, and it is my duty to provide the answers.

If only I’d thought of bringing these over last week, in time for Valentine’s Day. I hope no one made any beastly gaffes because they couldn’t find these articles in time…

Octopus sex


I rather like this illustration I ran across in some reading. It’s a bit risqué, and reminded me of some ukiyo-e…the kind of thing you don’t usually expect to find in a biology journal.

This line drawing was made from a photograph of a male H. lunulata (shaded) copulating with a female. The arrow points to the male’s hectocotylus, which is being inserted into the female’s mantle cavity.

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