Summer reading

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Who would have thought these words would ever be typed by me? I’m looking forward to Ann Coulter’s new book.

It’s called Godless(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Apparently, Ann Coulter has written a book about me, although I suspect that she’ll instead be pretending that people like me are representative of the Democratic Party as a whole. I wish.

I’m sure it will be insightful, nuanced, and meticulously researched. Maybe Al Franken and I should get together in a summer book club to discuss it.

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.

Ann Coulter

P.S. Please don’t buy it. I’m not planning to, myself (although if the publisher wants to send me a review copy, I’ll gleefully read it and review it), but I just know my local library will be getting it.

P.P.S. I’m also amused at the image of Ann Coulter as an icon of Christian thought.

Dead Cat Museum builds silly arguments

Logic and knowledge are a couple of things creationists are lacking. I’m surprised at the fate of the corpse of that poor cyclopic kitten:

A one-eyed, noseless kitten that stirred debate last year over whether it was a hoax will be the centerpiece of a new museum intended to promote the theory of creationism.

John Adolfi plans to feature Cy’s remains at The Lost World Museum when it opens later this year. The Phoenix, N.Y., museum will feature such oddities as giant plants and eggs, deformed animal remains and unique archaeological finds, he said.

Adolfi believes in creationism—a literal reading of the Bible’s story of creation.

He wrote on the museum’s website that the theory of evolution states that “environmental pressures can lift species from the ape-like creature … to us today. My question is this. Are there really positive mutations?

“All I can see are neutral or negative,” said Adolfi, a real estate agent from Granby, N.Y.

Wow. So many errors in so few words. Holoprosencephaly, the defect in that kitten, is not usually caused by a mutation. It’s a developmental abnormality caused by a failure of anterior midline signaling. I’ve mentioned before that I do some work on making cyclopic fish, and I can induce it routinely with embryonic alcohol exposure. If Mr Adolfi is paying good money for one-eyed oddities, I can provide him with bucketsful.

It’s not a mutation, so Cy says nothing about the frequency of negative mutations. Even if it were a consequence of a mutation, an example of a deleterious mutation does not mean there are no beneficial mutations.

There is an interesting coincidence here, though. I looked up the Lost World Museum, which is going to be housing the dead cat (there is something quite appropriate about that. “Centerpiece of Creation Science Museum: Dead Cat.”), and learned that it’s a branch of Bibleland Studios. Bibleland Studios is the publisher of…the amazing Jim Pinkoski! Poking around on their site, it looks like one reason they like the cyclopic cat is they believe it backs up the argument from asymmetry, that animals had to have evolved from one-eyed to two-eyed forms, and that the one-eyed form is not viable.

Maybe it does make a little sense, as long as you understand they’re basing their science on a comic book and the misunderstandings of a real estate agent.

(via God is for Suckers)

Complex biochemical systems slap Behe upside the head

Ian Musgrave does a wonderful job explaining the recent Science paper on the evolution of hormone binding sites. This is the work that Behe has called “piddling”, and claims that it has no relevance to the evolvability of complex biochemical systems. Ian takes this idea apart with a quick tour of the wandering goalposts of irreducible complexity:

Behe and the Discovery Insitute have reacted quickly and negatively to this paper. But in doing so they display a curious amnesia. Behe says:

I certainly would not classify their system as IC. The IC systems I discussed in Darwin’s Black Box contain multiple, active protein factors. Their “system”, on the other hand, consists of just a single protein and its ligand.”

Yet this “system” is precisely the thing that Behe uses in his exemplar for the Behe and Snoke paper, the binding of DPG to haemoglobin. And Behe has said in testimony to the Dover trial that the Behe and Snoke paper on evolution of binding sites is about irreducible complexity. So if the evolution of the DPG binding site (where you only need two mutations to make a functioning DPG binding site) is an example of IC, then the evolution of the aldosterone binding site is also.

Poor Behe. The man continues his ever-accelerating slide into the land of pathetic jokes.

RU486

After I summarized how Plan B contraception works, I’m still getting letters confusing it with RU486. RU486 induces abortions. Plan B does not. RU486 is the opposite of Plan B.

Remember that what Plan B is is an artificially high dose of progesterone (it actually uses a progesterone analog, but it’s effectively the same.) Progesterone is a hormone that maintains the uterine lining in a nice, rich, spongy, receptive state, and it also suppresses another hormone, LH, that is what triggers ovulation. Plan B keeps the uterus primed for implantation, but tells the ovary to hold its fire and not release an egg.

RU486 can’t get much different. It’s a compound, mifepristone, that antagonizes progesterone—it binds to progesterone receptors and blocks their function, so that it looks to the cells as if progesterone levels have all all dropped to zero. The cells of the uterus, whether implantation has occurred or not, are tricked into menstruating right away, shedding the uterine lining and anything growing in it.

Now I personally think RU486 is a fine idea and a perfectly reasonable and relatively safe way to induce an abortion, and I think it ought to be legal and available. However, it is nothing like Plan B. Plan B is a completely separate issue from any argument over the ethics or utility of abortion.

Make-work for creationists

Creationists are always carping about that darned methodological naturalism and how we don’t make room for supernatural explanations. How about if we make a deal: we’ll reserve the boring ol’ natural explanations for things like Tiktaalik, and the creationists can move on to bring their deep knowledge of the supernatural to bear on more relevant questions, like Divine Evolution? That should keep them occupied for a while.

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Now they’ve done it—they’ve got the Royal Society angry

There will be a webcast by Steven Jones tomorrow at 1730 GMT, titled “Why Creationism is Wrong and Evolution is Right” (ooo, nice sharp title), for anyone interested. I think that means it’s going to be on at 11:30AM CST, unfortunately…I’ll be in class. Even though I’m going to have to miss it, it sounds like the Royal Society is gearing up to pound on creationism, which is always a good thing.

Where have I been?

It’s been a long day for me—I made yet another of those long drives into Minneapolis and back. It was worth it, though. We had the first meeting of a new group, Minnesota Citizens for Science Education; I think it’s going to be a useful resource for the state. It consists of several of us college professor types, plenty of K-12 educators, and a few business people, and we’re all going to be working together over the next few months to put together information to further the cause of good science teaching in Minnesota.

Details will have to wait, though. We’ll be aiming for a formal announcement in the Fall, with a public meeting on the topic at about the same time. Give us some time to get organized.

Isn’t it nice how crazy organizations like the Discovery Institute and Answers in Genesis are inspiring scientists and educators to get together and work to help our kids learn science better?