Some of the scienceblogs have been experiencing difficulties (unresponsiveness, sluggish commenting, and some of us can’t even post), and part of the problem can be traced to spammers turning their attention to us and pounding at the door. We’ve been asked to increase the level of security in commenting to suppress some of that activity, so now comments here require a valid email address.

Switching the level of security has an unfortunate side-effect with some browsers—it confused my copy of Safari so much it wouldn’t allow me to comment on my own blog. One solution, though, is to get rid of the old cookies for the scienceblogs.com domain in your browser. If you’re getting a “Comment Submission Error”, try that solution.

If anyone wants to leave other bug reports here, I bet the developer will see them. I know of a few glitches:

  • Text encoding incompatibilities—this ISO vs UTF-8 stuff that I barely understand.
  • The search page (and others?) don’t seem to be php-enabled, so funny stuff appears.
  • Syndication includes only the entry body, and if there is an extended entry, there’s no indication that something is incomplete.
  • I want a captcha system for comments. Some spam still gets through that I need to manually delete.
  • No Pirate Mode and I need more logos! OK, this is still a very low priority…more serious bugs need to be fixed first.

I know there are lots of these little things floating about, but overall I’m so happy with the improved performance that I’m not too concerned, yet. And of course, the number one priority has to be correcting major bugs like Orac has had.

Hey! If you check your syndication feeds, you’ll see that now not only is there an indicator that there’s more to the post, but there’s a link to and count of the comments. See? Complain here, the developer will notice, and things will get fixed.

Eloi and Morlocks had to start somewhere

Some Pennsylvania private schools have a new advertising campaign:

The billboard ads say “Intelligence … by Design” and show a Bible Baptist teacher and students.

The Harrisburg Christian radio ad features the voice of science teacher Stephanie Morris. She describes weaknesses in the theory of evolution and says, “The foundation of my biology course is a personal God and creator.”

Harrisburg Christian has 302 students and costs up to $6,600 per year. Bible Baptist, with 475 students, costs up to $4,400 a year.

That’s 777 students getting a sub-standard education in the sciences, and $4,083,200 getting flushed down a rathole. It’s an odd situation, where the wealthy yank their kids out of the public schools and put them in an expensive pit of ignorance by choice, and at the same time fight to underfund the public education they’ve abandoned and turn the schools the poor and middle class rely on into holding pens. We all lose.

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.