February 2012

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I noticed this story at the Panda’s Thumb developing over the last few days: Springer gets suckered by creationist pseudoscience – The Panda’s Thumb

It looks like some creationist engineers found a way to slither some ID/creationism into a major academic publisher, Springer. The major publishers have enough problems at the moment (e.g. see the Elsevier boycott), it seems like the last thing they should be doing is frittering away their credibility even further by uncritically publishing creationist work and giving it a veneer of respectability. The mega-publishers are expensive, are making money off of largely government-funded work provided to them for free, and then the public doesn’t even have access to it. The only thing they have going for them is quality control and credibility – if they give that away to cranks, there is no reason at all to support them.

The comments at Panda’s Thumb are rather informative:

  • The book is a conference proceedings, but not in the biological sciences
  • The conference was held in rooms rented from Cornell, but not promoted by Cornell or its academic community
  • The participants’ names are secret
  • Attendance was invitation only
  • At least one of the volume editors appears to be a creationist of the young earth variety

It would seem that Springer may be having second thoughts: the notification of this volume has now disappeared from their website.

This all seems to be part of the Wedge Strategy to gain apparent endorsement by the academic world. Similar conferences have been documented in ‘Creationism’s Trojan Horse‘.  Indeed similar strategies appear to be endorsed by C4ID, who’s conferences may only be attended by those sympathetic to ID creationism, and who recently organised a lecture in London by Stephen Meyer at which the names of those attending have been kept confidential.

UPDATE: There’s an update to this story at Panda’s Thumb. The story is also covered at Inside Higher Ed.

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Last year, when bemused physicists reported the apparent discovery of faster than light neutrinos, a shock wave ran through the news media, despite professional physicists the world over pointing out that it was almost certainly a technical cockup (ISTR the original experimenters suggested such). In the bizarre world of creationism, the potential upset to such a well-entrenched scientific theory as Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity was seen as evidence that the whole edifice of evolutionary biology was teetering on the brink. Here for example is a brief piece by David Klinghoffer at the oddly named Evolution News and Views (which is a mouthpiece for Intelligent Design creationism) – “Another One Bites the Dust?”. Here, Klinghoffer makes a very brief point:

If you think Darwin’s theory of evolution is as secure as Einstein’s theory of special relativity, well…maybe you’re right. [followed by a slightly longer quotation from The Guardian]

Well, actually I do (and did) think that modern evolutionary biology is pretty secure.  And as it turns out, physicists’ expectations that there was something wrong with the experimental set-up are supported – news reports indicate that the faster than light neutrinos weren’t faster than light, but that the data are explained by a loose fibre optic cable connecting GPS devices. You can read the reports at the journal Science’s website: BREAKING NEWS: Error Undoes Faster-Than-Light Neutrino Results – ScienceInsider.

 

The British Humanist Assosiation has noted that Government changes Academy model funding agreement… but DOESN’T ban creationist schools

The Government yesterday revised the Academy model funding agreement to bring it in line with all the recent changes made to the Free School model funding agreement – except it declined to ban creationist schools. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed dismay at this missed opportunity, and is unsure why the Department for Education (DfE) decided against making this change.

Maybe it’s just an oversight?  But it’s clear that many religious groups which hold creationist views are bidding to run Free Schools (and as I noted earlier are trying to erase evidence of this from the internet).

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Regarding Jonathan McLatchie’s lastest outpouring (The GULO Pseudogene and Its Implications for Common Descent) at the bizarrely named Evolution News and Views website (it’s not a blog, really, as there’s no commenting facility, but he generally cross-posts to Crossexamined*, where comments can be left), there are a few things I would observe  (though I don’t think this is worth enough to spend a huge amount of time on, particularly as I am rather busy at work just now**):

1. McLatchie is become quite skilled at making his nonsense impressive to the ignorant.  But it remains nonsense, and still only convinces only the ignorant.

2. Phylogenetic trees are assembled on the basis of similarity.  No-one would suggest that present-day sequences are in any way ancestral.  But doing these thing properly can allow one to make hypotheses and inferences about what the ancestral sequence may have been, or features it may have had.  This is a tack abused by ID creationists (see how PZ Myers addresses Gauger and Axe’s improperly conducted study of protein evolution).

3.  McLatchie makes a notably peculiar claim:

It is interesting to note that the argument for common ancestry based on common mutations affecting a segment of DNA is based on a form of reasoning that is uncannily similar to the specified-complexity criterion employed by advocates of design. Given the premise that mutations occur essentially at random, the inference to common ancestry is preferred over the chance hypothesis. Notice that the inference is justified not solely on the basis of high improbability (attaining the same specific mutations in multiple lineages is no more improbable than any other combination of mutations of the same number).

I assume from McLatchie’s postings at crossexamined that he is a devout christian, and it seems reasonable to conclude that his intelligent designer is his god of the old and new testaments (as appears to be the case for all major figures in ID creationism).  The significant difference between evolutionary biology and creationism (whether it be YEC or ID) is that evolutionary biology has a variety of tested mechanisms for evolutionary change, while the evidence for the existence of god/the ‘designer’ is conspicuous by its absence.  Not only that, the means by which the supposed ‘designer’ implemented her (or his, or its) design is equally fantastical.

McLatchie does seem to pour out a large amount of verbiage through a variety of internet fora.  I do hope this isn’t interfering with his studies on evolution, though I suspect on the basis of the ENV article, he may be leading something of a double life.

* Other than his cross-posts from ENV, Jonathan’s posts at Crossexamined are really quite revealing in terms of his religious world-view.

** Which is why I haven’t finished ploughing through Meyer’s magnum opus Signature in the Cell yet.

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It’s amusing to see the re-think that happens once the evangelical groups striving to establish free schools in the UK realise that their religious beliefs stand in the way of their plans to indoctrinate children. In recent months we’ve seen the Everyday Champions Church’s proposal for a school founder on the creationism issue, despite senior figures denying their previously explicit creationist stance.  The internet doesn’t forget. And hopefully, the latest plans from the Everyday Champions (Zombie creationist free school to rise from the dead?) will also be unsuccessful.

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