December 2012

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T. Ryan Gregory announces at Genomicron (Big news about Evolution: Education and Outreach) that the Springer journal Evolution: Education and Outreach will be open access from January 2013.

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It’s the seventh anniversary of the judgement in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, the American court case that definitively rulled that Intelligent Design creationism was indeed religious and was therefore forbidden from publicly funded schools in the USA. I posted a more detailed overview this time last year (Happy Kitzmas!), making observations on the implications of the verdict.

In the last year, the C4ID has merely flailed around holding ‘conferences’ to preach to the already converted but not managing to insert Intelligent Design creationism into schools (Centre for Intelligent Design 2012). Indeed the biggest worry regarding schools and creationism has been the approval of a number Free Schools with the kind of religious ethos that is likely to bring with it the baggage of creationism – this remains a concern despite public pronouncements from the Government.

What will 2013 bring?

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A few years ago, a bizarrely deceitful film was released: Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. This pro-Intelligent Design creationism production made a variety of assertions, and did feature some interviews with the likes of Richard Dawkins – obtained by misrepresentation and edited to significantly alter the interviewees’ opinions. See for example what they did to Dawkins.

The website Expelled Exposed gives a detailed analysis of this film. Many websites exposed the deceitful strategies taken by the produced of the film, and the company behind it eventually went belly up and its assets sold off – including the film itself.

So, what do I find at the C4ID website, but a transcript of the interview segment with Richard Dawkins, together with a commentary from Alastair Noble.

Dr Alastair Noble: you should be ashamed of yourself for repeating this dishonesty.

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No sooner had I noted that the jolly old Discotute wannabees C4ID had been rather quiet of late than I received an email update, representing something of a review of 2012. Apparently

We’ve had a very productive year and it has been an exciting 12 months for the advance of Intelligent Design (ID) more generally.

So what have Alastair Noble and Co been up to in 2012?

Junk DNA a myth?

Well, first off, C4ID trumpet the death of junk DNA. This of course reveals their ineptitude as regards biology. I would refer readers to this article which contains links debunking this idea that 80% of the human genome is ‘functional': ENCODE, junk DNA and creationists. Oh, and this too: Sean Eddy on Junk DNA. Essentially the ENCODE project redefined the word ‘functional’ to include DNA sequences with no biological function. Of course creationists (especially ID creationists) bought that line as it suited their brand of science denialism to the hilt. How else could they explain their magical designer/creator’s ineptitude in saddling us (and pretty much all other eukaryotes) with so much apparently meaningless DNA?

Nagel’s book and Meyer’s book

Next up is the story that philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote a book addressing the ‘Darwinian Conception of Nature’. Readers might check out Jerry Coyne’s blog Why Evolution is True for more on Nagel on evolution. I’m not sure why this merits mention in C4ID’s review of 2012, as the book doesn’t seem to be connected to C4ID. Of course Nagel nominated Signature in the Cell as one of his books of 2009 (rather old news). But readers might refer to the Wikipedia page on Nagel as regards Intelligent Design: it seems odd to me that Alastair Noble brings Nagel up in the context of ID creationism. I reviewed Meyer’s Signature in the Cell and found it a poor effort. Meyer is one of the authors of the Wedge Strategy, the smoking gun that reveals the creationist roots of Intelligent Design.

The Tyndale Philosophy Conference

Alastair Noble seems quite pleased at the success of this meeting where ID creationists spoke to other ID creationists and presumably reinforced their opinions. This is the same strategy used for the Malvern ID conference.

And finally

C4ID welcomes Dr Emma Carter to their ranks, as Academic Liaison Consultant. Dunno exactly what that role would be, but we’re to expect a website refresh.

Who’s Emma Carter? C4ID don’t say. A quick google for Dr Emma Carter (“emma carter” + “intelligent design”) brings up one candidate, an engineer, (but no direct evidence that these two Carters are the same).

I think 2012 has been business as usual for C4ID. Which means they continue to fail to overturn a century and a half of research which has built upon Darwin’s theory, and which ultimately explains very effectively the diversity of life on this planet.

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From Stars to Stalagmites – How everything connects
World Scientific 2012 ISBN 13 978 981 4324 97 7
Paul S. Braterman*

I am a pretty avid reader of popular science books, but generally speaking I’ve mostly read books with a general emphasis on biology, particularly evolutionary biology. From Stars to Stalagmites is therefore a bit different from my usual reading fare, taking a chemist’s view on the world. In essence, the book spends 16 chapters explaining how we know stuff. Stuff ranging from the age of the Earth to how CFCs were incriminated as the cause of the ozone holes. Many of these accounts are told with specific reference to the people who shaped the theories and the science. I don’t mean just the scientists – policy-makers and polticians also feature highly – a good example being the chapters on figuring out the cause of the ozone hole and on global warming.

I could summarise this book as “a collection of stories about stuff”, but that would ignore the central theme that comes across as one read through the book: how we know how natural processes work, and how we can use this understanding to probe the deep history of our planet, figure out how to rescue our planet from anthropogenic destruction and so forth.

On reflection some, if not all, of the chapters come across as excellent material for presentations. Whether such has been the origins of the work or not, I do believe that the book itself would have benefited from a bit more in the way of illustration…

For me, stand out chapters include the opening chapter on the age of the Earth (Chapter 1), that on Fritz Haber, the First World War and explosives (Chapter 6), and the 14th Chapter on why water is weird. But I guess those preferences reflect my interests; the book is consistently interesting and clearly written.

In dealing with the evolution of ideas about the Earth’s antiquity, Braterman effectively sets the stage for all the controversies manufactured by the biblical literalists who insist in (mis)interpreting the bible to deduce that the Earth is a mere 6000 years (give or take a little). The chapter takes the reader on a journey in the changing scientific understanding of earth science, which neatly encapsulates the nature of scientific discovery. I think this example illustrates the value of this book. It’s not necessarily in its factual content, but in the way rational and thoughtful investigation of the world and its material phenomena can lead to clearer understanding of the world around us. And more than this, several chapters describe how current understanding can and does change as science advances, both in terms of techniques and in the application of knowledge from disparate areas of investigation.

To conclude, From Stars to Stalagmites is a valued addition to my bookshelf and a fine example of popular science writing.

*Disclosure: Paul Braterman is a BCSE committee member, as am I.

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