Toxicodendron_radicans – poison ivy, South Boulder Creek Trail, Boulder, Colorado, July, 2015. As I was taking the picture, a little voice approached me and asked, “Do you know —? Is that —? Could that be —? Poison ivy?” Yes, and it was one of the lushest fields of poison ivy I have seen this side of New Jersey, growing right along the trail. You can identify it because it has 3 leaflets, and often the outer ones are shaped like mittens, though not as distinctively as these. Poison ivy is red only in the fall; we will see that in 2 weeks.
From William Dembski’s new blog, for November 9th:
In the last few years, my focus has switched from ID to education, specifically to advancing freedom through education via technology. All my old stuff on ID is on the present site (it was previously at DesignInference.com, which is no more), and can be accessed by clicking on “Design” in the main menu.
I still have a few ID projects in the works, notably second editions of some of my books (e.g., NO FREE LUNCH and THE DESIGN INFERENCE). I regard BEING AS COMMUNION: A METAPHYSICS OF INFORMATION (published 2014) as the best summation of my 23-years focused on ID (the start of that work being my article “Randomness by Design” in NOUS back in 1991).
I’m happy for the years I was able to spend working on ID, but it’s time to move on. I’ll be describing my new endeavors on this new blog.
Good article in Slate, Evolution Is Finally Winning Out Over Creationism, by Rachel Gross. I have not checked the surveys myself, but Gross reports,
The people responsible for this shift are the young. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, 73 percent of American adults younger than 30 expressed some sort of belief in evolution, a jump from 61 percent in 2009, the first year in which the question was asked. The number who believed in purely secular evolution (that is, not directed by any divine power) jumped from 40 percent to a majority of 51 percent. In other words, if you ask a younger American how humans arose, you’re likely to get an answer that has nothing to do with God.
The overall proportion of Americans who believe in secular evolution has doubled since 1999, from 9 percent to 19 percent, according to a 2014 Gallup poll.…[M]ost of that increase has been drawn from the pool of Americans who previously reported that they believed in evolution guided by God [theistic evolution], which simultaneously dropped from 40 percent to 31 percent.
Why? In part because evolution is “in the air” (thank the Internet!) and in part because evolution-deniers are older and dying off.
Acknowledgment. Thanks to Mike Antolin of the Colorado State University for the link.
Excellent article, What Ken Ham Isn’t Telling You About Ark Encounter Funding, by Tracey Moody, regarding the financing of the Ark Park. Much is already known to PT readers, but the iceberg is bigger than we thought. Besides for-profits masquerading as nonprofits, it appears that the Ark Park is eligible for tax-increment financing, whereby the Ark Park (or some incarnation thereof) receives a loan that is paid back (if at all) by property taxes. The property taxes go to paying off the loan, rather than to the community, until the borrower goes bankrupt.
Read Ms. Moody’s article!
Typha latifolia – broad-leaved cattail, South Boulder Creek trail, 2015. The upper picture was taken with a Sony α6000 camera and a 310-mm (35-mm equivalent) lens; the lower with a Canon SX280 point-and-shoot camera and a 600-mm (equivalent) lens. Consumer Reports rated the image quality of both cameras “Very Good,” but they cautioned that you cannot compare ratings across camera types.
So I decided to compare the 2 cameras myself. The 2 images are cropped to show the same areas and reveal individual pixels. The SX280 image shows some electronic noise and a bit of chromatic aberration. The α6000 image, though taken at half the focal length, is far better. The α6000 may show better gray scale, but that may be an artifact of the exposure, which I have not compared. Nevertheless, if you do not want to push the limit, the SX280 image is very serviceable indeed.
Last March Tom English and I posted an argument here here at Panda’s Thumb analyzing an argument by William Dembski, Winston Ewert, and Robert Marks. They had made an argument that evolutionary “search” would not do better than blind search; we proved that their argument showed no such thing.
In response to our analysis here of the Dembski-Ewert-Marks paper, Winston Ewert has replied at Evolution News and Views. As that site does not allow comments, I have finally gotten around to posting a response here (six months late). Tom has now put up a related thread at The Skeptical Zone; I will try to comment in both discussions.
Ewert rather dramatically reveals that Tom and I do not actually disagree with any of the theorems in their paper. And he’s right about that. How did they discover this remarkable fact? Perhaps it was by reading our post, where we said
We’re not going to argue with the details of their mathematics, but instead concentrate on what in evolutionary biology corresponds to such a choice of a search.
or by reading a comment in that thread where I also said:
As theorems they may be mathematically true, but the average poor performance of searches is true only because so many irrelevant and downright crazy searches are included among the set of possible searches.
Ewert is right that we did not question their theorems. Instead we concentrated on what would follow from their theorems. We showed in a simple model that once there are organisms that reproduce, with genotypes that have phenotypes and fitnesses, that evolution will find higher fitnesses much more effectively than random guessing. So is it true that having what they call Active Information, embodied in a fitness surface and in a reproducing organism whose genotypes have those fitnesses, requires that there be Design Intervention to set up that system?
The issue is not the correctness of their theorems but, given that they are correct, what flows from them. Dembski, Ewert, and Marks (DEM) may object that they did not say anything about that in their paper.
We don’t think that it is a stretch to say that DEM want their audience to conclude that Design is needed.
Let’s look at what conclusions Dembski, Ewert, and Marks draw from their theorems. There is little or no discussion of this in their paper. Are they trying to persuade us that a Designer has “frontloaded” the Universe with instructions to make our present forms of life? Let’s look at what Dembski and Marks have said about that (below the fold) …
December 20 will be the 10th anniversary of Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District – what Dave Thomas calls Kitzmas. Kitzmiller, I probably need not say, is the Federal court decision that established intelligent design creationism as, well, creationism and therefore ineligible to be taught as part of a biology course in the public schools. You can read a no longer so hot-off-the-press report by Wesley Elsberry here.
But to my task: Lauri “Devil in Dover” Lebo sent us the following press release from the ACLU of Pennsylvania, announcing a victory celebration at 7 p.m., Saturday, November 7, in the Abbey Bar at Appalachian Brewing Company, Harrisburg. The panel discussion features PT’s Nick Matzke, who was then a staffer at the National Center for Science Education and the discoverer of the infamous cdesign proponentsists.
But before I get to the press release, which I will display below the fold, let me ask that other people who want to announce Kitzmas celebrations give the specifics in a Comment. If we get a measurable number of celebrations, we will post the list and stick it to the top of the page through December 20.
OK, on to the details of the press release:
I just ran across this article, Should a self-driving car kill its passengers in a “greater good” scenario? Though the article does not say so, it is the trolley problem, but with a twist: You are the driver of the trolley, and you have to ask whether you ought to be sacrificed for the greater good. That is, there are now three possibilities, not two: do nothing and kill five people; swerve and kill one; or (the added possibility) swerve and kill yourself. Any thoughts?
Fascinating article by Rhitu Chatterjee in Science this past week. I am not a specialist in physiological optics, but I have always understood that you cannot give sight to someone who is blind from birth and is older than, perhaps, a teenager. According to Chatterjee’s article, most ophthalmologists understood the same thing. It is not true.
Chatterjee describes a project to perform cataract operations on people who are congenitally blind. Some of these are teenagers or young adults, and they learn to see – not as well as you and I, possibly because part of their visual cortex has been used for touch or hearing, but they learn to see. In consequence, a neuroscientist, Pawan Sinha, launched Project Prakash as a humanitarian effort to give sight to people who have blindness that would be preventable in the developed nations.
What interested me more, in a way, was that newly sighted people fell for precisely the same optical illusions that normally sighted people fall for. For example, the two bars across the railroad tracks in Figure 1, the Ponzo illusion, are the same length, as you can verify with a ruler. The dashed lines on the right side of Figure 1 are parallel and show that the two bars are the same length – except that the illusion persists, and the dashed lines do not look parallel.
Figure 1. Ponzo illusion. The “more distant” bar appears longer than the “closer” bar. The usual explanation, that we learn to see perspective in drawings, is apparently falsified by the fact that newly sighted people also fall for the Ponzo illusion.
Probably most readers are familiar with the Ponzo illusion. The usual explanation is that we learn over time to recognize 2-dimensional drawings of 3-dimensional objects, and we think that the upper bar is farther away than the lower bar and so must be longer.
Amazingly, 9 newly sighted children fell for the Ponzo illusion.
Likewise, Figure 2 shows the Müller-Lyer illusion. Here, (a) the line segment with the arrows pointing out always looks shorter than (b) that with the arrows pointing in. The illusion persists, even when we provide a ruler to show that the lines are the same length. (See also here for a slightly different view of the Müller-Lyer illusion.)
Figure 2. Müller-Lyer illusion. (a) The line segment with the arrows pointing out looks shorter than (b) the line segment with the arrows pointing in. The illusion persists even when we provide a ruler for reference. Newly sighted people also fall for the Müller-Lyer illusion. From M. Young, No Sense of Obligation, Science and Religion in an Impersonal Universe (2001).
Once again, the 9 newly sighted children fell for the illusion.
No one Chatterjee spoke to has a good explanation, but it seems that we must be hardwired to perceive and interpret much more than is commonly thought.
College internships are like test-driving a new car. They are a great way to get a first-hand look at a specific company and field and see if the work atmosphere is a good fit for you.
Last academic year, I wrote blog posts about evolutionary biology for the Cartwright Lab at ASU. But over the summer, I had an opportunity to learn more about my undergraduate field of study–biomedical engineering–as an intern at a major medical device company in its R&D engineering department.
I had previously worked in academic research labs so I was looking forward to gaining a better understanding of the differences between academia and industry R&D. In my personal experience, academic research involves the discovery and refinement of new technologies that industry can then further develop and market to customers (which are, in the medical device industry, patients, doctors, and hospitals). They have their obvious differences. Industry employees must focus on the company’s bottom line, legal image, and regulatory requirements, while academic researchers must secure grants; at a company, a well-structured 9-to-5 day is standard, while academia offers more flexibility and freedom. But ultimately, early-stage academic research and industry research and development often go hand-in-hand in creating cutting-edge medical care for patients. I enjoyed both for different reasons - academia for its flexibility, and industry for its organization.
I was also eager to observe the state of the gender gap in the engineering industry. The numbers show that this is a huge problem in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) disciplines - in 2011, a mere 25% of STEM employees were women, and of that total, only 13% of engineers were female. Moreover, women in STEM jobs make an average of $75,100, compared to $91,000 for men (according to the Census Bureau). But while the numbers are discouraging, I have hope for the future based on my summer experience. I did observe that a slight majority of engineers I interacted with at the company were men, but I met several women in engineering management positions, and of the group of about 50 interns, nearly half were women. I suspect that the gender gap will continue to shrink and might even disappear in my lifetime, as long as we continue to encourage young girls and women to pursue STEM and have the confidence to compete with their male counterparts in these fields.
So what’s your opinion? Do you have a different experience of academia vs. industry or gender issues in STEM disciplines?
Stay tuned for future posts about the exciting evolutionary biology research going on in the Cartwright Lab.
Heavens Peak by Jim Kocher.
Photography contest, Finalist.
Heavens Peak, Glacier Wall, and waning 3rd quarter Moon, north shore of Avalanche Lake, Sept., 1984. Oceanus Procellarum, Mare Humorum, and high-albedo Byrgius-A ray system are detectable on the Moon. Kodachrome 64.
By Nile and Tigris Journeys in Egypt and Mesopotamia on behalf of the British Museum between the years 1886 and 1913 (1920), showing coracles, or circular boats woven from reeds and sealed with pitch. Wikimedia, public domain.
The other day I watched a Nova program, Secrets of Noah’s Ark. Not much wholly new, and not a whole lot of secrets, but if you watch the program, you will learn of cuneiform inscriptions that describe how the gods precipitate a universal flood, Atrahasis builds an “ark” in the form of a circular basket 220 ft in diameter (70 m for those with better taste), and life begins again, precisely as in the Noah story. Or perhaps it is the other way around: the Jews during the Babylonian captivity took the story of Atrahasis and embellished it by making it a sort of morality play.
At any rate, if you watch the video, you will find that the Ark was more than likely a round, woven boat, known as a coracle, as in the picture above. Such boats are woven from reed ropes and sealed with pitch; they have been used for several millennia. The attempt to manufacture a coracle on a large scale was also interesting, even though it ended in only partial success.
Noah’s Ark is said to have been a rectangular box (Genesis 6:15). Doubtful. More than likely, the Ark was a coracle. It was not, at any rate, shaped the least bit like a certain model being built in Kentucky right now.
I do not know whether Cope will turn out to be the mouse that roared or the Energizer bunny – or maybe Don Quixote – but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments the other day in Cope’s appeal of a ruling in favor of the Kansas State Board of Education. I am inclined toward the Energizer bunny, but the Appeals Court rejected Cope’s attempt to file a surreply, which I gather is sort of a reply to a rejoinder to a response and is generally prohibited. At any rate, the lawsuit against the Kansas State Board of Education (hereinafter, as your lawyer might say, Kansas) was dismissed in December of last year.
PT first reported on Cope here; you may learn more about them here. According to Charity Navigator, their annual income is less than $50,000 per year, so they do not have to file Form 990 with the IRS. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State quoted Steven Case, director of the science center at the University of Kansas, to the effect that their lawsuit was “about as frivolous as lawsuits get.” Evidently, the Judge, Daniel D. Crabtree, agreed; he dismissed the case in large part because the plaintiffs (Cope and a number of others including parents of children in Kansas schools) lacked standing. You may find the documents in the case here.
Standing seems like a concept that only a lawyer could love, but all it says is that you have to be harmed or imminently harmed in order to sue someone (“injury in fact”). Additionally, if you are harmed, you must sue the entity who harmed you, not a third party. And finally (a new one to me), the harm that was done to you must be redressable by a favorable decision by the Court. Taxpayers, not incidentally, do not have standing to sue a government agency merely because they are taxpayers.
Cope, chugging along tirelessly, appealed Judge Crabtree’s ruling in March of this year, and Kansas replied in June. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments last Wednesday morning, so I hopped on a bus and went down to Denver. To no one’s surprise, John Calvert represented Cope. Kansas was represented by Dwight Carswell, an assistant solicitor general for Kansas. I frankly thought that Calvert was somewhat more effective in his presentation than Carswell.
The discussion centered largely on the harm that may have been done to the plaintiffs. Much of the Judges’ questioning concerned the fact that the standards (Next Generation Science Standards) adopted by Kansas are only advisory, and local school districts are not required to adopt them. Indeed, school districts are required to teach science, but not instructed how to do so. The Judges questioned Carswell closely on the content of Kansas law and the discretion of local school boards on implementing standards adopted by the State Board of Education. Additionally, no evidence has been presented to suggest that any school district has adopted the standards, nor that any plaintiff has been harmed by the standards. I think one of the Judges remarked that the school teaches children, and the children are not the plaintiffs. On another occasion, a Judge rhetorically asked Calvert whether he had jumped the gun, filing his lawsuit before any district had actually adopted the standards. Calvert was also asked why he sued Kansas and not a school district. What precisely does he want the Court to enjoin?
Calvert argued that the NGSS adopted by Kansas establish a religious preference - a nontheistic religious worldview - because they support methodological naturalism, which he described as an orthodoxy. He further opined that “origins science” should not be taught at all to children in K-8, because they are too young to engage in such discussions, which Cope considers to be inherently religious. Asked whether he would be satisfied with a clause requiring creationism to be taught in addition, Calvert replied, “No,” and argued that an objective view of science that included “critical thinking” and provided alternatives to methodological naturalism would suffice.
Other questions posed to Calvert: What is the injury in fact? Is a nontheistic religious worldview really being taught? Where do we find methodological naturalism in the standards? Do not local school districts have discretion whether to adopt the standards? What areas of Kansas law are pertinent? Precisely what do you want us to enjoin? Would you be satisfied with a declaratory judgment?
Carswell, who was somewhat hard to understand, was asked what normative standard the NGSS might establish. Asked whether the law precluded alternate theories, he responded that the law recognized that the curriculum may be extended and school districts may teach alternative scientific theories. Asked whether any districts had actually implemented the NGSS, Carswell responded that he did not know of any. There was also some discussion about whether (presuming that harm had in fact been done) a declaratory judgment would redress that harm.
Other questions posed to Carswell: Why do we have standards if districts have discretion about them? Is not this whole case speculative because NGSS has not been implemented? Does not injury depend on actual implementation of the standards, as opposed to their adoption?
After the hearing, I met Clare Leonard, an education activist and fellow Colorado Citizens for Science member, in the hall. Calvert was holding, um, court surrounded by a half-dozen or more of his minions. If the decision is based on acting ability, Calvert wins. But I had the impression that the Court was much more skeptical of his position than of Carswell’s, particularly of his claim that there was an injury in fact.
Cope takes the position that science is a religion. They may be tilting at windmills; but they can still do real damage.
Acknowledgments. Thanks to Glenn Branch for inciting this whole expedition; to Deanna Young and Clare Leonard for pertinent discussion following the hearing; to Clare Leonard for the coffee; and to all three for numerous emendations, including many of the questions posed by the Court..
Emerald ash borer traces, by Richard Meiss.
Photography contest, Finalist.
Larval feeding galleries of Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire – emerald ash borer. They are an invasive species in the American Upper Midwest (arriving here from Asia some fifteen years ago) that poses a serious threat to the native population of ash trees (genus Fraxinus). Some of their opportunistic enemies (e.g., woodpeckers and squirrels) inflict their own damage on the trees as they search for the larvae. Their spread is aided by human transport of infected wood, especially as firewood.
And Science has just posted an interesting piece by Ann Gibbons, describing how the principal investigator, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, advertised first for “tiny and small, specialised cavers and spelunkers with excellent archaeological, palaeontological and excavation skills” and later for “early career scientists” to come to Johannesburg and study the fossils. Gibbons reports that there was a certain amount of grumbling over Berger’s approach. The approach, however, apparently paid off: Gibbons and his team have discovered a new hominin, Homo naledi.
The fossils have not yet been dated, but Science reports that they display a round skull but a small brain, a wrist that suggests toolmaking, fingers that suggest tree climbing, and a foot that suggests upright walking. The Times article here quotes Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History to the effect that it is certainly a new species, but possibly not of the genus Homo. You may find a technical article here in the open-access journal eLIFE.
Berger’s team, which seems to number about 50, will now set about dating the fossils and trying to extract DNA. To these ends, Gibbons reports that Berger will attempt to recruit yet more young scientists.
Not to be outdone, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis reports that his colleague Elizabeth Mitchell is working on an article on Berger’s discovery. Ham adds,
But we can say with confidence that this discovery changes nothing about our understanding of human history.
Truer words were never spoken.
The September issue of Natural History magazine is devoted almost entirely to essays concerning Alfred Russel Wallace. I usually turn the pages of NH, look at the pictures, and read many of the captions – but I read this issue almost in its entirety (and therefore cannot resist writing about it). Unfortunately, it looks as though none of the articles is available on the Web, but you can get your own copy for $3.95 (US), presumably on the newsstand.
The issue was edited by Richard Milner, head of the Wallace Centenary Celebration. According to the second comment below, he also edited a special issue of Skeptic magazine, and you may request a free copy of either or both magazines by writing Mr. Milner an e-mail.
The first article, by the distinguished naturalist David Attenborough, outlines Wallace’s career. I did not know that, as Wallace returned from South America, his ship caught fire, and he lost all his notes and his specimens; I think I learned that fact 2 more times in subsequent articles. Attenborough outlines how Wallace got the idea of natural selection while studying birds of paradise. As is widely known, he sent an essay to Darwin. Lyell and Hooker arranged to have Wallace’s paper presented alongside a paper by Darwin, who then rushed his own book, On the Origin of Species, into print. Attenborough remarks, “You might have thought there was an embarrassment or perhaps hostility or resentment” between Darwin and Wallace. “Not at all. The two men had great respect for each other, untinged by any sign of jealousy.”
An article by geneticist Andrew Berry goes over some of the same material, though in more detail and more biographically. Berry observes that Wallace’s 1865 definition of “species” is identical to the “biological species concept” that is usually attributed to Ernst Mayr 80 or so years later. There is a certain amount of redundancy in these articles, each of which was written as if the authors thought they would have to stand alone: Berry introduces us to Wallace’s Line, apparently unaware that Attenborough has already done so in the preceding article and Gary Noel Ross will do so later. Wallace originally went abroad, says naturalist Errol Fuller, to earn money by supplying stuffed animals to middle- and upper-class England; evidently such products were in considerable demand at the time, and Attenborough estimates that Wallace collected 110,000 insects, 7500 shells, 8050 bird skins, and over 400 mammals and reptiles. Fuller shows us some stuffed specimens that remain in remarkably good condition today.
But for someone who just wants to look at the pictures, the high point of the issue might be a series of photographs of birds of paradise by Tim Laman with a narrative by Edwin Scholes. An article by Ross describes (sort of) following in Wallace’s footsteps and searching for the golden birdwing butterfly; this article likewise displays excellent photographs, some by the author and including what seems to be a selfie taken from a distance of several meters.
The final article is a reprint of a 1980 article by Stephen Jay Gould. Gould discusses the fact, noted in an earlier article as well, that Wallace and Darwin disagreed on sexual selection, and also on the origin of the human brain. Wallace, according to Gould, took the “hyperselectionist” position that everything that evolved is an adaptation. The brain, however, can do much that it is not adapted to do, like write symphonies. Such reasoning, says Gould, leads Wallace “right back to the basic belief of an earlier creationism that it [Wallace’s hyperselectionism] meant to replace—a faith in the rightness of things, a definite place for each object in an integrated whole.”
If you want to know more, I am afraid that you will have to buy the magazine. And cheer up! The pictures are better in print than on your monitor.
Photograph by Andrey Pavlov.
Photography contest, Finalist.
Felis catus – domesticated cat. Mr. Pavlov tells us, “The photo of the cat is my cat Rosie, short for Rosen of Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (her sister is named Electron, not pictured). She is a daughter of a feral cat, rescued from a swamp in central Louisiana.”
Mei Xiang, a giant panda at the National Zoo in Washington, and a distant cousin of Prof. Steve Steve, gave birth today, only 3 days after she realized she was pregnant. The identity of the father is unclear, but Prof. Steve Steve asked us not to go into that.
Update, 9 a.m. August 23: Prof. Steve Steve informs us that according to an updated Times article (same URL), Mei Xiang has had twins.