Aug 31, 2005

photos! with captions!

Some snapshots from our recent week in the D.C. area. Enjoy.

It's a ceiling. It's aesthetically pleasing.

(Click "read more" to see them all.)

This one caps the National Academy of Sciences.

When you mistakenly buy fun-size sandwich bags, you have to make fun-size sandwiches.

Yes, that's fossil Xiphactinus making a meal of fossil Ananogmius.

D.C. is chock full of jaw-dropping ceilings. Why?

Camden Yards is no Safeco Field, but it's got a lot more character.

Josh, this is for you.

The panda, the embassy, my wife: all cute.

Because I had twenty minutes to spare in the Denver airport.

Speaks for itself.

Groveton Cemetery, Manassas. 260 Confederate dead, only two marked graves.

The sinuous curves of the National Museum of the American Indian.

high on helium

Dembski's blog gets progressively weirder every time I check up on it. Witness this post:
According to the 26Aug2005 issue of THE WEEK (p. 20), "Researchers at Cornell University tested the effect of insecurity on men’s attitudes by giving a survey on gender identity to about 50 men. The men were then told that an analysis of the survey showed that they exhibited ‘weak’ male characteristics — indeed, that their attitudes were effeminate. The researchers then surveyed the men’s attitudes toward politics, religion, science, and car purchases, comparing them with a group of men whose masculinity had not been questioned. The threatened men were more likely to support the war in Iraq, denounce religion, embrace Darwinian evolution, and more likely to express a desire to buy an SUV. In fact, they were so eager to buy an SUV that they said they’d be willing to pay up to $7,000 more for the vehicle than were men in the other group. Masculinity-threatened men also reported feeling more ashamed, guilty, upset, and hostile...."

ADDENDUM: Everything in this quote is right except for the references to religion and Darwinism in bold. It would be interesting to see what this research would have found if these additional categories had been included.
In what possible world'o'stereotypes are SUV-driving supporters of the Iraq conflict also religion-denouncing Darwinists? Only in the loopy imagination of one William A. Dembski.

creating a monster

My wife has started a blog.

I accept full responsibility.

template images

Aug 30, 2005

shameless plugs...

... for and the Targus Notebook Chill Mat. The former for the great price (under $20 and free shipping) and the latter for actually working. Now my HP laptop no longer attracts heat-seaking missiles.

Katrina donations

If you're so inclined, Instapundit has a good set of links.

precious time

I know how I'm going to spend future summers: not traveling to Aruba, not taking classes, not lounging by the pool, oh no. I'm going to become an educational consultant. I'll cobble together some recycled (read: stolen) concepts and jazz them up into "Take a Whack at Writing," a radical new way to approach writing across the curriculum interdisciplinary writing writing to learn Writing Squared®.

It'll involve nifty sports metaphors, clever captioning, high-octane group activities, and cultish chants. Banish the fear of the empty page! Take a whack at writing!

I'm sure I can do better than the well-intentioned presenters I've recently endured, who seem to forget everything they learned while teaching and have reduced themselves to canned lectures and Powerpoint presentations. (Why spend a whole day going over handouts that could have been covered in two hours? We can read, people. C'mon.)

I'll swim in filthy lucre, and your children will become little Tolstoys and Woolfs. Woolves?

Aug 29, 2005

teach the controversy

"For generation after generation its proponents have cloned themselves on their predecessors’ work, ignoring all counter-evidence. Regularly refuted, they rise again from the dead."



Shakespearean conspiracy-mongerers.

[thanks to arts and letters daily]

Aug 27, 2005

where are all the flying cars?

Reason's panel discussion on bioethics: a view from the back row

What is humanity's most pressing concern? Terrorism? Nuclear proliferation? Natural disasters? Poverty? According to Reason magazine's Nick Gillespie, it's human enhancement--the promise of better, longer lives through technological wizardry, genetic modification, and designer drugs.

Tapping away at my trusty HP laptop, I recently listened to a panel discussion moderated by Gillespie among Joel Garreau, Eric Cohen, and Ron Bailey on the hype and hope of our "post-human" future. The four exchanged witty barbs, gave short speeches, answered audience questions, and plugged their publications over free drinks in the lobby. Here are some notes and observations.

Ron Bailey
Bailey offered an unrelentingly upbeat, libertarian view of the future, described as a "more than realistic" scenario. He noted the early successes of efforts to extend life, further embryonic stem cell research, perfect genetic testing of infants, and genetically modify food to cure disease and increase production. His vision included five-generation family reunions and "a world that's greener and cleaner." Bailey was surprised by the confluence of opposing groups from both right and left that "abhor" these efforts. "They are against heaven," Bailey claimed, "because they wrongly fear that biotech will lead to hell." The dangers, not the benefits, are ill-defined and speculative, bugaboos invented to thwart progress.

Eric Cohen
Cohen, following Bailey's prepared speech, immediately questioned such gee-whiz enthusiasm, noting that the choice of Bailey's title, Liberation Biology, a play on liberation theology, was apt, since it also comprises "interesting, silly, weird ideas." Cohen didn't propose any Luddite countermeasures to technological progress--"most biotech is great, I hope the stocks go up, they cure various diseases, etc."--but raised many skeptical questions about the means and ends of the voyage to technotopia. Means: Should we destroy human embryos to further research? Ends: "Can we write a better sonata than Mozart, a better play than Shakespeare? Can we really improve the family if we're 'designer attitude'-centered? If we thought we could live forever, would we have the same urgency of ambition?" Cohen's critique alluded to both Platonic conceptions of virtue and ancient fears of becoming "a lot more like gods." It did not seem particularly well-received by the audience--perhaps because Cohen offered so many questions and so few answers.

Joel Garreau
Though he sat to the left of both Cohen and Bailey, Garreau tried to position himself somewhere in the middle. Neither "heaven" nor "hell" is the likely outcome of progress, Garreau explained. Ordinary people will adapt to the inward-facing technology of genetics, robotics, information, and nanomachines, and use them to build a better world. Garreau listed several recent advances, such as DARPA projects to send email using thoughts, memory drugs that would effectively "banish senior moments," There won't be one moment where we'll know the future has really arrived; "thousands of incremental changes," not epochal events, mark the way. The measure of progress is how many unpredictable humans can communicate and adapt to the changes. Garreau discussed the fourth plane that crashed over Pennsylvania on September 11, when cell phones and courage made the difference.

There was one gaping aporia in the discussion. Although Ron Bailey briefly mentioned the dangers of biopathogenic terrorism, the panel otherwise didn't talk about the political or cultural movements that might preclude or radically delay their versions of the future. Where are all the flying cars? Why don't we all use Macintosh and Betamax? Whatever happened to Flooz? The future is fickle.

All in all, the discussion was well worth the admission price: the cost of sitting through droning, dull questions-that-weren't-really-questions from the few audience members who tried to outshine the panelists. (None succeeded.) In fact, if I may indulge in a minor rant that's conditioned by my experience as a teacher, it's time for the standard panel discussion format to bow out to something more interactive. For example, questioners could type out their queries on laptop connected to a projector, and thus be forced to make sense and not just preach or stall or fumble. The moderator could choose especially pertinent questions to visit first. (Gillespie, by the way, did a fine job nonetheless.)

After the discussion ended, I asked three of the four participants which book or movie "got" the future the best. Ron Bailey demurred, claiming that "no one makes movies where the future turns out okay." Joel Garreau hinted that I should read his book, but when pressed said he liked Blade Runner, though not because he thought it was accurate. Nick Gillespie said that technological progress is pretty much a given in futurism; Phillip K. Dick's books, though, offer the keenest insights into human responses to a new kind of nature. Eric Cohen disappeared before I got a chance to ask.

[note: I typed much of this while sitting as far away from the microphones as I could, so any transcription errors are my own.]

Aug 25, 2005

the envy of nerds everywhere

It was the nerdiest thing I've--we've--ever done. My wife and I originally decided to honeymoon in D.C. because we're nerds. We love history and politics and museums and volunteer tour guides and factoids without end.

So I was (I confess) reading Hit and Run in my hotel room late Wednesday when I saw that Reason Magazine was hosting a biotech panel discussion at the Marriott a few blocks from our hotel, and I thought of the chance to meet some of my favorite columnists and sit in on an uber-nerdy conversation, maybe hobnob with some Beltway types and score some free snacks.

I asked my wife if we could go. She said yes. I repeat: she said yes!

"Can I marry her, too?" asked a to-be-unnamed Reason writer upon hearing this story at the informal post-forum gabfest / hors d'oeuvres grab. "You're my new favorite couple," said a friendly young woman obviously in awe of our fantastic heights of nerdiness.

Anyway, it's late, and I'm blogging from my hotel room on my honeymoon, which is probably a cardinal sin, and I have to get up early to drive to Yorktown tomorrow.

More on the discussion later. Ciao.

Aug 19, 2005

adieu, for now

Last year on August 20th, Melissa and I exchanged vows and became husband and wife in a family-only ceremony. This Saturday, on our first anniversary, we'll be renewing our vows at the Aerie in Centralia, with family and friends in attendance--all the hoopla, with all the trimmings. (The theme: Scrabble. We are nerds. Nerds in love.)

We'll honeymoon to D.C. / Maryland / Virginia for a week afterward, so if you haven't heard from me, please understand.

reason to cheer

This American Enterprise Institute review of decades of survey data points to the ineluctable conclusion that a real attitude shift favoring gays and lesbians is underway.

Surprise: it hasn't come at the cost of "destroying marriage." As I point out in the comments, one interesting poll result shows that younger people are now more likely to view extramarital sex as "always wrong."

[link thanks to Eugene Volokh]

Aug 18, 2005

skeptics, hence!

The Fifteenth Skeptics' Circle is up. This is the strangest, perhaps most intriguing entry.

[thanks to PZ Myers]

de dominium tilde

[Cross-posted over at the evangelical outpost]

I'm reminded of a silly, sarcastic post over at IDtheFuture where Paul Nelson tried to ironically show that simply negating a statement shouldn't change its epistemological status. I always had a nagging suspicion he was wrong, and now I see why.

Contrast these statements:

(1) A designer intentionally designed creatures. (Scientific, according to Nelson, Dembski, Behe, et. al.)

~ (1), or, It is not the case that a designer intentionally designed creatures.
(Outside the bounds of science, according to Plantinga)

Hey, presto! Magic is indeed possible, thanks to the tilde.

Aug 17, 2005

Aug 16, 2005

further disingenuity by design?

When trackbacks stopped working for me over at Bill Dembski's blog, I had a sneaking suspicion something wasn't right, but I kept silent, chalking it up to Haloscan troubles. But now that they're deleting trackbacks over at an allied blog, IDtheFuture, I have to speak up.

I realize that trackbacks are a privilege. But deleting a trackback without notification, either for the general audience or for the blogger in question, is exactly the form of pernicious behavior IDers complain about. I had sent successful trackbacks to these two posts, and they've mysteriously disappeared.* (The first has the doubly ironic title, "Blog Welcomes Dissenting Voice.")

Here are the posts, respectively, that I had written in response: spin, spin, spin the poll and meanwhile, back in the lab. Are they contrarian? Certainly; I make no apology for their tone, because I've supported incisive claims with relevant facts. Are they offensive? Hardly; no ad hominem, no profanity, no obscenity. Are they cleverly titled? A matter of opinion.

A while ago, I pointed out that Dembski's Orwellian habit of deleting dissenting comments without notification smacks of intellectual dishonesty.

I stand by that assessment, and now, sadly, have to level the charge at IDtheFuture.

As Jonathan Witt has written, "Censoring public and scientific debate is never healthy." The disjunction between words and deeds has been duly noted.

Update: you can clearly see the trackbacks in the Google Cache version of the site. Where are they now?

*(I had been periodically watching StatCounter, and noticed that hits from IDtheFuture had dropped off to zero. I went to investigate, and lo and behold: my trackbacks were gone.)

Anderson's Maxim of Discourse

For any given issue, someone disagreeable shares your sentiments.

Aug 15, 2005

no cup needed

1. Apparently certain northwest Italians are crazy for coca-snuffs.
The team, led by Ettore Zuccato, used mass spectrometry to compare ratios of cocaine and its breakdown product, benzoylecgonine, which are excreted in human urine. They say at least 160,000 25-milligram "lines" of the drug are snorted each day in the region, with four lines in a typical daily "dose" (Environmental Health, DOI: 10.1186/1476-069X-4-14). Official estimates suggest only 60,000 lines are snorted each month.
2. Creepily, detecting a drug habit no longer requires the standard procedure.

3. "Crazy for coca-snuffs" is hereby trademarked.

meanwhile, back in the lab

While Dembksi et al. attempt to play down Harvard's origin-of-life research project, actual scientists continue making progress toward understanding the origin of life. Surprise: DNA is redundantly complex.
One of quirks of the genetic code is that there are groups of codons which all translate to the same amino acid. For example, the amino acid leucine can be translated from six different codons whilst some amino acids, which have equally important functions and are translated in the same amount, have just one.

The new theory builds on an original idea suggested by Francis Crick - one of the discoverers of the structure of DNA - that the three-letter code evolved from a simpler two-letter code, although Crick thought the difference in number was simply an accident “frozen in time”.

The University of Bath researchers suggest that the primordial ‘doublet’ code was read in threes - but with only either the first two ‘prefix’ or last two ‘suffix’ pairs of bases being actively read.

By combining arrangements of these doublet codes together, the scientists can replicate the table of amino acids - explaining why some amino acids can be translated from groups of 2, 4 or 6 codons. They can also show how the groups of water loving (hydrophilic) and water-hating (hydrophobic) amino acids emerge naturally in the table, evolving from overlapping ‘prefix’ and ‘suffix’ codons.
As NewScientist reports, the new theory is a plausible explanation for the rise of a triplet code, but not the only candidate, and that Van den Elsen plans to scan multivarious genomes in search of "ancient genes that can be read using the older, doublet codes."

Oh, and check out Astrobiology Magazine for even more advances in OOL research.

quotable quotes on restaurant ambience

"Is this restaurant dead quiet or alive with noise? Perhaps it is simultaneously both until you open the door and enter." --Erwin Schroedinger

"Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sunny patio." --Wm. Shakespeare

"I disagree with every lightbulb placement, but I will defend to the death your right to place them." --Voltaire (attributed)

"Four score and seven years ago, chef Jonas Grisbelle brought forth upon this metropolis a new restaurant, conceived in floridity and dedicated to the proposition that all embellishments are created equal." --Abraham Lincoln

"Charmingly kooky this restaurant is." --Yoda

"Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." --Yogi Berra

[thirty-second in a series]

oh jealousy, where is thy sting?

Right here.

Aug 14, 2005

on, the inanity

I had to link to this because it's veered into bizarre territory, as creationist William J. Gibbons levels his umbrage at "smug, self-assured humanistic Americans." Best Gibbons quotes:
A quick note to all you educated secularists.... If you are going to call me names and attack all creationists in general, then have the courage to use your real names. Monikers like "savagemutt" "Some Guy" "Oolong" "ragingbee" and "raj" do not cut it.
"Raging Bee" tries to sting me with a charge of "cowardice?" What is your REAL name raging bee? Where are the "insults" you accuse me of? I only ask that people use their real names, (I like to know who I am dealing with). But then again, that's too much to ask for some people who want to hide behind the mask of secular humanism, isn't it?

I think Richard Allen Jordan sounds a lot better than the Islamic sounding "raj." And no, there is nothing "idiotic" about my comments. If I was hiding behind a moniker to do battle with evolutionists, you would be asking me the same thing. But, I use my real name, my actual email address and website.
Truly the Force is overripe with this one.

not-so-identical twins

Jon Rowe points us to this "outstanding and very long" update on the scientific search for the roots of sexual orientation. I have never read a more balanced, comprehensive newspaper treatment of the subject. After recently watching Ma Vie En Rose (which I highly recommend), the description of Patrick, a real-life Ludovic, is especially interesting.
When the twins were 2, Patrick found his mother's shoes. He liked wearing them. Thomas tried on his father's once but didn't see the point.

When they were 3, Thomas blurted out that toy guns were his favorite things. Patrick piped up that his were the Barbie dolls he discovered at day care.

When the twins were 5, Thomas announced he was going to be a monster for Halloween. Patrick said he was going to be a princess. Thomas said he couldn't do that, because other kids would laugh at him. Patrick seemed puzzled. "Then I'll be Batman," he said.
As the article points out, we're still not sure how identical twins born in nearly identical environments can turn out so different in mindset, but we can certainly dispense with the notion that gender identity and sexual orientation are a matter of "choice."

Aug 13, 2005

jammin' on a Saturday afternoon

About halfway through Stanley Jordan's classic rendition of Michael Jackson's "Lady in my Life," perspiration started leaking into my eyes, which burned and teared, and my nose started running, so I was blinking and crying and sniffling all through the solos and trying to keep the funk going without fainting in the heat.

But otherwise, my time at the Grays Harbor County Fair passed without incident. People seemed to enjoy our renditions of blues and rock standards, and some sat it out in 90-degree sunshine for over an hour, and cheered loudly even at the end.

Oh, and Ciscoe Morris? He's a dork, in a neurotic, lovable way.

divining design: part II

In a previous entry, I tried to show that Intelligent Design theorists have promulgated confusion about the nature and scope of ID theory--or, more properly understood, ID theories--by conflating biological and cosmological arguments, though each is built on a foundation of different claims, premises, and predictions, and has different metaphysical implications.

The few quotes I cited gave a preliminary look at the confusion, but hardly presented an airtight case. I assumed a level of familiarity (with Dembski's work in particular) as a background to my post. So, to clarify, I offer a series of excerpts from Dembksi's apologia for Intelligent Design, The Design Revolution. I have done my best to fairly quote, using ellipses only when necessary.

Click "read more" to see the full post.

Debmski lays out the limits of ID:
Insofar as design theorists do not bring up God, it is because design-theoretic reasoning does not warrant bringing up God. Design-theoretic reasoning tells us that certain patterns exhibited in nature reliably point us to a designing intelligence. But there's no inferential chain that leads from such finite design-conducting patterns in nature to the infinite personal transcendent creator God of the world's major theistic religions. Who is the designer? As a Christian I hold that the Christian God is the ultimate source of design behind the universe (though this leaves open that God works through secondary causes, including derived intelligences). But there's no way for design inferences from physics or biology to reach that conclusion. Such inferences are compatible with Christian belief but do not entail it (p. 25) [emphasis added].
Dembksi's "Big Tent" ID is further explained:
Intelligent design has theological implications, but it is not a theological enterprise. Theology does not own intelligent design. Intelligent design is not an evangelical Christian thing, or a generically Christian thing or even a generally theistic thing. Anyone willing to set aside naturalistic prejudices and consider the possibility of evidence for intelligence in the natural world is a friend of intelligent design. In my experience such friends have included Buddhists, Hindus, New Age thinkers, Jungians, parapsychologists, vitalists, Platonists and honest agnostics, to name but a few (p. 25).
Intelligent design is a strictly scientific theory devoid of religious commitments... [T]he designer underlying intelligent design need not even be a deity. To be sure, the designer is compatible with the creator-God of the world's major monoetheistic religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But the designer is also compatible with the watchmaker-God of the deists, the Demiurge of Plato's Timaeus and the divine reason (i.e., logos spermatikos) of the ancient Stoics. One can even take an agnostic view about the designer, treating specified complexity as a brute fact inherently unexplainable in terms of chance and necessity (p. 44).
Dembksi compares ID with "scientific creationism:"
In contrast, intelligent design makes no claims about the origin or duration of the universe, is not committed to flood geology, can accommodate any degree of evolutionary change, does not prejudge how human beings first arose and does not specify in advance how a designing intelligence brought the first organisms into being (p. 44) [emphasis added].
Note that here, Dembksi refers solely to biological ID. When elsewhere defining "intelligent design," he stays on the same course:
The fundamental claim of intelligent design is straightforward and easily intelligible: namely, there exist natural systems that cannot be adequately explained in terms of undirected natural causes and that exhibit feartures which in any other circumstance we would attribute to intelligence (p. 45) [italics in original].
Intelligent design, conceived as a theory about the inherent limitations of undirected natural causes to generate biological complexity and the need for intelligence to overcome those limitations, is likewise a scientific theory (p. 48) [emphasis added].
Dembksi notes that intelligent design is not a theological "argument from design:"
By contrast, the design inference is a generic argument for identifying the effects of intelligence regardless of the intelligence's particular characteristics and regardless of where, when, how or why the intelligence acts. (The intelligence can be animal, human, extraterrestrial, singular, plural, immanent or transcendent.)
Yet elsewhere, in a non sequitur, Dembksi makes "intelligent design" into a metaphysical claim:
Intelligent design regards intelligence as an irreducible feature of reality. Consequently it regards any attempt to subsume intelligent agency under natural causes as fundamentally misguided and regards the natural laws that characterize natural processes as fundamentally incomplete (p. 148).

Aug 12, 2005

a man of the people

While PZ Myers has been dispensing candy for his local Humane Society, my own stint at a local hootenanny will be a bit more self-serving. I'm drumming for a rag-tag band of rowdies at the Grays Harbor County Fair tomorrow at 5:00 p.m. (Check out the link: we're not listed!)

bachelor chili

When the wife's away, I have sole command of the kitchen. Rather than blubber in the corner and try to subsist on toast and cereal, I seize the opportunity to whip up tasty treats.

Here's a recipe for cheap chili with a kick.

bachelor chili

1 red pepper
1 can "chili beans"
1 can black beans
1 can tomato sauce
1 whole boneless skinless breast fillet
and the secret ingredient,
House of Tsang® Szechuan Spicy™ stir fry sauce, to taste

Dice red pepper and set aside. In a large sauce pan, mix chili beans, black beans, and tomato sauce. Toss in pepper and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. Add a dollop of stir fry sauce, to taste. Chop chicken into 3/4 inch cubes, and stir fry until fully cooked (and you know what nastiness undercooked chicken can cause). Add chicken to sauce pan, stir, and continue to simmer until chili is heated through. Makes 6-8 servings if you're skinny, like me.

Aug 11, 2005

spin, spin, spin the poll

Read the original press release:
Results of a national survey of 1,472 physicians revealed that more than half of physicians (63%) agree that the theory of evolution is more correct than intelligent design.

The study was conducted by the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Social and Religious Research at The Jewish Theological Seminary and HCD Research in Flemington, New Jersey, from May 13-15. The study was conducted as part of a continuing investigation of the social, political, and economic issues confronting the U.S. health care system. The margin of error for the study was plus or minus 3% at a 95% level of confidence....

"Sympathy for the idea of intelligent design comes primarily from Protestant members of the medical community, although openness to consideration of intelligent design as a legitimate speculation is strong among Catholics but completely lacking among Jews," said Alan Mittleman, director of the Finkelstein Institute.

Compare the Discovery Institute spin:
A recent poll by the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Social and Religious Research finds that 60% of doctors reject Darwinism, saying that they do not think humans evolved through natural processes alone. Only 38% of the doctors polled agreed with the statement that "Humans evolved naturally with no supernatural involvement." The study also reported that 1/3 of all doctors favor the theory of intelligent design over evolution.

What's going on?

Poorly-worded questions packed with assumptions. "Do you believe more in the evolution or more with intelligent design?" What does "believe more" mean, really? 63% say "evolution." Yet 81% explain human origins using either theistic or atheistic evolution. Clearly these aren't either-or categories to the respondents.

Ignoring contradictory results. In fact, 77% of the doctors polled "support Evolution," and 57% think Intelligent Design is "religiously-inspired pseudoscience." Yet the DI neither mentions nor attempts to explain these jarring results.

Extrapolating beyond the evidence. The poll gives no indication that doctors find evolution scientifically inadequate. Rather, judging by the mixed-up results, many of them realize that unguided "Darwinism" is metaphysically inadequate--or it just doesn't square with their worldview, given that so many are admitted theists. The DI also tries to claim these numbers somehow indicate "growing" support for ID. Compared to what? One dataset isn't a trend.

Ignoring the wider context. You would think, "Gosh, 17.54% of doctors think that humans were directly created by God! That's impressive!" Except that nearly three times that percentage in the wider population believe God created humans around 10,000 years ago. And while 10% of the general public states belief in some form of "naturalistic" evolution, 38% of doctors do. Odd, how a better education in biology makes one more, not less, likely to support "godless Darwinism."

In sum: there isn't much to surprise in this poll. Unremarkably, theological affiliations are strong predictors of answers to bogus questions.

Even more unremarkably, the Discovery Institute wants to spin dross into gold.

[Survey links courtesy of this silly essay by Jonathan Witt.]

Darwin's doubts

Carl Zimmer's essay on Darwin's evolving faith is worth reading as a counterpoint to the shrill, take-no-prisoners approach of Jacob Weisberg.

a pox on your pox

How do you fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria? With viruses, of course.

(Evergreen is where it's at for the latest in bacteriophage research and applications.)

gimme a Twinkie and a Coke, stat

Many years ago, some buddies and I, hosting a non-talent show at my alma mater, performed a stupid little sketch. The synopsis: I had been playing Warcraft II for three straight days, and they plowed into my dorm room to trash my computer and "rescue" me. Cut off from my only link to life, I promptly expired. The best (scariest?) part was when D. H. smashed a monitor with a golf club, sending shards of glass into the audience.

Somewhere in South Korea, a man named Lee was taking notes.

Aug 10, 2005

where the action isn't

Richard Nokes thinks the debate over Intelligent Design is no debate at all:
First of all, let me say that if there is a debate about Intelligent Design, I haven’t seen it. A lot of heat and noise and people shouting doth not a debate make. In fact, I would argue that a debate on Intelligent Design is nearly impossible in the current atmosphere, because no one knows what the three primary terms, “evolution,” “creation,” and “intelligent design” means when other people use them. The terms have become shibboleths, used as passwords by particular subcultures. If one uses the correct password, he is allowed to enter the city gates. If another uses the wrong word, he is stoned by an angry mob.

I invite Mr. Nokes (and others) into the cool haven of actual debate over ID known as Decorabilia.

Aug 9, 2005

the signifier is not the signified

A watershed in human epistemological development is when we learn that symbols aren't the same as the things they represent. This article by Judy Deloache highlights intriguiging and often humorous anecdotes from over two decades of research on children's unique ways of thinking. Philosophers, scientists, educators, and parents take note.

A sample:
Meredith Amaya of Northwestern University, Uttal and I are now testing the effect of experience with symbolic objects on young children's learning about letters and numbers. Using blocks designed to help teach math to young children, we taught six- and seven-year-olds to do subtraction problems that require borrowing (a form of problem that often gives young children difficulty). We taught a comparison group to do the same but using pencil and paper. Both groups learned to solve the problems equally well--but the group using the blocks took three times as long to do so. A girl who used the blocks offered us some advice after the study: "Have you ever thought of teaching kids to do these with paper and pencil? It's a lot easier."

[via Arts and Letters Daily]

a plea for consistency

In a post titled Put Up or Shut Up, Timothy Sandefur links to a Christopher Hitchens essay about putting words into action, saying it "asks the right questions." Quoth Hitch:
How can so many people watch this as if they were spectators, handicapping and rating the successes and failures from some imagined position of neutrality? Do they suppose that a defeat in Iraq would be a defeat only for the Bush administration? The United States is awash in human rights groups, feminist organizations, ecological foundations, and committees for the rights of minorities. How come there is not a huge voluntary effort to help and to publicize the efforts to find the hundreds of thousands of "missing" Iraqis, to support Iraqi women's battle against fundamentalists, to assist in the recuperation of the marsh Arab wetlands, and to underwrite the struggle of the Kurds, the largest stateless people in the Middle East?
Isn't this the same question, though, that Sandefur dismissed only days earlier, calling it "childish" and "stupid?" "You believe X is wrong--so why aren't you directly involved in fighting it?"

Update: Sandefur responds.
...I do think it’s different. “Rights talk” has been coopted by leftists who use the term “rights” without any entitlement to it, because they reject the basic element of all rights, which is an individual’s right to run his own life without interference....

Aug 8, 2005

a prayer for Owen Meany's dog

Now, if he could only get chihuahuas everywhere to stop humping the furniture.

spam brings you Dickens

"Quite an uncommon dissipation," said Mr. Chillip. There was a bell on board, and as the ship rolled and dashed like a fire, ill at ease, we walked again for a while, as before, until he explained, as if he was underneath another sun and sky.

I came softly away from my place of observation. I am sure I knew nothing about him. I knew of her, and about her, from Omer and Joram. It impressed me the more then, because it was new to me. At that stage of my grief it first became associated with perhaps the strangest revelations of human inconsistency. I was obliged to admit that Mr. Spenlow had considered him the lovingest duty of the orphan, as he was very merry.

And we four, that is to say, my aunt, Mr. Dick, had mortal vision.

Lifetime: Appointments for Judges™

Dahlia Lithwick wonders whether those regents in robes ought to be "in touch" with the masses.

And unless you're talking about television's Judge Joe Brown, an intimate "awareness of contemporary culture" seems altogether unnecessary for getting the judicial job done.
Motion denied!

Aug 7, 2005


Actor-director Mel Gibson has been asked to recreate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in the streets of Sydney if the city is selected to host a major Catholic gathering in 2008, a newspaper reported.

Gibson's staging of the Stations of the Cross, a live interpretation of Christ's final hours, would be part of a bid by the city to secure the Catholic Church's World Youth Day in 2008, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Saturday.
Aren't there easier ways to get Mel Gibson to visit?

no, no, keep talking

Timothy Sandefur takes flak:
I have no wish to debate you on Iraq, where you are tragically wrong and misinformed. But pray tell me why, if you think that this is such an important fight, are you working a comfortable attorney’s job in Sacramento rather than fighting in Baghdad? Are you ineligible to serve in the Army for some medical reason? Or just another objectivist coward who prefers to leave the dirty work to other people?
Sandefur's capable response includes the throwaway line, "(Now you see why I don’t open comments.)" Ah, Mr. Sandefur, but that is why you should allow comments. As it stands, the reader is allowed to remain comfortably anonymous, throwing projectiles from afar. Make the reader sign in, leave an email address or website behind, take off the cowardly mask and face criticism head-on, from all quarters.

divining design

Maybe Paul Krugman is right, and Intelligent Design is all about spreading confusion. Judge by the persistently muddled definitions of the term among its proponents, adherents, detractors, and hangers-on.

In the comments to this post, my brother writes: "The two are not compatible. Please explain how ID is compatible with any form of atheism. Where did the design come from?"

After all the time and money the Discovery Institute has spent to convince the world that Intelligent Design isn't inherently religious, we're not yet "on message." Could it be that even the senior fellows of the Discovery Institute have helped propagate the misunderstanding?

John West, for one, says ID is designer-neutral:
Contrary to the association, the scientific theory of intelligent design is not religious (which is one reason why creationist groups have criticized it). Design theory proposes that much of the highly ordered complexity seen throughout the biological world is better explained by an intelligent cause than Darwin's mechanism of chance and necessity, but it doesn't claim that science can identify who or what the designer is.

Michael Behe concurs:
Intelligent design proponents do question whether random mutation and natural selection completely explain the deep structure of life. But they do not doubt that evolution occurred. And intelligent design itself says nothing about the religious concept of a creator.

But Jay Richards implicitly links design to deity:
It’s simply the argument that certain features of the natural world—from miniature machines and digital information found in living cells, to the fine-tuning of physical constants—are best explained as the result of an intelligent cause. ID is thus a tacit rebuke of an idea inherited from the 19th century, called scientific materialism.

William Dembski denies the link:
Intelligent design, by contrast, places no such requirement on any designing intelligence responsible for cosmological fine-tuning or biological complexity. It simply argues that certain finite material objects exhibit patterns that convincingly point to an intelligent cause. But the nature of that cause—whether it is one or many, whether it is a part of or separate from the world, and even whether it is good or evil—simply do not fall within intelligent design’s purview.

And somehow simultaneously supports it:
Even so, there is an immediate payoff to intelligent design: it destroys the atheistic legacy of Darwinian evolution. Intelligent design makes it impossible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

So which is it? Is Intelligent Design truly silent about the designer(s), including the possibility of aliens or some other unknown origin of life? Or can we dispense with that notion and all agree that ID is a more sophisticated form of creationism?

Aug 6, 2005

stygobiology, monoterpenes, and instantons

Stygobiology: study of the crazy ecosystems that evolve in caves. Also known as "biospeleology." A hot field in evolutionary studies.

Monoterpenes: naturally occurring cancer fighters. One, d-limonene, is found in lemon rinds. Mmm.

Instantons: four-dimensional gluon knots. They exist only in formulas and computer simulations, but there are new, tantalizing clues that they may be observable.

All of which is just to say, you should read this week's New Scientist.

spam makes beautiful poetry


Do you love me?
Do you really love me?

Then fight!
Fight now, don't be a chicken!
Show me your power!
Show me your strength,
show me you're a real man,
beat me,
fight with me!

Waw, good shot!
Now is my turn! Yeeeeah!

We've a very special day
for our team today.
Today we going to meet our friends, our lovers--
boys from the next block.
We have prepared for the meeting!
We've got lot to show then.

We're going to show 'em
who is a real macho,
and how real macho fight.

Snow must go on!

We going to beat them up
and prove that love
belong to real man.

"I don’t think nation-building missions are worthwhile."

Turns out that George Bush just might be a prophet. Why? Because you nation-build with the strategy you have, not the strategy you wish you had.

publish or perish

From an article linked to by Mr. Dembski:
West* denied wanting classroom mandates to teach intelligent design.

"That just politicizes what should be a scientific and intellectual debate," he said. "Sure, students should have the freedom to ask about it, and teachers should be able to discuss it without fearing for their jobs. But what we want is for scientists to be able to argue this in the public arena."
Gee, I wonder who's responsible for "politicizing" the debate?

Word to John West: the public arena of science isn't the newspaper or the courts or the high school classroom. It's in the lab. The real Darwinian heretics don't waste time and money on PR. They publish actual research.

*That's John West, a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute

Aug 5, 2005

blogging sprawl: question growth

Via Instapundit, reports that the blogging community is growing like a Quadrant suburb.

Why the numbers might be a bit inflated: most blogs peter out after only three months, and only 13% are updated weekly.

But that's not all. Some people are weird, creating whole new blogs when they should just create a new posting.

Furthermore, spamblogs are cropping up all over the place. They seem to be collections of phrases cut-and-pasted from search engines, nothing more. And yes, they clog up Technorati results.

Don't confuse my skepticism with cynicism, though. I'm so jazzed up about blogging, it's part of my curriculum.

a philosophical dilemma in the form of questions

Could God create a universe more complex than God?

If the answer is "yes," where does that leave the Ontological Argument? Consider: God is the being greater than which nothing can be conceived. Yet we have conceived of a universe more complex than God. Is this problematic, perhaps logically impossible, or a true reductio?

If the answer is "no," where does that leave the Argument from Design? Consider: The evidence for design is "specified complexity," and God, ergo, would be more complex than (or equally complex as) any part of creation. Wouldn't that mean that God would be brimming with evidence for design? Does ID lead theists into an infinite regress?

Aug 4, 2005

a vision for humanity

This is scum floating near the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard, Washington. If you look closely--enough to make an oily noseprint on your screen--you can see the face of Jesus. Squint.

I like to contradict myself

Chris C. Mooney catches Rick Santorum in what members of his political affiliation usually call a flip-flop. As a perceptive commenter notes, it's exemplary of the retreating strategy of the Discovery Institute. They've gone from "equal time" to "teach the controversy," soon to be followed by "either way, we're right."

(Thanks to Steve Reuland)

[thirty-first in a series]

calling all skeptics

I didn't want to trumpet it until it was official, but now it is: I'll be hosting the 17th Skeptics' Circle on September 15.

For information on contributing to the current edition, go here.

Update: the latest is up at Be Lambic or Green. (Hat tip: Ed Brayton.)

Aug 3, 2005


The Daily O. has been traded from Gannett to Knight-Ridder. (Yes, corporations trade newspapers like baseball teams trade steroid tips.)

First mission: make it a quality newspaper on the level of, say, the Tacoma News-Tribune, which isn't spectacular, but is leagues ahead of The O. in quality.

Aug 2, 2005

you, too, can be a science expert!

George Bush thinks students should learn about Intelligent Design in the classroom. No word on if he supports teaching astrology in astronomy class, Holocaust denial in history, or Time Cube in physics.

Funny, though. ID's leading proponent, William Dembski, thinks ID shouldn't be taught in the classroom. (Paul Nelson, another leading member of the movement, agrees.) Why? Because it isn't (yet?) science.

Mr. Bush, Ludwig Wittgenstein would like a word with you.

[PZ Myers has more, including a bevy of links.]

Aug 1, 2005

facts? who needs facts?

George Neumayr throws his hat into the Godzilla vs. the Darwinists ring, with unsurprising results. I'm sorry I have to be so blunt, but why waste syllables? The article is full of shit.

Where to begin? Neumayr begins badly:
Desperate to shut down debate that exposes their evolutionary theory as unsustainable conjecture, the Darwinists are using the incantations of an ideology they call science and the power of law to prevent the teaching of any concepts besides random variation and natural selection.
This is the classic straw man: set up a definition of Darwinism that is confoundingly narrow and doesn't square with actual research, and then claim that doubting that scenario is unique to the politically driven claptrap espoused by the Discovery Institute.

If you bother to read anything on evolutionary theory written by, say, a real scientist, you'll immediately see through Neumayr's rhetorical tricks. There is plenty of controversy within scientific circles. For example, despite her questioning of the prevailing "orthodoxy," Lynn Margulis's career hasn't suffered. Why? She does the research.

I can't wait to see Ed Brayton's response to this:
Ed Brayton of Michigan Citizens for Science, commenting on another school board tussle over evolution, recently said no critic of evolution even belongs in the classroom. "They haven't done anything scientifically to warrant being in the classroom," he told the Michigan press. "Evolution is beyond a doubt one of the most well-supported theories as a result of a century and a half of painstaking research by literally thousands and thousands of scientists. Yet they are demanding equal time."
Note that Brayton's critique of the IDists--which is spot-on, as even its proponents admit, since ID isn't a full-fledged theory with research to back it up--is blanketed over all critics of "Darwinism." Oops.

Or how about this roll-out-the-martyr anecdote:
At the Mississippi University for Women, West writes, "chemistry professor Nancy Bryson was removed as head of the division of natural sciences in 2003 after presenting scientific criticisms of biological and chemical evolution to a seminar of honors students."

Except that isn't exactly what happened:
Mississippi University for Women has reinstated Nancy Bryson, an untenured associate professor of chemistry, as its division head of science and mathematics following accusations that she was demoted because of a lecture she gave advocating “intelligent design.” The university administration denies these accusations; the Chronicle for Higher Education (March 17, 2003) reports that according to the university counsel, her lecture played no part in her demotion, and that there were previous concerns about Bryson’s job performance. Conceding that the timing was unfortunate, MUW’s president reinstated Bryson, and reaffirmed MUW’s commitment to academic freedom and freedom of speech.
Ah, but no mention by Neumayr that Bryson was reinstated, and now teaches at Kennesaw State University. Interesting.

Neumayr, in closing:
While the evolutionists continue their tired celebrations of the Scopes trial, they glance anxiously over their shoulders. They are running scared, and as the list of scientists and thinkers who dissent from Darwinism grows -- the Discovery Institute lists hundreds of scientists who now regard it as an intellectually bankrupt theory -- the evolutionists will increasingly mirror the intolerance they used to bemoan.
Russell Durbin has a great response to this sort of bluster:
With what bold statement do the DI’s supporters confront their colleagues?

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.

(A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism)
Hey, I’m skeptical of such claims, too. (It’s hard to deny, for instance, that the epochal endosymbiotic event in which the ancestral mitochondrion threw in its lot with the ancestral nuclear genome had a pretty big role in the complexity of life. And I’m by no means certain of the relative contributions of natural selection, sexual selection and neutral drift.) Would the DI welcome my signature, even if I expressly forbid its use to imply support for “intelligent design”? Perhaps the people that are not skeptical of such claims are the “Darwinian fundamentalists” we’re always being warned about. (Hard to know, since the term is rarely, if ever, defined.) If so, I’ve never met one. In fact, I suspect signing the DI’s statement has nothing to do with science, and everything to do with supporting its political agenda.
Wow, so being "skeptical" of a theory and subjecting its claims to "careful examination" means the theory is "intellectually bankrupt?" Overstatement, anyone?

George Neumayr's bilge is hardly a "good article." It's hogwash. Flimflam. Tommyrot.


[see also: listen at your own risk, a moment of truth, information please, and pro-neo-darwinism]

the last acceptable prejudice

A while ago, I noted that the Google phrase "last acceptable prejudice" brings up several conflicting results. It's still true.

Which is the last acceptable prejudice?

Size discrimination?
Discrimination against freethinkers?
Dislike of rednecks?
Bashing Scientology?
Age discrimination?
Dissing Nature?
Fear and loathing of the mentally disabled?

Can we put an immediate moratorium on the phrase?

how to get liars to admit the truth

staredown (success rate: 37%)

You must stare at the liar without breaking eye contact, without blinking, without looking at anything but the liar's lying eyes of lies. It is not a "staring contest;" if the offender blinks, you have not "won." You have won only when he breaks down in tears and confesses the lie. Your eyes must be penetrating and powerful. They must show, "I know you are a filthy liar, you filthy lying filth."

tickle torture (success rate: 56%)

It is not enough to tickle the sensitive areas (i.e., the armpits, the belly, the ribs, the soles). You must also bark out commands to confess while tickling. "Confess! Confess, you prevaricator!"

negotiation (success rate: 59%)

Promise goods, relief from punishment, favors, or money in exchange for the truth.

the ruse (success rate: 45%)

Have a third party confide with the liar. Have him speak in soothing tones, smooth, silky tones, expressing the knowledge that the liar has made a terrible mistake, but forgiveness is possible if that mistake is acknowledged.

the Bugs Bunny ploy (success rate: 68%)

"You lied."
"No I didn't.
"Yes you did."
"No I didn't."

[thirtieth in a series]

schadenfreude, anyone?

I can't stop laughing. Buh-bye, Atkins diet.