Monday, May 29, 2006

"I believe this...and that"

I just came across this, which is worth a chuckle, demonstrating one reason why legislators should stay out of academic micromanagement. Oklahoma state representative Thad Balkman (R-Norman) said "I'm not anti-evolution." He also said "I believe in intelligent design."

Well gee whiz, bub, what do you imagine intelligent design to be? A subset of the theory of evolution? All intelligent design is, is a philippic against evolution (and methodological naturalism).

Balkman also said, "I think it's disappointing that these people are not open to debating these issues."

Think about it bub--if there was anything in intelligent design worth presenting and arguing for, in the world of science, it would have been presented and argued by now in the scientific literature. Not in some tent-revival "debate" where Creationists eschew facts and honesty, but where any factual errors and misrepresentations can be caught and corrected before falling upon impressionable ears. Science is conducted by examining the evidence, not by hiring a PR firm and trying to convince the naive.

People like Balkman, who haven't a clue about what science and evolution are, ought to sit down and shut up--or try to learn about the subject. They should not be making the rules.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

He's baa-ack!

Former Dover (Pa.) Area School Board member William Buckingham, who resigned from the Board and lit out for North Carolina before the Board elections and before the decision in Kitzmiller v Dover, eventually returned to town and has now spoken up in a letter to the York Dispatch.

You may remember him from his "stand up for the man who died on a cross 2,000 years ago" speech, or from his soliciting of donations from his church to buy copies of the creationist text Of Pandas and People to be used as references in Dover biology classes. My personal favorite is his "Homer Simpson" moment where, as he went to keep an appointment with a reporter (which he later characterized as being ambushed on his way to his car), he thought to himself, "Don't say 'creationism'--don't say 'creationism'--don't say 'creationism'..." but then blurted out "Creationism...d'oh!"

His letter, published the other day, addressed the issue of the reported likely non-renewal of contracts for Superintendent Richard Nilsen and Assistant Superintendent Michael Baksa. While no reasons were publicly given, speculation that their roles in bringing Intelligent Design into the curriculum is a factor is unavoidable. Buckingham holds Nilsen blameless, merely acting as a negotiator between Board and teachers. The funny part of the letter is:
Wake up people. This school board isn't what it seems to be. Their real agenda is slowly coming out.
Their real agenda? Maybe the new school board wants to avoid reminding people of "the traveling tent revivals that used to set up at the York Fairgrounds," as former Board member Carol "Casey" Brown testified in the case. Maybe their real agenda is to figure out how to pay for needed infrastructure maintenance after their predecessors blew $1M in their anti-science folly.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

An evolutionary explanation

Carl Zimmer has an excellent discussion at The Loom about a clear example of a practical application of evolution and how evolution helps us to understand a particular puzzling health effect. The puzzling health effect was the disasterous outcome of a clinical trial for a medicine hoped to be useful in treatment of arthritis and leukemia, diseases that involve the body's immune system attacking itself--but the drug caused severe reactions in the volunteeers.

Zimmer discusses the drug, its intended target, and biomolecular factors that affect the interaction that the drug was supposed to mimic. The drug had been tested on mice and chimpanzees, but evolutionary changes since the human ancestor parted company with chimps seem to have disrupted the mechanisms of interaction. Relevant information about the molecules and their interactions was investigated and will be available in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their work provides an explanation for what "went wrong" with the clinical trial and how such outcomes can be avoided, on an evolutionary basis.

How, one may wonder, could Intelligent Design have contributed to solving this puzzle?