Monday, January 26, 2009


Still Wrong

Oh, look! New Scientist is reporting on the last minute insertion of creationist nonsense into the Texas science standards:

The previous text invited students to: "evaluate a variety of fossil types, transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits with regard to their appearance, completeness and rate and diversity of evolution".

The altered text, introduced by creationist member Barbara Cargill, slipped the phrase "proposed transitional fossils" into the text, implying unwarranted doubt about whether transitional fossils are genuinely evolutionary staging posts as species changed. ...

Secondly, Cargill scrapped the final clause altogether, replacing it with an invitation for students to "assess the arguments for and against universal common descent in the light of this fossil evidence".

In other words, she sought to stimulate unwarranted debate about common descent, the idea that all life arose through evolution.

"This change is by far the most unscientific revision, and is completely unacceptable," says Schafersman. "There are no good arguments in modern science 'against universal common descent', which has been accepted by biologists for over 130 years, so the phrase is asking for something that authors and publishers cannot honestly supply."

In essence, says Schafersman, "the added phrase supports an anti-evolution intent which is not scientific."

But, strangely, there is no mention of the article that Cargill cited in support of her change in the language -- the one "in which a European scientist disputed Darwin’s 'tree of life' showing common ancestors for all living things" -- namely, New Scientist's own "Why Darwin was wrong about the tree of life," which has been roundly criticized for its sensationalistic approach to science:

Graham Lawton Was Wrong
Darwin Was Wrong?
Why's Graham so Glum: Lawton Critiqued
Was Darwin Wrong?
Darwin was wrong...ish
Explaining New Scientist cover
New Scientist takes the hype road
Darwin: The Genius of evolution
The Trouble With Science Journalism
Speaking of media mangling...
New Scientist take the hype road
It's such a fine line between stupid and clever
Of trees of life and straw men

Ironically, a sidebar to the New Scientist article ends:

"We've just annihilated the tree of life. It's not a tree any more, it's a different topology entirely," says Syvanen. "What would Darwin have made of that?"

Darwin's dead. The more immediate concern is what creationists would -- and did -- make of it: a weapon against science. I suppose, if we must speculate about Darwin's reaction, his words to Wallace, on finding out that the latter thought that the human brain could not have been the product of natural selection, might suffice as a hint: "I hope you have not murdered too completely your own and my child."

Bloglist "borrowed" from Adrian Thysse at Evolving Complexity.

Update: Richard B. Hoppe has picked up on this at The Pand'a Thumb.

Where's Lawton these days? Busily showing that Galileo was wrong to say that Jupiter has four moons?
I threw you a trackback from Panda's Thumb, but I don't know if it 'took,'
Lawton doesn't seem to be bothering to respond to the actual criticisms of his article, he is instead playing dumb to the whole affair and offering numerous red herrings.

I wonder who becomes responsible when science advocates have to deal with creationist quoting sensationalist articles that misrepresent science in order to further misrepresent science?
Where's Lawton these days? Busily showing that Galileo was wrong to say that Jupiter has four moons?

Much more sensational than that! Keppler was wrong to think that planetary orbit were circular so we have to rethink the entire Solar System!

I wonder who becomes responsible ...

We all do, when all the best jobs move to China and we have to figure out to keep 150 million people fully employed flipping hamburgers.
This is an old topic, but I just found John Pieret's column and want to cite an article I wrote about it at John Pieret quoted an article in New Scientist that quoted me, so I want readers to know that I strongly objected to the original New Science article written by Graham Lawton.
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