Monday, April 30, 2007

Mr. Chapman and "40 Days and 40 Nights"

A new book out on the Dover "Pandas" trial is "40 Days and 40 Nights" by Matthew Chapman. In addition to many other attributes, Mr. Chapman is also a great-great- grandson of Charles Darwin. Chapman insisted that this was not all that relevant to his life, and I would be willing to believe him if he hadn't made such a fuss.

I did enjoy reading Chapman's book. It brought a number of chuckles and a few out-right laughs. The strongest feature of the book was his apparent concern and even fondness for nearly all involved. His quick character sketches humanized the participants in ways that I had not perceived from reading, and even meeting some of the principals.

That said, there were some features that I found odd. My biggest surprise was that Chapman made no mention at all of the famous "Of Pandas and People" "cdesign_proponentsists" gaff exposed in Barbara Forrest's testimony. I had been anticipating that his reaction to such a blatant con-job would be particularly amusing. But there was no mention- none. I reread the chapter to see if I had missed it, and then I even checked the page numbers to be sure nothing mechanical had failed. But there was no "cdesign proponentsists" to be found.

Michael Behe's cross examination by Eric Rothschild had similar omissions where I wished Chapman's talent for observation had been given play. For example, Chapman spends some time on Rothschild and Behe going back and forth over the question of the evolution of the adaptive immune system (190-193). A portion of this was a bit of "theater" where Rothschild stacks piles and piles of published research on the evolution of the immune system in front of Behe, who has claimed in testimony that no such research exists. Chapman seemed to have missed that while doing so Rothschild handed Behe several massive textbooks relevant to just this question, and after a time, Behe asked, "Mr. Rothschild, would you like your books back? They're heavy."

Chapman incorrectly called the immune system exchange "Rothschild's last attack on Behe" (190). This lead to the glaring omission of Rothschild's cross examination of the analogy of "intelligent design detection al la the ID creationists, and the real science of archaeology. This followed the lunch break on Day 12 of the trial, and perhaps Chapman never made it back into the courtroom that afternoon. Few would blame him, and fewer notice but me! This is because his omission also stepped all over my 2.5 seconds of Dover fame. Rothschild used as a portion of his challenge my chapter on archaeology and forensics from "Why Intelligent Design Fails" (Young and Edis 2004). The end of Behe's cross examination was Rothschild's observation that, "Science fiction movies are not science, are they, Professor Behe?" Behe's answer was irrelevant and this exchange found its way into the Judge's decision.

The real quality of Chapman's writing, observation, and humanity is in a last scene set at the end of the trial (250-251). On one side of the street the plaintiffs, their lawyers, their families, the support crew (including Nick Matzke), and others meet in celebration and good cheer. On the other side of the street, the defence attorneys sat alone.

I could almost feel sorry for the bastards.

OPPS, I was corrected this afternoon re: “cdesign proponentists.” For those not close followers of the creationists and their program, the book "Of Pandas and People" was the original "intelligent design" textbook. It was targeted on highschools in the USA. The work on the book began in the early 1980s and it was solidly a "special creationism" text. Following the US Supreme Court decision in Edwards v Aguillard (1987) outlawing "special creationism" or "creation science," the book's authors simply used a word processor to delete "creationists" and replace with "design proponents." In one preserved draft copy, there was the telltale error where an incomplete deletion resulted in “cdesign proponentists.”

This was not actually used in the Dover trial by Barbara Forrest as I had incorrectly recalled because, as explained to me today by expert Nick Matzke, “It was like pouring salt in the wound, when the wound was decapitation.”

Since this was posted at Panda's Thumb, and as a review at, I have left the original of my comments and added the corection.

My appologies to Mr. Chapman.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Creationst Say the Darndest Things about Dinosaurs

Here are just a few of the most obvious errors in the creationist tract "Radiocarbon dating dinosaurs."

The opening paragraph claims to present some published C14 data from 1970 and inferred that these were current problems for radiocarbon dating. So the first falsehood is that a paper in 1970 on the issues regarding calibration and sample preparation has current relevance. Data from 40 years ago pretty much is useless. But let's look at them.

The creationists claim that a date of 28,000 years (28 Ka) was reported for "Sabre-toothed tiger: 28,000 years (evolution: a few million)." First, all radiocarbon dates must be reported as "radiocarbon years before present (RCYBP)" or "calibrated YBP" with reference to the calibration standard. Secondly, the age range for sabertooth "tigers," (Smilodon) extends to the early Holocene, or about 10,000 years ago. So a date of 28 Ka is entirely possible. I strongly doubt that these 40 year old data are valid, but the errors these creationists made in just one line are impressive; 1) the data are incorrectly presented, 2) the age range for Smilodon given by the creationists, "a few million," was incorrect, 3) the reported age of 28 Ka is well within the known dates for Smilodon.

The biggest con job of the opening paragraph is the implication that the improperly cited paper in Radiocarbon even presented these data as valid.

The reported "data" on unspecified "dinosaur bone" are useless as presented. What are we told about them? We are first told of bone fragments from a " Acrocanthosaurus dinosaur." There is no usable information about where or how these materials were collected, or treated nor is there any referenced accession numbers or publications that could lead to such information. Without this information the data are meaningless. We are next told about four more samples, three supposedly from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh PA. The remaining bone is a total mystery. Even though there is a noted vertebrate paleontology museum in Pittsburgh, without giving the deaccession numbers from the museum it is impossible to know what these bones really were. There was no table giving a data summary as promised, "The table below lists these dates and those of four other samples ..." There is no table, there are no data, there is no point to this creationist gem.

Two AMS analyses were supposedly run, one at U of Arizona and one at a mystery "overseas AMS lab." One other beta decay laboratory is left a total mystery and no laboratory accession numbers of any kind are given. The beta decay samples were apparently augmented with a "coprolite" sample. All the errors and omissions related to the bones are repeated for the coprolite.

The authors of this article expose ignorance in every paragraph. One of my favorite is their incorrect use of the word "appetite."
The dating procedure used on the bones was a bio-apatite method, which was our only option at the time because of the lack of large amounts of bone protein or more reliable material. Bones were washed with dilute acetic acid, and crushed to less than 1 mm in size. The bone powder is then digested in cold dilute acetic acid with constant agitation for 24 hours to remove normal carbonates. The sample is then hydrolyzed under vacuum with HCL to dissolve bone appetite and evolve its carbon dioxide for analysis.

The word they were groping for was "apatite" which is a common bone mineral, chemicaly it is calcium phosphate. Even though they have copied some of a laboratory proceedure which used the correct term, they obviously failed to understand what it refered to or what it was.

As there are no meaningful data given, there is no point to this tract.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Hinckley again

Once again Mr. Hickley opines

My response

Re: The age of reason

Mr. Jim Hinckley has written that his goals are to merely provide "material for water cooler conversation, to spark discussion on controversial topics and, perhaps, encourage people to question, to think." I guess that means he need not attend to facts or even truth with a small "t." Hinckley has had about a month that he might have used to learn about evolution, or about what is a theory- any scientific theory. Instead he still incorrectly refers to evolution as a "concept" that is "stuck in the realm of theory."

Hinckley asks, what happens to lay persons who question science? The obvious thing is they are published in newspapers without malicious editing. We have a long history telling us what happened to "heretics" and religious minorities, as well as scientists when religion gains political power; they get killed.

Hinkley includes the Nazi Holocaust as light "water cooler" fare and falsely claimed it was inspired by Darwin. This has become a popular creationist lie. And it is a more dangerous lie than anyother because as it is said, "He who is ignorant of history is doomed to repeat it."

Racism and bigotry are far older than Darwin, and older than the sciences. They have been justified by every religious and nationalistic sort of argument. The man most responsible for Germany's "racial hygiene" or "Rassenhygiene," prgrams and author of its founding articles and books was Alfred Ploetz. His 1895 work particularly argued aginst medical care for the "weak" as this would alow them to reproduce more than the "fit."

He and many of his American followers opposed welfare and medical care for the poor as "unfair advantages" for the unfit that harmed the chances of hard working, moral sorts of people. His ideal of "fitness" was of course the wealthy. Ploetz established the Society for Racial Hygiene, {Gesellshaft für Rassenhygiene}, in 1905 which grew to 1,300 members by 1930. Curiously, the Racial Hygiene movement opposed birthcontrol, and in the words of Max von Gruber (1914) "the so-called women's liberation movement."

This latter point was echoed by American eugenicists who objected to birthcontrol as part of an "antibaby strike" by "liberated women." Today's US religious right-wing as represented by Hinckley fits hand and glove with the anti-minority, anti-feminist, and anti-poor philosophy that was the true wellspring of Nazism.

The targeting of Jews by the Nazis is directly exposed in the 1938 Nazi "Office of Racial Policy" publication {Inromationsdienst} where Martin Luther’s advice on the “proper” treatment of Jews was given prominent display:

" ... to put their synagogues and schools to fire, and what will not burn, to cover with earth and rubble so that no-one will ever again see anything there but cinders ... Second, one should tear down and destroy their houses, for they do also in there what they do in their schools and synagogues ... And third, one should confiscate their prayer books and Talmud, in which idolatry and lies, slander and blasphemy is taught” From Proctor 1988:88.

The founder of Protestant Christianity was a far greater inspiration to the Nazis than any scientist.

But Hinckley wants, no he demands, "absolute truth." Without this truth with a capital "T" he sees only destruction. Absolute truth is one that clearly must be uniformly imposed on all people, otherwise how is it absolute? What did one of our nation's founders see coming from absolutism? Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women and children since the introduction of Christianity have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned, yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity." — : Notes on Virginia, 1782. Absolute rulers demand that we acknolwedge their absolute truth. In September 1821, Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams, "And even should the cloud of barbarism and despotism again obscure the science and libraries of Europe, this country remains to preserve and restore light and liberty to them."

Note well that Jefferson linked science and libraries with "light and liberty." He was not worried that they might lose their churches and cathedrals. I am with the author of the Declaration of Independence. Is two hundred years too long to remember why America exists?

Hinckley ends his latest screed hoping that infliction of his "absolute truth" will introduce "a new age of reason."

Some good advice Mr. Hinckley is that when you fall in a hole- stop digging.

Gary Hurd, Ph. D.
Dana Point, California

(Thanks to John "Catshark" at Thoughts in a Haystack Tap Dancing in California for the "heads up")