Thursday, September 24, 2009

New concepts in scholarship

Taking “ex nihilo” too literally

The notorious case of “Dr. Dino” made it clear that creationists' credentials are often as invalid as their arguments. The creationists, however, crave respect and recognition. It irks them that the scientific community treats them with contempt.

Lawrence E. Ford is the executive editor of Acts & Facts, the monthly magazine of the Institute for Creation Research. He is very unhappy about the failure of creationism's leading lights to get the accolades he thinks they deserve. There are, of course, faithful Christians who are scientists in good standing, but Ford is irritated that they are not his kind of Christian. In the September 2009 edition of Acts & Facts, Ford takes aim at Francis Collins, the scientist appointed by President Obama to head the National Institutes of Health. Collins is known for leading the Human Genome Project, a milestone in scientific endeavor, and for promoting “BioLogos,” which is rather something less. Collins, a professed Christian, would like people to take religion as seriously as science. He established the BioLogos foundation to advance this cause, but he's been having a rough go of it.

Ford and the folks at ICR don't like BioLogos because Collins accepts evolution. While Collins has been criticized for his fuzzy approach to evolution, he is definitely not a creationist. Any religious point of view that doesn't embrace a narrowly fundamental view of six literal days of creation is beyond the pale for the ICR folks.
[Collins] appears to be genuine and sincere in his belief that Jesus Christ is his personal Savior. But quite troubling is Collins' public and proud disbelief in the historicity of the Bible, the existence of Adam and Eve, the event of the Fall, and many more fundamental doctrines of God’s Word—leading one to conclude that even if he is a Christian, his self-selective beliefs are terribly resistant to God’s truth, revealing his dangerously poor view of the power of God.
I am charmed by Ford's unselfconscious choice of the phrase “self-selective beliefs” to criticize Collins. It's difficult to avoid thinking of pots and kettles.

Ford is quite nettled by the comments of Karl Giberson, the man picked by Collins to be the president of BioLogos. Giberson offended Ford by making the following statement:
Our key question is: Why do individuals such as Ken Ham, Tim LaHaye, David Barton, and James Dobson have such extraordinary influence when they are not leaders in their fields?
At the HarperCollins site devoted to Giberson's publications, Giberson goes on to say a few words about The Anointed, his forthcoming book about the leaders of the anti-science cult:
In our book, we juxtapose the above leaders with their more legitimate evangelical counterparts—genuine authorities who largely conform to the standards of the academy and are recognized as leading scholars in their respective fields. This strategy allows us to locate the tension in our project within evangelicalism, avoiding the tendency to caricature the entire evangelical community as hostile to mainstream academia. Our tactic will be to ask why so many evangelicals prefer Ken Ham to Francis Collins, Tim LaHaye to N. T. Wright, David Barton to Mark Noll, and James Dobson to David Myers.
Lawrence Ford seizes on the words “leading scholars” and hurls them back with his own list of cognoscenti:
Is Dr. Giberson ignorant of the scientific contributions of scientists such as Dr. Henry Morris, Dr. Duane Gish, Dr. Ken Cumming, Dr. Steve Austin, Dr. Andrew Snelling, Dr. Jason Lisle, Dr. Russ Humphreys, Dr. John Baumgardner, Dr. Larry Vardiman, Dr. A. E. Wilder-Smith, and many other credentialed and evangelical members of academia who are “leading scholars in their respective fields”?
I bet you know where this is going, don't you? Let us take a moment to examine the “leading scholars” identified by Mr. Ford. There are, in fact, no surprises.

While Google Scholar may not be the most sophisticated tool for examining the output of contemporary researchers, it's readily accessible and quite sufficient for our purposes. What does Google Scholar dredge up for Henry Morris? It's not an impressive list. Dr. Morris is credited with a bunch of creationist publications concerning Noah's flood and two items in his field of engineering: a 1955 paper on Flow in rough conduits and a 1963 book on Applied hydraulics in engineering.

The late Dr. Morris, if he was ever a leading scholar in engineering, has had his day. His is not a name to conjure with in 2009.

How about the estimable Duane Gish? No surprises here either. Dr. Gish's list includes articles on a synthetic preparation similar to arginine vasopressin (1954, 1958), peptide synthesis (1952), immunosuppressive nucleic acids (1971), tobacco mosaic virus amino acids (1961), and something having to do with cytosine (1976). His 1954 paper has been cited 109 times by Google Scholar's reckoning. Gish has published only anti-evolution tracts and books since leaving the world of research more than thirty years ago.

Not a leading scholar.

Ken Cumming? Is he the guy who works on muscle pathology (WJK Cumming) or the fellow who works on matters relating to fisheries (KB Cumming)? The only definite link to the Ken Cumming of ICR fame is his attack on the PBS series Evolution.

Not a leading scholar.

How about Steve Austin? Dr. Austin's high-water mark is a 1991 paper on the forward-backward search algorithm, cited 90 times by Google Scholar's count. But it's not the same Steve Austin. To make certain that we're not talking about the wrestler (“Stone Cold” Steve Austin) or the Six Million Dollar Man, we can turn to CreationWiki for some assistance. Their bio of Dr. Austin contains a convenient list of his publications, identifying three as having appeared in “secular” (i.e., research) publications. The others are all from ICR.

Andrew Snelling? Also trapped in the creationist ghetto. Google Scholar finds that all of his publications are related to creationism conferences and creationist journals. He cannot break into genuine peer-reviewed publications.

We finally get a small break when we reach Jason Lisle. Dr. Lisle is a genuine astrophysicist, although he's tossed over the rigorous discipline of his field in favor of cloud-castle architecture. He has a string of genuine research articles published in such estimable venues as the American Journal of Physics, The Astrophysical Journal, and Solar Physics. He seems to have made a specialty of solar supergranulation. Now that he is dedicated to such apologetic works as Taking Back Astronomy and The Ultimate Proof of Creation, one predicts his scientific productivity is going to take a severe dive. Once you've started advancing arguments that the planets began as water worlds “which God then supernaturally changed into the substances of which the planets are comprised today,” you really have stopped being a scientist.

It's the same story throughout Ford's list of creationism's research superstars. Fizzle after fizzle. The usual pattern is a publication or two in a genuine journal, followed by a flood of articles devoted to proving that the earth is young or that a great flood once covered the whole planet.

And Francis Collins? Google Scholar finds page after page of published research papers. The first one, Initial sequencing and analysis of the human genome, is identified as having 6468 citations (more than all of Ford's list of superluminaries together).

There's a reason creationist scientists get no respect: They don't do science.

Forwarding to the nth power

Redundant spam

What is it with people who compulsively forward “interesting” e-mail? Apparently the effort of clicking the “forward” button in their e-mail program is as much as they can do. It always seems to be too much trouble to clean up the “interesting” item, even if it's been quoted so often that the body of the document contains multiple copies of the item of interest, along with pages and pages of the e-mail addresses of previous victims of compulsive forwarding.

This characteristic of forwarded e-mail is as common as large fonts, ALL CAPS, and frenetic punctuation!!!!!11!!!1! (And let's not forget misspelling.)

All of this was true of my father's latest bit of forwarded enlightenment, which contained two copies of a “modest solution” (with none of Swift's wit) to the problem of senior health care. Dad earnestly believes that the Obama administration is out to get him, since he is—in his own words (perhaps, however, cribbed from a Limbaugh broadcast)—past his “expiration date.”
I'm sure you've heard the ideas that if you're a senior you need to suck it up and give up the idea that you need any health care. A new hip? Unheard of. We simply can't afford to take care of you anymore. You don't need any medications for your high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, etc. Let's take care of the young people. After all, they will be ruling the world very soon.

So here's the solution. When you turn 70, you get a gun and 4 bullets. You're allowed to shoot 2 senators and 2 representatives. Of course, you'll be sent to prison where you will get 3 meals a day, a roof over your head and all the health care you need!
I'm not certain why each senior gets a shot at two U.S. representatives, but it's probable that the originators of this winsome satire are quite unaware that we each have only one representative in the lower house of congress. That is the level of expertise I've come to expect from forwarded e-mails.

My father knows better, but far be it from him to change one jot or tittle of the received wisdom of forwarded spam mail. When he thinks a piece of e-mail will get my goat, he cheerfully passes it along as is. Naturally, I respond in a similarly cheerful vein:
This brilliant plan is certain to work, Dad, except that I'm afraid senior citizens will quickly run out of members of congress to murder. You'd better act quickly, before they're all gone.

Of course, it would only be sporting to warn Rep. Nunes that you're gunning for him. Shall I forward this to your congressman, or will you? And maybe a copy to Homeland Security, too.
Dad may have to reconsider. Rep. Nunes is a Republican, and I think Dad would prefer open season on Democrats (and other socialists like that).

I think we have a misfire.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

In the numbers

But maybe not the way you were thinking

The September 2009 issue of Acts & Facts from the Institute for Creation Research contains the usual collection of strained creationist arguments. It also, however, carried a testimonial from a grateful mother who has been “educated” by ICR's publication:
Thank you for sending me Acts & Facts over the years. I have gleaned much from the articles. Even though I am not a scientist, I have been able to write arguments to my son, who was persuaded to accept evolution in college. I’m sharing those with you, so you can see how your ministry has touched my life personally.
There follow some excerpts from one of the woman's ICR-inspired messages to her college-educated son. She had hit on the scheme of belaboring him with the old “design” argument:
Every design carries in it the signature of its creator. So, normally, one viewing a creation, and who is trained, can recognize that signature. It can be recognized because it tells the observer who made it by displaying certain characteristics that the creator endows it with and that reflect the character of the creator.

But I read on and discovered an argument that caught my attention. Clever, clever creationist mom! It turns out that Sudoku proclaims the handiwork of the creator!
I recently discovered Sudoku puzzles. Each row, column, and square of nine squares has to have the numbers 1 to 9 in them and the numbers may not be repeated in any row, column, or square of nine squares. The outcome, however, always results in a design of numbers, unique from any other puzzle except one that duplicates itself. In order to solve a puzzle, you must figure out an intelligent strategy to end up with a “unique design” in the end.

Unique design is the operative phrase. It takes intelligence to create this design. If you just randomly stick in numbers you will never come to the organized end result. Solving these puzzles helps prove to me that evolution is a lie. Randomness for the most part results in chaos. Each Sudoku puzzle may only be solved by thoughtful manipulation of the numbers until a unique pattern (design) is formed.
Our anonymous creation mom is not responsible for the emphasis in the sentence about chaos. I added that. The phrase “for the most part” drew my attention. Did she notice that she just left the barn door open?

No one argues that random variation usually results in order (or increased fitness in a species). I mean, unless you are an ignorant creationist setting up a straw man.

Creation Mom is also hung up on the word “unique.” Here again she is missing something important, just as most creationists do. Evolution is not goal-driven. There is no target. There can be many variations that lead to increased fitness. Natural selection is not driving any species toward a foreordained conclusion. (Creationists who think evolutionists claim this are often misled by experiments such as the much-discussed WEASEL program by Dawkins.) The Sudoku puzzle is therefore a terrible choice for an anti-evolution argument. Valid Sudoku puzzles are anything but unique. Even if a particular instance of a puzzle has but one valid solution, valid Sudoku patterns are anything but rare.

In 2005, Bertram Felgenhauer of Dresden and Frazer Jarvis of Sheffield demonstrated that there are 6,670,903,752,021,072,936,960 valid ways to fill in the 9 × 9 Sudoku grid.

We're not going to run out of Sudoku puzzles any time soon.

Of course, valid Sudoku grids are rare in a relative sense. There are, after all, 9! ways (362,880) to fill a 3 × 3 grid with the integers from 1 through 9. Since there are 9 such grids in a Sudoku, there are (9!)9 ≈ 1.09 × 1050 candidates for Sudoku puzzles. That is, there are many, many more invalid grids than valid ones. But randomly generated grids containing the integers 1 through 9 in each of the 3 × 3 subgrids could be easily checked for validity—just determine whether each row sum and column sum is equal to 45.

That's an extremely simple criterion for determining “fitness.” (Cue the infinite number of chimps—or weasels.)

Creation Mom elaborates her argument with some cant about “random organization,” which she knows won't turn monkeys into humans.
There is something of the order of 2 percent difference in the genetic make-up of man versus monkey. That’s according to what scientists now know, but if you were to replace the 2 percent monkey with the 2 percent that is man, you will no longer have the pattern of a monkey, but a man. The pattern for a monkey doesn’t randomly organize (an intellectual activity) itself into a more complex system. To create a more complex system, you need to engineer (again an intellectual activity) the lower step to the higher by intelligent manipulation. It will not happen through random processes any more than you will be able to create a specific Sudoku pattern through anything but intelligent strategy.
Sorry, Creation Mom. A simple algorithm suffices to separate the Sudoku wheat from the chaff. Natural selection suffices to separate the useful variations from deleterious ones. God as Sudoku master is no more persuasive than God as watchmaker.

But I'm sure the watchmaker was already enough for you. Was it enough for your son, too? (I noticed you didn't say.)

Calories cause obesity!

Shocking discovery from the world of “duh”

Why is this even news?

Sugary soft drinks contribute to obesity. That's because they have lots of calories.

The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research surprised a lot of people when it issued a report on soft drink consumption. I'm not sure why.

I won't denigrate the report itself. UCLA is making a positive contribution when it documents the degree to which we are guzzling high-calorie low-nutrition beverages. I am bemused, however, by the general public reaction and the response in the news media.

It's not really news, folks. We've been lamenting the increase in the U.S. in both adult and childhood obesity. The increase unavoidably requires some combination of greater consumption and lesser combustion. Either we're burning fewer calories or stoking our bodies with more calories—or some “weighted” average of the two. We can't get around that (and, perhaps, it's increasingly difficult to get around ourselves).

The focus has been on soft-drink consumption among young people. The reported increase of soda-slurping among children and adolescents has led to much hand-wringing and an unfortunate level of satisfaction. Aha! Now we have found the culprit! Slay the sugary soda monster and all will be well!

Oh, good. “The” culprit.

It's never that simple, folks.

The UCLA researchers are correct, of course, to point out that a reduction in soda consumption will be a key element in fighting the national obesity problem (report coauthor Dr. Harold Goldstein of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy says it has to be “the top priority”). But UCLA's research brief also notes that “Additionally, childhood eating habits and weight status are important determinants of health as adults.” It's nice to see that the researchers mention eating habits in general instead of just citing soft-drink consumption.

A predictable result of the UCLA report (and the attendant media blitz) will be a stampede toward reduced-calorie diet sodas. We can confidently expect a future research brief that focuses on the negative or unknown effects of long-term consumption of aspartame (more attractively labeled as “NutraSweet” for marketing purposes) or saccharin.

No, thanks.

Here's your Diet Coke, sir

I have a bit of a sweet tooth and normally have a soft drink with lunch. (I refrain from alcohol because I have no taste for it.) I like the sugar and the gentle caffeine kick of a cola. The real thing, please.

For some reason, however, servers in restaurants really want me to drink diet cola. I hate the stuff, but I must belong to a key diet-soda drinking demographic. Do all middle-aged men order diet soft drinks when they choose to drink a soda? It sure seems like it.

Maybe I look fat to the impossibly young and slender wait staff. (They must not be drinking the stuff.) However, I'm over six feet tall and I'm under two hundred pounds, so I'm not exactly a pudge. I think it must be my demographic.

But give me the stuff with sugar in it, please. Since I would be perfectly happy to drop a few pounds, I can just drink less of it.

I'm sure that solution is too simple.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Turing turns their stomachs

Nuts among the raisins

Alan M. Turing has gotten a long overdue apology from the British government for the way they treated him—a genuine World War II hero—for the high crime of homosexuality. I commend Prime Minister Gordon Brown for taking this small step in the interest of simple justice.

Others, of course, are not so pleased.

This is particularly true on the noisome fringe of American right-wing extremism. (Is it exaggeration to refer to our nation's right-wing extremists as having a “fringe”? I'm afraid not.) Excellent examples of reactionary fulminations are routinely served up by the loons with room-temperature IQs at Free Republic, the Fresno-based website that serves as the sweaty lint in the belly button of Central California. These comments (characteristic misspellings and all) were posted by “Freepers” in outraged response to Britain's apology:
Can’t trust poofers. Good rule of thumb.

3 posted on Friday, September 11, 2009 4:05:51 PM by pissant (THE Conservative party:
Turing supposedly told the cops he was a homosexual when they visited his home to investigate a robbery he had reported.

He suggested that his 19 year old male lover might have been among the young men who robbed him.

He was later convicted on 12 counts.

Just looking up the Age of Majority in UK at that time, and it was 21. So Alan, like many risky gay blades of his time, was messing with a minor.

Certainly a well-known homosexual like Turing would not want for ADULT lovers ~ so he was taking risks ~ kind of like the office thief at work who liked to steal small things from people ~ personal things, and then set them out on her desk like trophies.

He later on may have commited suicide or accidentally poisoned himself while eating an apple.

Like many homosexuals of his time (or now) he may well have gloried in the tawdrier and more unwashed side of life ~ and all he had to do was wash his hands regularly to live (as suggested by his own mother).

I don't buy it that this genius commited suicide. He was just a nasty guy who wasn't all that clean.

Personal hygiene is not just a condom.

4 posted on Friday, September 11, 2009 4:06:35 PM by muawiyah
Britain sinks deeper into the black hole of political correctness. Should we go easier on a brilliant mathematician who is also a crazed killer? No. One has nothing to do with the other. If he is a great mathematician, he deserves to be recognized for it. If he is a depraved human being, he deserves to be ostracized for it — or worse.

Libs... always wanting to drag us deeper into that black hole. I know lots of mathematicians who should be castrated. All of them are libs.

7 posted on Friday, September 11, 2009 4:12:01 PM by LibWhacker (America awake!)
The guy was buggering underage (at that time) teenage boys?


8 posted on Friday, September 11, 2009 4:26:57 PM by icwhatudo ("laws requiring compulsory abortion could be sustained under the existing Constitution"Obama Adviser)
The law at the time in UK made 21 the age of majority. I don't believe back in the early 1950s that they were into gradiations of buggery based on age differntials or time dilation factors.

Just a straight up and down ~ of age, or not of age.

So Turing was not satisfied with the law and violated it.

9 posted on Friday, September 11, 2009 4:29:53 PM by muawiyah
Every so often, however, the Free Republic echo chamber is disturbed by a discordant note. This time it was a Freeper by the handle of “steve-b,” the person responsible for the original post on the Turing apology. He had a rather telling observation about the way in which his fellow Freepers were falling all over themselves to justify compliance with law, although Free Republic is usually a hotbed of anti-government sedition.
So Turing was not satisfied with the law and violated it.

I'm sure the concept of disagreeing with and disregarding the government's decrees will give all good FReepers a severe case of the vapors.

11 posted on Saturday, September 12, 2009 7:02:23 AM by steve-b (Intelligent Design -- "A Wizard Did It")
Note that steve-b also mocks ID creationism. That alone suffices to make him suspect among Free Republic's creationist majority.

Not to mention that highly questionable support for apologizing to a dead queer. Shocking! (If he's not careful, he'll get “expelled.”)

Yeah. Even the extremists have a fringe.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Respecting my elders

More right than I knew

It was my own fault for visiting my parents on a Friday. My usual treks to the family dairy farm occur on Saturdays. On this recent occasion, however, I was able to get away a day early.

I already knew that my Mom and Dad have a standing dinner date on Fridays with a group of fellow senior citizens. Instead of leaving me behind to fend for myself, my parents took me along.

And that's how I met “Melanie.” And “Honey.”

Melanie is one of Mom's best friends. They style themselves as “twins” because they share a birthdate. Mel is exactly one year older than Mom.

At dinner I was sandwiched between the two women. Mel was delighted to meet Mom's eldest son, the distinguished professor of mathematics. I, naturally, was on my best behavior.

I was not the only adult offspring present. By an odd coincidence, Mel was being visited by her daughter Honey, whom she brought along to the Friday night dinner group. Honey ended up sitting opposite me.

The dinner group had selected an Italian restaurant for this particular outing. The service was attentive and the food was safely middle-of-the-road. No problem.

Honey appeared to be somewhat bored, but she found a way to pass the time. She put away a couple of Cosmopolitans and then started in on wine. I paid it little attention, but couldn't help noticing, given where Honey was sitting. As usual, I was imbibing a glass of the house cola (regular, of course; not that icky “diet” stuff).

At some point during the dinner conversation, Melanie made some kind of assertion that I didn't quite catch, but she followed it up with the distinct statement that she and my mom always got their way: “We're Leos!” declared Mel. “And Leos always get what they want!”

I turned toward Mel and said, “Perhaps that's true, Melanie, but I'm a Taurus. We Taurids don't believe in horoscopes.”

My riposte got a few chuckles, as I hoped it would. But it got a different reaction from Honey.

“You're a Taurus?! So am I! When's your birthday?”

“May 5,” I said.

“Omigosh!” exclaimed Honey. “Mine is May 4!”

“So you have a day on me,” I said mildly.

“Ha!” said Honey. “And several years!”

“It can't be that many,” I replied, but not out of any impulse of gallantry. I was just crunching numbers a little.

Mel is one year older than Mom. I am Mom's eldest, born while she was still a teenager. That doesn't leave Mel much room to have Honey “several years” ahead of me. We couldn't be more than a year or two apart. But I was polite enough not to ask Honey her birth year.

My mother later reported back to me. She had gotten the scoop from Mel. It turns out that Honey is exactly one day older than me.

Of course, I am recounting this story merely to brag about my unnaturally youthful appearance. Die of envy, you raddled oldsters!

Um, no.

That would be one way to spin it, of course, but that's not the real truth of it. It's not that I look unnaturally young. It's that Honey looks unnaturally old.

Oops. Wrong again.

Let's leave out the word “unnaturally.” Honey looks perfectly natural for someone my age who spent her decades baking herself in the sun and burning in bronze skin tones that would do a tannery proud. And then steeped in alcohol, it seems.

That sun-screen stuff? Use it.

Otherwise you could end up holding a drink in one hand while patting an exact contemporary on the head and calling him “Sonny.”

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Triumphalism in a teapot

Another glorious victory

My in-box contains a triumphant declaration of VICTORY in the special election for the 10th congressional district in California. Yes, it was an utter rout of evil liberalism by the heroic conservatives of Move America Forward's Freedom PAC. The brave MAF warriors went into battle against the communists, socialists, atheists, evolutionists, baby-eaters, and Democrats (all pretty much the same thing, you know), and WON despite incredible odds against them!

Exactly how great was MAF's victory? It was SPECTACULAR!

They lost by only two to one.

The reality of the special election results in the 10th congressional district is that Lt. Gov. John Garamendi set himself up for election to the U.S. House of Representatives in the November run-off. In a field of 14 candidates, Garamendi garnered more than one-fourth of the vote. According to the semi-official tally from the California Secretary of State's office, Garamendi garnered the support of 25,329 votes, a 26.15% share of the 96,851 ballots cast.

MAF is having a post-election orgasm because Garamendi did not win more than half the vote and achieve immediate election to the seat vacated by Ellen Tauscher. That's what passes for victory in the ranks of the extreme right-wing these days. (Polls taken in the days before the special election showed Garamendi with 25% of the vote, making his failure to achieve 50%-plus-1 a staggeringly surprising defeat. MAF takes credit!)

In aggregate, the Democrats running to succeed Tauscher racked up 64.55% of the vote while the Republicans managed only 34.37%.

So I lied. The GOP margin of defeat was not quite two to one.


Frankly, I think MAF is thinking too small. Sure, they were unable to stop Sen. Obama from achieving a big victory in last year's presidential race, but it's sad to think of MAF's Freedom PAC being reduced to worrying about local congressional races and squandering their energies on exaggerating huge defeats into astonishing victories. I have some suggestions that MAF might want to take into consideration. Here's a list of stunning victories that I can see in MAF's future:
  • 2010: President Obama does not declare himself World Dictator and High Priest of Satan. MAF takes credit!
  • 2011: Congressional Democrats do not replace “In God We Trust” on the currency with “Darwin is the Prophet of Change.” MAF takes credit!
  • 2012: President Obama wins re-election, but without carrying Alabama or Alaska! MAF takes credit!
  • 2013: Newly elected pope John Paul Benedict I announces he believes in God. MAF takes credit!
Frankly, my dear, my vision is much greater than that of those pikers at Move America Forward.