Expelled crawls into Canada

Expelled Exposed

The notorious creationist movie has crawled over the border into Canada and garnered a few reviews.

The Straight:

Truth begins and ends with the title of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a semislick advertorial for “intelligent design”, the sanitized public mask of creationism, itself invented by Christians who think their God is too stupid to have come up with evolution on his own….

Various cranks, allegedly fired from academia for their outrageous anti-Darwinist queries, give the usual freedom-of-speech spiels. (The genuine questions raised here have to do more with the notion of tenure than science, but that’s too subtle for movie palaver.) And leading evolutionary thinker and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins—seen in several interviews—only gradually recognizes that he is being set up.

The National Post, “Science is not Philosophy,” by John Moore

Expelled is at its most risible when it tries to establish a direct line from Darwin to eugenics and genocide. Stein quotes from a passage in Darwin’s writing that appears to endorse the notion that for a species to thrive the infirm must be culled. He omits the part where Darwin insists this would be “evil” and that man’s care for the weak is “the noblest part of our nature.”…

The core of the religious complaint against evolution rests on a false syllogism: Darwin leads automatically to atheism which leads to a world without moral order; therefore science is the enemy of God. It’s a maddening false supposition because while scientists are free to believe in God (and an estimated 40% do) science itself remains neutral…

…just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean everyone isn’t out to get you. It is equally true that when everyone insists you are wrong about something it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re engaged in an elaborate conspiracy. You could just be wrong.

The National Post, “Nature vs. nurture vs. Nikita Khrushchev,” by Chris Knight:

apparently lacking any decent footage of Darwinists in their natural (and naturally selected) environment, it uses old black-and-white clips of cops with billy clubs, schoolyard bullies, Berlin Wall builders, guillotine operators and (my favourite) Nikita Khrushchev banging a shoe. The message is clear: If you think life evolved from the primordial soup, you’re in some pretty bad company.

Expelled goes on to make the argument that Darwinism was a necessary though not sufficient condition for Nazi Germany — which, even if true, is like saying that having two arms is necessary though not sufficient to strangle someone; and I stand by my right to bare arms. Nonetheless, this spurious leap of logic lets the filmmakers unleash a torrent of Nazi newsreel footage. (Apparently, Darwinists can be both Communists and Fascists at the same time.)

Intelligent Design is not synonymous with the six-days-and-then-He rested liturgy of creationism, but it’s not far off. Proponents believe life is too complex to have arisen randomly, and the universe too unlikely for it to be a chance occurrence. (Although if life hadn’t arisen, we wouldn’t be making films about how unlikely it is.) DNA is a program, they contend, so where’s the programmer? Unfortunately, any theory that rests on the axiom “Well, somebody must have made all this!” lacks a certain scientific rigour, never mind experimental validation.

A few other fallacies are worth mentioning. Just because a scientist holds a belief doesn’t automatically make that belief scientific. And just because a theory is framed in scientific language doesn’t necessarily give it equal status with opposing viewpoints. The flat-vs.-round-Earth debate, for instance, doesn’t take place on a level playing field because one of the theories is wrong…..

Ultimately, however, what sinks Expelled is not bad science but bad filmmaking.

For more about the movie, visit Expelled.

Proper thanks

Techskeptic points out that we need to direct our thanks to the right place.

If I required surgery and lived though it without major impairment (or even with major impairment) I would first thank the EMTs who were trained and got me to the hospital. I would thank the incredible surgeons who fixed me in my time of great peril. I would thank the hospital staff and donors for making a facility that allows this incredible work to go on, work that has had tremendous effects on our lifespan. I would thank the medical pioneers who and the people who agreed to be test subject to advance medicine to a point where we can stop and start a heart, and replace it. We can fix problems in the brain due to millenia of trial and error. I would thank the medical institutions that teach new doctors to not only learn the tried and true methods but teaches them to be creative and improve on them and notice when something is wrong. I would thank Doctors who propose hypothesis that are not well accepted and then back up their claims with so much evidence that concensus must change. I would thank the parents and educators of these doctors and technician and administrators. I would thank the politicians who require oversight of healthcare workers. The reason those people survive dramatic surgery and disease is because thousands of people have put in millions of man hours to make surgery as good and safe as they are now.

Oswald Avery, bacteriologist, at the Rockefeller Institute

Botany photo of the day: Hottonia inflata

plant, Hottonia inflata

I wanted to highlight this plant because it looks so unusual with its puffy stems. Read about Hottonia inflata and see larger pictures.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

I’ve seen this effect labelled “unskilled and unaware of it.” When someone is clueless enough about a body of knowledge, they don’t realize how little they know and are feel competent to judge others, whose expertise they are completely unaware of. The Rev. BigDumbChimp mentioned this phenomenon (Creationist smackdown):

There’s nothing stupider than a Creationist who thinks his Arrogance of Ignorance is better suited to science than actual scientists. Unfortunately for them, that is most of them. A recent finding by Dr. Richard Lenski from a 20 year study of E. coli showed, in no uncertain terms, that one strain of the bacteria he was observing had evolved to be able to utilize citrate and grow. Something that E. coli was not previously able to do. Blowhard, prime example of the Arrogance of Ignorance, son of conservative blowhard Phyllis Schafly and head of the woefully pitiful Conservapadia, Andrew Schlafly, decided it was his turn at another shot at Internet stardom as one of the biggest morons online.

In the process, the Rev. gave it a name for me: the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Kruger and Dunning noted a number of previous studies which tend to suggest that in skills as diverse as reading comprehension, operating a motor vehicle, and playing chess or tennis, “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge” (as Charles Darwin put it). They hypothesized that with a typical skill which humans may possess in greater or lesser degree,

  1. Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill.
  2. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize genuine skill in others.
  3. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy.
  4. If they can be trained to substantially improve their own skill level, these individuals can recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill.

As Dunning and Kruger noted,

Across four studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd.

I believe we’ve all met the bull in a china shop who believes he or she is a sensitive and tactful soul. And I think this accounts partly for the number of barflies who believe that they could run the country, union, or company better than its current leader.

Posted in people. Tags: , . 1 Comment »

Andy Schafly abuses the law

Submitted to a Candid World points out that Conservapaedia editor Andy Schafly is threatening to start a civil law suit knowing that it is completely without merit: Andy Schafly and dirty lawyering.

Conservapedia’s mortal enemy, RationalWiki, posted a side-by-side, point-by-point refutation of one of Conservapedia’s articles. The RationalWiki refutation article obviously included Conservapedia content, and employed it towards the end of comparison and criticism, which is clearly fair use within United States copyright law. When Andy saw RationalWiki’s article, though, and its appropriation and critique, he threatened to sue, asserting that his “copyright” on the Conservapedia material was infringed by its reproduction and critique. To say that Andy was wrong is to understate the point: it’s unclear whether Conservapedia, an open-source encyclopedia, even has a copyright, and even if it did, copying to critique is clearly fair use. Andy’s position was so wrong that he could not have even entertained the possibility that he was right. He threatened civil litigation knowing the law wasn’t on his side, hoping his legally unsophisticated opponent didn’t know enough to fight him. Threatening civil litigation in bad faith is bad enough; using a bad faith threat to exploit a legally unsophisticated party is even worse.

This is interesting, because I’ve known of lawyers who will send a letter on behalf of a landlord telling renters that the property has been sold and telling them to move out. In fact, the Landlord & Tenant act in Ontario explicitly states that sale of the property is not grounds for evicting a tenant: the property must be sold with a sitting tenant. But many renters don’t know that and feel forced to move out. Should I report them to the Law Society?

500-year floods?

Highly Allochthonous has the answer to why you can get “500-year floods” two years in a row. It’s a fairly simple answer: they don’t come with guarantees. Read “500-year floods.”

more cat pictures

Humorous Pictures

Nobel Prize winner gives Pat Condell a shoutout

A winner of the Nobel Prize, Sir Harold Kroto, acknowledges Pat Condell….

Actually, I’ve met Sir Harold, when he was giving a talk about being a round peg in a square hole at Alias|wavefront.

Ventastega fills another gap in tetrapod evolution

Tiktaalik was a tetrapod with legs that was still mostly lobe-finned fish. Ventastega is a tetrapod with legs that is closer to earlier lobe-finned fish like Acathostega. Here’s a bit from the Nature News:

fossil tetrapod Ventastega curonicaFossils of a four-legged fish have filled in our understanding of the evolution of land-based vertebrates.

Initially described in 1994, early specimens of Ventastega curonica were fragmented, and hard to interpret. New examples from Latvia have now allowed researchers to reconstruct the head, shoulders and part of the pelvis of the ugly looking beast (press release, research paper in Nature).

The editor’s summary in Nature notes that the new work shows Ventastega has the skull shape of an early tetrapod but the proportions of a fish. It provides new insights in the evolution of early land-dwelling vertebrates (called tetrapods) some 370 million years ago in the Late Devonian period.

“From a distance, it would have looked like an alligator,” says study author Per Ahlberg, of Uppsala University in Sweden (BBC). “But closer up, you would have noticed a real tail fin at the back end, a gill flap at the side of the head; also lines of pores snaking across head and body. In terms of construction, it had already undergone most of the changes from fish towards land animal, but in terms of lifestyle you are still looking at an animal that is habitually aquatic.”

tetrapod vossil Ventastega

Ahlberg speculates that it was crawling around on sandy banks and eating stranded fish in tidal creeks (AP).

Ted Daeschler, paleontologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, explains to National Geographic that although we have a general outline of the transition between fish and tetrapods there’s a lot we don’t know. It’s like building a house, he says: “We’ve got the frame built. We know what the rooms are shaped like. But we haven’t put in the electricity, installed the lamps, or put Sheetrock on the walls.”

Picture upper: Philip Renne and Per Ahlberg
Picture lower: Ventastega in side view / Per Ahlberg

Here’s the abstract from Thursday’s Nature:

Nature 453, 1199-1204 (26 June 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06991; Received 22 November 2007; Accepted 9 April 2008

Ventastega curonica and the origin of tetrapod morphology

Per E. Ahlberg1, Jennifer A. Clack2, Ervi macrns Luks caronevic carons3, Henning Blom1 & Ivars Zupincedils caron4

  1. Subdepartment of Evolutionary Organismal Biology, Department of Physiology and Developmental Biology, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18A, 752 36 Uppsala, Sweden
  2. University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK
  3. Department of Geology, University of Latvia, Rainis Blvd 19, Riga LV-1586, Latvia
  4. Natural History Museum of Latvia, K. Barona Str. 4, Riga LV-1712, Latvia

Correspondence to: Per E. Ahlberg1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to P.E.A. (Email: per.ahlberg@ebc.uu.se).

The gap in our understanding of the evolutionary transition from fish to tetrapod is beginning to close thanks to the discovery of new intermediate forms such as Tiktaalik roseae. Here we narrow it further by presenting the skull, exceptionally preserved braincase, shoulder girdle and partial pelvis of Ventastega curonica from the Late Devonian of Latvia, a transitional intermediate form between the ‘elpistostegids’ Panderichthys and Tiktaalik and the Devonian tetrapods (limbed vertebrates) Acanthostega and Ichthyostega. Ventastega is the most primitive Devonian tetrapod represented by extensive remains, and casts light on a part of the phylogeny otherwise only represented by fragmentary taxa: it illuminates the origin of principal tetrapod structures and the extent of morphological diversity among the transitional forms.

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