One more time: Intelligent design is a pig that still doesn’t fly

July 26, 2012

Gee, I think I first posted this more than a year before the Pennsylvania decision.  In any case, the subject has come up once again in another forum:  Why don’t we teach intelligent design as an “alternative” idea in public school science classes?  The answer is, simply, ID is not science.  It’s not an alternative hypothesis, it’s a chunk of minority cult religious dogma.
Most bad science claims recirculate year after year, until they are simply educated out of existence in the public mind.  We can hope intelligent design falls into that category.  But we might worry that modern creationism, begun as a backlash to the anti-Soviet, National Defense Education Act‘s effects on beefing up science teaching in American schools, survives.
Picture from Flying Pig Brewery, Seattle, Washington
Image: Flying Pig Brewing Co., Everett, Washington

[From 2006 and 2007]:

We’re talking past each other now over at Right Reason, on a thread that started out lamenting Baylor’s initial decision to deny Dr. Francis Beckwith tenure last year, but quickly changed once news got out that Beckwith’s appeal of the decision was successful.

I noted that Beckwith’s getting tenure denies ID advocates of an argument that Beckwith is being persecuted for his ID views (wholly apart from the fact that there is zero indication his views on this issue had anything to do with his tenure discussions). Of course, I was wrong there — ID advocates have since continued to claim persecution where none exists. Never let the facts get in the way of a creationism rant, is the first rule of creationism.

Discussion has since turned to the legality of teaching intelligent design in a public school science class. This is well settled law — it’s not legal, not so long as there remains no undisproven science to back ID or any other form of creationism.

Background: The Supreme Court affirmed the law in a 1987 case from Louisiana, Edwards v. Aguillard (482 U.S. 578), affirming a district court’s grant of summary judgment against a state law requiring schools to teach creationism whenever evolution was covered in the curriculum. Summary judgment was issued by the district court because the issues were not materially different from those in an earlier case in Arkansas, McLean vs. Arkansas (529 F. Supp. 1255, 1266 (ED Ark. 1982)). There the court held, after trial, that there is no science in creationism that would allow it to be discussed as science in a classroom, and further that creationism is based in scripture and the advocates of creationism have religious reasons only to make such laws. (During depositions, each creationism advocate was asked, under oath, whether they knew of research that supports creationism; each answered “no.” Then they were asked where creationism comes from, and each answered that it comes from scripture. It is often noted how the testimony changes from creationists, when under oath.)

Especially after the Arkansas trial, it was clear that in order to get creationism into the textbooks, creationists would have to hit the laboratories and the field to do some science to back their claims. Oddly, they have staunchly avoided doing any such work, instead claiming victimhood, usually on religious grounds. To the extent ID differs from all other forms of creationism, the applicability of the law to ID was affirmed late last year in the Pennsylvania case, Kitzmiller v. Dover. (Please go read that case!)

Read the rest of this entry »


Quote of the moment: Al Gore on facing reality

November 25, 2011

Michael Tobis says Gore said it — that’s good enough citation for me:

Reality of climate change crises, Matt Mahurin for Rolling Stone

Matt Mahurin in Rolling Stone, June 11, 2011

Even writing an article like this one carries risks; opponents of the president will excerpt the criticism and strip it of context.

But in this case, the President has reality on his side. The scientific consensus is far stronger today than at any time in the past. Here is the truth: The Earth is round; Saddam Hussein did not attack us on 9/11; Elvis is dead; Obama was born in the United States; and the climate crisis is real. It is time to act.

- Al Gore, in Rolling Stone, June 22, 2011

Actually, Real Aspen has audio of Gore saying stuff like that, and you’ll probably want to listen.  NPR has a story on Gore’s essay in Rolling Stone.


Monckton in New Zealand: His reputation for fabrication preceded him

August 9, 2011

John Abraham’s work ended up giving Christopher Monckton a bumpy ride into New Zealand, according to Country 99 News:

Monckton was lucky the news channel labeled him “Climate Skeptic” and not “Barking Mad.”

More: 


War on science, war on education: Evolution under fire at Texas education board

July 21, 2011

Ryan at the Texas Freedom Network laid out the stakes:

Just a reminder about what new chairwoman Barbara Cargill — and her five “conservative Christian” allies on the State Board of Education — have in mind for the meeting this week:

I am a little bit concerned in looking at some of these science online supplementary materials. I looked at one of the links and there was a picture of a — a graphic of a human fetus next to a gorilla fetus talking about how they only differ by one amino acid. Therefore, universal common decent. So that is of some concern. And I am not quite sure if we are going to have the votes to overturn that. We will work diligently to rectify and correct some of that. But remember we lost a conservative seat, so we’re down to six.

In this unguarded moment, Cargill drops the double-speak and is honest about her plan for the first meeting over which she will preside as chair  — pressure publishers to censor scientific information from their materials and to insert bogus information questioning evolution. And she knows exactly what her task is: to get the extra votes necessary to accomplish this.

Stay tuned to TFN Insider on Thursday and Friday as we give you a front-row seat at the contentious hearing and board vote.

Live blogging the meeting starting at about 10:00 a.m today at TFN Insider at at Steve Schafersman’s blog, from the Texas Citizens for Science.

More, resources:


Friends of science and evolution: Testify next week in the Texas textbook process?

July 14, 2011

I get important e-mail from the Texas Freedom Network; they’re asking for help next week to fight creationism and other forms of buncombe popular in Texas:

Science and the SBOE: One Week to Go

Next week, the Texas State Board of Education will take a critical vote on science in our public schools. We need people like you to make sure the vote is in favor of sound, well-established science.

Up for board consideration are science instructional materials submitted by a number of publishers and vendors who want their product used in Texas classrooms. Even before the board meets, far-right groups have been hard at work trying to ensure materials approved by the board attack and diminish evolutionary science and include the junk science of “intelligent design”/creationism.

The attacks include one from a little-know firm out of New Mexico, International Databases, which submitted instructional materials rife with creationist propaganda.

It gets worse. Far-right SBOE members last month appointed creationists with questionable scientific credentials to teams tasked with reviewing the materials and making recommendations to the board.

And new board chair Barbara Cargill upped the stakes when in a speech just last week she framed the debate over science as a “spiritual battle.”

The board will hold just ONE public hearing on the science materials. Your participation is crucial.

It is critical that you act now by clicking here to express your interest in testifying before the board on July 21.

Please note: The deadline to sign up to testify is 5 p.m. Monday.

We must insist that the SBOE keep junk science – including “intelligent design”/creationism – out of our children’s classrooms. The board must approve only instructional materials that are accurate, that are in line with sound and well-established science, and that will prepare Texas children to succeed in college and the jobs of the 21st century.

Texas Freedom Network advances a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the radical right. www.tfn.org | www.tfninsider.org | General: tfn@tfn.org
Tell a friend to subscribe to TFN News Clips, Alerts or Rapid Response Teams. Subscribers may choose the issue areas that interest them. To change your TFN subscription preferences – or to unsubscribe – click here.
Copyright 2010, Texas Freedom Network

Trying to carve out time here.  Can you help?

Hearings will be most interesting.  Support for the Texas State Board of Education actually comes, often, from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).  TEA this week laid off just under 200 workers, to deal with the 36% budget chopping done to the agency by the Texas Lege.  Word comes this week that curriculum directors at TEA were let go, including the director of science curriculum.

It’s rather like the first 20 weeks of World War II in the Pacific, with the aggressors advancing on almost all fronts against science.  When is our Battle of Midway?

Information, resources: 


Lake Powell drought ended? Don’t trust the warming denialists’ predictions

April 20, 2011

Every once in a while a factoid crosses the desk and/or mind of an otherwise badly-informed person who denies global warming is a problem, and without bothering to check the significance of the factoid, the denialist world ramps up The Crazy Rant.

And so, Steve Goddard (who should need no introduction) seized upon a chart that shows a momentary uptick in water in drought-ravaged Lake Powell.  Ignoring more than 50 years of history of the rive flows, Goddard pronounced the case for global warming dead.

Former AGW poster child Lake Powell water levels have been rising rapidly over the last few years.

It’s a grand example of the triumph of ignorance over experience, science, data, history and the law, in discussions of climate change.

Did Goddard read his own chart?  It shows a decline in lake level from 2010.

Lake Powell levels, charted by Steve Goddard?

Goddard's own chart shows a decline in Lake Powell's March 20 level, from 2010; did he look at the chart? Even Goddard's source says, "Lake Powell is 89.99 feet below Full Pool (Elevation 3,700)."

“Full pool” level is 3,700 feet elevation (the height of the surface of Lake Powell above sea level).  Goddard’s chart shows the lake hasn’t been at that level since 2000 (and it was declining for some time prior to that).  Goddard’s chart shows four years of rise compared to seven years of decline.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation isn’t as optimistic as the warming deniers, noting that drought conditions continue on the Colorado Plateau.

 Upper Colorado River Basin Hydrology

In the Upper Colorado River Basin during water year 2010, the overall precipitation accumulated through September 30, 2010 was approximately 90% of average based on the 30 year average for the period from 1971 through 2000.  For Water Year 2011 thus far, the estimated monthly precipitation within the Upper Colorado River Basin (above Lake Powell) as a percentage of average has been: (October – 135%, November – 95%, December – 225%, January – 50%, February – 100%, March – 90%)

The Climate Prediction Center outlook (dated March 17, 2010) for temperature over the next 3 months indicates that temperatures in the Upper Colorado River Basin are expected to be above average while precipitation over the next 3 months is projected to be near average in the northern reaches of the basin while below average in the southern reaches of the basin.

Upper Colorado River Basin Drought

The Upper Colorado River Basin continues to experience a protracted multi-year drought.  Since 1999, inflow to Lake Powell has been below average in every year except water years 2005 and 2008.  In the summer of 1999, Lake Powell was close to full with reservoir storage at 23.5 million acre-feet, or 97 percent of capacity.  During the next 5 years (2000 through 2004) unregulated inflow to Lake Powell was well below average.  This resulted in Lake Powell storage decreasing during this period to 8.0 million acre-feet (33 percent of capacity) which occurred on April 8, 2005.  During 2005, 2008 and 2009, drought conditions eased somewhat with near or above average inflow conditions and net gains in storage to Lake Powell.  2011 will be another above average inflow year so drought conditions are easing somewhat in the Colorado River Basin. As of April 18, 2011 the storage in Lake Powell was approximately 12.73 million acre-feet (52.3 % of capacity) which is below desired levels.  The overall reservoir storage in the Colorado River Basin as of April 18, 2011 is approximately 31.40 million acre-feet (52.8 % of capacity).
Updated: April 19, 2011

Rick Clayton

Goddard isn’t the first denier to stumble down this path — but can’t they learn from the stumblings of others?  Remember Australia’s “Jo Nova,” who used a photograph of drought-stricken Glen Canyon Dam and environs to claim that warming was not posing problems?  Remember Anthony Watts claiming Lake Powell as a “good proxy” for water in the entire area, and seizing on a momentary uptick?  (Oh, yeah — Watts based his glee on a Goddard note — even repeating Goddard’s error that Lake Powell’s low levels were due to increased use of water in Los Angeles . . .)

Oy.  Do they ever learn?

More, Resources:

The sources from my earlier post on Lake Powell still edify those who bother to read them:

More current sources:


Alan Alda speaks about the future of science communication, for NSF

March 28, 2011

After the long-running, ever popular television series M*A*S*H ended, star Alan Alda got roped into hosting a science program on public television for Scientific American. Alda discovered he really likes science.  He discovered he has a flair for talking about science, too.

With the constant discussion among scientists about how to overcome the War on Science, and especially how to combat the fruit loops, crank scientists, junk science purveyors and others who muddy the waters of understanding science, I thought this interview at a National Science Foundation function was interesting:

Alan Alda speaks about the future of science co…, posted with vodpod

Caption from NSF:

Alan Alda, award winning actor and Visiting Professor with the Center for Communicating Science, talks about his experiences with communicating science to the general public. Looking to close the gap between the scientific community and the public, Mr. Alda discusses what needs to be improved, and how science can be better understood.

Credit: National Science Foundation

Can Alda really do anything about saving science communication, rescuing it from the propaganda machines?


Hoaxing Congress: Claiming DDT as pixie dust

March 9, 2011

Tuesday morning, March 8,  the Republican-controlled House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce opened hearings on global warming, staging an assault on science with a series of witnesses, some of whom recently have made a career out of mau-mauing scientists.

One witness took after the EPA directly and Rachel Carson by implication, with a specious claim that DDT is harmless.  Donald Roberts is a former member of the uniformed public health service.  Since retiring, and perhaps for a while before, he started running with a bad crowd.  Of late he’s been working with the Merry Hoaxsters of the unrooted Astroturf organization Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM), a group dedicated to publishing editorials tearing down the reputation of Rachel Carson, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

(That would all be purple prose, were it not accurate in its description of people, organizations and their actions.)

Here’s a link to Roberts’ written testimony at the committee website.

(Here’s a link to all the other written stuff from the March 8 hearing.)

Why was Roberts testifying at a hearing on global warming?  He’s carrying water for the anti-science, “please-do-nothing” corporate crowd.  It’s a tactic from the old tobacco lobbyist book:  Roberts claims that scientists got everything wrong about DDT, and that the ban on DDT done in error has wreaked havoc in the third world.  Therefore, he says, we should never trust scientists.  If scientists say “duck!” don’t bother, in other words.

Roberts is in error.  Scientists, especially Rachel Carson, were dead right about DDT.  Because corporate interests refused to listen to them, the overuse and abuse of DDT rendered it ineffective in the fight against malaria, and DDT use as part of a very ambitious campaign to eradicate malaria had to be abandoned in 1965.  The entire campaign had to be abandoned as a result, and more than 30 million kids have died since.

So don’t grant credence to Roberts now.  He’s covering up one of the greatest industrial screw-ups in history, a screw up that, by Roberts’ own count, has killed 30 million kids.  What in the world would motivate Roberts to get the story so wrong, to the detriment of so many kids?

Roberts said:

Putting issues of EPA budget aside, I want to introduce my technical comments with a quote from a recent Associated Press article with a lead statement “none of EPA’s actions is as controversial as its rules on global warming.”  In my opinion, this is wrong.

Roberts is correct here in his opinion.  It is simply wrong that EPA’s rules on global warming and controls of the pollutants that cause it should be controversial.  Among air pollution scientists the rules are not controversial.  Among climate scientists the rules are not controversial.  Roberts and his colleagues at the so-called Competitive Enterprise Institute, Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM), and American Enterprise Institute (AEI) work hard to manufacture controversy where the science does not support their case.

It is wrong.  Roberts should be ashamed.

Roberts said:

Almost forty years ago EPA banned DDT in the United States. Its action against DDT was extraordinarily controversial, and still is. As activists advanced fearful claims against DDT, the EPA was warned, over and over again, a ban would destroy critically important disease control programs and millions upon millions of poor people in developing countries would die as consequence. Leaders of the World Health and Pan American Health Organizations, and even the U.S. Surgeon General warned against the ban. The EPA banned DDT anyway, and the doomsday predictions of those public health leaders proved prescient.

Hmmm.  Roberts signed a “truth in testimony” statement — but that’s not the truth, even if no one paid him to fib.

EPA’s ban on DDT in the U.S. was limited to the United States.  Roberts doesn’t say it flat out, but he implies that the U.S. ban on spraying DDT on cotton fields in Texas and Arkansas — and cotton was about the only crop where DDT was still used — somehow caused a ban on DDT in Africa, or Asia, or South America, or other places where malaria still occurs.

Not so.

In fact, EPA Director William Ruckelshaus defied two federal courts who had ordered a complete ban on DDT use and manufacturing — and left U.S. manufacturing to continue for export markets.  This met all objections to the U.S. ban from all health officials.  DDT use could be allowed in the U.S. for health reasons, or for other emergencies (DDT was used in the Pacific Northwest against the tussock moth in 1974, after the “ban”).  Because U.S. DDT manufacturing was dedicated to export, the ban on domestic use of DDT effectively multiplied the stocks of DDT available to fight malaria, or river blindness, or any other insect vector disease.

I’m also not sure that health officials “pleaded” to stop the U.S. ban on any grounds, but certainly they did not plead with Ruckelshaus to keep spraying DDT on cotton.  Roberts is making stuff up in effect, if not in intent.

Probably more to the point, health officials had stopped significant use of DDT in Africa in 1965, seven years before EPA acted in the U.S., because overuse of DDT on crops in Africa had bred mosquitoes that were resistant and immune to the stuff. Since 1955, in close cooperation with the malaria-fighting experts from the Rockefeller Foundation including the great Fred Soper, WHO carried on a methodical, militant campaign to wipe out malaria.  The program required that public health care be beefed up to provide accurate malaria diagnoses, and complete treatment of human victims of the parasitic disease.  Then an army of house sprayers would move in, dosing the walls of houses and huts with insecticide.  Most malaria-carrying mosquitoes at the time would land on the walls of a home or hut after biting a human and getting a blood meal, pausing to squeeze out heavy, excess water to make flight easier.  If the wall were coated with an insecticide, the mosquito would die before being able to bite many more people, maybe before becoming capable of spreading malaria.

DDT was Soper’s insecticide of choice because it was long-lasting — six months or more — and astonishingly deadly to all small creatures it contacted. 

But, as Malcolm Gladwell related in his 2001 paean to Soper in The New Yorker, Soper and his colleagues well understood they were racing against the day that mosquitoes became resistant enough to DDT that their program would not work.  They had hoped the day would not arrive until the late 1970s or so — but DDT is such an effective killer that it greatly speeds evolutionary processes.  In the mid-1960s, before an anti-malaria campaign could even be mounted in most of Subsaharan Africa, resistant and immune mosquitoes began to stultify the campaign.  By 1965, Soper’s crews worked hard to find a substitute, but had to switch from DDT.  By 1972 when the U.S. banned DDT use on cotton in the U.S., it was too late to stop the resistance genes from killing WHO’s anti-malaria program.  In 1969 WHO formally abandoned the goal of malaria eradication.  The fight against malaria switched to control.

Roberts claims, implicitly, that people like those who worked with Soper told EPA in 1971 that DDT was absolutely essential to their malaria-fighting efforts.  That could not be accurate.  In 1969 the committee that oversaw the work of the UN voted formally to end the malaria eradication project.  In effect, then, Roberts claims UN and other health officials lied to EPA in 1971.  It is notable that Soper is credited with eradicating malaria from Brazil by 1942, completely without DDT, since DDT was not then available.  Soper’s methods depended on discipline in medical care and pest control, and careful thought as to how to beat the disease — DDT was a help, but not necessary.

Interestingly, the only citation Roberts offers is to his own, nearly-self-published book, in which he indicts almost all serious malaria fighters as liars about DDT.

Can Roberts’ testimony be trusted on this point?  I don’t think we should trust him.

In fact, DDT and the eradication campaign had many good effects.  In 1959 and 1960, when DDT use was at its peak in the world, malaria deaths numbered about 4 million annually.  The eradication campaign ultimately was ended, but it and other malaria-fighting efforts, and general improvements in housing and sanitation, helped cut the annual death toll to 2 million a year by 1972.

After the U.S. stopped spraying DDT on cotton, mosquitoes did not migrate from Texas and Arkansas to Africa.  As noted earlier, the EPA order stopping agricultural use, left manufacturing untouched, to increase U.S. exports.  So the ban on DDT in the U.S. increased the amount of DDT available to fight malaria.

Malaria fighting, under Soper’s standards, required great discipline among the malaria fighters — the sort of discipline that governments in Subsaharan Africa could not provide.  Had WHO not slowed its use of DDT because of mosquito resistance to the stuff, WHO still would not have been able to mount eradication campaigns in nations where 80% of residences could not be sprayed regularly.

Advances in medical care, and better understanding of malaria and the vectors that spread it, helped continue the downward trend of malaria deaths.  There was a modest uptick in the 1980s when the parasites themselves developed resistance to the drugs commonly used to treat the disease.  With the advent of pharmaceuticals based on Chinese wormwood, or artemisinin-based drugs, therapy for humans has become more effective.  Today, the annual death toll to malaria has been cut to under a million, to about 900,000 per year — a 75% drop from DDT’s peak use, a 50% drop from the U.S. ban on farm use of DDT.

With the assistance of WHO, most nations who still suffer from malaria have adopted a strategy known as Integrated Vector Management, or IVM (known as integrated pest management or IPM in the U.S.).  Pesticides are used sparingly, and insect pests are monitored regularly and carefully to be sure they are not developing genetic-based resistance or immunity to the pesticides.  This is the method that Rachel Carson urged in 1962, in her book, Silent Spring.  Unfortunately, much of the malaria-suffering world didn’t come to these methods until after the turn of the century.

Progress against malaria has been good since 2001, using Rachel Carson’s methods.

Don Roberts’ blaming of science, EPA, WHO, and all other malaria fighters is not only misplaced, wrong in its history and wrong in its science, but it is also just nasty.  Is there any way Roberts could not know and understand the facts?

These are the facts Roberts works to hide from Congress:

  1. “Science” and scientists were right about DDT.  DDT is a dangerous substance, uncontrollable in the wild according to federal court findings and 40 years of subsequent research.  If we were to judge the accuracy of scientists about DDT, we would have to conclude that they were deadly accurate in their judgment that use of DDT should be stopped.
  2. If the ban on DDT was controversial in 1972, it should not be now.  All research indicates that the judgment of EPA and its director, William Ruckelshaus, was right.
  3. EPA was not warned that a ban on agricultural use of DDT would harm public health programs, in the U.S., nor anywhere else in the world.  In any case, EPA’s jurisdiction ends at U.S. borders — why would WHO say anything at all?
  4. DDT use to fight malaria had been curtailed in 1965, years before the U.S. ban on farm use, because overuse of DDT on crops had bred DDT-resistant and DDT-immune mosquitoes.  Consequently, there was not a huge nor vociferous lobby who warned that health would be put at risk if DDT were banned.  Claims that these warnings were made are either false or grossly misleading.
  5. Malaria death rates declined to less than 50% of what they were when DDT was banned from farm use in the U.S. — there was no “doomsday” because the U.S. stopped spraying DDT on cotton, and there never has been a serious shortage of DDT for use against malaria, anywhere in the world.

How much of the rest of the testimony against doing something about global warming, was complete hoax?

More:

[Editor's note:  My apologies.  I put this together on three different machines while conducting other activities.  On proofing, I find several paragraphs simply disappeared, and edits to make up for the time of composing and fix tenses, got lost.  It should be mostly okay, now, and I'll add in the links that disappeared shortly . . . oh, the sorry work of the part-time blogger.]


Form of child abuse confirmed at Creation Museum

March 6, 2011

Ken Ham’s organization, Answers in Genesis, tells the sad story of a case of child abuse at his group’s Creation Museum in Kentucky.

I don’t get the idea that Ham is sad about it, though, do you?

Destroying a child’s natural curiosity about science and the world around them damages them for life.  In the U.S., we are fighting trends that show kids in 4th grade are as scientifically adept as the other best students in the world; by 8th grade their affinity for science has begun to fade, and by 12th grade, U.S. students rank far below many other industrialized nations in science achievement.  Ken Ham’s story is one reason why that happens.

Isn’t crushing a child’s intelligence a form of child abuse?

Is this story funny, or tragic?

Update: At Digital Cuttlefish, a story from the other side.  (Thanks, George.)

Another update:  Even more from Digital Cuttlefish, The Rest of the Story.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Unreasonable Faith.


War on science – what else would you call it?

February 4, 2011

From Michael Tobis at Only In It For the Gold, an essential blog for Texans:

At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Rand Paul proposes half a trillion in cuts to the US government, including:

  • National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is cut by $857 million.
  • NIH is cut by $5.8 billion.
  • DOE is completely defunded, with some nuclear-related tasks shifted to DOD.
  • NASA is cut by $4,500,000,000 (25%)
  • NSF is cut by $4,723,000,000. (62%)

Science? What science?

Cutting the federal budget is difficult.  Yes, we have a crisis in spending.  We also have many crises in education and in research, and many crises in our economy that are, each of them, rooted in a need for new research.

Is Rand Paul a complete fool?  Is he in league with Chinese Exceptionalists?  Are his ears made of tin?  Or is he a warrior against American knowledge and the American future?

This is a debate which needs facts, and people who can evaluate facts and arguments, and people with a vision for a future America — a good vision for a future America.

One gets the feeling that Rand Paul would have gone after the funding for Ben Franklin’s experiments — not because it would help the federal deficits, since Franklin funded his own work — but because he just doesn’t like science. ‘Why should we let Dr. Franklin take lightning from the gods?’ Rand might ask.  ‘Dr. Franklin should stay out of theology.’

And so the modern-day, real Rand Paul, blunders on, waging a War on Science.


Annals of Hoaxes: American Enterprise Institute sends out hoax backgrounder on DDT and trade barriers

January 25, 2011

How do hoaxes get started?

The self-proclaimed august American Enterprise Institute issued a “backgrounder” today on foreign trade.  Backgrounder #2509, written by James Roberts.

The first paragraph is complete fiction:

Decades ago, the use of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) was banned worldwide for what were generally seen as noble and unassailable environmental and public health reasons. Today, ample evidence shows that the ban on DDT spraying has been a tragic mistake. In developing countries, it is linked to millions of preventable deaths from malaria. Worse, some protectionist European business sectors and activist groups continue to exploit the fears of DDT in ways that increase the suffering of the poor around the world.

Here are the errors of fact:

  1. DDT has never been banned worldwide, so there could never be a decades-old worldwide ban. A nearly-world-wide ban was agreed upon by treaty  in late 2001, less than one decade ago.  However, any nation may ignore the ban, legally, by simply writing a letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) saying the nation will be using DDT.  DDT manufacturing continues in a few nations today, including North Korea and India.  India is far and away the largest user of DDT now, using more than all other nations combined.  No worldwide ban on DDT ever existed, and DDT use has been continuous since 1946.
  2. Earlier bans on DDT were assailed in court as unreasonable infringements on commerce. The U.S. banned DDT use on agricultural crops in 1972, but only after two federal district courts had ruled the substance essentially uncontrollable in the wild, and after a lengthy administrative law hearing at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) covering most of 1971 and more than 9,000 pages of testimony.  EPA’s rule left DDT available in the U.S. for emergency use, or for health use.  EPA’s rule left manufacturing alone so the U.S. could export DDT to any other nation who wanted to use it.  Still, DDT manufacturers fought hard in court to overturn the ruling.  Manufacturers argued that the science was thin to back the ban, and that the ban was too much regulation for small gain.  Appeals courts ruled that the science backing the ban was ample.
  3. 39 years after the U.S. ban on crop spraying with DDT, benefits are enormous — history and science show the recovery of dozens of beneficial species, ranging from mosquito-eating Mexican free-tail bats in Texas, through fish in Oklahoma, to osprey, peregrine falcons, brown pelicans and bald eagles in the rest of the U.S. Unknown at the time EPA acted, DDT has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor of the sort that scrambles the sex organs of fish and amphibians in the Potomac and Susquehanna Rivers in the U.S.  Also unknown in 1972, EPA now is listed by the American Cancer Society as a “probable human carcinogen,” though it is thought to be a weak carcinogen to adults directly exposed.
  4. Malaria deaths have been cut by 75% since DDT was indicted as a harmful substance. Perhaps more surprising, without DDT, health workers around the world have sharply reduced malaria incidence and especially malaria deaths.  Nearly four million people died from malaria, worldwide, at the height of DDT use in 1959 through 1961.  Today that death toll has been cut to under 900,000, through wise use of curative pharmaceuticals, careful use of prophylactic nets and home improvements, and the development of new, better-targeted pesticides.  Malaria fighters especially are redoubling efforts to make the disease at least rare, now encouraged by the dramatic strides made without relying on DDT.  Ironically, India has a growing malaria problem, despite its being the greatest user of DDT today.  (Even more ironic:  Roberts claims about half the death rate WHO does — a 90% reduction in malaria deaths.)
  5. No preventable death to malaria has been tied to a lack of DDT. No nation has ever had difficulty getting DDT if it wanted it.  The fight against malaria was hampered when the malaria parasites developed resistance to traditional pharmaceuticals used to treat the disease in humans, but the promulgation of artemisinin-based combination therapies made up the gap. Nations have difficulty developing a health care system that can quickly and accurately diagnose malaria, and which form of malaria, and then deliver the necessary therapeutic regimen of pharmaceuticals to cure humans.  DDT cannot make up for that difficulty, partly because DDT use itself now requires rather extensive testing to make sure it works.  As Jonathan Weiner noted in his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Beak of the Finch, nearly every mosquito on Earth today carries at least one of two alleles which make them resistant or wholly immune to DDT.  DDT cannot be used without first testing to be sure the mosquitoes are killed by it.
  6. No otherwise noble European or “western” business groups nor environmental groups work against the minor use of DDT for indoor residual spraying (IRS). For example, the Environmental Defense Fund was one of the groups that lobbied the Bush administration to allow USAID money to buy DDT for IRS in Africa, a use the Bush administration inexplicably had not allowed.  Opposition to this minor DDT use in Uganda was organized by Uganda businessmen who sued to stop it, not by European groups — generally.  BAT, British-American Tobacco, did organize opposition to use of DDT, on specious grounds — highly ironic since the people who run the pro-DDT publicity machine are, several of them, former tobacco propagandists whose organizations go seed money from tobacco companies.  Generally, DDT use for IRS in Africa is supported by everyone involved, including environmentalists and the U.S. government.

Four sentences and six grievous errors of fact from the American Enterprise Institute.  And this is just the first paragraph of their “background” paper.

James Roberts may have tried to pluck an example from a history he does not understand.  There may be a problems with trade and pharmaceuticals and pesticides — but none of the problems he cites for DDT is accurate and true.  He may have fallen for the hoaxes perpetrated by others.

Watch:  A hundred others will cite the hoax conclusions Roberts lists, claiming American Enterprise Institute as the source.  Likely they will assume AEI had its facts straight, and wasn’t the victim of a hoax.

And that’s how hoaxes get started, big time. This is how no-think tanks wage the War on Science.

Will AEI issue a correction?

Does anyone take such publications as authoritative?  May God forbid.

With such a sloppy start, can the rest of the paper be any better?

(Oy, now I scan down the document, and I see Roberts cited Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as saying DDT use would lead to extinction of birds, “offering no proof.”  Since Carson made no such direct claim, and since the book was loaded with citations to the studies that proved her points, that is it was loaded with “proof,” we must conclude that Roberts did not bother to actually open the book, let alone read it.  That doesn’t speak well for the chances of getting a correction.)


Penn and Teller decimate anti-vaccination arguments

September 2, 2010

Should you allow your kids to be vaccinated, or are you worried about autism?

Penn and Teller lay out the facts.  Warning:  Profanity (well deserved, but profane, all the same):

Tip of the old scrub brush to DrJohnSea.


We Are Science Probes

August 14, 2010

In animation, a parable about the dangers of being intentionally ignorant of science. In the not-distant-enough future, a probe from another planet arrives on Earth after the demise of human civilization. Unfortunately, the probes land in Kansas, the land of creationism and woo. The plot thickens.

[My apologies -- the version I found did not come with a "pause" button.  It will play automatically when you open this post.  Fortunately, it's almost perfectly safe-for-work.  If you don't like the music, turn it off.  There is no spoken dialogue in the cartoon.  If you wish to pause the playing of the cartoon, right click to get to the Adobe Flash Player controls.  To pause the playing click the checkmark next to "play."]

[Update August 18 -- Okay, I give up -- 100% of comments I've been getting ran against the video without the "start" or "pause" buttons.  You'll have to go see it at another site -- here, for example.]

Found it at a site called NewGrounds, which includes several other animation pieces.  The piece was created by a group that goes by the handle Billy Blob.

Sure would love this group to turn their creative faculties to hard history — say, the Progressive Movement and Gilded Age.  (Probably less chance of commercialization there, and perhaps less chance of awe-striking art, too.)

Tip of the old scrub brush to P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula.


Stealth creationists aim to mess up biology students

July 15, 2010

So, God is a platypus?

Appearing to be aware they are losing the battle of the classroom to real science, creationists have taken a sneakier way to undermine science education.  P. Z. Myers explains:

A lot of people have been writing to me about this free webgame, CellCraft. In it, you control a cell and build up all these complex organelles in order to gather resources and fight off viruses; it’s cute, it does throw in a lot of useful jargon, but the few minutes I spent trying it were also a bit odd — there was something off about it all.

Where do you get these organelles? A species of intelligent platypus just poofs them into existence for you when you need them. What is the goal? The cells have a lot of room in their genomes, so the platypuses are going to put platypus DNA in there, so they can launch them off to planet E4R1H to colonize it with more platypuses. Uh-oh. These are Intelligent Design creationist superstitions: that organelles didn’t evolve, but were created for a purpose; that ancient cells were ‘front-loaded’ with the information to produced more complex species; and that there must be a purpose to all that excess DNA other than that it is junk.

Suspicions confirmed. Look in the credits.

Also thanks to Dr. Jed Macosko at Wake Forest University and Dr. David Dewitt at Liberty University for providing lots of support and biological guidance.

Those two are notorious creationists and advocates for intelligent design creationism. Yep. It’s a creationist game. It was intelligently designed, and it’s not bad as a game, but as a tool for teaching anyone about biology, it sucks. It is not an educational game, it is a miseducational game. I hope no one is planning on using it in their classroom. (Dang. Too late. I see in their forums that some teachers are enthusiastic about it — they shouldn’t be).

No such thing as a free lunch.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Free software for use in educating kids about biology, sounds too good to be true.

_____________

In comments, Lars Doucet disavows creationist intent.  So the creationist/intelligent design factors were added just to make the game more playable, and not as an attempt to introduce or endorse creationism or intelligent design.

Lots of discussion, much of it rude (some of it delightfully so), at Myers’ joint.

Maybe, if the makers didn’t intend to make a creationist stealth game, they could jigger the thing to make it more accurate?


The unbearable lightness of climate denialist thought

December 28, 2009

Maybe “emptiness” would be a better description.

Carbon dioxide’s greenhouse gas functions were discovered in the 19th century.  The physics are beyond dispute by rational people.

But that doesn’t stop the hard-core denialists from searching for a way to deny the undeniable.  Anthony Watts hosts a guest post from a guy who says that because the atmosphere is complex, the physics of global warming do not apply.

The guest poster is Willis Eschenbach.  His argument?  Well, rivers don’t run straight to the sea; they meander.  Ergo, water doesn’t run downhill in a complex system.   Consequently, no global warming.  In another place he argues that humans are not metal, therefore, no global warming.

I mean — sweet Mother of Pearl! –  this guy even denies the existence of the Army Corps of Engineers, and river straightening:

The results of changes in such a flow system are often counterintuitive. For example, suppose we want to shorten the river. Simple physics says it should be easy. So we cut through an oxbow bend, and it makes the river shorter … but only for a little while. Soon the river readjusts, and some other part of the river becomes longer. The length of the river is actively maintained by the system. Contrary to our simplistic assumptions, the length of the river is not changed by our actions.

No wonder they place all their bets on stealing e-mails from scientists.  Somebody show that man the South Platte River through Denver, Colorado, or the Los Angeles River through Los Angeles, or the Mississippi from Arkansas to the Gulf.  Somebody give that man a paddle!

Here are a couple of clues:  First, water always runs downhill — capillary action being the exception.  Eschenbach doesn’t propose capillary action as a driver of river meandering.  Any hydrologist will tell  you, however, that even a meandering river runs downhill.  Second, human beings don’t conduct heat like metal blocks.  Even a dead human won’t conduct heat like a copper block, but especially a living human will radiate heat away through several different paths, so that heating the feet of a human will not cause a concomitant rise in temperature of the head.  But, heck, if you soak the human’s head in hot water, it won’t warm like a block of steel, either.  The examples offered in this piece get pushed past the brink of absurdity.  It’s impossible for me to believe that Eschenbach — or Watts — fails to understand the physics so greatly.  I can only imagine that they are driven by a fanatic devotion to an idea of the result they hope to see, and that blinds them to the errors they make.

Finally, water’s flow, downhill or up with capillary action, doesn’t negate global warming.  Human conductivity affects warming not at all, also.

(No, “constructal theory” doesn’t have much to do with itConstructal theory generally doesn’t apply to atmospheric conditions, since the air is, technically, not alive, but a dynamic fluid system already highly evolved for these purposes.  Even for those cases in which contructal ideas apply to non-living systems, constructal theory does not claim that laws of physics are suspended or held in abeyance, as Eschenbach claims at Watts’s blog.  The idea of constructal theory is that systems not in equilibrium, will, over time, figure out (evolve) more efficient means to get into equilibrium.  This has nothing to do with the fact of CO2 acting as a greenhouse gas.  Constructal theory would only suggest that, over time, the atmosphere would develop systems to get heat distributed better despite CO2, which means that warming would not be held in abeyance at all, but spread out further and farther.)

Watts is already hot that I posted science links at his place on another post.  Go see what other commenters can get away with.  Can the camel’s nose of real science push into the WUWT tent?

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