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!)

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Crank history assault on Alabama Public Television

July 10, 2012

Highly disturbing news from the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Alabama Public Television Apparently Heading Far Right

Posted in Extremist Propaganda

by Mark Potok on June 18, 2012

Lord help us. Alabama Public Television (APT), a voice of reason in a state that often seems to have very little, is apparently succumbing to the crazies.

Last week, the two top executives of the network were summarily fired by the Alabama Educational Television Commission, APT’s governing body, after they resisted an effort by a new commissioner to air DVDs produced by a far-right theocrat who has been roundly condemned by historians. In the days that followed, three members of a foundation set up to raise money for APT also resigned.

The videos were produced by David Barton, an evangelical propagandist who claims falsely that America was founded as a Christian nation and has also become Glenn Beck’s unofficial — and completely untrained — “historian.” The DVDs were suggested by commissioner Rodney Herring, an Opelika-based chiropractor who was appointed to the panel last year and elected its secretary in January.

Immediately after meeting in executive session June 12, commissioners ordered APT Executive Director Allan Pizzato and his deputy, Pauline Howland, to clear out their desks and leave APT’s Birmingham headquarters. Pizzato had been APT executive director for 12 years; Howland was his deputy director and the network’s chief financial officer.

Pizzato would not comment on the reasons for the firing, other than to say commissioners were seeking to go in “a new direction.” But Howland, in an interview with Current.org, a news service of the American University’s School of Communication, said that Pizzato and his staff had “grave concerns” about airing the videos, which strongly advocate a religious interpretation of the past that historians say is simply wrong. She said she was “baffled” by the firings but recalled Pizatto asking his staff for advice on how to respond to Herring’s proposal.

Commission Chairman Ferris Stephens disputed Current’s report in an interview with The Associated Press, but gave no specifics. Herring, for his part, claimed that disagreement over the Barton DVDs played an “at best minimal” role in the firings, which he described as part of an overall restructuring effort. “We believe it to be a positive change,” wrote another commissioner, conservative talk radio host J. Holland, in response to AP’s queries about the firings. “Simple as that.”

As simple as that? Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I don’t believe it.

Stephens told the AP that Barton’s videos had been discussed in the last meeting before the one that produced the firings last week. He said there was another item related to Barton’s organization, WallBuilders, on the agenda for last week’s meeting, but that the commission didn’t get to that item before adjourning. Herring, for his part, denied knowing that Pizzato and Howland had any opinion at all about the DVDs, although Howland told Current that Pizzato had made it clear that he thought the films were “inappropriate” for APT.

Why is it that Pizzato and Howland were fired just as the matter seemed to be coming to a head? Why won’t Stephens and the other commissioners cough up the real reason for the firings, if it wasn’t what seems obvious? When the AP story ran last week, Herring was quoted saying the station may indeed broadcast some of the Barton videos. In fact, he said the commission had consulted attorneys about that possibility. That’s a funny thing to do if you’re just deciding whether to show a film on public television, not making controversial personnel decisions.

The sad truth is, this kind of extremism is getting to be par for the course in Alabama. We passed the immigrant-bashing H.B. 56 and, when legal problems with it came up, our legislators responded by actually making the draconian bill even worse. Last month, the same legislature, after the John Birch Society warned hysterically about a United Nations global sustainability plan, actually passed a law saying that property here cannot be confiscated as part of Agenda 21 — even though that entirely voluntary plan does not and could not require that. One of our current congressmen even claimed a few years back that he knew of 17 “socialists” in the U.S. Congress — although, like Joe McCarthy, he declined to name them.

Why does Rodney Herring want to show Barton’s videos? He isn’t saying. But what Barton has to say should make Alabamians’ hair stand on end.

Barton doesn’t only not believe in global warming — he thinks reducing carbon dioxide emissions would actually devastate the planet. Barton fought to have the names of Martin Luther King Jr. and labor activist Cesar Chavez removed from public school textbooks. He says God set the borders of nations, so immigration reform is unnecessary. He argues that homosexuality should be regulated because gay people “die decades earlier than heterosexuals” and more than half of all gays have had more than 500 sex partners — both falsehoods.

It isn’t only liberals who dislike Barton. Derek Davis, director of the J.M. Dawson Institute on Church-State Studies at Baylor University, says “a lot of what he presents is a distortion of the truth.” J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, says his writings are “laced with exaggerations, half-truths and misstatements of fact.” Mark Lilla, a scholar who has taught at University of Chicago and Columbia University, says Barton’s work is “schlock history written by [a] religious propagandist” and uses “selective quotations out of context.”

But none of this apparently came up when the commissioners, in their great wisdom, decided to fire Allan Pizzato and Pauline Howland. Instead, it looks like Barton’s backers succeeded, by a reported 5-2 vote, in silencing their own eminently sensible executives, and then refusing to come clean with the public about their action.

Once again, Alabama will be the poorer. Lord help us.

Supporters of Alabama Public Television set up a website to provide information on the fight to save APT.

David Barton is, of course, the voodoo history promoter from Texas, former vice-chairman of the Texas Republican Party who led the party into a variety of anti-education policies.  Barton’s organization to spread his bogus history claims is Wallbuilders.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Ellie.

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Creationists, lay off Nessie (part 2)

June 29, 2012

Nessie replica in Scotland. Česky: Lochneská n...

Nessie replica in Scotland. Or, a replica of what that drunk guy claimed he saw. Based on a sketch the police wouldn’t use. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dave Does the Blog agreed, and pointed the way to Slacktivist, a blog on issues of faith and lack of faith, who also agree that creationists ought to change their tune:  The Loch Ness Monster doesn’t belong in science textbooks, especially as a claim against evolution theory.

We soaked this idea a bit here at the bathtub a couple of days ago.

Slacktivist points out that the Nessie claim is taught in schools funded with public money.  Your tax dollars at work, parents, teachers and politicians, teaching your children that Nessie is real.

English: Looking west as Nessie marches up 6th...

What constitutes real science evidence, for creationism? Looking west as Nessie marches up 6th Avenue on a sunny early afternoon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What about monsters under the bed?  Does the text claim they contradict evolution, too?


Christians, call on this publisher to repent

June 27, 2012

What would Jesus do in a case like this?

In order to question evolution theory, a publisher claiming to be Christian, publishing books to be used in nominally Christian schools that get charter school funds, claims that the Loch Ness Monster is real.  Why?

[Loch Ness Monster = dinosaur] + [Alive with humans] = [Falsification of evolution theory]

Like Dave Barry, we could not make this stuff up.  It’s too lunatic for fiction.

Here’s the story, from Scotsman.com (not “true Scotsman,” of course) (links added):

Loch Ness monster cited by US schools as evidence that evolution is myth

The Loch Ness monster: Used as evidence that evolution is myth

The Loch Ness monster: Used as evidence that evolution is myth*

By CLAIRE MCKIN
Published on Monday 25 June 2012 14:05

THOUSANDS of American school pupils are to be taught that the Loch Ness monster is real – in an attempt by religious teachers to disprove Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Pupils attending privately-run Christian schools in the southern state of Louisiana will learn from textbooks next year, which claim Scotland’s most famous mythological beast is a living creature.

Thousands of children are to receive publicly-funded vouchers enabling them to attend the schools – which follow a strict fundamentalist curriculum.

The Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) programme teaches controversial religious beliefs, aimed at disproving evolution and proving creationism.

Youngsters will be told that if it can be proved that dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time as man, then Darwinism is fatally flawed.

Critics have slammed the content of the religious course books, labelling them “bizarre” and accusing them of promoting radical religious and political ideas.

One ACE textbook called Biology 1099, Accelerated Christian Education Inc reads: “Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence.

“Have you heard of the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.”

Another claim taught is that a Japanese whaling boat once caught a dinosaur.

One former pupil, Jonny Scaramanga, 27, who went through the ACE programme as a child, but now campaigns against Christian fundamentalism, said the Nessie claim was presented as “evidence” that evolution could not have happened.

He added: “The reason for that is they’re saying if Noah’s flood only happened 4,000 years ago, which they believe literally happened, then possibly a sea monster survived.

“If it was millions of years ago then that would be ridiculous. That’s their logic. It’s a common thing among creationists to believe in sea monsters.”

Private religious schools, including the Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, Louisiana, which follows the ACE curriculum, have already been cleared to receive the state voucher money transferred from public school funding, thanks to a bill pushed through by Republican state governor Bobby Jindal, a Hindu convert to Catholicism.

Boston-based researcher and writer Bruce Wilson, who specialises in the American political religious right, said: “One of these texts from Bob Jones University Press claims that dinosaurs were fire-breathing dragons. It has little to do with science as we currently understand. It’s more like medieval scholasticism.”

Mr Wilson believes that such fundamentalist Christian teaching is going on in at least 13 American states.

He added: “There’s a lot of public funding going to private schools, probably around 200,000 pupils are receiving this education.

“The majority of parents now home schooling their kids are Christian fundamentalists too. I don’t believe they should be publicly funded, I don’t believe the schools who use these texts should be publicly funded.”

And you wonder why kids turn out like they do?

Christians, you may disagree with evolution theory, or Darwin’s findings and the work of 10,000 other scientists, but do you want to perpetrate bald-faced hoaxes to defend your disagreement?  Call on the publisher to change the book.  Spreading falsehoods is the wrong way to go about getting at the truth.

_____________

*  Yes, that’s the photo that’s been debunked a dozen times, a dozen ways.  Whatever it is a photograph of, it is not the Loch Ness Monster.

More, and Related articles


Update: Romney campaign continues attacks on education, calls for fewer teachers, cops and firefighters

June 12, 2012

Romney campaign chairman John Sununu danced a little bit trying to qualify Mitt Romney’s attack on first responders and teachers — Sununu said some cities have smaller populations than they once did, and they need fewer teachers.

But Sununu continued to attack all teachers, all cops, and all firefighters.

Sununu’s position, opposed to all government workers, remains relatively consistent over the past three decades.  Sununu remains one of the crabbiest people ever to hold high office and great power (U.S. Senator, White House chief of staff).  We probably should take him at his word now.

ThinkProgress.com quotes Sununu:

SUNUNU: Let me respond as a taxpayer, not as a representative of the Romney campaign. There are municipalities, there are states where there is flight of population. And as the population goes down, you need fewer teachers. As technology contributes to community security and dealing with issues that firefighters have to deal with, you would hope that you can, as a taxpayer, see the benefits of the efficiency and personnel that you get out of that.

JANSING: But even if there’s movement to the suburbs, teachers and policemen are needed somewhere.

SUNUNU: But I’m going to tell you there are places where just pumping money in to add to the public payroll is not what the taxpayers of this country want.

JANSING: Do you think that taxpayers of this country want to hear fewer firefighters, fewer teachers, fewer police officers, from a strategic standpoint?

SUNUNU: If there’s fewer kids in the classrooms, the taxpayers really do want to hear there will be fewer teachers. […] You have a lot of places where that is happening. You have a very mobile country now where things are changing. You have cities in this country in which the school population peaked ten, 15 years ago. And, yet the number of teachers that may have maintained has not changed. I think this is a real issue. And people ought to stop jumping on it as a gaffe and understand there’s wisdom in the comment.

Nationwide, the number of students is increasing, and even with the dip for the recent massive Republican recession, population continues to grow.  My school is not representative of the entire nation, but we had a 25% increase in student population, with a 10% decrease in faculty.  Class sizes rose dramatically (I had as many as 36 students in a room designed for 22).

That’s more common than decreasing student populations.

I’m not sure we can accuse Sununu of not being in touch with what goes on in the U.S.  He maintains his anti-government, do-more-with-less positions despite knowing better.

Yes, I think his explanation is dissembling.

But be warned:  The War on American Exceptionalism should not come as a surprise; Romney’s campaign is making it clear that they prefer to do damage to U.S. institutions like law enforcement and education.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Jennsmom.


Fruits of the Republican War on Education

January 16, 2012

You didn’t think it was working already?

This story appeared in the Los Angeles Times, which is why Republicans discourage newspaper publishing, and why they discourage programs to teach people to read well and remember history.

In South Carolina, a discrepancy on federal spending

Campaigning Republicans draw cheers with their calls for cuts to government programs. But the state benefits from such programs to a greater extent than many others.

By Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times

January 14, 2012, 7:55 p.m.

Reporting from Beaufort, S.C.—

When Rick Santorum stood in front of voters at a yacht club in this small town and pledged to slash government spending, especially entitlement programs, Nancy Garvin knew she had found her candidate.

Garvin, 54, said she was sick of seeing government squander money through agencies that don’t do anything, and wants expenditures cut “in half.”

Washington is throwing money away through a lot of wasteful spending,” she said, sitting at a picnic table beneath trees draped in graying Spanish moss.

But Garvin, whose husband, a carpenter, has been out of work for four years, depends on the very government she wants to see cut back. She collects disability insurance — it is what she and her husband have survived on as he’s looked for work. Her mother is on Social Security. Garvin herself used to work as a nurse at a hospital where many patients paid for services through Medicaid, another program using federal money.

Garvin’s views are similar to those of many Republican voters in this conservative state, where candidates pledging to cut government spending were met with resounding applause last week, and where former Gov. Mark Sanford tried to refuse federal stimulus funding on principle.

South Carolina and its residents benefit from government spending, more so than many other states. For every dollar the state pays in federal taxes, it receives $1.35 in federal government benefits. By contrast, California receives only 78 cents for every dollar it pays in taxes.

“We get more back from the federal government than we send in terms of revenue,” said Doug Woodward, an economics professor at the University of South Carolina. “But I’m not sure that a lot of voters would even care if they heard that. When they say they want to see less spending in the state, they’re referring to entitlement programs.”

Much of the money spent in South Carolina goes to the programs that make up a big chunk of the federal budget — defense, Social Security and Medicaid. The state has seven military bases, and received $7 billion in Defense Department spending in 2010. One in five residents in South Carolina receives Social Security benefits — compared with just 13% in California. As an aging state, South Carolina will be more dependent on federal programs such as Social Security in the coming decade, according to AARP.

“People want to see lower government spending, especially on the Republican side,” said Karen Kedrowski, a politics professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. “But when they’re asked specifically about high-dollar items, including Social Security and defense, they are not willing to accept significant cuts.”

Kedrowski’s university recently polled South Carolina Republicans to ask about reducing the deficit by making cuts to government programs: 73% of voters said they weren’t willing to have their current Social Security or Medicare benefits reduced to address budget concerns. More than half said they weren’t willing to cut defense spending either.

It’s not just wealthy Republican voters in the Palmetto State who say they eschew entitlement programs, Kedrowski said.

“There’s also a disproportionate number of low-income people who vote Republican because they respond to the populist messages, even when it is against their economic interests to do so,” she said.

Sheila Barton, 56, runs a floral shop in Pickens, a town that Rick Perry visited recently to stroll down Main Street and shake hands with store owners and residents.

“Americans don’t want a government that’s playing a bigger role in their lives,” Perry had said at a speech earlier that morning. “No one’s ever come up to me and said, ‘We sure need to have more government in our lives.'”

Barton agrees — in principle.

“There’s a lot of things that are wasteful,” she said, but when pressed to name some, she said she couldn’t really think of any off the top of her head. Defense spending should be increased, she said, and people who have paid into Social Security should receive their benefits. And local government programs need more funding, she said — she’s currently a guardian for local children through the court system.

There is some evidence that South Carolina’s opposition to government spending might further strangle the state’s already weak economy — if it leads to cuts in Social Security. Roberto Gallardo of the Southern Rural Development Center says that economies in many small towns in South Carolina are increasingly dependent on Social Security payments.

The percentage of total personal income in South Carolina coming from Social Security’s Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance programs was 7.6% in 2009, up from 3.8% in 1970. South Carolina ranks eighth in the nation on the group’s Social Security Dependency Index, which measures how reliant local economies are on Social Security payments for job creation and consumer spending. Neighboring North Carolina ranked 23rd.

That means candidates have to walk a fine line here — promising to cut government to alleviate voters’ fears, while still preserving the programs that require most of the spending. How else to appeal to such voters as Clifton Anderson of Camden, who went to see Rick Santorum speak in a diner in Ridgeway?

“His ideas of downsizing government are most important to me,” said Anderson, about Santorum. He continued, in the next breath: “I also like his idea about strengthening defense.”

alana.semuels@latimes.com

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times


Quote of the moment: Diane Ravitch, history won’t be kind to those who attacked teachers

August 29, 2011

Attacking Teachers Attacks My Future

"Attacking Teachers Attacks My Future" sign carried by students supporting teachers at the Wisconsin Capitol Building, February 16, 2011. Photo by BlueRobot, Ron Chandenais

Of one thing I feel sure—history will not be kind to those who gleefully attacked teachers, sought to fire them based on inaccurate measures, and worked zealously to reduce their status and compensation. It will not admire the effort to insert business values into the work of educating children and shaping their minds, dreams, and character. It will not forgive those who forgot the civic, democratic purposes of our schools nor those who chipped away at the public square. Nor will it speak well of those who put the quest for gain over the needs of children. Nor will it lionize those who worshipped data and believed passionately in carrots and sticks. Those who will live forever in the minds of future generations are the ones who stood up against the powerful on behalf of children, who demanded that every child receive the best possible education, the education that the most fortunate parents would want for their own children.

Now is a time to speak and act. Now is a time to think about how we will one day be judged. Not by test scores, not by data, but by the consequences of our actions.

Diane Ravitch, writing at Bridging Differences, a blog of EdWeek, June 28, 2011

See more photos from Ron Chandenais, here.


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