January 2005 Archives

Question

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A question for my readers:

Is it wrong for me to be a proud Georgian and Southerner?

Arggg!!!

So I go into the lab today to finish off the draft of my paper. The intention was to send it out to a few people tonight to get comments. But guess what happens. My workstation crashed and the hard drive array got hosed. My old data is gone; although, there should be backups. My paper is safe, although the changes I made to it this morning are gone.

No instead of finally finishing my paper, I have to rebuild my workstation. Such is my life.

From today’s local paper, a lawyer weighs in on evolution and antibiotics:

Evolution has nothing to do with antibiotics

Mark Farmer, a cellular biology professor at the University of Georgia, asserts (Forum, Jan. 23), “The reason for taking every last pill in an antibiotic treatment is based on Darwinian theory, and one literally risks one’s life if one fails to understand this.”

I ask that Farmer explain how Darwinian theory has anything to do with proper antibiotic therapy. I do not believe Darwinian evolution reasonably explains the origins of biological organisms, but I do recognize the importance of completing a proper regimen of antibiotic therapy.

Presumably, Farmer has in mind the apparent development or acquisition of antibiotic resistance by certain microorganisms when exposed to antibiotics. If antibiotic-resistant organisms in a population survive when exposed to the antibiotic, and non-resistant organisms die, then the remaining population of the organisms is antibiotic-resistant.

Darwinian theory addresses the origin of the population’s characteristics in the first place (i.e. antibiotic resistance or non-resistance), not the manner of survival of certain organisms in a population exposed to certain environments. The resistant organisms already existed before exposure to the antibiotic, even if they were created instantaneously by a creator and not by a process of Darwinian evolution.

Ronald E. Houser

A perusal of past letters in the ABH written by Houser reveals that he is a total loon.

Ignorance Excludes Evolution

It’s been one year exactly since my op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Ignorance Excludes Evolution”, first revealed to the public what our state school superintendent was doing with our science standards.

I originally tried to publish something in my college newspaper, The Red and Black, but the editor would never return my calls. I next sent my letter to the local paper, the Athens Banner-Herald, but got no response from them. (I had hoped to get a UGA faculty member to do something for the ABH.)

In the mean time, GCISE was in contact with the AJC about the standards and got them to run a story on it. After we knew that the story was being run, we sent letters to the AJC to accompany it. Although, it was rather long, I sent my failed letter to the AJC. To my surprise the AJC liked it and decided to run it as an op-ed the day before their story about the standards was scheduled to run, thus giving me the honor of being first. I had the settle for my third choice, being published in the largest paper in the southeast.

Ignorance excludes evolution

By REED A. CARTWRIGHT

Last month, Merck & Co. chose North Carolina over Georgia for the site of a new vaccine manufacturing facility.

In making its decision, the pharmaceutical giant cited the more highly skilled workers in our neighboring state.

This month, the Georgia Department of Education released drafts of the proposed science standards for k-12 public school education.

These standards are supposed to be “stronger” and the foundation of a “world-class curriculum.” Sadly they verge on being a joke.

The Georgia DOE has gutted biology education by removing the very basis of modern biology, more than likely for sectarian politics. Instead of enlightening opponents of modern science through education, DOE will perpetuate ignorance through silence. We do not compromise history education for those who deny the Holocaust; why should we compromise biology education for those who deny evolution?

As the foundation of our state’s draft standards, Georgia DOE utilized the Project 2061 benchmarks, which were formulated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Instead of strengthening these national benchmarks to create a truly world-class curriculum, the DOE has weakened them by removing sections concerning the history of life, common descent, human origins, the role we play in the ecosystem, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and other topics.

The pattern is clear, and the pseudoscientific sympathies our governor and state school superintendent expressed during their election campaigns now threaten our state’s educational and economic future.

Georgia DOE has even eliminated the mere mention of “evolution” in the biology standards and is sorely mistaken to think that entering college freshmen are not expected to know what evolution is.

The best biology teachers will still prepare their students properly for college. But most teachers will choose to teach only the state standards, which means the majority of Georgia’s high school students will graduate with a weak science education.

What students know when they get out of high school directly affects what they know when they get out of college. The more time spent in college learning things that should have been learned in high school, the less chance to succeed and the less time to prepare for employment after college. Thus, compromising k-12 science education directly compromises the economy of Georgia.

At a time when the state is desperately trying to court the biotech industry, these science standards encourage companies to look elsewhere. Merck was not the first company to bypass Georgia and surely will not be the last if we fail to adopt a truly world-class curriculum.

Complete adoption of the AAAS benchmarks, including the sections that ignorance finds controversial, is the best and easiest way for the state to proceed at this point. With such improved standards the high-tech companies will come to us instead of us going to them.

The Georgia Department of Education needs to hear from the people that these proposed standards are not world-class and that the complete adoption of the AAAS benchmarks is needed.

Reed A. Cartwright is a doctoral student in genetics at the University of Georgia.

The op-ed is changed slightly from what I had originally written. The AJC’s editor didn’t feel that some of my comments were well supported. However, my original letter appeared later in both the ABH and The Flagpole, Athens’ local liberal weekly. That of course was after Georgia’s standards had become big news around the world.

Full Text of HB 179

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I finally got the full text of HB 179. This causes me to change some of my earlier comments. This bill is not intended to modify the state standards produced by the Department of Education. Instead it introduces another state standard that teachers must comply with when they develop their lessons. Of course, the bill still provides for no development of a model curriculum to meet its decree and does not include any language specifying what teachers are to do if no “factual scientific evidence” against evolution exists. In other words, what are teachers in the real world supposed to do?

Any way here is the full text.

House Bill 179

By: Representative Bridges of the 10th

A BILL TO BE ENTITLED AN ACT

To amend Part 2 of Article 6 of Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to competencies and core curriculum in elementary and secondary schools, so as to provide for the presentation of certain scientific evidence whenever any theory of the origin of humans or other living things is taught; to provide for legislative intent; to provide an effective date; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF GEORGIA:

SECTION 1.

Part 2 of Article 6 of Chapter 2 of Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to competencies and core curriculum in elementary and secondary schools, is amended by adding at the end thereof a new Code section, to be designated as Code Section 20-2-148, to read as follows:

“20-2-148.

(a) Whenever any theory of the origin of human beings or other living things is included in a course of study offered by a local unit of administration, factual scientific evidence supporting or consistent with evolution theory and factual scientific evidence inconsistent with or not supporting the theory shall be included in the course of study.

(b) The method of instruction described in subsection (a) of this Code section is intended to strengthen the analytical skills of students by requiring the presentation of a broad range of scientific evidence regarding theories of the origin of humans and other living things. The requirements of subsection (a) of this Code section are not intended to authorize or promote the presentations of religious beliefs.”

SECTION 2.

This Act shall become effective on July 1, 2005.

SECTION 3.

All laws and parts of laws in conflict with this Act are repealed.

I was finally sent partial text of the new anti-evolution bill: HB 179.

Core curriculum in elementary and secondary schools will be amended to add:

  • a) Whenever any theory of the origin of humans or other living things is includced in a course of study offered by a local unit of administration, factual scientific evidence supporting or consistent with evolution theory and factual scientific evidence inconsistent with or not supporting the theory shall be included in he course of study.
  • b) The method of instruction described in subsection a of this code section is intended to strengthen the analytical skills of students by requiring the presentation of a broad range of scientific evidence regarding theories of the origin of humans and other living things. The requirements of subsection a) of this code are not intended to authorize or promote the presentation of religious beliefs.

It’s not like this bill is at all original. In 1998 Bridges introduced a similar bill, HB 1133, which went nowhere. Both these bills are considered Hansen Bills, after John Hansen, a retired, creationist teacher from Wisconsin. In the late 1990’s Hansen traveled from state to state pushing his model anti-evolution bill to lawmakers. The language “supporting/consistent with … not supporting/inconsistent with …” is the giveaway.

It’s hard to pick a spot to begin to complain about this bill. Since this is a bill I’ll start with the political and legal problems with it.

The bill is entirely out of step with our new state standards for K-12 education. (Bridges has probably never read them. Probably wouldn’t even understand them if he did.) For starters the new state standards are no longer called the “Core Curriculum,” instead they are called “Georgia Performance Standards.” So on its face, the bill looks to amend documents that won’t even exist when it takes effect. Being a little less literal still has its problems. Not only does the bill not specify where in the standards the amendment is to be placed, but also the structure of the amending language is very out of step with the new standards. It simply would not make any sense in the context of the rest of the document. It is to legal for the pedagogury of the new standards.

The bill also violates the structure of state curriculum development established by previous Georgia laws and policies. In this structure, every four years the Georgia Department of Education works with national experts and local committees of educators to draft new standards which are released to the public for review. Based on public comments, the GADOE modifies the standards and submits them to the state Board of Education for approval. There are obvious reasons why state legislators shouldn’t be establishing curriculum standards. They are not experts on education nor paid to be. The state’s biology teachers and school districts are already working hard on implementing the new biology standards, and Ben Bridges wants to toss a monkey wrench at them.

The language of the bill is probably meant to go beyond the state curriculum standards and affect the curriculum in every biology classroom in public schools. AP Biology teachers, who are pressed for time to cover the AP Biology curriculum as it is, would also have to find time to satisfy this bill. Bending Georgia’s AP Biology instruction to the will of Bridges will hurt the education of our students and test scores will suffer.

But what would satisfy the requirements of this bill that “evidence” against evolution be taught whenever evidence for evolution is taught? The bill is silent on this issue and is thus probably unconstitutionally vague. In the real world, we would just leave it up to the consensus of biologists and science educators as to what satisfies the requirements, but of course this bill is about taking curriculum decisions away from the experts.

What Bridges wants to be presented simply does not exist. There is no “factual scientific evidence inconsistent with or not supporting” the theory of evolution. Sure, certain aspects of evolution, known to people like me but obscure to high school students and teachers, are incompletely supported and still debated. But the generalities of the theory of evolution, as taught to teenagers by good teachers, are supported by all the evidence in biology and disputed by none.

The only organizations and individuals, which actively promote supposed evidence against evolution, do so to support religious beliefs that are incompatible with evolution. “Evidence” against evolution can only be found in religious literature and are absence from the scientific literature. Despite the protestations of the bill, its requirements are intended to promote religious beliefs because evidence against evolution is a religious belief.

Another constitutional problem with the bill is that it doesn’t require that evidence for evolution be taught whenever “evidence” against evolution is taught. Fairness is a one-way street for Bridges. Such requirements are clearly incompatible with the stated purposes of the bill and reveal the religious motivation of the author. The supreme court struck down an extremely similar one-way education policy in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987).

House bill 179 is the same old tune, and our state has been embarrassed enough by our politicians. Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of my op-ed in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, “Ignorance Excludes Evolution”, which was to first time the public was been alerted to our state school superintendent’s plan to remove 70% of the material on evolution from the new standards, including the term “evolution” itself. From there, the public scrutiny and ridicule snowballed so much that our superintendent finally cried, “Uncle.” (Not before she could get caught publicly lying about the proposed standards and covering it up.) Between that and the Cobb County School Board putting disclaimers on their textbooks, Georgia’s science education has taken its lumps in recent months. Hopefully a majority of Georgia’s politicians will understand from the experience last year that anti-evolution politics like this are not attractive to the biotech industry. (Reports are that the Republican leadership is not supporting the bill.) Last year Governor Purdue spoke out against the political changes to the biology curriculum. This year new rules in the House practically give the Governor the power to decide which bills will pass and which won’t. Maybe the new procedures will be used to ensure that HB 179, like its older sibling, does not see the light of day.

Update

I now have the full text of the bill.

Anti-Evolution in Georgia

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I’m hearing rummors that the state legislature is going to address evolution today. Supposedly one state senator is going to introduce a bill today that would ban evolution on the grounds that it is not provable and false.

Nothing concrete yet, and, if a bill is introduced, I’ll be here to take it apart.

Update

I finally found a news story on this. According to the report, State Representative Ben Bridges will introduce legislation that “would allow for broader approaches when schools teach the origin of life. The measure would allow theories other than evolution to be taught in science classes, as long as those other theories are – quote – ‘scientific.’”

Pigliucci Blog

Massimo Pigliucci, professor at SUNY-Stony Brook, has a blog, (mostly) Rationally Speaking. Pigliucci is well known for his popular writtings about evolution and humanism.

For Marjorie

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A year ago, today, my advisor, Dr. Marjorie Asmussen, was killed while riding her bike along a rural, county road. She left behind twin daughters, who are in grad-school in California. I had already passed my orals and writtens, and the department is committed to making sure I finish my doctorate. It was extremely hard after her death to sit alone in the empty lab. (I was her only grad student.) I probably started this blog as a way to escape. I am always happiest when I am setting up and learning a new computer system.

The death of my advisor has definitely delayed my graduation, as I did little research in the months after her death. It took me a while to finally realize that I needed to drop the projects that we were planning on doing and concentrate on writing up the projects that I had never quite finished. I am about 90% done with my first paper since her death. It is on an application I wrote to simulate DNA sequence evolution with gaps. I should have more papers by now, but my new advisor hasn’t applied the pressure I need to get things done faster. I’m okay with that, since it allows me time to administer the Panda’s Thumb and help science education.

I hope to graduate in August 2006, five years after I entered graduate school. I will have to find a job in the area since my wife will still be in school another year. I’ve talked to one prof about postdocing in her lab for a year. However, what I really want to do for a postdoc is the evolution of language. I have a genetic model which I haven’t worked on too much because I want to save it for a postdoc. I feel that the evolution of language is my best and most interesting work and the most likely to get me a great faculty job.

That is what I really want right now: to get a faculty job so I can start my life.

Mail a fruit fly, go to jail.

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Apparently, it is illegal to mail fruit flies across international boundaries. Early 20th century postmasters came up with an accord that only allows “live bees, leeches and silkworms” and “parasites and predators of injurious insects” to be sent overseas.

This of course impacts the guys in Indiana who bread thousands of fruit flies for genetic research and ship them to labs around the world. Luckily, they have been successful in changing the old rules and in the next few months will not be violating the law every time they ship strains outside the country.

Firefly Good, Fox Bad

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I used some of my Christmas money to finally buy the Firefly DVD box set. After spending the last week watching every episode, all I can say is that I really hate Fox. They cancel this well thought out, well written show half-way into it’s first season, yet they will air “Trading Spouses” and “Who’s my Daddy?” I get really pissed off when I think of all the crap that Fox continues to air, but they canceled a great show like Firefly.

Hopefully, the Firefly movie, Serenity, will sew up some of the mysteries left from the series, like Sheppard Book’s past, River’s abilities, and the blue-gloved people behind them.

Cooper Rules

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Well the verdict is in; the Cobb County disclaimers are unconstitutional. Still no reaction from the Discovery Institute. On can read some local reactions on the AJC’s blog.

I am proud that the amicus brief I helped develop was accepted and cited favorably in two locations.

The Court notes that many in the scientific community maintain that evolution is not a theory of the origin of live, but is a theory concerning the origin of the diversity of life. See Amicus Curiae Brief of the Colorado Citizens for Science, et al, in Support of Plaintiffs at 4. The significance of this distinction is not entirely clear to the Court, particularly as it relates to the origin of the human species, which is one of the more sensitive issues in the ongoing debate between proponents and opponents of evolution.

(page 3)

The critical language in the Sticker that supports the conclusion that the Sticker runs afoul of the Establishment Clause is the statement that “[e]volution is a theory, not a fact, concerning the origin of living things.” This statement is not problematic because of its truth or falsity, although testimony from various witness at trial and the amicus brief submitted by the Colorado Citizens for Science, et al, suggests that the statement is not entirely accurate.

(page 33-34)

Tim Sandefur, who also helped write the Amicus, has his reactions to the ruling.

C. E. Petit also has reactions.

I just found out that Nice-Tits.org has a shop where one can buy shirts. I think Tiffany, the tit-lover, needs some.

New Mattress

Tiffany and I finally got our new queen-size mattress. It was a Christmas present from her parents. We decided to go with a Simmons Drucilla Beautyrest from Rich’s department store. Our previous double-sized mattress was one I’d used since middle school and was simply not suitable for a married couple. Our new one not only has enough space for us to sleep together comfortably but minimizes motion transfer. It has an exquisite pillow-top which suits me nicely. It does, however, make the mattress fifteen inches high and, with the box springs and frame, the entire bed is now waist high. Another benefit, I might add.

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