Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Row about Testing Evolution...

...is ongoing now on my Science blog at the Lawrence Journal World. Most of the discussion has been at a fairly high level considering how such discussions usually go. Take a look here:


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Now we know...

...the true cause of divorce and all the other problems besetting marriage as an institution.

Of course it's the gays!

Creeped Out by Butterflies?

Well not quite. But last weekend Mme D and I went to Branson MO. While there, we decided to visit the Butterfly Palace. The big feature is a Butterfly flight room with plants and of course free flying butterflies. The building is spectacular but most of the first level is taken up by a gift shop. The shop has a lot of the what I call "nature kitch" that one finds in places such as The Rain Forest Cafe. But if you like cute poison arrow frogs and shirts that change color in UV light then the gift shop is for you. Indeed we did buy a couple of color changing shirts for grandkids.


The butterfly flight room is on the top floor and is indeed full of various tropical butterflies and we spent about two hours taking pictures. I "shot" most of the species present but found some very difficult to get good shots of, unless as happened several times I was taking pictures of expired butterflies. For instance, I was not able to get good shots of the blue upper wing surface of the Morpho butterflies.


So what creeped me out? Maybe it was the conspicuous lack of mention of the biology of the butterflies. For instance there is a wonderful coevolutionary relationship between Heliconid butterflies and their passion flower food plants. Maybe it was the fact that the facility does not raise its own butterflies but imports the chysalides from Central America so the visitor never gets to see the full life cycle. To be fair, I suspect other butterfly gardens do the same thing. But it does seem that there is a missed opportunity here in terms of education-maybe edutainment.
Maybe it was the silence of the butterflies coupled with country and Gospel music. Fortunately the butterflies flew to their own rhythms.


So what really what was creepy, was the total disconnect between the butterflies and any sense of the context these insects evolved in. Maybe the owners are of the mind set that butterflies were put here for our benefit and their origin and natural history are not important. Maybe they feel that any wiff of evolution or science will scare visitors away. Too bad. Too bad for the tropics, the butterflies, and quite frankly too bad for the visitors.


Coevolution of Plants and Herbivores: Passion Flower Butterflies

Woodruff W. Benson, Keith S. Brown, Jr., Lawrence E. Gilbert
Evolution, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Dec., 1975), pp. 659-680

Friday, February 15, 2008

Down the Rabbit Hole of Intelligent Design

The intelligent design folks have latched on to the success of documentaries such as Inconvenient Truth and Sicko with their own effort to show how close minded scientists are to new ideas. In the sort of inversion that has become old hat in the ID movement, Ben Stein (YES....that Ben Stein) has a documentary called GetExpelled. The movie's trailer starts out with Stein writing "Do not question Darwinism" over and over again in a biology lecture room's black board. Hmmm I must have given him detention.

The movie's blog and web site imply that Stein is some sort of rebel against the close minded scientific establishment and visitors are encouraged to join the GetExpelled community. Of course, the rest of the trailer attempts to darkly imply that there is some sort of dark conspiracy against intelligent design. Mr. Stein considers it his duty to warn us about this conspiracy.

Slick- just the sort of thing to appeal to some young people who with no sense of history might not get Mr. Stein's inversion of history. For rather than being young turks with new ideas fighting against the evil scientific establishment, the Intelligent Designers are backing an archaic way of viewing the universe which is still entrenched in the popular mind. It is the evolutionists and natural scientists who have the new ideas. Maybe to the ahistorical young evolution seems to be the establishment position, but it is not.

Get Expelled looks like another inversion of reality, an inversion worthy of Lewis Carroll where critical thinking gets demonized and irrationality becomes the way science should work.

Oh and according to Scientific American Ben Stein has won the The Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth. Liberty and Truth? Now there is a real inversion for you.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Science Debate 2008: Now will they come...

It is official! Science Debate 2008 has just invited the presidential candidates to a debate on science policy. The debate is scheduled for April 18 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Of course just because the candidates are invited to the debate doesn't mean they are going to show up. See the Science Debate 2008 website for more updates.

From the Science Debate Press Release:

"Most of the major policy challenges the next president will face, from climate chance to jobs and economic competitiveness to healthcare to the health of the oceans, center on science and technology. Where is the next transistor economy going to come from? Is there going to be action to address climate change? Do we need a Marshall plan for science in America? What about peak oil? Why are our school children falling behind other countries in math and science, and what should be done about it?"

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Move's a Foot....

I posted about this sometime back on my other blog but realized I better post this here in case there is someone who doesn't know...

There is a movement underway to goad the presidential candidates into a debate on science policy. Given that so many of our issues today involve science, it is only fair that the voters get to hear candidate's views on science and science priorities. Visit the Science debate 2008 web site for more information and about how you can get involved. www.sciencedebate2008.com

There is a link for individuals and organizations to sign. Show Mike Huckabee that it is important what sort of understanding politicians have of science.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Fossils and Faith

I have been laid up with a virus-you know those unsung tools of the intelligent designer-but today my blogging energy got a boost or a kick from an article called "Resurrected Life" about an artist who uses fossils as the basis for religious art. At first read the article might seem to be a sincere attempt to reconcile religion and science through art. A noble idea and one I endorse.

The article left just a few questions in my mind as explained in the following excerpt from my Lawrence Journal World Blog:

"...there are just some things about it that really bother me as a scientist and as a religious person. For instance, Mr. Detrich thinks that non believers have nothing to live for. Personally I don't believe it is in my ken to say whether or not someone else has anything to live for based on their beliefs. Granted I don't know what is going on in the depths of atheist Richard Dawkins' psyche, but he certainly seems to think his life has a point.

Second of all I am bothered by this statement about nonbelievers:

"They might just accidentally come to the conclusion that life would be better if they believed in a super being, in a creator, rather than life would be better if your actions didn’t matter."

This is a kinder gentler version of Pascal's wager which basically says you should believe because the reward is eternal bliss and the penalty eternal damnation. I have never been impressed by this wager in it's original form and I am even less impressed with Mr. Detrich's kinder gentler version. Also, does Mr. Detrich's kinder gentler version extend to devotees of, say, Krishna or for that matter any sort of belief in a supreme being?

Next, I wonder why is the notion of God "creating" incompatible with scientific explanations of how life came to be and evolved? Mr. Detrich seems to at least accept the geological time scale. Well, if that scale is valid then why could not God's actions to bring change be seen from our end as being-well - evolution?

Finally what am I to make of the concluding statement in the article where he says it is "better to be on the side of good than on the side of bad." Well what about that? Is some one automatically good because they believe in a higher power and some one automatically bad because they don't? Or is some one automatically bad because they believe that evolution happens? Does Mr. Detrich still think we are "evilutionists" as he writes in his "musings"?"

Check out his musings for yourself at:


Remember Darwin's Day is February 12.