Monthly Archives: November 2008

Bobby Jindal: Ignorance is Strength

THERE HASN’T been such an ambitious, articulate windbag who appealed to the most ignorant among us since William Jennings Bryan.

Bobby Jindal, the anti-science, anti-evolution, creationism-friendly governor of Louisiana, continues to generate press attention as he schemes and panders his way to higher office. We find ourselves fascinated by this intellectual shipwreck, a man of boundless political appetite and infinitesimal integrity, a biology major at Brown University who became a creationist because it was politically expedient. We watch his reach for political power much as we watch the weather reports of an approaching hurricane — knowing that if it comes our way it will be bad. Very bad.

Professor Barbara Forrest, a star witness for the winning side in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, has recently written about Jindal here: Jindal knows what he’s doing, saying:

If Gov. Bobby Jindal is puzzled about why educated Louisiana citizens are leaving by the thousands, he should look in the mirror.

Louisiana’s problems did not begin with Jindal, but when he had the opportunity to make Louisiana a better place for educated, talented people to live as workers, parents and citizens, he chose instead to cater to the farthest reaches of his Religious Right base.

Dr. Forrest’s accurate, fact-filled letter appeared in The Advocate, published in Baton Rouge and primarily circulated in Louisiana. On a wider stage, Jindal’s publicity is more flattering. At least for now.

Those who usually favor the other political party would undoubtedly want an unprincipled nullity like Jindal to be his party’s choice, presumably because it will be easy to defeat him when the time is right. Thus, in the Washington Post, we read GOP Looks to Louisiana’s Governor. Excerpts, with bold added by us:

Like the president-elect, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana is young (37), accomplished (a Rhodes scholar) and, as the son of Indian immigrants, someone familiar with breaking racial and cultural barriers.

A lot of good his education has done him — or the people of Louisiana. Anyone who could graduate as a major in biology and then turn around and sign a travesty like the misleadingly named “Louisiana Science Education Act” is unfit for … well, just about everything.

More from the Washington Post, as they build Jindal up so they can destroy him later:

No less an aspiring kingmaker than Steve Schmidt, the chief strategist of McCain’s failed presidential bid, sees Jindal as the Republican Party’s destiny. “The question is not whether he’ll be president, but when he’ll be president, because he will be elected someday.” The anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist believes, too, that Jindal is a certainty to occupy the White House, and conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh has described him as “the next Ronald Reagan.”

If Jindal is the next Ronald Regan, then Arnold Schwarzenegger is the next Ingrid Bergman.

Here’s a little more from the Washington Post — observe how they mention Jindal’s disservice to science, an appeal to the most ignorant segments of the population — his natural base — as an advantage:

The record is still evolving, like the rest of him. But social conservatives like what they have heard about the public and private Jindal: his steadfast opposition to abortion without exceptions; his disapproval of embryonic stem cell research; his and his wife Supriya’s decision in 1997 to enter into a Louisiana covenant marriage that prohibits no-fault divorce in the state; and his decision in June to sign into law the Louisiana Science Education Act, a bill heartily supported by creationists that permits public school teachers to educate students about both the theory of “scientific design” and criticisms of Darwinian evolutionary concepts.

If those positions are the key to political office in America, then the outhouse is the key feature of Monticello.

Copyright © 2008. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Olivia Judson: How To Stage a Resurrection

Dr. Olivia Judson

Dr. Olivia Judson

ONCE MORE we have the pleasure of reading a new column by the splendidly-evolved Olivia Judson. She is an evolutionary biologist and a research fellow in biology at Imperial College London.

This article, part of Dr. Judson’s series in the New York Times, is titled Resurrection Science, in which Olivia writes about the science of re-creating an extinct species, like the mammoth. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

The outline of how to stage a resurrection is clear. In essence, it’s a matter of cross-species cloning — using an egg from one species to host the genome of the other. The procedure is more or less the same as for regular cloning. First, you make a “blank” egg by removing the egg’s nucleus — this contains the egg’s genome. You then insert the genome of the animal you want to clone.

But then Olivia informs us that cloning is far from a reliable process:

In the decade since Dolly the Sheep was cloned, enormous progress has been made on regular cloning. To date, more than 10 different species of mammal have been cloned, including ferrets, rabbits, horses, cows and pigs. Nonetheless, success rates are still extremely low. Even for cows, the animals that have been cloned the most, fewer than 5 percent of embryos transferred to surrogate mothers result in offspring. A recent report on dog clones illustrates the problem: of 358 embryos transplanted into 20 females, two pregnancies became established, and only one puppy was born.

However …

Given the difficulties of normal cloning, it’s surprising that cross-species cloning has been tried, let alone had any successes. But it has. For example, two African wildcat kitten clones have been born from domestic cats, and three gray wolf clones have been born from domestic dogs. Again, though, the failure rates have been high.

And on the title’s subject of re-creating an extinct species:

Cloning a mammoth would be even more difficult. For one thing, elephants and mammoths are less closely related to each other than cats and wildcats or dogs and wolves, so the difficulties would likely be greater in any case. And elephants have a 22-month pregnancy — so you’d have to wait a long time to find out whether the experiment had worked.

Not only that:

But there’s a far more profound problem, as well. …. Because mammoth carcasses have been lying around for 10,000 years or more, their cells aren’t in good shape and their genomes are shattered. Instead of being neatly arranged in chromosomes, as ours are, mammoth genomes are in tiny pieces. So before we could put a mammoth genome into an egg, we would have to build one — something we are nowhere close to being able to do. Woolly mammoths will not be coming soon to a zoo near you.

Okay, we’ll wait. But tell us, Olivia, why does anyone bother with this stuff?

All the same, research in this direction would surely yield astonishing discoveries. Our efforts to clone have opened up immense vistas of new research questions, and advances in the field have already shed light on fundamental aspects of how an embryo grows. During growth, cells become committed to being one type of tissue or another — heart muscle, say, or skin cells. Through cloning, we are learning how to reverse those commitments, something that may, one day, lead to revolutionary medical treatments. Likewise, learning to build a genome, whether of a mammoth or anything else, will certainly be interesting, and will probably be important in ways that we can’t foresee.

We’re convinced. And when cloning is perfected, we want our very own copy of Olivia.

Copyright © 2008. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Texas Creationism: The Infinite Slime Defense

YOU ARE ALL aware of the show-trial being conducted by the Texas Board of Education, chaired by creationist dentist Don McLeroy. The board is pretending to consider the testimony of experts before they reach what we suspect is a pre-arranged decision to keep the anti-science, anti-evolution, creationism-friendly “strengths and weaknesses” language in the state’s current standards for science education.

Meanwhile, the usual creationist websites are cranking out propaganda for the faithful, to support their bizarre demand that Noah’s Ark (and all the rest of it) belongs in science class as a scientific theory.

What can those adversaries of reason say, after scientific experts patiently explain what a theory is, and why creationism isn’t a theory? What can they say when scientists describe the mountains of evidence supporting evolution, compared to zero evidence contradicting it, and zero evidence supporting the “theory” of the creationists?

Here’s what the creationists are doing — They take all the rational arguments in favor of science and against creationism, and then they just flip them around! Really, that’s it. This amazingly brazen technique amounts to a child’s shout of: “I’m not a poop-head, you’re a poop-head! Nya, nya, nyaaaah!”

Your Curmudgeon has found an outstanding example of this argument style at the highly esteemed creationist website of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). We proudly bring to your attention: Texas ‘Freedom’ Network, UT Professor Oppose Academic Freedom in Public Schools. Excerpts, with bold added by us:

Some interest groups are outraged that certain individuals still do not believe that particles developed into people all by themselves, and they are gathering their arguments to influence the Board, whose decision will affect millions of schoolchildren’s science curricula.

That one is an older technique. What they’re doing in that paragraph is scornfully dismissing a phony description of evolution — beating up a strawman.

Then they mention a devastating poll conducted by the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), showing that virtually all the scientists in Texas support evolution and want the “strengths and weaknesses” language removed from the state’s curriculum standards. In response to the poll, they say:

TFN may consider the results to be definitive, but the implementation and presentation of the survey were wrapped in a host of false arguments that prop up the organization’s strong faith in unobservable macroevolution (e.g., fish changing into frogs).

Another strawman. No sane scientist claims that fish change into frogs. Continuing:

First, portraying a “crusade against evolution” as an “attempt to dumb down” science education is a baseless smear, committing the fallacy of “appeal to ridicule.”

Aha! Having just ridiculed their own distorted description of evolution, they then accuse the scientists of making an “appeal to ridicule.” See how it works? Here’s more:

The group’s mission to ensure evolutionary indoctrination in the schools belies the fact that evolution is not a scientific observation, but an abstract idea.

Yes, scientists have a “mission” to ensure “indoctrination,” even though — the creationists wrongly assert — there are no scientific observations supporting evolution. But of course, those creationists never bother to mention their own divine mission — bearing witness to the scriptural truth of Noah’s Ark, a charming and spiritually comforting tale for which there truly is no evidence. Moving along:

If macroevolution were demonstrable, then surely students could just see the evidence for themselves (such as they can with gravity and entropy and other scientifically observable realities). Instead, TFN chooses to use lobbying, campaigning, faulty reasoning, and other peer-pressure ridicule tactics to push its agenda.

But of course, evolution is demonstrable, both by the fossil record and DNA evidence. For example: 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent. As for “seeing” the evidence of gravity, no one ever “saw” any evidence that gravity affected the motions of the moon and the planets — not until Isaac Newton explained it. If the evidence were so readily “visible,” why didn’t anyone even suspect it before Newton?

One more excerpt, and then we’ll call it quits; but there’s lots more where our few quotations came from:

The mantra “evolution is science” is reiterated so often that many believe it simply by virtue of its repetition, but it amounts to the argumentum ad nauseum fallacy (a conclusion is true because it is often repeated).

That one really staggers us. All knowledgeable observers are aware that it’s the endlessly-rebutted creationist claims which are forever being recycled and repeated. For example: Index to Creationist Claims. But now they are accusing scientists of using precisely the tactics employed by creationists.

As we said, there’s more where that came from. Click over to ICR and see for yourself. But we can’t resist giving you the final sentence from their article:

TFN and the evolutionary establishment’s efforts show that in the absence of real scientific evidence, molecules-to-man evolution must be propped up by monopolistic bullying.

It’s amazing — every bit as stunning as if Bonnie and Clyde had defended themselves by blaming their bank robberies on the police.

Copyright © 2008. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Of Plymouth Plantation: “Every Man for His Own Particular”

THIS is Thanksgiving day, so on this occasion we shall depart from our usual subject matter.

The following two paragraphs, from William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation, describe the colony’s reluctant transition away from Bible communism. That was their “common course and condition,” which was the “the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth,” which they assumed “would make them happy and flourishing,” but which “was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.” The text requires no commentary from us.

This version uses contemporary vocabulary and spelling, and it comes from this source: Private and communal farming (1623). Our only editorial touch is to bold the phrase we’ve used for our title, and to break up the original two paragraphs, which are a bit too long for easy reading.

All this while no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any. So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery.

At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other thing to go on in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number, for that end, only for present use (but made no division for inheritance) and ranged all boys and youth under some family.

This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times; and that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.

For the young men, that were most able and fit for labor and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labors and victuals, clothes etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it.

Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition.

Let none object this is men’s corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them.

For those who want to read the foregoing in Bradford’s own vocabulary, spelling, and paragraphing, you can see the original version here: Of Plymouth Plantation, by William Bradford.

Copyright © 2008. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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