Robert Todd Carroll
November 18, 2004. Psychic (or is it psycho?) Sylvia Browne, appearing once again on the Montel Williams show, told a woman whose daughter has been missing for 19 months that "She's not alive, honey. Your daughter's not the kind who wouldn't call." Amanda Miller was 5-foot-4 and weighed 110-pounds when she went missing on April 21, 2003, a day before her 17th birthday. She left work at Burger King, about a 10-minute walk from her house, and phoned her sister en route to say she had a ride home.
Some might say that Sylvia's blunt claim shows that she doesn't just tell people what they want to hear. Or does it?
November 11, 2004. "An IBM-commissioned study has found that employees at the company's microprocessor manufacturing plants had a lower rate of cancer than would be expected, contradicting results of a yet-unpublished study that found higher rates of cancer among workers and is at the root of a controversy involving the journal that was to publish it." New Scientist.
November 9, 2004. Thanks to Google's news alert, I've been keeping up with the progress of the intelligent design (ID) movement, run by the folks at the Discovery Institute. It is becoming almost a daily occurrence to read in an online newspaper a story that refers to ID as an alternative scientific theory to natural selection. The stories rarely note that ID is not a serious contender for anything in biology, but no matter. The stories never mention that naturalistic theories are the norm in all the sciences these days and that many evolutionary biologists think the universe was created by some sort of powerful intelligence. They never mention that evolution is in no more turmoil than physics or chemistry. Nor does it occur to journalists to note that the only other organized opposition to science as it is generally understood and practiced by the majority of scientists on the planet comes from the parapsychologists.
One of the wedges the ID folks use to make progress--which for them is measured in terms of how many people they can get to agree that it's only a matter of fairness that ID be taught along with evolution--is to encourage people to think there is a controversy that needs to be taught. The controversy has been created ex nihilo by the ID folks themselves. Most biologists simply ignore their rants. The fact that so many journalists now report that ID is a competitive theory in biology is a sign of the success of the ID movement's strategy.
I'm not the only one who has noticed the elevated
treatment ID gets from many journalists these days. Chris Mooney has
noticed and sees the problem in light of a much larger issue: the striving
of journalists to be fair has led them to give too much weight to fringe
ideas. His case is argued in the current issue of Columbia Journalism
Review. The article is entitled
"Blinded By Science: How ‘Balanced’ Coverage Lets the Scientific Fringe
November 7, 2004. The Grantsburg, Wisconsin, school board has revised its science curriculum to allow the teaching of creationism. The board wants "various models/theories" regarding origins to be taught. The board's decision has angered several hundred science and religious studies teachers, who are protesting the introduction of religion into the science classroom. Let's hope the Wisconsin educators do a bit better in writing a clear directive, unlike their counterparts in Pennsylvania who recently wrote:
What does this say? Is it requiring students to be made aware of the gaps and problems in the theories of intelligent design, natural selection (Darwin's theories), and other theories of evolution (the Raelian theory? Sitchin's theory?)?
November 6, 2004. A little over two years ago, I produced one of my best rants: about the Cobb County, Georgia, school board giving in to a popular demand that stickers be put on the inside front cover of science books. The school board claimed they were just promoting critical thinking. A parent named Marjorie Rogers presented a petition with 2,300 signatures in support of the stickers, which were to read something to the effect that evolution is a theory not a fact. The sticker selected by the school board reads:
Apparently, the sticker wasn't enough for Rogers. She has since placed her children in private schools.*
Six parents filed a federal lawsuit in August 2002 against the Cobb school system over the disclaimers and this Monday a U.S. District Judge will begin hearing their arguments.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), the trial is expected to raise these questions:
The lawsuit is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and contends that the disclaimer not only restricts the teaching of evolution but also promotes the teaching of creationism and Intelligent Design and discriminates against particular religions. Judge Cooper, in rejecting the school board's move to dismiss the suit ruled against the board and said that "the practical effect of students being encouraged to consider and discuss alternatives to evolution" could create concerns about the entanglement of government with religion.
Rogers thinks that requiring discussions about alternatives to evolution is only fair. "The whole dispute is about fairness and equal treatment," she said. "Give kids the opportunity to make a decision themselves." I wonder how she feels about the Raelian proposal to have their views taught as well. (See their press release on this issue.) Does she or any other Christian parent want their kids to study an atheistic theory that claims humans were designed by space aliens? If so, shouldn't there be a new course added to the curriculum: Weird Beliefs 101? There, the students could not only learn about intelligent design and Raelianism, but Sitchinism and homeopathy or any other idea generally rejected by mainstream science.
I guess it depends on how fair you really want to be.
November 5, 2004. USA Today reports that the United States Air Force paid $25,000 for a report that calls for $7.5 million to be spent on psychic teleportation experiments. A copy of the report has been posted on the Internet by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). (The report is 88 pages long and the pdf file takes some time to be teleported to most computers.)
Eric Davis of Warp Drive Metrics authored the report. He defines psychic teleportation (or p-Teleportation, as he calls it) as "the conveyance of persons or inanimate objects by psychic means."
Some physicists who are critics of wasteful military spending see the report as "crackpot physics." That's how Lawrence Krauss, author of The Physics of Star Trek, describes it. In his book, Krauss explains that there are some physical limits that prevent teleportation.
Some see psychic teleportation as being right up there with remote viewing, another psychic art that the Air Force once dabbled in.
FAS' s Steven Aftergood, in a bit of understatement, said that the teleportation report "raises questions of scientific quality control at the Air Force."
Bill Christensen of Space.com thinks the money may not be completely wasted. After all, he writes, "the distribution list thoughtfully included at the end of the report shows that a copy was sent to Gregory Benford, physicist and highly respected sf author. Maybe we'll get a good story out of it."
November 3, 2004. The Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health has posted a report of its preliminary test of Natasha Demkina, the Russain teenager said to have X-ray diagnostic vision.
She failed to meet the test conditions but I think many people are going to say that four out of six (67%) is worth another test, no matter what the rules were.
Victor Zammit, in his usual overkill style, has debunked the skeptics for their "most disturbing, despicable and professionally offensive psychic experiment." Victor is a swell fellow from Australia who never met a psychic he didn't like and seems to consider anyone skeptical of anything paranormal or supernatural to be the scum of the earth. He seems to have a particular bugaboo regarding life after death. Zammit's career is one long brief for magical thinking.
October 24, 2004. The Oxford, Ohio, police have been unable to find a missing man with Alzheimer's disease. 81-year-old Charles E. Capel has been missing since May 21. Who do they call? Psychic detective Noreen Renier. The Oxford police hired Renier several weeks ago with permission from the Capel family, said Sgt. Jim Squance.
The police mailed Renier a map of Ohio, a pair of Capel's sneakers, and several toothbrushes to help her psychic endeavors. She has already been extremely helpful by informing the police that "she believes Charles E. Capel is within eight walking-minutes of his house." It's a shame the psychic forces can't be more specific, but when you're working with spirits or paranormal forces, beggars can't be choosers. Of course, it had probably already occurred to the police that an 81-year old on foot* probably didn't wander too far from home.
Let's hope the Oxford police are a little more clever than the Williston, Florida, police, who rationalized Renier's tips to fit with the psychic hypothesis and thereby justify their use of a psychic.
This is the same Noreen Renier who predicted that President Jimmy Carter would be reelected in 1980 and assassinated on the White House lawn. Vice President Mondale, she saw, would commit suicide. She also predicted Reagan would have a heart attack or be shot in the chest and live, but later machine-gunned to death. However, when Anwar Sadat was machine-gunned to death, she announced that she didn't mean Reagan but Sadat. She said she'd only predicted that the President would be machine-gunned to death; she hadn't specified Reagan.* The shotgun approach to predictions is a frequent ploy of psychics. If you predict enough disasters and terrible events, some are bound to happen and then you can take credit. Most people will forget your predictions that didn't come true.
October 21, 2004. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. I assume he is an educated man. He is certainly keeping up with the opposition. In a recent op-ed piece for The Christian Post, he reviews two recent anti-intelligent design articles, one by Chris Mooney ("Research and Destroy" or how the religious right promotes its own "experts" to combat mainstream science) in the October issue of Washington Monthly and the other by Evan Ratliff ("The Crusade Against Evolution" or how intelligent design is the new "creationism" and is invading America's classrooms) in the October issue of Wired. Mohler concludes his essay thusly:
What's his evidence that theorists are at war over how evolution works? Mooney says the supernatural hypothesis is outside the limits of science, while he also says that anti-ID evolutionist Ken Miller says ID is wrong. Of course, you can't say ID is wrong unless it falls within the limits of science.
However, this is not a disagreement about how evolution works. Rather, it is a disagreement about how to deal with ID. One approach is to ignore it or banish it from the science classroom on the grounds that it is not science but metaphysics. The other is to consider it and banish it from the science classroom on the grounds that it is useless, wrong, or grossly inferior to alternative explanations.
One other thing Mohler seems confused about is Miller's position on design. He writes: "Miller flatly dismisses the idea of design in the cosmos." Miller is a Catholic and, as such, must believe in a Creator of the cosmos. What Miller flatly denies is that intelligent design is good science, not that there is not design in creation. As Miller himself says,
However, ID is bad science if by ID one means what Mohler says about it, namely,
Regarding this notion, Miller has written:
So, the debate, if there is a debate, between Mooney and Miller is not about evolution but about what to make of ID. It is only natural, however, to find two distinct responses regarding ID since its proponents use the term ambiguously, as Mohler does. In fact, Mohler seems to conflate the metaphysical and the empirical meanings of ID.
Mohler also claims that
I wonder if he has a similar view of mathematicians and chemists intimidating school boards with their "snarling logicality" or obstinate empiricism.
[Note: 'snarling logicality' is an expression William James used to describe those who demand empirical proof for just about everything. Mohler does not use the expression. The quotes are to indicate that the expression is not mine--though I wish it were!]
October 20, 2004. The Christians are not turning the other cheek in York, Pennsylvania, but are throwing the scientists to the pandas in a desperate move to bring religion into the biology classroom and kick evolution out. Last Monday, the Dover Area School Board voted 6-3 to add “Intelligent Design Theory” (ID) to the district’s biology curriculum, even though two weeks ago a compromise was reached that called for putting 50 copies of the book Of Pandas and People in science classrooms as reference books. At that time, Supt. Richard Nilsen said that ID would not be required. Now the curriculum reads: “Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of life will not be taught.”*
Taner Edis describes Of Pandas and People, 2nd ed. (1993) by Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon thusly:
Pandas was adopted as a text in Plano, Texas, a few years ago.
One Dover board member resigned in tears after Monday's vote, saying she was tired of being asked if she was "born again." Only one community member spoke in favor of the ID proposal and he home schools his kids. William Buckingham, one of the board members who led the fight for ID inclusion in the biology curriculum was reported as having "challenged people’s literacy, knowledge of American history and patriotism throughout the night."
Sounds like a swell school district. I hope the kids weren't watching.
update: November 19, 2004. The York school district chose four new board members (from 13 candidates) last night. They selected "a preacher, a home-schooler who doesn't send his kids to public school because of his religious beliefs and two others with barely any experience in government." No one who spoke out against intelligent design was selected.
Robert Todd Carroll
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