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Fordham on evolution in state science standards

Fordham on evolution in state science standards | NCSE.

The National Center for Science Education (which defends the teaching of evolution and climate change in schools) has issued their own statement on the Fordham report on science education in the US.  The evolution denialist community has been more subtle in damaging the science standards in the USA than we had all previously imagined.

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Science education in the USA–a critical report

Recently, the Thomas P Fordham Institute, a private think-tank focused on analyzing and critiquing the US public school system, issued a report regarding the state of each US state’s science education standards across a broad spectrum of qualitative measures from the clarity of the standards to content to rigor of the science.  It is an impressive and detailed report analyzing science education state-by-state with links to science education standards and other information.  It is worth reading, even just to find out how your state is doing.

Science is the foundation of engineering, biomedical research, and many other fields.  Without science, Intel cannot figure out how to make faster processors.  Without science, we don’t have better vaccines and cancer treatments.  Without science, we have people who think that homeopathy works, or that the world is only 6000 years old, or that acupuncture works.  The whole anti-vaccination lunacy requires a complete misunderstanding of science and research.

The good news

  • California is one of two states (the other being DC)  to get an A on the science report card.  As a resident of the Golden State, I’m proud of this news, though I am somewhat concerned that the state of the economy and budget crisis is not going to help in the future.  It’s also amazing what DC has done given that it is tiny jurisdiction, and that it received a C in 2005.  But since I’m a California, here’s what the report says about my state:

❝The California science standards are truly excellent.  The standards themselves are  reasonably succinct yet quite comprehensive.  This is especially true in high school  chemistry, where topics are covered that are rarely seen in other K-12 standards  documents.  The continuity from grade to grade is superb, thanks in part to the  introductory commentary, and context that the state provides, which relate grade- pecific learning to standards that have been covered in earlier grades, and those that will be covered later.❞

  • Four other states, Virginia, Massachusetts, South Carolina (which surprises me), and Indiana (despite an ongoing unconstitutional attempt to push creationism on its students) received an A-.
  • Seven other states received B’s.  However, if we are to accept a B as an acceptable result for science education in the US, the one area of study that is critical to American economic and technical leadership, then US science education will fall further behind the booming economies in Europe and Asia.
The bad news
  • Given the above information, 38 states had a C or below grade.  In fact, the average “grade” for science education in the US is a C.  Average.  Mediocre.
  • Ten states had F grades, which must indicate that they occasionally use the word “science” in a spelling test.  Some of these states had F’s in the 2005 report, so they’re not even trying to improve.  Even Wisconsin, which has a top-rated university system, received an F for their students.  Maybe the University of Wisconsin’s science programs only accept out-of-staters and international students.
  • Many of the lower performing states don’t even lay out a basic curricula for science.
  • The variability in standards and implementation is inconsistent across the country.  Why should a California child be better trained than one from Alabama?  Of course, the result of that science education is that California has a world-class university system (3 of the top 100 universities in the world are UC-Berkley, UCLA, and UC-San Diego) and is the world leader in computer technology.  Alabama, of course, has good football teams.
The authors of the study gave a few reasons for the low quality of science education in the US.  They listed four reasons that should give us all a reason to worry about the falling science knowledge in this country:
  • An undermining of evolution. Many of us have been writing about the regular demand by conservative Republican state legislatures to foist creationism on their students.  In the famous words of  Theodosius Dobzhansky, “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”  Evolution is one of the four principles of biology (also including cell theory, genetics, and homeostasis), so without a deep and thorough understanding of evolution, medical research will fall apart.  How are we to save lives and treat diseases if students can’t even understand the essentials of biology?

❝Of course, most anti-evolution efforts are aimed more directly at the standards themselves.  And these tactics are.  far more subtle than they once were.  Missouri, for example, has asterisked all “controversial” evolution content in the.  standards and relegated it to a voluntary curriculum that.  will not be assessed.  (Sadly, this marks a step back from that state’s coverage of evolution in 2005.) Tennessee includes evolution only in an elective high school course (not the basic high school biology course).  And Maryland includes evolution content in its standards but explicitly excludes crucial points from its state assessment.  

Other states have undermined the teaching of evolution by singling it out as somehow not quite as “scientific” as other concepts of similar breadth.  A common technique—used to a greater or lesser extent by Colorado, Missouri, Montana, and West Virginia—is to direct students to study its “strengths and weaknesses.” 

Far too often, important evolution content is included, but minimally.  Some states mention evolution just once in their standards and never revisit it.  Others—including.  Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, and Nebraska— unnecessarily delay it until high school.

Even some of the nation’s best standards subtly undermine.  the teaching of evolution.  In California, for example, students are told to “understand science, not necessarily [to] accept everything taught.” In New York, students learn that “according to many scientists, biological evolution occurs through natural selection.” (This is not according to “many” but, in fact, all true scientists.)

Finally, conspicuously missing from the vast majority of states’ standards is mention of human evolution—implying that elements of biological evolution don’t pertain to human life.  This marks a subtle but important victory for creationists: even states with thorough and appropriate coverage of evolution (e.g., Massachusetts, Utah, and Washington) shy away from linking the controversial term with ourselves.  Only four states—Florida, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Rhode Island—openly embrace human evolution in their current science standards.  (Pennsylvania, which.  referenced human evolution in its previous standards, has omitted it from the more recent version.)❞

  • Propensity to be vague.  Some standards are so unclear and ill-defined that teachers actually have little guidance as to what to teach their students.  California, for example, lists out what students should “know” about electricity upon completion of a physics course.  Within that list, a good science teacher (like the one I had when I was in high school, who developed my interest in sciences) will create a lesson plan that is both invigorating and builds knowledge.  Maybe the intent of some school boards are vague guidelines to inspire independent teaching, but in a subject as critical as the sciences, strict standards are necessary–and good science teachers will use those strict standards to build exciting, challenging and inspiring curricula.
  • Poor integration of scientific inquiry.  Science isn’t all about memorizing muscles, organism names, or how to create the Kreb’s cycle given CO2, H2O and NH3 (my single question in a Biochemistry final exam many years ago).  It’s about the scientific method, the critical and analytical process that essentially leads an individual from observations to a scientific theory.  It’s how science works, it is what distinguishes it from all other forms of thinking.  Apparently, most states don’t guide the teacher on how to provide this type of teaching to their students, a major deficiency.
  • Where did the numbers go?  If evolution is one of the foundations of biology, then mathematics is the foundation of all sciences.  Students need algebra, at a minimum.  But calculus and statistics needs to be integrated into the teaching, as it is critical to analyzing data and understanding how the data makes sense.  Even if someone is going to forsake the sciences for business in college, algebra and calculus are also critical to accounting and finance.
The poor state of science education has effect on everything from the economy to bad medical choices.  Science is the foundation of engineering, biomedical research, and many other fields.  Without science, Intel cannot figure out how to make faster processors.  Without science, we don’t have better vaccines and cancer treatments.  Without science, we have people who think that homeopathy works, or that the world is only 6000 years old, or that acupuncture works.  The whole anti-vaccination lunacy requires a complete misunderstanding of science and research.
At least California is doing it right.

Source:  The State of State Science Standards in the US, a 2012 Report

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Michigan Charter School Teaching Creationism?

I am not a fan of Charter Schools for reasons that aren’t relevant to postings about skepticism and science.  One of my issues with them is that the appear to be not very well regulated.  In fact, the basic definition of charter school is that they receive public monies and less regulation as long as they produce results (usually higher standardized test scores).  The definition of a charter school, according to the National Education Association (NEA), is:

Charter schools are publicly funded elementary or secondary schools that have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools, in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each charter school’s charter.

NEA believes that charter schools and other nontraditional public school options have the potential to facilitate education reforms and develop new and creative teaching methods that can be replicated in traditional public schools for the benefit of all children. Whether charter schools will fulfill this potential depends on how charter schools are designed and implemented, including the oversight and assistance provided by charter authorizers.

This does not give them carte blanche to violate the constitution of the United States, specifically the Establishment Clause.  A charter school in Michigan, the Byron Center Charter School, had this statement on their website (as recently as last week):

Religion
Byron Center Charter School cannot promote a certain religion, it can however, teach both creation and evolution as a theory, and use the Bible as a historical reference.

Let’s break down that sentence.  Yes, the school cannot promote a certain religion.  Several Supreme Court rulings say they can’t, so it’s good to know they understand the US Constitution.  No, they cannot teach both creation and evolution as a theory, since only evolution is a theory and creation is fairytale based on not one single bit of science.  And to use the Bible as a historical reference?  Well, there are some historical references in it, but they are infrequent, and frankly wrapped into fairytales and myths.  So, that sentence could be cut down to “Byron Center Charter School cannot promote a certain religion.”

Apparently, they have changed their website this week to remove the offensive, unconstitutional statement.  But just because they removed it from their website does not mean that they’re not teaching creationism in clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  I hope that the State of Michigan determines if they’ve been in violation of the law then shut them down.

As the NEA states, “Charter schools should be monitored on a continuing basis and should be subject to modification or closure if children or the public interest is at risk.”  The public interest has been put at risk.

Source:  Michigan Charter School Teaching Creationism? | Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

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Le Mur – Censored

Because I’m so annoyed by the anti-vaccination gangsters, I tend to read nearly every article, blog, and CDC statistic (seriously, I’m a vaccine geek) about vaccines.  While doing some background reading on the Patriot Nurse (read about her if you haven’t), I found a blog called Autismum (it’s been promoted to my favorite blogs in the side bar).  Once I start reading a blog, I keep going back to see what’s up.

She wrote a short post about the French movie, Le Mur (the Wall).  It’s a French documentary about some of the abusive practices in the French medical system for autism, including le Packing, which is a procedure (no, a procedure is evidence based, this is just plain medieval) where an autistic child is wrapped in cold wet sheets.  Now, I’m a Francophile.  My ex-wife is born and bred Parisienne.  Both of my daughters’ first language is le Francaise.  I love French food (mostly).  I find the myths about France and the USA to be amusing and untrue.

But this nauseates me at the basic level.  How can a modern country allow this practice?  What’s worse is that the French government is censoring the movie because, I suppose, it offends them.  This makes me despise French political system and hope that whatever we do to improve the US healthcare system, let’s not emulate France.

If you do anything else, read Support the Wall, and give them whatever verbal, monetary, or political support you can.

Source:  Le Mur – Censored « Autismum

 

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No whooping cough deaths in California in 2011

The California Department of Public Health announced this week that there were no whooping cough (pertussis) deaths in California for the first time in 20 years, although there were still over 3000 cases of the infection identified in the state.  As a comparison, there 9000 cases and 10 deaths in 2010 in California.  The state worked closely with hospitals, schools, doctors and clinics to get more people vaccinated against whooping cough, a bacterial infection that afflicts the respiratory system.  Despite the myths that whooping cough is harmless, pertussis can be dangerous to infants because they cannot be fully vaccinated until they are six months old.

Despite the protestations, denialism and disinformation from the anti-vaccination gang, this is evidence of how vaccinations can have a positive impact on the public.

 

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Colorado health officials mulling mandatory vaccinations

Colorado health officials mulling mandatory vaccinations | Vaccine News Daily.

Healthcare workers should be obligated to receive influenza vaccinations, mainly because they can be a nexus of spreading of the disease.  I personally don’t get why a healthcare worker should invent non-evidence based excuses for not getting the vaccine (I’ve heard them all), but it happens.

That the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons opposes this law is because it is a politically conservative group of physicians.  They’re opposed to mandatory vaccinations of any kind (even children), don’t support Medicare and Medicaid , even considering it evil and immoral, and are, of course, deeply opposed to Obama’s health care plan. I don’t care that there are conservative physicians, but I expect them to use evidence-based decision when dealing with medical and healthcare policy questions.  This group is incapable of evidence-based thinking.  Personally, I wouldn’t visit a physician who belonged to this group.

Nevertheless, if you observe Association of American Physicians and Surgeons opposing anything in healthcare, be very skeptical.  Extremely skeptical.

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Gates contributes $750 million to Global Fund

Gates contributes $750 million to Global Fund | Vaccine News Daily.

Bill Gates, founder and former chairman of Microsoft, is contributing a huge amount of money to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.  The Global Fund provides grants (through an application process) to evidence-based  and cost-effective healthcare interventions for infectious diseases.  They are large supporter of vaccines as the primary step to prevent infectious diseases.

I’ve never been a fan of Microsoft, but I think Bill Gates’ legacy is probably going to be more about his charitable work than Microsoft Windows.  And his contribution to the Global Fund, about which there are unsubstantiated rumors (my assumption is that Gates wouldn’t have contributed $1.00 if they were true) regarding their finances, is critical to their strategy of eliminating infectious diseases.  Global Fund’s success is documented:

New HIV infections are declining in many of the countries most affected by the epidemic. More and more countries are in a position to target the elimination of malaria from their territories. The world is on course to halve TB mortality by 2015 in comparison with 1990.

Since its inception in 2002, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has been a major engine driving this remarkable progress.

We should applaud Bill Gates and the Global Fund.

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Erin Brockovich to probe New York ‘mass hysteria’ case

Erin Brockovich to probe New York ‘mass hysteria’ case – latimes.com.

Erin Brockovich is really getting involved with the cluster of alleged neurological issues in teenagers in the Leroy, NY area.  The article describes the symptoms as “Tourette’s-like”, but I’m troubled by the lack of a definitive description (let alone diagnosis).  Brockovich, as discussed previously, is still focused on the 1970′s train derailment which spilled arsenic and tricholorethylene.  The speculation about what is causing these issues run from mass hysteria, even outright feigned behavior, to something environmental, such as vaccines or chemicals.

It’s hard to tell what’s going on.  I am almost certain that during the next few days or weeks, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will get involved, interviewing and testing the students, and trying to determine if there is some correlation and possible causal factor.  We probably should wait until the real scientists get involved and provide some real analysis with evidence.

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Indiana creationist bill passes committee

Indiana creationist bill passes committee | NCSE.

Midwestern U.S. states are attempting to foist creationist or intelligent design teaching on their public school students, all the while trying to circumvent the Establishment Clause of the Bill of Rights.

Indiana’s Senate Committee on Education and Career Development just reported out of committee by an 8-2 vote their version of a creationist bill.  The vote was strictly on party lines with 8 Republicans voting for it and 2 Democrats against it (Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Indiana Senate 3:1).  Even during the committee discussion, religious leaders spoke out against it and asserting the bill’s unconstitutionality.  I wonder if these Republican politicians understand how much it will cost in tax dollars to defend this bill in Federal Courts.  And lose in Federal Court.

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Activist Erin Brockovich looking into teens’ mystery ailment

Activist Erin Brockovich looking into teens’ mystery ailment – USATODAY.com

I keep running into this story in various locations on the internet. During the past few months, 15 teenagers, mostly students at LeRoy (NY) High School just outside of Rochester, NY, reported neurological symptoms that resemble Tourette’s Syndrome.

Erin Brockovich, namesake of the Julia Robert’s movie, is investigating whether a train wreck in 1970 that spilled 35,000 gallons of cyanide and trichloroeythylene (TCE) near the high school caused or partially caused the symptoms.  Then we have anti-vaccination blogs that blames it on the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, of course, without one tiny little bit of evidence.

The school district has reported that there are no known environmental issues in the air and water.  Given very strict privacy laws, we don’t know if there’s some other medical link (like HPV vaccine).  Of course, if HPV vaccine or some other pharmaceutical were involved, it would be very curious that only a small, rural, upstate New York town would be involved.

TCE is a well known contaminant of groundwater all over the world.  There is some evidence that TCE may be involved with Parkinson’s Disease, though the effects usually take many years.

Right now, there is no evidence that points in any direction.  If you hear that it’s vaccines, you may as well blame alien abduction, because there’s no evidence for that either.  Everything is just speculation.

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The dopes, I mean tropes, of the vaccine, evolution and climate change denialists

This morning, I was reading a posting by Orac, the nom de guerre (or nom de blog, according to him) of a rather snarky, humorous, and brilliant (yeah, I think he’s brilliant) surgeon hiding somewhere in the midwest.  In his article, The Tactics and Tropes of the Antivaccine Movement, he amusingly and pointedly exposes the pathetic myths of the anti-vaccine movement.  Seriously, it’s not that hard dismissing the unsupported claims of the vaccine denialists, but the postings from the evidence-based crowd are necessary to make sure those people who make decisions through the University of Google Medical School have some accurate information.  At least that’s the theory.

So what is a trope?  If you’re talking about a religious service, it’s a musical embellishment, which sounds about right.  But in writing, a trope is a word or words that are used in a sense that is different from their literal meaning.  Hyperbole, used frequently by the vaccine denialism gang, is an example.

Orac listed several tactics, then the tropes, of the anti-vaccine movement, but it’s clear that they are used by the Big 3 of pseudoscience, Climate Change Denialists, Evolution Denialists (creationist) and Vaccine Denialists.  There are others, of course, like the HIV/AIDS denialists (claiming that HIV does not cause AIDS), and Physics Denialists (homeopathy).  First their tactics (liberally paraphrasing and embellishing on what Orac wrote):

  1. Skewing the science. This involves cherry picking studies, quote-mining, and attacking science that doesn’t support their denialist point-of-view, while trumpeting any report or study that supports them. The Big 3 of Denialism even attempt to rename their pseudoscience into “science”, with creation science and the “theory” of Intelligent design by way of illustration.  Case in point, Generation Rescue, Playmate of the Year Jenny McCarthy’s vaccine denialism website, contains a list of ingredients in vaccines and the side effects.  No citations.  No list of the concentration of ingredients.  No description of the actual risk of said side effects.  In other words, it looks like science.  But it doesn’t even meet the standards of a high school science paper or Wikipedia.
  2. Shifting hypotheses. Using a football metaphor, Orac calls it, “moving the goalposts.”  The denialist crowd changes either their requirements for evidence or just dismiss whatever evidence that doesn’t support their point-of-view.  One of the best examples (of so many good ones) is the old macro vs. micro-evolution canard used by creationists.  For scientists, macroevolution (change in a large population of organisms over geologic time periods) and microevolution (change at a species level over a relatively short period of time, usually one that is observable) are both driven by the same mechanisms, that is genetic drift and natural selection.  Creationists will regularly state that they “believe” in microevolution but not macroevolution.  Science answers questions, and it thrives on answering new ones.  But artificial questions that are just invented to shift the emphasis is a waste of time.
  3. Censorship. This is an extreme characteristic of all anti-science movements. For example, the Age of Autism does not allow dissenting comments in any of their discussions about vaccines.  Answers in Genesis, the evolution denialist website, only “answers” questions that are moderated.  Real science loves these discussions.  If some vaccine denier came to this website, I’d engage them in debate (except it’s hard to debate someone who doesn’t use real evidence).
  4. Attacking the opposition. Dr. Paul Offit, a respected pediatrician, is regularly attacked by the anti-vaccine gangsters (sorry, I fell into hyperbole, please pardon the mess), because of his writings on the subject of the safety of vaccines.  His 2011 book, Deadly Choices:  How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, probably angered those gangsters (oops, once again) as much as anything.  Orac himself apparently had an email campaign written about his evil ways passed along to his university (I guess his nom de blog isn’t that secret).  I once spent a substantial amount of time editing Wikipedia anonymously, focusing on vaccines, evolution, and alternative medicine articles.  I was very careful with my identity, but someone found my address in California and began spamming my email and regular mail.  They contacted my employer, but since it was my company, I wasn’t too concerned.

And now the tropes (mostly from the vaccine denialist mob):

  1. “I’m not antivaccine; I’m pro-safe vaccines.” Of course, there’s no evidence that vaccines are unsafe, but this sounds good.  A similar one is the evolution denialist “I believe in microevolution, but not in macroevolution.”  Or the climate change version, “sure, the temperature is rising, I just don’t believe humans are involved.”
  2. Vaccines are toxic. Thoroughly debunked and debunked.
  3. A demand for absolute safety.  As anyone who’s in medicine states, every medical procedure, technique, injection, device, pharmaceutical, or whatever else has some risk.  When the benefits outweigh the risk, then the choice is clear.  When the benefits outweigh an invented risk, then it’s extremely clear.
  4. A demand for absolute “proof” that vaccines are safe.  I hate these arguments.  Science doesn’t work in absolute proofs, it works to provide evidence that supports a hypothesis.  Science is open-minded, so it demands the best possible evidence, but leaves the possibility that an alternative hypothesis may supplant the original one.
  5. “Vaccines didn’t save us.”  Pure delusion.
  6. Vaccines are “unnatural.”  This trope is used by the alternative medicine world every day, because, they state, without any evidence, “natural” is better than real science.  In fact, there’s nothing more natural than inducing an immune response, since it happens billions of times.  Debunked.
  7. Choosing between “vaccine injury” and disease. What injury?  Last I checked, the real evidence doesn’t support vaccine injury.  So, there is no choice, since the real disease is worst.

What is troublesome about these tropes is that they are simple to state.  ”Vaccines are toxic” is a three word statement that is scary, even if not supported by evidence.  To discredit it, one needs to discuss each of the ingredients, providing real evidence, and then try to tie it all together.  That’s way beyond three words.  I once heard Paul Offit on NPR, and his answers were intelligent and correct, but they are so nuanced and complex, the listeners defaulted to the “vaccines are toxic” meme.

I believe that patients should be informed about their health and their healthcare choices.  But searching the internet for this information has always troubled me.  If you google “vaccines and autism”, you get over 7 million hits (with number 2 being the Jenny McCarthy Body Count, so that’s comforting).  But what is the quality of these hits?  Is Wikipedia a good choice?  Well, I’ll answer that question because I know a couple of physicians and medical researchers watch over it carefully.  In todays world of the interwebs, readers tend to accept every website as being “the truth”.  I know people who actually count the number of websites that support a particular point of view!

Where are the critical thinking skills?  I bet the various science deniers will state that they are thinking critically, but mostly what I see is trying to support a viewpoint by manipulating the information, instead of being openminded.  It is difficult to engage in this discussion with such individuals.

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Other blog comments on Patriot Nurse

I didn’t realize how many bloggers about vaccines posted on this woman.  It makes me a bit concerned that we’ve given her more credit than she deserves, but it’s important to stamp out the vaccine denialism quickly.  So when someone googles “Patriot Nurse”, they find the evidence-based discussions, not the ranting of a woo-meister.

Responsible Nurses, and Then There’s This–Canadian Nurse

Vaccines are safe and effective. Scientific study has shown this to be true, beyond a shadow of a doubt. No vaccine – or any medication – is without risks, and I would encourage people to speak to their physician if they are having doubts or questions. Remember that anyone can post anything they wish on the internet – be it true or not. And simply because something SOUNDS authoritative does not make it correct.

Vaccination Ethics Come to Question as The Patriot Nurse Strikes Again–Canadian Nurse

Good morning angry supporters of The Patriot Nurse (TPN).

No one is debating your RIGHT to choose whether or not to vaccinate. But if you have the right to NOT vaccinate, then a patient – especially parents who …will be giving birth to a vulnerable neonate under your care – should have the right to choose whether or not you act as their nurse.

NO one is after The Patriot Nurse’s job. A science writer for a legitimate science zine contacted her work to verify her identity. Which is exactly what a responsible writer does before publication – verifies a source.

Non-vaccinating nurses at other hospitals have to take isolation per-cautions(gloves, gown, mask). This is to protect them and protect the patients. Regardless of whether YOU think vaccines work – science sure thinks that they do, and the employers have a right and a duty to protect those under its care.

The Patriot Nurse is a sham. She states in her video that saying this comes as a great cost to her as a nurse. If she so firmly believes in her anti-vaccination rhetoric – so much so that she would post it online AND STATE THAT SHE WAS A NURSE – then she should be well aware of the potential consequences.

All of you crying “free speech” are being deceived. The Patriot Nurse has deleted EVERY SINGLE comment that was not entirely supportive of her. You can’t claim that her free speech is in jeopardy while she refuses that right to others.

The Patriot Nurse made a video. A stupid video. In which she makes very very basic scientific errors. She was called to answer to those errors on her page, on this blog, on Orac’s blog and elsewhere. She refused to do so. She is not interested in having a dialogue. She had her little diatribe and that was that. NO ONE is so special that they can make sweeping, erroneous statements without recourse.

I know that you anti-vaccination activists have a lot of other anti-vaccination friends online. But the fact of the matter is that 94% of people are still vaccinating. You’re a blip on the radar. You’re the new “trendy” thing to be against. But when it comes down to it, all but a handful of people are intelligent enough to realize that:

1) there is NOT a global conspiracy of scientists and doctors trying to poison your children

2) a few bad nurses or doctors do not discount the whole of the scientific method; nor are the opinions of a few more valid than the opinions of millions

3) researching vaccines on Google is NOT equal to going to post-secondary education for 10+ years to be a physician, pediatrician, immunologist or what have you.

The Patriot Nurse is not a martyr. She is a nurse who is expected to uphold the ideals and principles of her nursing organization and employer. And seeing as those things adhere to evidence-based medicine – and she doesn’t – she now has a problem. She brought it on herself. It was her choice not to vaccinate, and it their choice (and DUTY to the public) to deal with her how they see fit.

A black hole of anti vaccine misinformation–Respectful Insolence (Orac)

Every so often, I come across a bit of antivaccine idiocy that’s so amazingly idiotic, such a–shall we say?–target-rich environment that it’s catnip to a cat. I just can’t resist it, even when there are other topics and subjects out there that have backed up over the last few days and I want to cover. You’ll see why in a minute. In this particular case the antivaccine lunacy comes in the form of a video that’s been making the rounds amazingly quickly the anti-vaccine crankosphere since it was released yesterday.

The Patriot Nurse–Autismum

Of course, whose advice you follow on such matters is your call. You can put your faith in the paranoid rantings of the Patriot Nurse, PlayBoy models and inconsequential actresses or base your opinions on the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that shows, though not perfect, for the vast majority of human beings that receive them, vaccines are safe and the best protection against potentially disabling and deadly diseases that infect us.

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The Zombie Apocalypse or vaccine myths that won’t die

Pseudoscience pushing individuals can be likened to zombies.  They have no brains, and their only goal in life is to eat the brains of those who don’t adhere to their position.  The anti-vaccine crowd are my favorite zombies, because the metaphor can be further extended because the victims of these zombies can die (the logical result of non-vaccination).

Yesterday, I ran across this YouTube video by someone called the PatriotNurse.  As an aside, WordPress (the blogging software I use) allows for embedding of YouTube videos, which is perfectly within my programming capabilities.  But for some unknown, and admittedly perplexing reason, PatriotNurse disabled the embedding feature.  Lacking evidence, I won’t speculate as to why.  She also has disabled comments to her video by stating, “The comments are OFF for many reasons. Foremost is that I refuse to be abused for a contrarian viewpoint that goes against mainstream “Sickcare.”  In other words, she refuses to allow her zombie ideas to be shown in the bright light of the day.  Also, if you look at her other videos, well, let’s just say I’m concerned about who trained her as a nurse and who would currently employ her, but that’s not the point here.

Basically she uses the standard repertoire of unsupported claims, canards and fairytales that most vaccine denialists use to make their case.  Every once in a while we should list out all their claims, debunk them, and refer to them in the future.  The anti-evolution crowd, which probably relies upon 100 times more myths than the anti-vaccine group, has spawned a few websites that list out creationist claims, then thoroughly debunks them.  At this time, the anti-vax websites focus on just a few claims, all of which are easily dismissed.

In order of weakness of the argument, here we go!

  • After my friend’s neighbor’s cousin’s sister-in-law’s daughter was vaccinated, she got….This argument is a typical example of the logical fallacy called post hoc ergo propter hoc or post-hoc fallacy, a Latin phrase which literally means, “after this therefore because of this.”  In other words, just because one event follows another event, one cannot conclude the first event caused the second event.  Or even that they are even peripherally related.  One of the worst mistakes in science is conflating correlation (this event happens when another event happens) with causation (that one event actually causes the second event).  Let’s put it this way.  I’m sure a certain percentage of children who are vaccinated break there arms in a fall, get a cold, or draw on the wall with a pen.  I’m sure some of us recall such an event.  But are they related to the vaccination?  Well, I’m sure someone would make a case that the child going to the pediatrician’s office to get a vaccine picks up a cold from another kid, but that’s a perfect example of pure coincidence.  In other words, without providing a logical mechanism for the correlation, then causation is far from proven.
  • Everyone I know who gets a vaccination gets sick, paralyzed, or (put almost anything here).  Similar to the post-hoc fallacy, it depends on a confirmation bias, that is, individuals look for evidence that supports their own beliefs or assumptions, ignoring all else.  Of course, the vast majority of children or adults that get vaccinated do not have any serious side effects (nota bene: I chose one of literally thousands of articles that dismiss any serious side effects from vaccines).  Essentially, this claim barely rises above personal anecdote.
  • Vaccines cause autism.  I’m not even sure this claim should be discussed because it’s been so thoroughly and scientifically quashed, it is almost sad that it’s still used as an excuse to not vaccinate.  But since this is supposed to be a thorough list, I’ll go through the debunking again.  Andrew Wakefield, who first invented the claim in a article in the British medical journal, The Lancet. Eventually, several co-authors removed their names from the paper in 2004, and finally the article was fully retracted by the journal in 2010.  Finally, Wakefield was found to be a fraud.  Still, the anti-vax conspiracists believe that vaccines cause autism, despite substantial evidence in peer reviewed journals (pdf file).  Since all the evidence dismisses the claim, but it’s still trotted out by anti-vaxers, one can only reply with the evidence.
  • Vaccines contain mercury.  In the past, a mercury-organic compound called thimerosal was used as a preservative in certain vaccines, especially those that were labeled for multiple doses (vaccines vials are often doses of 10).  But to be perfectly clear, thimerosal is not metallic mercury floating in the vial, it is a compound that is bound up in a rather large organic molecule, meaning that the mercury itself is inaccessible to the body and will be excreted.  Cans of tuna, a typical childhood meal, contains several times more mercury in the form of methyl mercury, which is easily absorbed by the gut and can be dangerous.  Vaccines that contain thiomersal contain about 25µg (or mcg or micrograms) of mercury.  A 125g (about 4 oz) portion of canned tuna contains about the same amount.
  • Vaccines contain mercury–but injected is worse than eating it.  The discussion then moves to the myth that ingesting mercury from foods is somehow better than getting it injected.  Before we continue, remember the mercury in vaccines is thiomersal which is bound up by a relatively large organic molecule.  This is a method used in a lot of pharmacological applications to isolate toxic metals from the body, but still derive a benefit from them.  Contrast agents used in enhanced radiology exams (like CT’s) contain iodine, also fairly toxic.  The organic molecule protects the patient from the toxic effects, while soon after the exam (usually within 30 minutes), the contrast agent is excreted.  The same with thiomersal.  Ingested mercury, in the form of methyl mercury (found in most fish), is actually absorbed faster, and methyl mercury also disperses to more organ systems because it mimics an essential amino acid, methionone. There are no physiological mechanisms that block the uptake of a small molecule like methyl mercury, so the effect might be worse than thiomersal.
  • Vaccines contain mercury, oh my.  Except, they don’t contain mercury, save for some flu vaccines.  So, not only eating tuna sandwiches is a larger mercury source, vaccines is not a mercury source.
  • Vaccines contain aluminum.  So we dispensed with the mercury myth, but a new one shows up.  In this case, vaccines do contain aluminum, in the form of aluminum salts.  It is used as an adjuvant to increase the immune response of the vaccine, an important requirement to confer immunity to the disease.  However, more aluminum comes from food sources (like breast milk) than from vaccines.  “During the first 6 months of life, infants could receive about 4 milligrams of aluminum from vaccines. That’s not very much: a milligram is one-thousandth of a gram and a gram is the weight of one-fifth of a teaspoon of water. During the same period, babies will also receive about 10 milligrams of aluminum in breast milk, about 40 milligrams in infant formula, or about 120 milligrams in soy-based formula.
  • Vaccines bypass the gut which is our best immune defense system.  It’s hard to disprove something that has no basis in real physiology.  If this claim were true, of course, we’d never be afflicted by most pathogens, and we wouldn’t need vaccines.  The adaptive immune response to immunizations requires interaction with the internal organs and blood.
  • Too many vaccinations. While listening to video (I couldn’t bear to watch), PatriotNurse mentioned another old canard about too many vaccine doses given to infants and toddlers.  Apparently, the anti-vaccination zombies need to run from one debunked myth to another one.  Paul Offit, much hated by the anti-vaccine gang, has stated that “Vaccines do not overwhelm the immune system. Although the infant immune system is relatively naive, it is immediately capable of generating a vast array of protective responses; even conservative estimates predict the capacity to respond to thousands of vaccines simultaneously”, that “multiple vaccinations do not weaken the immune system,” and that “vaccines represent a minute fraction of what a child’s immune system routinely navigates; the average child is infected with 4–6 viruses per year.”
  • It’s a Big Pharma conspiracy.  This conspiracy is huge, because it includes the CDC, FDA, major medical journals, physicians, and, of course, the pharmaceutical industry.  Of all the logical fallacies, the Appeal to a Grand Conspiracy is one of the most annoying.  It is difficult to disprove, because the vaccine conspiracists don’t provide any real evidence for their assertion.  Since extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, their claim lacks even bad evidence.

There might be other arguments that they use, and I’ll be finding them and debunking them.  In the meantime, I’m going to create a vaccine FAQ that debunks these things.

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Anti-evolution bills put healthcare at risk

My Turn: The Darwin connection | Concord Monitor.

While researching some points for my article on intelligent design, I stumbled onto a poignant and pointed article written by Leslie Brunetta, a New Hampshire science author  who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.  She wrote the interesting (and very readable) book entitled, “Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating.”

Her thesis is that these anti-evolution bills in various state legislatures are a danger to her health, and by inference, the health of all Americans.

Essentially, she states that in the 1960′s, breast cancer was basically a death sentence, whereas today, the 5 year survivability for a woman diagnosed with breast cancer is over 80%.  Partially, the rate has risen because of better and earlier diagnosis, but mainly it is a result of highly effective treatments.

What does evolution have to do with this?  Plenty.  At even the most basic level, the discovery of DNA, which is essential to understanding any of the 200 different cancers, was driven by the need to uncover the basis of genetics and heritability of genes.  Would we have discovered the DNA molecule if we weren’t driven by the desire to understand the foundation of evolution?  Probably not.

Furthermore, Ms. Brunetta posits that everything from understanding the differences between cancer and normal genes to family history all depends upon a scientific foundation of evolution.  She states that now we have genetic tests (arising from our knowledge of evolution) that can help determine which treatments are best for certain types of breast cancer, allowing some patients to forego chemotherapy.

What if we didn’t understand evolution?  We wouldn’t understand that viruses evolve quickly in a population, so we have to adjust vaccination antigens.  We wouldn’t understand how bacteria evolve in response to antibiotics.  We wouldn’t understand the range of genetic diseases that afflict individuals.  I could write for hours on everything in medicine (and just medicine) that depends on an appreciation, and acceptance, of the theory of evolution.  I wonder what the creationists would say if we were to refuse them all procedures and techniques that use evolution (well, I know what the answer would be, that a supernatural being guided the research or something similar).  Of course, the Hippocratic Oath would prevent physicians from implementing this policy.

I’ve contended that the anti-science (anti-evolution) push on the right wing is bad for the security and economy of the country.  Let me add in healthcare to the consequences of this desire to push religious teaching in public schools.

Addendum:  Ms Brunetta points out something about Charles Darwin that is always forgotten but is critical.  He theorized evolution and natural selection with no knowledge of genetics and DNA (the cause of genetic drift).  Amazing leap of intuition on his part.

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Intelligent design in 2012

Since the start of the new year there seems to have been concerted effort in several midwest US states, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Indiana, to circumvent the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution by pushing creationist religious dogma in public schools (though not universities thankfully).  It’s difficult to understand what the goals of this push might be, since nearly all legal precedent supports the fact that creation science, creationism, intelligent design or whatever new term that will be invented is religious doctrine and cannot be taught in public schools.  Maybe Republican state legislators think the winds are at their back in making social change, or maybe they think the winds are shifting into their face, and so they should get moving before the electorate (which seems to be extraordinarily volatile these days) changes its mind again.

Creation science attempts to use science to validate the Genesis story of creation while simultaneously endeavoring to invalidate all the general scientific theories, facts, and paradigms that support the natural history of the universe including evolution, abiogenesis, cosmology, and astrophysics.  Intelligent design (ID) is a slightly different flavor of creationism which states that features of the natural world, whether living things or physical processes, are best explained by an intelligent designer.  In other words, the central mechanism of evolution is not explained by natural selection and genetic drift, but by a designer.  ID also attempts to state that it is a scientific theory based on evidence, rather than a religious dogma based on no evidence.

Neither can be regarded as real science because they fail to meet even the most basic elements of science and the scientific method.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the scientific method is: “a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”  It’s the “modification of the hypothesis” that separates real science from pseudosciences like creation science and ID.  In other words, if we could falsify the central premise of either so-called theory, would the proponents modify their hypothesis?  That would mean that there is no supernatural being that created or designed the universe, which they are mostly unwilling to do.

On the other hand, real science is open minded about the itself.  It is willing to change its hypotheses and theories, to evolve (couldn’t resist) to new data points.  That is precisely why science is not a religion, but is, in fact, an essential philosophy to understand the natural world.  It is based on evidence, on analysis of that evidence, and, if necessary, modification of theories based on the evidence.  Scientists consider evolution to be a fact based the wealth of evidence supporting it.  The theory of evolution is one of the basic principles of biology (along with genetics, homeostasis, and cell theory), but if there were data that essentially disproved evolution, then science would modify the theory.  There is an old joke that if someone found a rabbit fossil in precambrian rocks, science would probably have to reevaluate and rewrite the theory of evolution.  However, most real scientists would be skeptical and wonder 1) if it really were a fossil, 2) if it were really a rabbit, 3) if it really was a precambrian rock layer, and 4) if it isn’t a hoax perpetrated by someone with an anti-science agenda.

But what is really problematic is that ID itself attempts to promote itself as a scientific theory where the designer is not the Judeo-Christian god.  The Discovery Institute, a Seattle based think-tank, is the primary proponent of ID.  They state that intelligent design is:

Intelligent design refers to a scientific research program as well as a community of scientists, philosophers and other scholars who seek evidence of design in nature. The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. Through the study and analysis of a system’s components, a design theorist is able to determine whether various natural structures are the product of chance, natural law, intelligent design, or some combination thereof. Such research is conducted by observing the types of information produced when intelligent agents act. Scientists then seek to find objects which have those same types of informational properties which we commonly know come from intelligence. Intelligent design has applied these scientific methods to detect design in irreducibly complex biological structures, the complex and specified information content in DNA, the life-sustaining physical architecture of the universe, and the geologically rapid origin of biological diversity in the fossil record during the Cambrian explosion approximately 530 million years ago. 

Setting aside the fact that their so-called science doesn’t meet the basics of what constitutes real science (or the fact that they generally accept the age of life on earth), they go to great lengths to avoid naming the designer.  However, it has been determined that, despite the best efforts of the intelligent design movement, the designer represents the Judeo-Christian god.  Many have concluded that intelligent design is pseudoscience rather than just bad science.

Furthermore, the ID proponents use the so-called “wedge strategy”, a plan sponsored by the Discovery Institute, to further their political goals. The strategy was established in a Discovery Institute manifesto known as the Wedge Document, which describes “a broad social, political, and academic agenda whose ultimate goal is to defeat materialism, naturalism, evolution, and reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”  In other words, it’s just religious dogma couched in scientific words that have little meaning.

Intelligent design and creation science are not only dangerous to scientific teaching, which is critical to the future of our country.  To continue to be leaders in medicine, research, new technologies, and whatever results from them, the country needs to have students with strong foundation in the sciences.  These anti-science legislators are almost anti-American (to play the “who’s more patriotic” card).  And if you take the long-term view (a rare skill indeed in our politicians), lack of science training could be a huge economic issue (still playing that patriotism card).

This current push for creationist teachings is still centered in one part of the country in just a few states.  Even if its reach is limited, let’s hope it can be crushed out before it gets too much traction in other Republican dominated state legislatures.

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Psychics Say Apollo 16 Astronauts Found Alien Ship

Psychics Say Apollo 16 Astronauts Found Alien Ship : Discovery News.

In light of the bad movie out on DVD recently, Apollo 18, which tells the story about a secret Apollo 18 mission to the moon which encountered aliens on the far side of the moon.  Typical of these movies, there is a tiny bit of truth to the story because Harrison Schmitt , a Harvard trained geologist (and only civilian to walk on the moon) wanted Apollo 17 or 18 to land on the dark side of the moon to study it.

So these psychics, using a pseudoscientific technique of remote viewing, have stated that they see alien artifacts on the moon.  And they claim that the astronauts from Apollo 16 saw those same artifacts.  I think I’m not quite convinced.

What is remote viewing?  It’s a paranormal technique that uses extrasensory perception (ESP) to find impressions about distant or just unseen subjects.  In a wild waste of money, the United States military spent about $20 million in the 90′s to study remote viewing in the Stargate Project–no I do not invent these names, just because it’s a popular science fiction TV show (that I like).  (If you have the time, please read the link to the project, because it’s an article in a military intelligence journal that breaks the bounds of military decorum with sarcasm and snark).

Remote viewing is considered a pseudoscience for many reasons:

  • It violates the basic principles of physics, such as the speed of light (it’s a constant in the universe) and causality, that is, how does the image get transmitted across time and space.
  • It violates the basic principles of neurology, in that there are no fields of energy that can carry information into the brain (other than those of the five basic senses).
  • It violates the basic principles of current knowledge of the moon, because we have amazing detailed images of the moon (it’s not that far away) and we see nothing including the so called shipwreck.
Moreover, the Apollo 16 astronauts say nothing about seeing this.  Imagine that there are 1000 people who might know what was or was not seen.  I cannot picture that being kept secret for 40 years, because people talk, they always talk.
Ray Villard makes a valid request to remote viewer proponents.  If they’re so good at it, do something to help science.

For any readers who think I’m being scientifically elitist, narrow-minded or protective, I’m presenting one simple challenge. Will somebody please remote view the icy dwarf planet Pluto for me from a close-up distance?

You must draw a map of both hemispheres that has detailed information about the coordinates and sizes of major features: impact basins, crater fields, ice flows, outcrops, tectonics rifts, cryovolcanoes, whatever — even crashed spaceships.

The best pictures of Pluto to date, from the Hubble Space Telescope, only show variations in color and reflectivity across Pluto’s surface, but not topography.

I’ll leave the details to the remote viewers, who by their claims can supposedly do a better job than Hubble or any other spacecraft. (But, still, no peeking at the Hubble pictures!)

Remember the basic point of debunking pseudoscience:  extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  Bring us evidence.  Not to be snarky, but I’m not exactly going to hold my breath.

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Mounting opposition to Indiana’s creationist bill

Mounting opposition to Indiana’s creationist bill | NCSE

Indianapolis

Missouri and Oklahoma have been at the forefront of the 2012 Republican push to add anti-science curriculum to public school science curricula in the form of creationism (apparently in the guise of Intelligent design).  These initiatives fly in the face of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US constitution, which simply states,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

Over the years, several court rulings have clarified this clause to cover any public institution, such as publicly funded schools.  The Supreme Court of the United States has affirmed lower court rulings that specifically state that the teaching of creationism in public schools violates the Establishment Clause.  In McLean v. Arkansas, the judge ruled that creation science is not science because it depends on a supernatural intervention; in Edwards v. Aguillard, the Supreme Court affirmed a ruling that a Louisiana law requiring the teaching of “creation science”  was unconstitutional because it advanced a particular religious viewpoint; and in Kitzmiller v. Dover, a district court judge ruled that Intelligent design was another form of creationism (read that as religion).

So despite those very solid legal precedents, Indiana’s Senate Bill 89 will force public schools to teach creation science (which isn’t a science, other than incorrectly using the word science).  Opposition to the bill is starting to appear, including religious individuals who find that creation science is “propounding pseudoscience of their own invention that is neither biblical nor scientific…”

It is ironic (or just plain cynical) that the same individuals who profess that there is some magical quality in the US Constitution are also the first to push laws that are in clear violation of one of the most basic tenets of that same constitution.

 

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Study: Vaccine against bacterial meningitis shows promise

Study: Vaccine against bacterial meningitis shows promise – USATODAY.com.

The study is published in the Lancet (how ironic), and the conclusions (from the original study) state that 91-100% of participants (who received the vaccine) had high titers of antibodies for each strain of meningococcal B.  By the way, the placebo group were in the 29-50% range for the placebo group.

Just in case you might wonder if there’s a placebo effect that causes an immune response to the bacteria, it’s probably not.  There is usually a background seropositive individuals in a population, since individuals may be exposed to the bacteria on a usual basis.  Even at 50%, the risk is so high that the vaccine (which is nearly 100% effective) is still necessary.

One more conclusion from the authors of the Lancet article:

No vaccine-related serious adverse events were reported and no significant safety signals were identified.

Just in case anyone was wondering.

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Rosa Rubicondior: Where Creationists Get Confused.

Rosa Rubicondior: Where Creationists Get Confused..

Modern Tree of Life

Creationists utilize numerous logical fallacies to either “disprove” evolution (using rhetoric and religious text) or to “prove” creationism.  Usually, however, they stick with trying to showing how evolution is wrong, thereby, implying that creationism is correct.  (I’m going to set aside the fallacy that by simply disproving evolution one proves creationism, you still have to provide evidence for creationism itself.)

I could list them all from “it’s only a theory”, which ignores the fact that a scientific theory stands at the top of hierarchy of scientific thought, essentially considered a fact, to Charles Darwin renouncing evolution on his deathbed, which he didn’t.  One of my favorites is the wholesale misunderstanding (either intentionally or through complete ignorance of science) of taxonomy.  As Rosa Rubicondior states:

Creationists, either disingenuously, or because of genuine ignorance, seem to have missed the whole point of taxonomy, so they continually make idiotic mistakes which, even though they might imagine them to be valid arguments against evolution, are recognised by those who understand the subject as evidence only of their ignorance. And, with so much information readily and freely available, this ignorance can ONLY be either deliberate or feigned. No one remotely interested in the subject has any excuse for their level of ignorance.

If any has ever heard the creationist meme of “if man evolved from apes, then why are there apes still around,” then you would understand the statement above.  Simply put, man evolved from a primate common ancestor (which lead to all the great apes, including chimpanzees and gorillas) about 4-8 million years ago.  The common ancestor is not around, but human primate relatives do.  In biological terms, the divergence into the various great apes (Family Hominidae) is quite recent.  The evidence is not based on supposition and guesswork, there are vast amounts of scientific literature supporting this family tree.

I find these types of arguments from creationists show a complete lack of knowledge of biological sciences, except at the most superficial level.  If one looks at the tree of life as a bunch of endpoints without understanding how the tree is built.  Of course, if they read these posts from Rosa Rubicondior and others, they would understand it.  But I guess I’ll have to agree with Rosa:

Even more unforgivable are those who assiduously maintain their own ignorance by refusing to read anything, like this blog, which might cause them to abandon their cherished beliefs, for these are the people who are quite deliberately and consciously fooling themselves into believing what they know to be false.  These will be the ones who are constantly asking what they like to think are the ‘killer knock-down’ questions of biologists and who then ignore the answers and ask the same questions again next week.  You only need to read their sanctimonious condescension and pretence to have greater knowledge than the scientists who spend years learning and researching the subject, to see what they are getting out of their intellectual dishonesty.

I wish there were creationists who actually had a scientific background (and there are a few), because the debate is just dull with those who are not.  Their knowledge of science is so lacking that I wonder if they consider how much evolutionary science is built into the medical care they receive.  Of course, I guess that’s why faith healing exists.

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Oklahoma bill attacks evolution and climate change

Oklahoma bill attacks evolution and climate change | NCSE.

Not only is the sixth evolution denialist bill proposed by state legislatures since the beginning of the year (which is about 3 weeks long so far), it throws in climate change denialism for good measure.

Josh Brecheen, the sole sponsor of the bill, states that:

“Renowned scientists now asserting that evolution is laden with errors are being ignored. … Using your tax dollars to teach the unknown, without disclosing the entire scientific findings[,] is incomplete and unacceptable.”

Which renowned scientists?  Are there any?  Almost every scientist (renowned or otherwise) accepts evolution as a virtual fact.  Academic freedom means that a teacher teaches science (or history or whatever the discipline) without interference from government.  So, does the Department of Biology at the University of Oklahoma teach Intelligent design as a scientific theory?  It isn’t.

Glad I live in California.  This stuff just doesn’t happen here.

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