Friday, August 29, 2014

What are students interested in and does it matter?

PZ Myers [Oh, dear] picked up on a tweet from Jeffrey Ros-Ibarra [Tell me botany doesn’t have a recruitment problem]. He posted the result of a survey of 800 first year students.

This shouldn't come as a big surprise to any Sandwalk readers. The question is, what should we do about it?

Most university professors share this bias so they are very comfortable with teaching biochemistry from a strictly animal (mostly human) perspective. When challenged, they point out that students are mostly interested in animals and themselves. They think we should design our courses to accommodate these interests because that's what students want to hear. I call these professors the "caterers."

A minority (that includes me) look upon this data as a challenge. Our goal is to convince students that they should broaden their interests and learn about other species. People like me will emphasize broad principles and concepts that apply to ALL living organisms. We teach comparative biochemistry and talk a lot about evolution. These guys are the "challengers." (They're also the ones with the low student evaluations.)

The easiest way to tell the difference between the two types of professor in introductory biochemistry courses is to see whether they teach photosynthesis or the glyoxylate shunt, and whether they spend as much time on gluconeogenesis (the most ancient pathway) as they do on glycolysis (the derived pathway). It's also informative to observe whether they cover the biosynthesis of amino acids or whether they treat amino acids as food.

It's a really bad sign if they spend any time at all on the difference between "essential" and "nonessential" amino acids.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The function of IDiots

There aren't very many big questions left to answer. Most ot the great debates have been settled and we're now in a mopping up situation.

One of the few remaining questions concerns the function of IDiots. The Intelligent Design Creationist Movement has been a spectacular failure. The Wedge Document is a joke. They've failed to get creationism into American schools. People are abandoning Christianity. Their books have all been trashed by critics.

One wonders why they're still around. They must be thinking the same thing because David Klinghoffer has put up a recent post on this very issue [You're Welcome: Darwinists Should Thank Us for Quality Control, Fact-Checking]. It turns out that the function of IDiots is to keep real scientists honest by finding flaws in their reasoning and errors of fact.
Casey [Luskin] points out that in any marketplace—whether vendors are promoting consumer products or ideas about evolution—competition improves the products and the service. The absence of competition almost always results in shoddy products and poor consumer service, as anyone who has visited a socialist country can tell you. Darwin advocates should be thanking us.

Of course the flipside to all this is that for every orthodox evolutionist who is made more judicious and truthful in what he argues, there's probably another who prevaricates about the meaning of scientific data, because "What will the creationists say?"

Still, on the whole, they and everyone else who cares about getting at the truth in science ought to be glad we're here.
Who knew?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tim Hortons is seduced by the dark side

I'm not a fan of dark coffee but this is a cute commercial video.

Michael Behe's final thoughts on the edge of evolution

We've been having an interesting discussion about chloroquine resistance and the Edge of Evolution. It began last month when Michael Behe started bragging that his "prediction" had been confirmed by a recent paper [A Key Inference of The Edge of Evolution Has Now Been Experimentally Confirmed]. It didn't take long for Casey Luskin to jump on the bandwagon [So, Michael Behe Was Right After All; What Will the Critics Say Now?]. Luskin demanded an apology from Behe;s critics.

It turns out that Behe and Luskin are wrong and the recent results published by Summers et al. (2014) actually refute most of Micheal Behe's calculations. PZ Myers pointed out that Behe's critics were mostly1 right when they criticized the original calculations in The Edge of Evolution [Quote-mined by Casey Luskin!].

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Payback for burning Toronto

From British embassy apologizes for cheeky tweet commemorating White House burning.
... in what some considered a cheeky jab, the Washington wing of the British embassy came under fire from some unimpressed Americans for its commemoration tweet. On Aug. 24, 1814, British troops invaded Washington, D.C., setting the White House on fire during the War of 1812. The attack was in response to an American attack on the city of York (present-day Toronto).

The tweet featured a photo of a sheet cake adorned with a miniature White House with the respective countries' flags on each side.

"Only sparklers this time," the embassy wrote to cap off the tweet.

Banning the views of those who disagree with you

The blogosphere is excited about a petition that's being presented to the Scottish Parliament on behalf of the Scottish Secular Society. A chemist, and Nobel Laureate, Sir Harold Kroto, has backed the petition [Nobel prize winner backs Scottish Secular Society petition to exclude creationism in Scottish schools].

Here's what it says ....
Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to issue official guidance to bar the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time.
I would never, ever, sign such a petition. I think it's a bad idea for politicians to get involved in the specifics of what should and should not be taught in publicly funded schools. You can see what happens in the USA when you give them that right.

If the teaching of Young Earth Creationism is creeping into Scottish schools then it's time to show students why it is wrong and why science can refute it. Banning it will only make it seem like a genuine threat that can't be confronted by teachers and education.

Is philosophy a waste of time?

John Wilkins tries to show that philosophy is not a waste of time. He describes philosophers who are anti-realists and wonders whether genes actually exist.

Intelligent Design is Stupid: Neil deGrasse Tyson

Another stupid "prediction" by Intelligent Design Creationists

The IDiots are claiming to have "predicted" something that's been known for thirty years.

Let's start by reviewing some basic facts about codons.

Look at the standard genetic code (right). Notice that for some amino acids there are several codons. For example, There are four different codons for alanine (A): GCT (GCU), GCC, GCA, and GCG. These are called "synonymous" codons.

A lot of mutations in coding regions will change one codon into another without changing the amino acid encoded by the mRNA. These are presumably neutral mutations, since they occur frequently in populations and in comparisons between species. What this means is that it mostly doesn't matter which codons are being used.

Monday, August 25, 2014

David Klinghoffer recognizes the problems with authorities and quote mining

We all know the drill by now. Intelligent design Creationists attempt to discredit evolution and science by pointing out what they see as flaws in basic theory. They also spend a considerable amount of time attempting to discredit individual scientists using guilt by association or direct character assaults.

One of their favorite tricks is to lift quotations out of context and present them in a way that makes it look like famous scientists are supporting Intelligent Design Creationism—or, at least, supporting the idea that evolution is flawed.

The tactic is so widespread and despicable that it led to formation of The Quote Mine Project
Or, Lies, Damned Lies and Quote Mines
. That project ran out of steam about eight years ago because the authors just couldn't keep up with all the misinformation coming out of books, lectures, and articles from leading members of the Discovery Institute.

Stephen Meyer is a expert at this. Here are a couple of examples from his book Darwin's Doubt (2013).

Friday, August 22, 2014

Understanding Michael Behe

Michael Behe has tried to explain where I'm going wrong and why evolution is highly improbable [Guide of the Perplexed: A Quick Reprise of The Edge of Evolution]. He lists a number of bullet points that are supposed to explain his argument. Let's look at each one ...
  • If the development of some particular adaptive biochemical feature requires more than one specific mutation to an organism's genome, and if the intermediate mutations are deleterious (and to a lesser extent even if they are neutral), then the probability of the multiple mutations randomly arising in a population and co-existing in a single individual so as to confer the adaptation will be many orders of magnitude less than for cases in which a single mutation is required.
This is correct. The probability of any single mutation occurring is equal to the mutation rare, which is about 10-10. The probability of an additional specific mutation occurring is also 10-10. The combined probability of any two specific mutations occurring is 10-20.

Does this video have anything to do with the scientific evidence for Intelligent Design Creationism?

In spite of what they say, the Intelligent Design Creationist movement is primarily an anti-science, anti-evolution movement. Something like 99% of their efforts and activities are directed toward discrediting scientists and science. The 1% of their effort devoted to promoting scientific evidence for creationism has been a spectacular failure.

Here's a new video produced by John G. West. In case you don't know who John G. West is, here's what Wikipedia [John G. West] says about him ...
John G. West is a Senior Fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute (DI), and Associate Director and Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs of its Center for Science and Culture (CSC), which serves as the main hub of the Intelligent design movement.
The video was posted to YouTube on Aug. 14, 2014 and it is copyrighted by the Discovery Institute. I learned about the video from a post on Evolution News & Views (sic) [Coming to Grips with the Truth About Social Darwinism].

The video has nothing to do with evolution and evolutionary theory but IDiots believe that it does. That's, of course, why we call them IDiots.

Monday, August 18, 2014

John Wilkins discusses the "Demarcation Problem"

One of the most fascinating things about philosophy is the fact that philosophers still can't agree on the major issues even after debating them for hundreds of years. For example, they still can't, as a discipline, agree on whether there are good arguments for the existence of gods. Many universities have theologians who masquerade as philosophers and publish in philosophy journals.

Philosophers are still discussing the mind-body problem. In other words, there actually are legitimate philosophers who call themselves dualists and think that the mind is something more than the workings of matter. Some philosophers think there are moral absolutes while others are ethical relativists and some are something else. Apparently, several hundred years of debate hasn't resolved this issue either.

Recently (last century) the discipline of philosophy has spun off a subdiscipline known as the "History and Philosophy of Science." This is now a separate department in many universities.

Student debt in Canada

I got curious about student debt when I saw a YouTube presentation about the "squeeze generation." The point of the talk was to explain how difficult life is for the under 45 group compared to their baby boomer parents.

The video repeated the common claim that average student debt was about $23,000. I've always been puzzled by this claim since most of my friends were able to help their children get a university education just as our parents helped us. Most of our children were able to graduate from university (undergraduate degree) with no debt.

If about half the graduating class got help from their parents, as we did, then the average debt of those students with debt must be about $46,000 and that's unreasonable.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

God's Not Dead

I was a little bored yesterday so I watched God's Not Dead.

There's good news and bad news.

The bad news is that I wasted almost two hours.

The good news is that if this is the best Christians can do then rational people are not threatened. On the other hand, unbalanced people—like the Christians in this mover—can be unpredictable, so maybe we should be worried.

The most repulsive scene is when a Christian pastor tries to force a dying atheist (car accident) to accept Jesus. The second most repulsive scene is when the hero's Christian girl friend leaves him because he wants to stand up for his faith. If those people are typical Christians then it's no wonder that people are abandoning Christianity.