Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A conservative response

In a recent post I reported that UC has been sued because they refused to credit certain courses from Christian schools that don't teach standard evolution theory. I set up a Google alert for news stories on this subject. If you are interested, here is a comment from a web site that calls itself "The Conservative Voice." It begins like this and doesn't get any better.
It's not only the texts, but the students who study those texts. The students from Christian schools who use certain textbooks are not even welcomed at the front door of the University of California.
How can one talk to people who deliberately misrepresent reality so outrageously?

Monday, August 29, 2005

No $75Billion Give-Away to the Richest Americans

From MoveOn.org
Republicans in Congress are trying to permanently repeal the Estate Tax, which would mean a give-away of billions of dollars in tax money to the top 2% of Americans. Democrats can block the give-away, but a few are wavering. If we can raise $100,000 by Wednesday, we can air radio ads in key states to make sure Senate Democrats hold the line.
I sent them some money.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Tammy Pruett

Tammy Pruett is Bush's challenge to Cindy Sheehan. Sheehan lost a son in Iraq and is protesting the war. Pruett hasn't lost any relatives in Iraq and is supporting the war. I wonder why Bush can't find the mother of a soldier who died to support him. Surely there must be at least one who would be willing to speak out in favor of the war. (Frank Rich thinks this was a deliberate choice, calling it Bush's "hide-the-fallen habit.")

Pruett is in denial about a possible loss. She has four sons currently in Iraq. Her husband and another son recently returned. It's sad, but apparently she can't bring herself to think about any of them getting hurt. She was asked on CNN
CNN: There are so many things that must keep you awake at night. What is your chief concern as your son[s'] service continues over there?

Pruett: I know that if something happens to one of the boys, they would leave this world doing what they believe, what they think is right for our country. And I guess you couldn't ask for a better way of life than giving it for something that you believe in.
So apparently nothing keeps her awake at night.

Here is a story about it in the Washington Post.

is the White House report of the campaign stop where Bush introduced Pruett. Bush is quoted as saying
A time of war is a time of sacrifice … .

There are few things in life more difficult than seeing a loved one go off to war.
I wonder how he knows either of these things. What has he sacrificed — other than his poll ratings? And which of his loved ones has he seen go off to war?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Intellectual plurism

In an op-ed piece related to the previous post, Rosa Brooks points out that the shoe now seems to be on the other foot with respect to relativism and multiculturalism. It used to be the conservatives who criticized liberals for their support of intellectual pluralism.

Now, she points out, the Intelligent Design people are arguing that all sides should be heard. She suggests that this might be used as a wedge — although such a wedge would work only with people who repsect intellectual honesty, which doesn't describe most of the religious right.
If the right is sincerely dedicated to supporting pluralism and openness, surely they'd have no further objection to sex education classes that urge condom use, for instance, as long as abstinence-only arguments get equal time. And presumably they wouldn't mind if teachers tell kids that homosexuality is a legitimate form of human behavior, as long as teachers also explain that some people consider it a sin. Nor would conservatives have any basis to object to education about abortion rights, as long as their perspective is also represented.

Good for UC

According to an article in the LA Times,
University of California admissions officials have been accused in a federal civil rights lawsuit of discriminating against high schools that teach creationism and other conservative Christian viewpoints.

The suit was filed in Los Angeles federal court Thursday by the Assn. of Christian Schools International, which represents more than 800 religious schools in the state, and by the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, which has an enrollment of more than 1,000.
It's not clear what the basis of the suit is. It can't be that the plaintiffs are arguing that UC can't set standards for high school courses that will count toward admiission. The first paragraph claims it's a discrimination suit. But certainly UC can discriminate among high school course on the basis of quality. It will be interesting to see where this goes if anywhere. I'm surprised that the plaintiffs have the nerver even to file such a suit.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The space elevator

The August 5 issue of IEEE Spectrum has a feature article on space elevators.
Springing out from an anchor point on the equator, the space elevator cable would rise straight up, passing through geostationary orbit at 36 000 km and continuing for another 64 000 km until it terminates in a 600-ton counterweight. The cable would be held up in a manner similar to that which holds a string taut as a weight tied to it is swung in a circle. The key detail that would make the elevator work would be the fact that its center of gravity would be at the geostationary orbit mark, forcing the entire structure to move in lockstep with Earth's rotation.

Bush favors quotas

Editor and Publisher reports that in talking about the draft Iraqi constitution Bush said approvingly,
the way the constitution is written is that women have got rights, inherent rights recognized in the constitution … Twenty-five percent of the assembly is going to be women, which is a -- is embedded in the constitution.

Demonizing dissent

Typical of Bush and Republican tactics of demoniznig dissent, Editor and Publisher reports as follows.
Meeting briefly with reporters Monday aboard Air Force One, Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman subbing for Scott McClellan, said that President Bush believes that those who want the U.S. to begin to change course in Iraq do not want America to win the overall 'war on terror.' …

Duffy said that Bush "can understand that people don't share his view that we must win the war on terror, and we cannot retreat and cut and run from terrorists, but he just has a different view. …"
If this is a true statement of Bush's beliefs, then Bush must be pretty stupid. More likely, it has nothing to do with what Bush believes, it is an attempt to demonize those who disagree with Bush by painting them as pro-terrorist. That is typical of how Bush and the current crop of Republican leaders deal with dissent. Instead of discussing the issue, they demonize the person who is disagreeing with them.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


From BostonHerald.com
GOP gubernatorial grandstander Arnold Schwarzenegger, descending on Boston today with his entourage of Hollywood bootlickers, is so peeved at the bad local press he's been getting he's cutting his trip to the Hub short, Republican political sources said yesterday.

Schwarzenegger … is attending tonight's kickoff Rolling Stone's concert at Fenway Park to skim some campaign moolah off the backs of willing GOP saps.

But his high-voltage foray into the Hub has turned into a VIP fiasco as $10,000- to $100-000-a-head tickets to his pricey fund-raiser have become box-office poison.

And now a California watchdog group is questioning whether the astronomical price of artless Arnie's Stones fund-raiser violates the Bay State's ticket-scalping laws.

"Not only is he hawking tickets for a show that is sold out, he's breaking Massachusetts anti-scalping law to do so,'' Douglas Heller, director of the California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said in a statement.

Intelligent Design: what is it?

Since intelligent design has been so much in the news lately, I decided to see if I could find a coherent on-line statement of what it claims. I was surprised that I couldn't. Most of what I found consisted of statements about design in general or about purported problems with evolutionary theory. But I couldn't find a straightforward statement that set forth the argument for intelligent design presented in enough detail to discuss seriously.

For example, one of the most widely cited spokespersons for intelligent design is William Demski. His writings are listed on his www.designinference.com website. Nine articles are listed from this year. One of them is entitled In Defense of Intelligent Design. That seemed promising. But here's what it contained.

Preliminary Considerations argued that science is not decided by majority vote and that calling something religious is not an honest way to critique from a scientific perspective. Fair enough.

What is Intelligent Design?
This section argued that we can recognize design when we see it. It gave the by-now familiar example of the faces on Mount Rushmore. Much of this section discussed the fallacy of what Demski calls effects-to-cause reasoning. For example, lightening, since it is relatively rare was taken by early people to mean that the gods were angry. Demski argues that effects-to-cause reasoning can be used to justify Intelligent Design only when the effects exhibit a pattern that cannot be explained by science. Ok. That seems to set quite a high bar. I'm waiting to see how Demski will clear that bar.

The Charge of Creationism argues that Intelligent Design is not creationism, that Intelligent Design
simply argues that certain finite material objects exhibit patterns that convincingly point to an intelligent cause. But the nature of that cause — whether it is one or many, whether it is a part of or separate from the world, and even whether it is good or evil &Mdash; simply do not fall within intelligent design's purview.
This section claims that this is the argument Intelligent Design makes. But unless this one-liner is the argument, that argument isn't made here.

Problems with Evolutionary Theory critiques evolutionary theory, but it doesn't provide an argument in favor of Intelligent Design.

Methodological Materialism defends Intelligent Design against the charge that it simply closes the door to science. It argues that those who claim that science should be limited to physical phenomena are the ones who are unnecessarily restricting the scope of science.
[I]ntelligent design purports to show that there exist configurations of material entities in biology (e.g., bacterial flagella, protein synthesis mechanisms, and complex organ systems) that cannot be adequately explained in terms of antecedent material conditions together with the lawgoverned processes (i.e., mechanistic evolutionary processes) that act on them.
Again, this is what intelligent design purports to show, but the argument in support of this position is not given.

The Controversy Surrounding Intelligent Design sums up with the claim
The controversy surrounding intelligent design occurs at many levels, but it is ultimately a scientific controversy within the scientific community.
So in this entire article, an article that claims to be a defense of Intelligent Design, the argument for Intelligent Design is only hinted at.

In anyone knows of a coherent statement of what Intelligent Design claims and why it claims it, I'd like to know about it.

As far as I can see, the basic claims of Intelligent Design are as follows.
  1. Evolutionary theory has not yet and never will explain everything we observe in nature.
  2. Much of what is still to be explained looks like it was designed.
  3. Therefore there must be a designer.
My sense of this argument is that
  1. Much of what the Intelligent Design proponents claim is not yet explained have quite successful explanations.
  2. The fact that there are phenomena that we don't yet understand, does not justify the conclusion that we will never understand them.
These are such simple points that I don't understand how the Intelligent Design people miss them.

On the other hand, one can always argue that nature itself is an amazing design. Every scientific theory that we create is a design. Fundamental physics, for example, claims that everything in nature is made of a small collection of types of particles and forces that interact in certain ways. That's certainly a design. The fact that the design works, i.e., that the universe perseveres, might suggest some sort of intelligence.

The same argument can be made for evolution: the fact that it has generated the amazing results that we see around us demonstrates how successful it is as a design. In fact, evolutionary processes are so successful that an entire field of computer science is devoted to studying how these techniques can be exploited for both optimization and creativity. The various evolutionary computational methodologies are very successful designs.

So the existence of a persevering universe that we can understand as functioning in terms of any scientific theory at all might be taken to be a basic argument for Intelligent Design. In other words, the very facts (a) that the universe exists and (b) that science succeeds in explaining how it works, i.e., that it has a successfully functioning design, seem like an interesting argument for intelligent design. But that doesn't seem to be the argument made by the Intelligent Design people.

In an earlier post about Cardinal McCarrick and evolution, I pointed out how this sort of reasoning can be tautological enough to make everyone happy.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Republican War on Science

It's not news to anyone who has been watching, but Chris Mooney has apparently done a thorough job of documenting it. Here's the website, and here are some of the review extracts quoted there. (There's a cute animation of the book cover on the home page.)
"Each day's news adds to the disquiet of scientists: Science is regularly ignored in decision making at the highest levels of government, or worse, distorted in the service of Republican ideological allies in industry and among religious conservatives. But not until I saw the whole story laid out in Chris Mooney's thoroughly researched and documented book did I realize the enormity of what is happening. Reading this important book won't make you feel good, but it will make you wiser."
—Robert L. Park, author of Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud

"Chris Mooney's examination of the right-wing assault on science is masterful. THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON SCIENCE is a must-read for those concerned about both protecting America's heritage of free scientific inquiry and maintaining our global competitive advantage."
—Rush Holt, U.S. Representative from New Jersey

"Chris Mooney has produced far more than another expose of political corruption. With meticulous reporting, he has documented a ferocious assault on the basic intellectual architecture of modern civilization. His book poses a profound warning about the sabotage of scientific integrity by dishonest ideologues and delusional fanatics."
—Ross Gelbspan, author of Boiling Point

"If left unchallenged, the Bush administration's deliberate misrepresentation and frequent outright disregard of science advisory processes will have serious consequences for the nation's economy, health and security. Chris Mooney has opened a window to reveal the extent of the anti-science bias in government policy making."
—Paul Berg, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry

"Chris Mooney doesn't beat around the bush in his well-documented roasting of those who would make a mockery of the processes and results of science. Read it and weep over the loss of reason among our leaders."
—John H. Gibbons, former director of the Federal Office of Energy Conservation, former director of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, and former Science Advisor to President Clinton

"Chris Mooney's thorough research into recent political efforts to distort and suppress scientifically grounded knowledge demonstrates that our nation is veering sharply from the path that enlightened men like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin envisioned for us."
—James J. McCarthy, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography and Director, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University

"Under the Bush Administration, science has been repeatedly undermined for political and ideological ends, posing grave risks to health, safety, and the environment. Chris Mooney provides a careful indictment of this assault on science and traces its roots back to its ideological origins. This book provides critical context for the battle to restore scientific integrity to the federal government."
—Representative Henry A. Waxman

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Julian Stanley and Bright Children

I teach at Cal State, Los Angeles. One of the most interesting programs there is our Early Entrance Program, which admits students to college who have not finished high school. Rich Maddox, the program director, recently circulated an email announcing the death of Julian Stanley, an innovator in education for gifted children. The email included this article by Thomas Sowell.
Bright children and their parents have lost a much-needed friend with the recent death of Professor Julian Stanley of Johns Hopkins University. For decades he not only researched and ran programs for intellectually gifted students, he became their leading advocate in books and articles.

His efforts were very much needed. Unusually bright children are too often treated like stepchildren by the American educational system.

While all sorts of special classes and special schools are created for various categories of students, there is resistance and even hostility to the idea of creating special classes or schools for intellectually gifted students. …

While it is well known that the average American student does poorly on international tests, what is not so well known is that gifted American students lag particularly far behind their foreign counterparts.

Professor Julian Stanley pointed out that the performance level of gifted American students "is well below both the level of their own potential and the achievement levels of previous U.S. generations." In other words, our brightest kids have been going downhill even faster than our average kids. …

Julian Stanley did not just criticize existing practices. He created special programs for unusually bright high school students on weekends and during the summer at Johns Hopkins University. The success of these programs has inspired similar programs at Purdue University and elsewhere.

Such programs have not only produced academic benefits, the gifted students in such programs have expressed an almost pathetic gratitude for finally being in a setting where they are comfortable with their peers and are viewed positively by their teachers. …

Julian Stanley made a unique contribution to the development of gifted children, both directly through his program at Johns Hopkins and indirectly through his research and advocacy. Fortunately, he is survived by collaborators in these efforts, such as Professors Camilla Persson Benbow and David Lubinski of Vanderbilt University.

The effort must go on, both to stop the great waste of gifted students, whose talents are much needed in the larger society, and for the humane purpose of relieving the frustration and alienation of youngsters whose only crime is being born with more intellectual potential than most of those around them.
I'm glad that Cal State, Los Angeles is doing its part.

At a recent meeting to decide which students should be admitted to the program for next year, Rich described the admission criteria. Besides intellectual and emotional maturity and readiness, Rich also considers need, i.e., the possibility that students are trapped in an environment in which their skills make them targets of anti-intellectual sentiment. I hadn't realized how serious this problem is. I'm glad that we are available to help at least some of these students.

Here's an article from the John's Hopkins magazine about Julian Stanley.

For $100,000, you can watch Rolling Stones concert with Schwarzenegger

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:
Here's the ticket: a private evening rockin' the night away with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger during the kickoff of the Rolling Stones' 'A Bigger Bang'' U.S. tour on Aug. 21 at Boston's Fenway Park.

Here's the bottom line: $10,000 a pop to get in on a private preconcert reception and front-and-center seats to watch the show — or $100,000 to sit with the governor in his luxury box. …

The Rolling Stones benefit, limited to 40 lucky fans, comes thanks to a donation of a rare block of center-stage seats and a luxury box to the group's 2005 tour kickoff — courtesy of mortgage lender and mega-political donor Ameriquest. The company, based in Orange, is the lead sponsor of the Stones' 2005 tour and has written $1.5 million in checks to Republican Schwarzenegger's campaign coffers to date.
And Davis was kicked out of office for too much fund raising!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Mesh Networks

From MIT's Technology Review. Mesh Networking Matters
[Mesh network proponents] believe that mesh networks will overthrow traditional networking and communications and create entirely new kinds of distributed software. For the purposes of this column, mesh networks (sometimes called mobile ad hoc networks, or MANETs) are local-area networks whose nodes communicate directly with each other through wireless connections. It is the lack of a hub-and-spoke structure that distinguishes a mesh network. Meshes do not need designated routers: instead, nodes serve as routers for each other. Thus, data packets are forwarded from node to node in a process that network technologists term 'hopping.' …

Meshes lack standards, too: low-bit-rate mesh networking has a standard called ZigBee that is supported by around 100 companies, including Motorola, Mitsubishi, Phillips, and Samsung, but high-bit-rate communications have no such standard (although the 802.11 committee of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers hopes to create one by next May).

What does all this mean? A few, early applications of mesh networks are already emerging. Meshes will allow municipalities to create cheap or free urban Wi-Fi networks (we will be writing about Philadelphia's effort in our November issue). Meshes have obvious advantages for military and security personnel who want networks that are unbreakable and "horizontal" (see "Instant Networks," June 2005).

Environmental scientists like meshes because they can provide continuous data from large geographical areas over many years (see "Casting the Wireless Sensor Net," July/August 2003). But the most important application of meshes will be in what technologists once called "pervasive computing": embedding sensors and processors in things like clothes, electronics, and buildings and connecting them into smart networks.

Mesh networks will be big business. There are billions of networked devices and embedded processors in the world; many more will be built. The best way to connect all of them will be through mesh networks. But the most disruptive business impact of meshes will be this: telecommunications companies do not own them. Meshes profoundly diminish the organizations that own and manage communications backbones.
See earlier post about internet access.

Cindy Sheehan

Tom Raworth, a friend in England, has a brief QuickTime video of Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a solder who died in Iraq who is now camped out waiting to talk to Bush outside his ranch in Crawford Texas.

It's quite a well done statement, but I took it off my blog because I didn't want to force readers to download (and possibly play) it automatically. See comment below. To play it, click on the image.

Friday, August 12, 2005

And here's a Robot that catches high speed projectiles

Again from New Scientist
The robotic catcher, developed by scientists at the University of Tokyo, Japan, can comfortably grab a ball careering through the air at 300 kilometres per hour, or 83 metres per second, its creators say. And, of course, the robot never gets tired of doing so.
See movie at http://www.k2.t.u-tokyo.ac.jp/fusion/MiraikanCatching/demo.wmv.

Remote-controlled humans

New Scientist reports that
[b]y remotely stimulating a person's vestibular system - the fluid-filled tubes in the inner ear that guide their sense of balance - with electrodes placed on the skin just below the ear, researchers at NTT's research laboratories in Kanagawa have found a way to turn humans into oversized radio controlled vehicles. See the system in action, here (8 MB, Mpg format).

The technique, known as galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS), unbalances a person so that they automatically veer left or right in an attempt to rebalance themselves. The NTT team developed a headset and a control unit similar to that used with remote-controlled toy cars. …

[A] US patent already exists for using GVS as a virtual reality tool. The approach was pioneered in the late 1990s by a company called Virtual Motion.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

A Brilliant Memory Card

How unbearably clever. David Pogue writes about SanDisk's new 512 MB Ultra II SD PLUS Secure Digital Card.
Even though the card itself is smaller than a postage stamp, it's been built with teeny, tiny hinges. And when you fold it back on itself, you reveal a set of metal contacts that you can insert directly into the U.S.B. jack of your Mac or PC.

The card doesn't have an actual U.S.B. connector …; it dispenses with the outer rectangle frame. All that really counts, it turns out, is those metal contacts. …

(Wait--does that mean that you can use the card as an actual flash drive, the kind people use to carry their computer files around? Absolutely. SanDisk even includes a little keychain case for it.)
Unfortunately, it seems to be sold out almost everywhere. See the froogle.google.com listing. Note that this is the SD card, not the CompactFlash card.

John Tierney on the drug war

When John Tierney started writing an op-ed column for the Times, he was portrayed as an intelligent libertarian with new ideas. His first columns seemed to confirm that description. Later he sounded more like a Republican hack than like a principled libertarian. In today's column, Debunking the Drug War he returns to his libertarian roots, for which I applaud him.
America has a serious drug problem, but it's not the 'meth epidemic' getting so much publicity. …

If an addict is someone who has used a drug in the previous month (a commonly used, if overly broad, definition), then only 5 percent of Americans who have sampled meth would be called addicts, according to the federal government's National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

That figure is slightly higher than the addiction rate for people who have sampled heroin (3 percent), but it's lower than for crack (8 percent), painkillers (10 percent), marijuana (15 percent) or cigarettes (37 percent). Among people who have sampled alcohol, 60 percent had a drink the previous month, and 27 percent went on a binge (defined as five drinks on one occasion) during the month.

Drug warriors point to the dangers of home-cooked meth labs, which start fires and create toxic waste. But those labs and the burn victims are a result of the drug war itself.

Amphetamine pills were easily available, sold over the counter until the 1950's, then routinely prescribed by doctors to patients who wanted to lose weight or stay awake. It was only after the authorities cracked down in the 1970's that many people turned to home labs, criminal gangs and more dangerous ways of ingesting the drug.

It's the same pattern observed during Prohibition, when illicit stills would blow up, and there was a rise in deaths from alcohol poisoning. Far from instilling virtue in Americans, Prohibition caused them to switch from beer and wine to hard liquor. Overall consumption of alcohol might even have increased. …

In Georgia they're prosecuting dozens of Indian convenience-store clerks and managers for selling cold medicine and other legal products. As Kate Zernike reported in The Times, some of them spoke little English and seemed to have no idea the medicine was being used to make meth.

The prosecutors seem afflicted by the confused moral thinking that Mr. Bennett blames on narcotics. "Drugs," he wrote, "undermine the necessary virtues of a free society - autonomy, self-reliance and individual responsibility."

If you value individual responsibility, why send a hard-working clerk to jail for not divining that someone else might manufacture a drug? And why spend three decades repeating the errors of Prohibition for a drug that was never as dangerous as alcohol in the first place?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Internet Access: the good news and the bad news

First the bad news. According to the LA Times, the FCC
ruled that Verizon Communications Inc. and other so-called Baby Bells no longer had to provide discounted access to their high-speed lines for independent Internet service providers such as EarthLink Inc.
This is likely to raise prices since the only two low-cost providers left will be the telephone companies and the cable companies.

However, Nicholas Kristof, who seems to be everywhere, reports on
Hermiston [Oregon, which] appears to be the largest Wi-Fi hot spot in the world, with wireless high-speed Internet access available free for some 600 square miles. Most of that is in eastern Oregon, with some just across the border in southern Washington.

Driving along the road here, I used my laptop to get e-mail and download video - and you can do that while cruising at 70 miles per hour, mile after mile after mile, at a transmission speed several times as fast as a T-1 line. …

Portland, Ore., and Philadelphia, … are both moving toward citywide Wi-Fi Internet access. Consumers will still have to pay for broadband, but only about half as much as they do now. …

The wizard behind the system is Fred Ziari, an Iranian immigrant and Wi-Fi pioneer who runs a high-tech company in Hermiston and Portland, EZ Wireless. Mr. Ziari contracted with the local authorities to provide the Wi-Fi service, which lets consumers piggyback for nothing.
According to the EZ Wireless website,
Our networks are designed to provide mobile access to high-speed data to your entire city. This is not a hot spot model. We engineer our networks to provide dense, city-wide coverage.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

NY Times opinion articles

I'm taking out the NY Times headline pointers because they don't tell you enough about the columns to determine whether to click on them or not.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

NY Times opinion articles

I'm trying an experiment. The NY Times has a program that allows people to put its headlines on their web pages. I selected opinion headlines. They are in the sidebar to the right.

NRA black list: Protect Gun Victims, Not Gun Dealers

Join the NRA black list, a list of people (including a long list of Hollywood stars — click to see their pictures) and organizations (including the AMA, NBC, the YWCA, the League of Women Voters, and others) who oppose the NRA's attempt to insulate gun dealers and manufacturers from liability and who oppose the NRA's attempt to force employers to allow all employees to bring guns into the workplace.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

I'm sure glad that's been clered up.

New York Times reports that
President Bush publicly overruled some of his top advisers on Wednesday in a debate about what to call the conflict with Islamic extremists, saying, 'Make no mistake about it, we are at war.' …

In recent public appearances, Mr. Rumsfeld and senior military officers have avoided formulations using the word "war," and some of Mr. Bush's top advisers have suggested that the administration wanted to jettison what had been its semiofficial wording of choice, "the global war on terror." …

In a telephone interview on Wednesday evening, a spokesman for the Pentagon, Lawrence Di Rita, sought to play down any disagreement between Mr. Rumsfeld and the president, citing the secretary's speech on Tuesday, in Dallas.

"The secretary doesn't feel this is push back," Mr. Di Rita said. "He feels it's an important clarification."
It's so reassuring to know that our administration is hard at work on its terminology.

Yet more (yawn) on intelligent design

The New York Times reports that
John H. Marburger, Mr. Bush's science adviser, said in a telephone interview that "evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology" and "intelligent design is not a scientific concept."
Considering Bush's recent statement on the subject, I wonder if he knows that his scientific advisor holds such an outrageous position.

Of course it's foolish to wonder anything about Bush's intellectual world view. I don't know why I keep getting drawn in. What a waste of time.

We're already falling behind

As I said in a previous post, if we mix church and science, we lose. Thomas Friedman points out that we are already moving in that direction — and rather quickly.
I've been thinking of running for high office on a one-issue platform: I promise, if elected, that within four years America will have cellphone service as good as Ghana's. If re-elected, I promise that in eight years America will have cellphone service as good as Japan's, provided Japan agrees not to forge ahead on wireless technology. My campaign bumper sticker: "Can You Hear Me Now?" …

The world is moving to an Internet-based platform for commerce, education, innovation and entertainment. Wealth and productivity will go to those countries or companies that get more of their innovators, educators, students, workers and suppliers connected to this platform via computers, phones and P.D.A.'s. …

But don't worry - Congress is on the case. It dropped everything last week to pass a bill to protect gun makers from shooting victims' lawsuits. The fact that the U.S. has fallen to 16th in the world in broadband connectivity aroused no interest.

Another steroid to worry about

The New York Times editorializes that
an asteroid named 99942 Apophis [has] a distant chance of striking Earth in 2029.
My apologies.

Separating Church and Science

In a previous post I mentioned Bush's position on Intelligent Design and why it's bad for this country and the world. It's actually worse than that. By supporting the idea that science should be guided to any degree at all by religion, Bush is supporting an idea that should have been buried long ago. In an earlier post I suggested that the Catholic Church probably doesn't want to repeat the mistake it made with Galileo: substituting religious conclusions for scientific ones. Once should have been enough.

Science is the search for observable phenomena along with the attempt to construct a coherent framework to understand them. That's a hard enough job without handcuffing oneself by refusing to consider certain possibilities on religious grounds.

I would have thought that we had learned that lesson already. By recommending that intelligent design be taught along with evolution, Bush is saying that science and religion are equivalent ways of understanding the same phenomena. They aren't, and for Bush to say so just weakens this country.

One might argue that intelligent design is not religious (that's what the intelligent design people say), that it's a scientific claim that biological phenomena are too complex to have evolved. If that were the case, that would be worth teaching. But I know of no scientific support for that claim. Intelligent design is voodoo science, and the only reason it has received any attention at all is because it implies a creator. Take away the religious implications and no one would be interested in the claim because it has no basis in reality.

Intelligent design's primary non-religious conclusion is that we should stop attempting to understand biological complexity, i.e., stop doing certain kinds of science. That seems like a foolish thing to recommend. Should we stop DNA research? Should we stop looking for and analyzing fossils? Should we stop looking for similarities among living beings? I doubt that even Bush would go that far. So what sort of science should we stop doing on the grounds of intelligent design? I doubt that there is any science that even the intelligent design people would ban. And if there is some, who are they to ban it anyway?

Are the intelligent design people recommending that we teach children that certain forms of science are a waste of time? That's essentially what the secular meaning of intelligent design comes down to. If that's really what they want to teach, then that lesson should be taught in courses that warn students about scientific fallacies. There have been plenty of these — such as perpetual motion and cold fusion — and it would be worthwhile to teach students about them. If there were a course in which that material were covered, and if intelligent design could make a good enough case that evolution is a scientific fallacy, then it should be taught in such a course. But it shouldn't be taught as a side-by-side alternative to evolution. If evolution is scientifically invalid, it shouldn't be taught at all.

But of course, the intelligent design people cannot make the case that evolution is a scientific fallacy. Intelligent design is really a non-sequitur except for its religious implications, which shouldn't be taught as if it were science.

Lying researchers devise way to turn people off ice cream

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that
A team led by psychologist Elizabeth Loftus of UC Irvine found that it could persuade people to avoid fattening foods by implanting unpleasant childhood memories about the food -- even though the event never happened.

In a paper published in today's edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team said it successfully turned people off strawberry ice cream, and in earlier studies it has done the same with pickles and hard-boiled eggs -- in each case, by manipulating the subjects to believe the foods made them sick when they were children.

The scientists say they have also successfully implanted positive opinions about asparagus by convincing subjects that they once loved the vegetable.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bush: Intelligent Design Should Be Taught

The Associated Press reports that
President Bush said Monday he believes schools should discuss 'intelligent design' alongside evolution when teaching students about the creation of life.
I suppose this is just another so-what news report. Of course Bush would say something as foolish as this. It's hardly worth printing. Is this really news?

What isn't but should be reported is the damage this sort of pandering to the foolishness does to the future of this country. Instead of supporting science education, Bush is telling everyone who listens to him – and unfortunately, that is still too many people — that science doesn't matter. There are lots of smart people around the world. It will be difficult enough for this country to maintain its leadership even if we work as hard as possible. We will certainly fail if this represents the sort of thinking our leadership urges on us.