Australian reader George Sime communicated with his Minister for Education with a complaint about “intelligent design” being taught in schools Down Under. He wrote:
I have read the recent comments of the Federal Science and Education minister regarding teaching intelligent design as a valid alternative to evolution. As a Queensland parent I would like to know the Queensland Education Minister and Department’s position on this.
Almost a month later, September 20th, he received a response from the Minister's office. Here is an excerpt:
Thank you for your email of 22 August 2005 to the Hon. Dr. Brendan Nelson MP, Minister for Education, Science and Training, concerning the teaching of Intelligent Design in Australian schools. The Minister has asked me to reply on his behalf.
The Minister strongly supports the important role parents can play in helping to shape school curriculum. He does not, however, advocate the teaching of Intelligent Design to Australian school children as science, nor in competition with the theory of evolution. He does not support the replacement of the teaching of evolutionary theory with the teaching of Intelligent Design.
State and Territory school curricula follow the Australian Academy of Science's position that, while evolutionary theory – like any other scientific idea – is imperfect and subject to testing, creationist accounts of the origin of life are not scientific ideas because they are not subject to empirical testing.
However, Intelligent Design can appropriately be taught as part of religious education in schools.
It is important that Australian schools aim to provide students with a balanced exposure to the wealth of ideas – orthodox or not, scientific or not – which enrich our society, and to equip students to make their own informed judgments about the validity of those ideas….
I can’t see how it could get better than this, folks; I agree with every point made here. I wonder whether the United States Department of Education might want to look at this cogent, succinct, and sensible statement, and consider adopting a similar attitude and decision in regard to “ID.”
I’ve got to stop taking those optimism pills….
George Sime summed up his own delight thus:
Somedays I am really proud and happy to live in a country where the system is far from perfect but at least it’s my right to say so.
George’s delight would be multiplied if our Queensland readers would forward a copy of the letter excerpt – above, from Dr. Nelson’s office – to Queenslands state minister Rod Welford, who can be reached at email@example.com. Public officials must react to such actions, and enough input will certainly get their attention.
But let’s not neglect to thank the Hon. Dr. Brendan Nelson MP, Federal Minister for Education, Science and Training, for his very appropriate response to George Sime’s letter. Complaining is one thing; grateful acknowledgement should accompany it.
Surprise! One of those rare events in the world of skepticism, and certainly very rare in my own personal experience, has just taken place. This will be edifying to my readers, I’m sure. A chap wrote to me asking for any explanation I might have for an odd phenomenon he’d observed. I answered him, and gave him references on the matter. He examined the evidence, and came to his conclusion. Here are the three communications that were exchanged, the first one from the inquirer, Mr. Randy Terry, who runs Optic Craft Machining Company, makers of quality Clock Drives and Telescope Mountings for astronomical work. At 11:45am on the 20th, this e-mail was sent:
Subject: Digital photos of "Diatomic" air borne phenomena
I am not one to get overly-excited about junk science theories and am not prone to accepting all the peculiar goings-on with the paranormal. I believe anthropomorphic interpretation is ’way too prevalent in biased interpretations of God's works in the universe. BUT, I have been taking limited photos of phenomena that I cannot explain, and I need some help. I have been an astronomer for over 45 years and pretty much know the heavens. See my telescope mounting business web site at (www.opticcraft.com).
Mr. Terry attached a number of photo examples, one of which is shown here.
What I need to know, is what could be causing these images to appear on digital format, and I need to know if they are an illusion or an anomaly of the mechanics and physics of the digital circuitry or optical path.
Who in the USA is an authority on digital cameras? The above samples were taken this summer at 1/60th shutter speed at night in a quite surrounding.
I personally believe that through four billion years of earthly evolution, other life forms evolved in the atmosphere while life evolved on earth and in the seas. If I had to advance a hypothesis it would be that this is an undiscovered life form. I have seen and photographed many other shapes in the night sky as well.
Sir, please take the time to answer my questions if possible. I have no one to talk to on this subject.
Notice frame [above]. This is interesting, because I was shooting through a hedge row and saw the diatoms in the adjoining corm field. How can this be?
I responded 65 minutes later, at 12:50pm:
An artifact of the digital photography process. See www.randi.org/jr/030405a.html#4, read it and then go to the last photo on the page.
These are always photos taken with a flash, which strongly illuminates dust motes, insects, snowflakes, or raindrops. These small objects are out of focus, and register as any bright out-of-focus close-to-camera object will – as a translucent sphere.
Terry visited the suggested site, carefully thought about the matter over a period of some 54 minutes, and then mailed me:
You know, you are correct. Of course they are out of focus debris or small particles in the surrounding air. I should know, for they do resemble out-of-focus star images at high magnification in a telescope eyepiece. I have done this many times while collimating a telescope’s optical alignment and checking for the circular diffraction rings that occur at the same distance in and out of focus. Normally the diffraction test is done to check for curved-down mirror edges or zonal imperfections in the parabola.
Thanks again. If the round forms did not have a non-circular uniformity diffraction pattern at digital magnification, then I would say it may have a different explanation. So much for esoteric wishful thinking on my part.
THANK YOU AGAIN.
Pause. Here we have – as I specified above – an exception to the usual back-and-forth arguments I have to go through with correspondents. Now, I don’t expect that those who disagree with me are going to simply surrender their notions and accept what I offer them, but often the reason for their reluctance to accede is that they don’t have the background or the knowledge that would enable them to see the point of my reasoning. And, even if they do – and most often it doesn’t take a college degree to accept the argument I offer – they usually tend to cling to their errors because they prefer them to be true, and they cherish them at the expense of parsimony. I very seldom have any of my correspondents abandon their ideas, no matter how persuasive I get, or how solid my reasoning.
In the case of Mr. Terry, by his opening statement, he was clearly able to consider the possibility that he’d discovered another form of life, an exception to things already known and catalogued, an anomaly that should be revealed and celebrated – but he also was able to entertain the idea that what he’d observed could be an artifact of the photographic process! That’s what the scientific attitude should be; curiosity and sober investigation of the unknown, the new, the strange. But, offered a simpler and more likely explanation for his observations, and armed with his knowledge of optics and testing methods, Mr. Terry opted – all within two hours! – to accept the offered explanation rather than clinging to his original interpretation. That’s not easy to do, and we must all applaud his honesty and candor.
I trust that this man has reproduced his kind, and that the common-sense gene in his DNA is dominant.
No, I cannot always be right; I’m often wrong. But when it comes to matters of the paranormal, of quackery and of pseudoscience, I’m far more often right than wrong. I’ll go with that satisfaction. I agree with a far wiser man than I:
A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday. – Alexander Pope 1688 -1744 C.E.
For an example of the other side of this coin, go to carissas.homestead.com/page02.html and see perfect examples of bad photography by a person using a camera with a braided strap that sometimes hangs before the lens. This camera will be a cheap one using a viewfinder that does not “see” through the same lens that takes the photo – or the user might notice the strap hanging there! – and all of the photos will have been taken using a flash, which illuminates the strap brightly as the photo is snapped.
But just try to tell the proud owner of these “white vortex” pictures that she just takes bad photos. She cherishes this evidence of woo-woo phenomena, and will never change her mind, because her delusion is too valuable to her….
Reader Elliott Minardi, a 3rd Year student at Ryerson University in Toronto studying in the Radio and Television Arts program – broadcasting – tells us of attempts by the Q-Ray scam-artists [see www.randi.org/jr/112202.html and search for “Q-ray] to recruit aspiring broadcasters. Elliott says that he found in his e-mail a request from the “Ion Ray Co. Ltd.” for “part-time film crews for evening and week-end work [involving] filming testimonials from consumers.” The ad specified, “No phone calls please." Says Elliott:
The discouraging of phone calls isn't surprising, anything to recoil from the threat of debate or demands for evidence. Startled by their attempt at recruiting my classmates, I hastily sent this email off to the mailing list manager, Liz:
First off, I just want to thank you in your efforts to make RTA students aware of potential job opportunities in the current marketplace. However I'm forced to take issue with your distribution of the Q-Ray Company's plea for assistance. My objection is rooted in the fact that the Q-Ray bracelet boasts claims that are in short, scientifically invalid and potentially fraudulent. While I'm cautious to use any firmer words which could lead to legal indictment, the Q-Ray company as an enterprise aren't being as honest as they ought to be about the purported virtues of their product.
For example, in June of 2003, the FTC took action against Q-Ray for deceptive claims of pain relief and sought consumer reimbursement for those who fell prey to the lie. (www.ftc.gov/opa/2003/06/qtinc.htm)
As further incrimination, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL concluded a study in 2002 revealing no distinction between use of the Q-Ray and an identical placebo in relieving musculoskeletal pain. (www.mayoclinic.org/news2002-rst/1528.html)
I understand you likely weren't aware of these complications, but I felt obliged to make RTA students and faculty aware of their chicanery, as I wouldn't want any association to taint the renowned stature of Ryerson or RTA. Please discourage RTA students from getting involved with this dubious organization.
I recommend this link for further information: http://skepdic.com/qray.html.
This is a fresh issue, but I will update you with any developments. The thought of future alumni taking an active role in the promoting deception left me very unsettled. Alongside myself, these people will aid in crafting tomorrow's media, delivering messages to a potentially uncritical public. I hope to curb that message to the perspective of reason and rationality.
The very next day, Elliott informed me:
I received this prompt response from Liz less than 24 hours after my initial email:
Thank you for you feedback. I do my best to “filter” postings. At the same time I have to give you, the students, the right to accept or turn down any opportunity. I would hope that students do some research before contacting any individual/company before replying to any posting.
I hope you understand.
However, I will keep in mind the information that you sent me regarding this company should any further postings come in.
Thanks for the prompt response. I understand your views on giving students the ultimate decision in passing up or getting involved in various opportunities. However, I don't feel comfortable assuming that all students would research an employer's validity or legal history before applying for a job, as a notable portion would likely accept Q-Ray's assertion without argument. Sales of the Q-Ray Bracelet alone attest to this uncritical attitude. At the very least, I suggest a forward containing the links provided in my previous email. This way, those with interest can consider the evidence and proceed as needed. Please consider my proposal.
We’ll be interested to see what happens at Ryerson….
Since the Encyclopedia went up in full bloom on our opening page (see www.randi.org/encyclopedia) we’ve of course received suggestions – and corrections! – from readers. Deanna Danko of Ferndale, Michigan, is one such:
Can't thank you enough for your website. I stumbled across it myself, but only after several years of my best friend trying to get me to let go of many unfounded beliefs I had about healing, psychics, the nature of reality, etc. Let's just say that for me, now, the world is a somehow colder but far more reliable, sane, and stable place than it was before. It is stunning to think of how far I went in my education (through the coursework of a Ph.D.) without developing critical thinking skills. Sad.
Anyway, I was wondering if, in your "spare time," you could put an entry in your fabulous encyclopedia about breatharianism. My massage therapist (highly skillful, despite his fanciful beliefs) swears that there are small groups of people who can survive on air and water alone. And that one of these fortunates has been verified by a team of scientists at UCLA. I'd love some input from you all, when I try to nudge him a little closer to reality.
Deanna, that will happen as soon as I get the time to do it. Other subjects suggested by readers include: sleep paralysis, John Edward, Sylvia Browne, and Carlos Casteneda. All will go in there, anon….
This will bring a chill to your day. Reader Nick Hand, who describes himself as a skeptical molecular biology PhD, sends us to an http that requires time and reflection. He writes:
Long time admirer – saw JR speak at Princeton University several years ago – magnificent (amazing even!).
I thought you might get a kick out of this account of a Baylor student, who was subjected to a police interrogation after sending a parody email. It touches on many favorite JREF topics – humor, science, religious fundamentalism, the decline of common sense… http://90percenttrue.com/index.php?p=41
This is an important document, folks. Please distribute it as you see fit, and choke back the embarrassment that must accompany the act. We need to know that this sort of thing is taking place. They’re at our doors….
Canadian reader Eric Johnson tells us:
Yesterday evening, I was watching a television program on TFO (French-language television station in Ontario, Canada). The program discussed the role and practice of complementary medicine. As a final word, viewers were encouraged to seek out only “accredited” practitioners from “recognized” colleges of complementary medicine.
This prompted me to want to see perpetual motion machine engineering courses being offered throughout the province’s colleges and universities. I found my initiative quickly stalled, however, when it became apparent I could not find an accredited numerologist to help me pick an auspicious date to submit my proposal to provincial authorities, nor an accredited feng shui master to help me pick the appropriate location to establish the school and to design the most positive-energy flowing building possible. I was not even successful in finding an accredited astrologer to help me even pick out a good name for my college; one that would guarantee success.
I am, therefore, sad to say, students will not be able to look forward to enrolling in the highly exciting field that is perpetual motion machine engineering and earn a degree.
Please keep up all the wonderful work that you do.
As an aside, concerning Feng Shui, there’s some good news from Asia. Reader Bob Gale tells us that an outcry over a proposal by China’s Nanjing University to offer a course in this traditional nonsense, has caused the University to withdraw its plans! As Bob says, “Clearly, most Chinese people can recognize home-grown snake oil.”
But, wonders Bob, do Chinese Universities teach acupuncture…? We can only hope that’s next up for consideration.
While we’re still in Canada, reader Lee Graham of Ottawa, Ontario, informs us:
Today's issue of the daily magazine Dose (www.dose.ca) gives readers a real taste of the sort of contradictory age we live in. Within its twenty-three pages, three and half are dedicated to ads for child-abuse prevention, online charity donations, poverty reduction, and environmental protection – reflections of our shared will to solve some of the pressing problems that face us. Add to that some material on solar and wind power, and one gets the impression that we are a rational and compassionate people, working on steps toward a sane future.
But filling the pages in between is evidence that, as we take these steps forward, we also continue to shoot ourselves in the collective foot. One article tells of the dozens of people who, since 1990, have been killed or burned alive in parts of Africa because they were thought to be witches. Another reports on the UFO symposium just held at the University of Toronto, of all places. Not a skeptical word was to be found in that article, nor in the two-page spread devoted to what is essentially an advertisement for naturopathy. Readers are informed that "While it has a certain flaky reputation, natural health [naturopathy] is grounded in science…" It goes on to tell us that ND's (naturopathic "doctors") use herbal medicine, acupuncture, and homeopathy – the glaring contradiction therein being completely lost on the author.
The pessimist in me wonders how we're ever going to solve our biggest problems if we can't even muster some simple critical thinking. The optimist in me, though, harbors some shreds of pride and hope for our species. Despite everything that weighs us down, we continue to creep forward inch by inch. Oh, how much faster we could move if we would just stop shooting ourselves in the foot!
Foot-shooting is becoming more and more popular all over the world, Lee. I’m told that they give free lessons in Washington, DC, to politicians who are new to the art….
Reader Ian D'Souza, of Waterloo, Ontario, writes:
After reading the first item in SWIFT [last week] about Canadian ex-cabinet minister Paul Hellyer, I sent it to a friend of mine, Christopher Willson. He responded as follows:
That's nothing, man. Let us not forget [William Lyon] Mackenzie King, our 10th Prime Minister who had five – count 'em, five – degrees and the guy on our $50 bill, who used to hear voices and talk to his dead mum. I recently visited his family home up in Kitchener, which is now restored and a Parks Canada site.
We have our own nutbars, but at least they don't invade other Countries....
I suffered through King’s premiership as a kid. I was appalled to learn – from scuttlebutt that was validated shortly after his death in 1950 – that while in office, twice a month he traveled to Buffalo, New York, to consult with a medium who he believed put him in touch with the ghost of his mother. He took advice from the spirit – which is to say that the medium in Buffalo was actually running the Dominion of Canada. King also sought help from the ghost of Leonardo da Vinci, who fortunately had mastered English while dead, as well as the shade of Louis Pasteur, and his favorite dog, Pat. What wisdom Pat may have offered PM King, is not known…
An anonymous Boston reader contributes this gem:
The following is an excerpt from the real estate section of a Boston neighborhood newspaper. Even in the often gullible and shoddy world of small newspapers, I find this one to be a monument of stupidity, foolishness and apparently unintended comedy... I believe the material speaks for itself. From the Jamaica Plain [Massachusetts] Bulletin, Sept. 22, 2005:
Home inspector searches for mold, ghosts and more.
Toxic mold, leaky roofs and ghosts – yes, ghosts – can and should be inspected for prior to purchasing a home….
Christine Wojnar, owner of Feng-Shui and Space Clearing in Bedford, said she has been working with real estate agents to sell homes by cleansing and making them more habitable.
“It is important to make sure there is a natural flow of Chi (which means the way wind and water move), and that it can get through the architectural front door. Realtors always talk about enhancing the outside appearance of the home, but you also have to make sure that there aren't any overgrown trees blocking the pathway, that the front door is in good shape and that it doesn't squeak,” Wojnar said.
Arranging the home in a more aesthetically pleasing way often helps to quickly sell a home which has had difficulty in the past, she said. The simple act of placing furniture in a more artistic outline can affect the way the home feels and alter the energy within it.
“I remember one time I was working with a realtor [sic], and the home was having difficulty selling. When I was shown a picture of the master bedroom, there was a large, dark painting above the bed with one person walking down a dark path alone, and I asked whether a divorce was the reason of the sale – and she said yes.
“Once I changed the picture to a brightly colored piece of artwork, the home sold right away,” Wojnar said. Aside from working with realtors [sic], Wojnar said she also performs energy cleansings on single-family homes, apartments and businesses.
“I frequently encounter ghosts and energies – it really isn't that unusual. I would say about one third of all my consultations end with encounters. When I'm in a certain space, I can feel it in my body, almost like a visceral reaction and something just doesn't feel quite right,” Wojnar said.
Daniel Ladd, P.C., a real estate attorney, said while he hasn't had a particular instance of paranormal activity happen to him during a sale of a home it does happen more often than one would think.
“About a month ago, I was informed of a couple who bought a restaurant and found out shortly after that it was haunted. They tried to get out [of] the lease, and they had some trouble, so they took it to court. The general rule in Massachusetts is that the seller doesn't have to disclose information regarding paranormal activity in the home but the broker has a greater duty to do so,” Ladd said.
In general, Ladd suggested homebuyers should ask questions about this matter before they sign a contract and close the deal – furthering their chance of happiness in their new abode.
“If a case is taken to court, it is not universally agreed upon that ghosts exist so it could be a difficult case to go through,” Ladd said.
Well, readers of this page aren’t much surprised that a hard-headed business like real estate could be run by dodos who find spooks in corners. Note that I’ve inserted “sic” at a couple of spots; the word “realtor” only applies to members of the National Association of Real Estate Boards – not just anyone selling real estate. As Johnny Carson used to say, “I did not know that….!”
Quoted from a Department of Defense News Briefing: at an April 1997 Conference on Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and U.S. Strategy, at the University of Georgia, sponsored by former Senator Sam Nunn, U.S. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen said:
[Other terrorists] are engaging even in an eco-type of terrorism whereby they can alter the climate, set off earthquakes, volcanoes, remotely through the use of electromagnetic waves. So there are plenty of ingenious minds out there that are at work finding ways in which they can wreak terror upon other nations. It's real, and that's the reason why we have to intensify our efforts, and that's why this is so important.
A brief pause, to recover….
I highly recommend the new book, “The Republican War on Science,” by Basic Books, New York, written by Chris Mooney. It’s a scary rundown of the US government’s strong predilection for ideologically-driven pseudoscience over legitimate science. Mooney is a journalist who specializes in investigating the relationship between science and politics – very much along the line of the coming TAM4 theme of “Science in Politics & the Politics of Science.” Unfortunately, we learned of Chris too late to get him into our star-studded cast for next January.
Now, before I’m inundated with notes from Republicans who complain about an apparently partisan endorsement, I’ll suggest that they get a hard-working author of their own to prepare a 342-page book covering the alternate point of view. However, Mooney doesn’t spare the Democrats, either, pointing out quite correctly that they have to answer some serious questions. An excerpt:
To be sure, the Right's transgressions have been partly counterbalanced by the misleading impression, fostered by some research supporters including the presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerry, that embryonic stem cell research will deliver quick cures. Responsible scientists have shied away from such hype, which itself counts as a misrepresentation of science. Peter Van Etten, president of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (a leading lobbyist for embryonic stem cell research), has cautioned that it will take at least five years, and probably longer, before we see any medical cures arise from this field….
When we tally up the offenses, however, conservatives once again outdistance any competition. Democrats deserve their share of blame for exaggerating the immediate promise of embryonic stem cell research as a means of sharpening their attacks on Bush's restrictive policy, but they are correct in asserting that this research has broad scientific potential. In contrast, only a political movement that truly disdained science would embrace the stunning fictions of the "adult"-stem-cell-only crusade. At the present moment, those who claim that research on these cells can supplant research on embryonic stem cells appear to be basing their assessment entirely on a leap of faith.I’ll share with you this excerpt from Mooney’s closing “Epilogue” to the book:
And just as science-abusing corporations must be fought in the courts, science-abusing religious conservatives – who would misinform our children about the origin of the human species and about virtually everything having to do with sex – must be fought in the schools, the educational system, and the public arena more generally. Here the challenge truly becomes staggering. Short of massive educational reform, we can begin by supporting the few beleaguered groups, like the National Center for Science Education, that combat the religious Right in its attempt to commandeer science to serve a religious agenda….
But if we care about science and believe that it should play a crucial role in decisions about our future, we must steadfastly oppose further political gains by the modern Right. This political movement has patently demonstrated that it will not defend the integrity of science in any case in which science runs afoul of its core political constituencies. In so doing, it has ceded any right to govern a technologically advanced and sophisticated nation. Our future relies on our intelligence, but todays Right – failing to grasp this fact in virtually every political situation in which it really matters, and nourishing disturbing anti-intellectual tendencies – cannot deliver us there successfully or safely. If it will not come to its senses, we must cast it aside.
Bob Park, quoted on the book jacket, writes:
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’s happening. Reading this important book won’t make you feel good, but it will make you wiser.
Get wiser. Get this book.
Reader Bob Davis writes:
After seeing last weeks teaser with respect to Goddard College in Vermont, my curiosity was piqued, so I went to visit the school's web site to see what the coming item might be about. What I found there was not the conference mentioned in Chip Taylor's letter, but something I feel is much worse. After what I found, I sincerely doubt if Chip will get a coherent response to his letter.
Please see the site www.goddard.edu/academic/BAHealthArts.html which is the homepage for the "B.A. in Health Arts & Sciences: Nature, Culture & Healing Program" which includes study of, along with other prattle, "energy healing." If that isn't enough, please browse through the faculty bios at www.goddard.edu/academic/HASfaculty.html.
I think you will find the conference is just another manifestation of this program which, as Chip Taylor says in his letter about the conference, is led by "New Age 'woo-woos' who have no background in science whatsoever." Sadly for Chip, it looks as though his alma mater has removed itself from the realm of providing real education, and has embraced New Age nonsense as a way of life.
P.S. Please feel free to forward this along to Chip Taylor. I am still in shock from having seen the latest newsletter from my daughter's high school, Mount Abraham Union High School in Bristol, VT (available on line at www.mtabe.k12.vt.us/newslet/newsletter.htm). Apparently they are now offering "Healing Touch" in the Nurse's office!
Seriously, folks, I ask, IS THERE NO END TO THIS PURSUIT AND EMBRACE OF SHEER QUACKERY BY APPOINTED ACADEMIC DUMMIES? Are the management of Mount Abraham Union High School in Bristol, Vermont, and of Goddard College in Vermont, simply stupidly, or maliciously, ignorant? Where were they educated? At Hogwart’s? They are disgraces to education, to rationality, to reason. How do they hold onto their positions?
We feel this announcement deserves full coverage here. It’s a press release from the American Astronomical Society in Washington, DC, September 20, 2005, written by Dr. Robert P. Kirshner, President, Dr. George Nelson, Education Officer, Dr. Susana Deustua, Director of Educational Activities, and Dr. Kevin B. Marvel, Deputy Executive Officer:
The American Astronomical Society supports the teaching of evolution in United States science classes and states that "Intelligent Design" is non-scientific and should not be taught to the nation's children.
In a statement released today (and included in its entirety below), the American Astronomical Society, the largest professional scientific association for astronomers and astrophysicists in the United States, supports the teaching of evolution in K-12 science classes. While endorsing the teaching of evolution, the American Astronomical Society reminds the public that a scientific theory is the strongest form of scientific understanding of our world and not a mere speculation or guess. Theories are always open to revision, but represent our current best understanding of how nature and the universe work.
Focusing specifically on recent actions by proponents of so-called "Intelligent Design", the statement released today points out that "Intelligent Design" fails to meet the basic definition of a scientific idea or theory containing no Testable way to verify its central ideas.
The President of the American Astronomical Society, Dr. Robert P. Kirshner of Harvard University said, "Science teachers have their hands full teaching the things that we actually know about the world we live in. They shouldn't be burdened with content-free dogma like Intelligent Design."
Dr. George Nelson, Education Officer of the American Astronomical Society and former astronaut, agreed, saying "Anti-science movements like Intelligent Design, however disguised, seriously undermine the already difficult task of educating the next generation to be science literate. And a science literate citizenry is necessary if America is to continue to thrive."
The AAS statement was adopted by the Council of the American Astronomical Society, the elected governing board of the association. It is given below in its entirety. Supporting references and additional information are available on the Society’s website at http://www.aas.org.
The American Astronomical Society supports teaching evolution in our nation's K-12 science classes. Evolution is a valid scientific theory for the origin of species that has been repeatedly tested and verified through observation, formulation of testable statements to explain those observations, and controlled experiments or additional observations to find out whether these ideas are right or wrong. A scientific theory is not speculation or a guess – scientific theories are unifying concepts that explain the physical universe.
Astronomical observations show that the Universe is many billions of years old… that nuclear reactions in stars have produced the chemical elements over time, and recent observations show that gravity has led to the formation of many planets in our Galaxy. The early history of the solar system is being explored by astronomical observation and by direct visits to solar system objects. Fossils, radiological measurements, and changes in DNA trace the growth of the tree of life on Earth.
The theory of evolution, like the theories of gravity, plate tectonics, and Big Bang cosmology, explains, unifies, and predicts natural phenomena. Scientific theories provide a proven framework for improving our understanding of the world.
In recent years, advocates of "Intelligent Design," have proposed teaching "Intelligent Design" as a valid alternative theory for the history of life. Although scientists have vigorous discussions on interpretations for some aspects of evolution, there is widespread agreement on the power of natural selection to shape the emergence of new species. Even if there were no such agreement, "Intelligent Design" fails to meet the basic definition of a scientific idea: its proponents do not present testable hypotheses and do not provide evidence for their views that can be verified or duplicated by subsequent researchers.
Since "Intelligent Design" is not science, it does not belong in the science curriculum of the nation's primary and secondary schools.
The AAS supports the positions taken by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Science Teachers' Association, the American Geophysical Union, the American Chemical Society, and the American Association of Physics Teachers on the teaching of evolution. The AAAS also supports the National Science Education Standards: they emphasize the importance of scientific methods as well as articulating well-established scientific theories.
The mayor of the city of St. Louis, Missouri, Francis G. Slay, has abandoned all common sense, discretion, prudence, and good taste by this appalling official action. Either he’s just ignorant of the facts, or he’s a religious nut. Originally an attorney by trade, Slay practiced for 20 years, specializing in corporate law and commercial litigation. He holds a degree in political science.
The 11th of September, 2005, was the day of a “Sai Public Meeting” in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. In recognition of Sathya Sai Baba and his works, mayor Slay proclaimed this day to be “Sathya Sai Baba Day.” St. Louis has a population of over 350,000, with a metropolitan area of over 2.5 million people.
Here is his incredible proclamation:
The Mayor's Proclamation
The City of St. Louis has been apprised that Sri Sathya Sai Baba is celebrating his 80th Birthday; and
WHEREAS, Sathya Sai Baba is one of the most revered spiritual teachers in the world today whose life and message are inspiring millions of people throughout the world to turn God-ward and to lead a more purposeful and moral life; and
WHEREAS, Sathya Sai Baba was born as Sathya Narayana Raju in Puttaparthi, a remote village in the state of Andhra Pradesh in Southern India. At the age of fourteen, he proclaimed his mission: to bring about the spiritual regeneration of humanity by demonstrating and teaching the highest principles of Truth, Right Conduct, Peace, Love and Non-violence; and
WHEREAS, Throughout his life work, Sathya Sai Baba has established an educational system which includes primary and secondary schools and an accredited university, offering undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees with no fees to the students. He has also established four hospitals, two of which provide advanced tertiary care and The Sri Sathya Sai Organization; and
WHEREAS, The City of St. Louis is pleased and honored to recognize Sri Sathya Sai Baba for all of his humanitarian work and extends best wishes to him for good health, peace and happiness as he continues his journey along life’s path.
Now, therefore, I, Francis G. Slay, Mayor of the City of St. Louis, do hereby proclaim September 11, 2005, as:
“SRI SATHYA SAI BABA DAY”
IN THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused to be affixed the seal of the City of St. Louis, this 11th day of September, A.D. 2005.
Can any public official actually not know the true nature of Sai Baba? Refer to www.randi.org/jr/12-08-2000.html for just one of the many exposes of this crook. Who will be honored next by the mayor? Jesse James? Billy the Kid? Sylvia Browne?
Oh boy, did I get scolded about my comments (www.randi.org/jr/200509/092305northern.html#10) on magnets….! And rightly so. Since measuring the “gauss” or “Tesla” units of strength of a magnet depends on the physical construction – the gap – of the device, it quite possible to have a bite-size 12,000-gauss magnet that’s not the size of a refrigerator. Reader Russell Sussan, who got me into this trouble, has to stand in the corner with me….
When you have some time for 100% nonsense, and a good laugh, go to perso.wanadoo.fr/quanthommesuite/danielx.htm. Make sure you’re not drinking anything, or you’ll be in danger of snorting up that drink when you see the schoolboy-grade equipment this guy puts together to charm his investors, a grab-bag of variable resistors and coils of wire, nothing more. It’s supposed to be a “free-energy” setup, see? Why, even the “inventors” who stick together stray electronic parts to make “dowsing rods” – see www.randi.org/jr/071103.html and do a search for “kellyco” – have better imaginations than this guy “Daniel X The Electric Man”, obviously. Here’s just one of the 25 hilarious bread-board setups he thrills the suckers with.
But he has investors, folks.
Reader Matt Tovey brings us this:
The well-respected German consumer information magazine "Stiftung Warentest" has just released a handbook on Alternative Medicine, in which over fifty types of alternative medicine are considered, reviewed, and (for the most part) condemned. It's beyond my abilities to translate all of this web-page for you, but let me give you the summary from the top of the page:
Today around two-thirds of German citizens put trust in naturopathy, both medicine and therapy, and the tendency is rising. There are several reasons for this: disappointing results of conventional medicine, and unsympathetic or rushed treatment from doctors. The market for Naturopathy is large and complex. Most naturopaths training is controlled neither by associations, nor by law. The effectiveness of many therapies is also debatable. Stiftung Warentest examined more than fifty forms of therapy in various fields. The result: Only around one third of these methods offered safe and demonstrable positive effects for the health.
The handbook is unfortunately rather large (336 pages) and rather expensive (€34), so I'm hoping that they (or perhaps another magazine) will soon have an abridged form that I can give to the people that I care about.
They do, however, offer extracts from the book online, in the form of audio MP3s (readings from the book), which I've been listening to in the car on my way to work this morning. In these, the "faith healing" and "homeopathy" chapters are covered. What I've heard so far was very well done, with simple explanations of the therapies which leaves one thinking "man, is that silly!" They also do a good job of exposing the contradictions and confusions with the branches (e.g. some homeopaths insist that x-rays, antibiotics, cortisone, etc. will destroy the effectiveness of their treatment, while others offer only homeopathic treatment in conjunction with conventional medicine). Nearly every sub-section ends with the phrase, "the claimed effects could not be confirmed."
On the down side, I was discussing this publication with an acquaintance yesterday evening when she said, "But I use homeopathy." Sigh. She seemed like such a clever person. Oh well, maybe this publication can help her, too.
Since this came out a few days ago, it’s made very big news in Germany. Says Matt:
From the "Deutsches Aertzeblatt" (a German doctor's news service):
The German Association of Homeopaths denied the criticism: “With these findings, Stiftung Warentest is unsettling millions of patients, who are successfully handled with homeopathy each year, and SW presents the homeopath community as charlatans.”
Again, yes. That's the point, isn't it? More surprisingly, the director of the Pharmaceutical Industry Association of Germany has also attacked the document, saying "Stiftung Warentest has declared nearly 3,000 years worth of old medicine to be placebo, only because it's effectiveness has not yet been scientifically established"
Despite this frantic reaction from the drug companies, who make a great deal of their income from the junk remedies, I’d say this is a definite move forward in German medicine. Homeopathy has long been a very important part of quackery in Europe….
Skepchick Lisa Goodlin addresses the still-with-us matter of “recovered memories” that has caused so much grief and damage to so many innocent victims, worldwide. The False Memory Syndrome Foundation is dedicated to revealing this farce for what it really is, and can be referenced at fmsfonline.org/. For Lisa’s own comments, go to www.culturecaf.blogspot.com.
Reader Harry Schmidt, at the University of Chicago, shares his problem in coming to grips with astrology:
I'm a longtime follower of your wonderful Commentaries, and I couldn't help but chuckle when I read the horoscope you cite in your Commentary this past Friday entitled "Bad Advice”:
Virgo (Aug. 23-Sept. 22) Precise, witty, cheerful, perfectionist, detail-oriented, hard-working and neat, with a knack for languages – all describe you. Technician, statistician, medical researcher, investigator or translator, are perfect career options for Virgos.
That's me in a nutshell, a perfectionist detail-oriented hard-working (I hope!) computer scientist and Classical philologist all in one.
Sadly, my birthday is Oct. 22.
Well, Harry, obviously, your birth certificate was forged!
If you’re not already on the list, go to firstname.lastname@example.org and get on it! That way, you’ll get to see the latest e-skeptic exchange between Michael Shermer and Deepak Chopra. Guess who wins… I’ll point out here that many of Chopra’s objections to the skeptical approach found in his attack mention the term, “debunk,” which the JREF has been careful to isolate from the work that we do. We investigate, we challenge, we demand evidence from those who make the claims; that frequently results in a de facto debunking which automatically follows, and need not be pointed out. We do not set out to debunk. That is a natural result of the claimants’ failure to meet our challenge.
Next, go to www.venganza.org/help.htm and read. The message there is obvious….