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Monday, Aug 31, 2009
Free speech in school
Missouri school news:
Sedalia — T-shirts promoting the Smith-Cotton High School band’s fall program have been recalled because of concerns about the shirt’s evolution theme.

Assistant superintendent Brad Pollitt said parents complained to him after the band marched in the Missouri State Fair parade. Though the shirts don’t violate the school’s dress code, Pollitt noted that the district is required by law to remain neutral on religion.

“If the shirts had said ‘Brass Resurrections’ and had a picture of Jesus on the cross, we would have done the same thing,” Pollitt said. ...

“I was disappointed with the image on the shirt,” said Sherry Melby, a band parent who teaches in the district. “I don’t think evolution should be associated with our school.”

Here is a picture of the shirt.

This seems ridiculous, but it is the logical consequence of the political, legal, and religious positions of the leftist-atheist-evolutionists. A case on Bong Hits 4 Jesus went all the way to the US Supreme Court. Blogger Jason Rosenhouse blames this on folks like Dawkins who encourage use of Evolution as an atheistic and anti-religious statement.

Speaking of free speech in the schools, here is Florida news:

SPRING HILL — Heather Lawrence didn't know the name of the girl with the Muslim head covering, or where she was from.

But as Lawrence walked by a classroom at Springstead High School on Wednesday, the 16-year-old junior did know one thing: The girl wasn't standing for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Lawrence, an JROTC member who plans to enlist in the Army next summer, says she was aghast.

"That's one of the most disrespectful things you can do," Lawrence recalled Friday. "Even the kids who are anarchists, who hate our government, still have respect to stand."

A few bells later, Lawrence was on her way to English class when she saw the girl wearing a hijab in the hallway. Lawrence confronted her.

She told her she should stand for the pledge. And, according to Lawrence's own account and a school referral on the incident, said, "Take that thing off your head and act like you're proud to be an American."

A teacher overheard the encounter. Now Lawrence is serving a five-day, out-of-school suspension, and her parents are considering legal action.

It sure seems to me that a student ought to be able to express an opinion to another student.

Update: It now appears that Lawrence lied about the other girl not standing for the Pledge.

Arguing against public debate
John Timmer
The US Chamber of Commerce is upset that the EPA has chosen to regulate CO2 emissions as a pollutant, and are calling for a public trial on both the policy decision and the science behind it. It's hard to imagine a worse way to help clarify the status of climate science. ...

In discussions with the Los Angeles Times, Chamber representatives explicitly reference the Scopes trial, held in Tennessee, which created a media circus focused on the first of many US legal actions over the teaching of evolution.

The Scopes trial should provide ample historic precedent that a public trial like this neither clarifies the science nor unites the public. But disagreements over science fundamentally don't lend themselves to resolution via public opinion, ...

In the 1925 Scopes Trial that Clarence Darrow wanted to present evidence for evolution, but only if his expert witnesses were not cross-examined. He did not want them to have to account for their racist and anti-religious views.

Wednesday, Aug 26, 2009
Einstein used "stationary system" instead of the aether
I tried to edit some Wikipedia pages to more accurately give credit for the discovery of special relativity, but Einstein fans reverted most of my changes.

There is a whole article on Einstein synchronisation, even tho Poincare published the whole thing five years ahead of Einstein.

Here is a typical denigration of Poincare's work on special relativity:

Poincaré developed a similar physical interpretation of local time and noticed the connection to signal velocity, but contrary to Einstein he continued to use the ether-concept in his papers and argued that clocks in the ether show the "true" time, and moving clocks show the "apparent" time. So Poincaré tried to bring the relativity principle in accordance with classical physics, while Einstein developed a completely new kinematics based on the relativity of space and time.
This is wrong. Einstein continued to use the aether concept. Einstein did not develop any new kinematics that had not already been published by Poincare. It was Poincare who more directly based his theory on the relativity of space and time. Poincare coined the term "relativity", and put space and time coordinates on an equal footing.

The suggestion is that Poincare's use of the aether concept shows that he still falsely believed in absolute space and time. But in his 1902 book, Science and Hypothesis, Poincaré argued that there is no absolute space, that there is no absolute time, and that no physical experience can detect any inertial motion.

In his famous lecture at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, Poincaré said:

The principle of relativity, according to which the laws of physical phenomena should be the same, whether for an observer fixed, or for an observer carried along in a uniform movement of translation; so that we have not and could not have any means of discerning whether or not we are carried along in such a motion.
Poincare does use the term aether as a mathematical device to describe a particular reference frame. That is not wrong. Furthermore, Einstein uses the same concept. In Einstein's famous 1905 special relativity paper, he uses the term "stationary system" instead. He talks about particles that are "at rest relatively to the stationary system". He uses the word "stationary" throughout the article and says things like:
It is essential to have time defined by means of stationary clocks in the stationary system, and the time now defined being appropriate to the stationary system we call it ``the time of the stationary system.''
A casual reader might infer that Einstein believed in absolute time. But a more careful reading shows that Poincare and Einstein are talking about the exact same thing. Poincare wrote in French while Einstein wrote in German, so maybe it is just a translation problem that some people think that they are talking about something different.

Thus both Poincare and Einstein denied that there was any absolute space or time, but still found it useful to assume a preferred frame of reference in papers. Poincare called it the aether while Einstein called it the stationary system. They meant the same thing.

Sunday, Aug 23, 2009
Reasons for crediting Einstein
An Einstein fan wonders how I explain how Einstein got so much credit, including credit from his colleagues during his lifetime, if he did not really invent special relativity.

Einstein did not get so much credit while he was alive. Only today does he get honors like Time Man of the Century. He did not get an academic job until three years after his famous papers. He did get a Nobel Prize, but only many years later and the prize citation did not mention relativity. Many people at the time did not believe that he deserved credit for relativity.

The question is not one with a single answer. It is a bit like asking why the Beatles were so popular. It was a combination of many factors.

  • Einstein was a jealous egomaniac, who aggressively argued for credit, while his rivals were modestly deferential.
  • Einstein was a German at a time when the best Physics was done in Germans, and Germans liked to credit one of their own.
  • Einstein was also a Jew, and was credited by other Jews. He later became an ex-German and an American, which might have endeared him to influential ex-Germans and Americans.
  • Starting in 1919, the NY Times promoted him as the smartest scientist in the world. Few people have ever been promoted as the NY Times promoted him. It credited with all sorts of bogus discoveries, such as unified field theory.
  • Einstein had political and religious views that were popular with liberal academics.
  • The true creator of special relativity, Henri Poincaré, died a few years later and did not live long enough to enjoy the credit.
  • Poincaré was a French mathematician, and was thus underappreciated by physicists.
  • Einstein fit the mold of a young heroic type, and those people always get much more credit than they deserve once they achieve a certain amount of fame.
After reading some of the convoluted explanations given for not crediting Poincare, I think that people also have some funny ideological beliefs about the nature of scientific truth. In particular, some people do not appreciate this basic fact:
If two theories are mathematically equivalent, then no experiment can distinguish them.
This is obvious, isn't it? And yet people will argue that even tho Poincare's theory of relativity was mathematically equivalent to Einstein's, Einstein's was physically correct and Poincare's was not. They will argue that Einstein was correct because he said that there was no aether, and Poincare was wrong to refer to a perfectly undetectable aether.

The argument is nonsense. If there is no experiment to differentiate Einstein's view from Poincare's, then what makes Einstein more correct?

It often happens that a physical theory has more than one interpretation. For example, you can think of light as a wave or a particle. Both views have merit, as light has both wave and particle properties. But what is it really? You can think of light as really being a wave that sometimes looks like particles, or you can think of it as being particles that sometimes look like waves. Einstein is sometimes credited with the latter view. But neither view is more correct than the other, as long as you subscribe to a theory that predicts the known wave and particle properties.

So there are people who argue that Einstein's view of relativity was somehow more correct than Poincare's, but those people are wrong.

Friday, Aug 21, 2009
Appendix not useless
An argument for evolution has always been that we have vestigial organs that are now useless but inherited from useful traits millions of years ago. The best example has been the appendix, which was thought to be a useless little pouch in your intestines that just causes appendicitis.

Now new research shows that the appendix is useful, and it apparently evolved for useful purposes:

Using a modern approach to evolutionary biology called cladistics, which utilizes genetic information in combination with a variety of other data to evaluate biological relationships that emerge over the ages, Parker and colleagues found that the appendix has evolved at least twice, once among Australian marsupials and another time among rats, lemmings and other rodents, selected primates and humans. "We also figure that the appendix has been around for at least 80 million years, much longer than we would estimate if Darwin's ideas about the appendix were correct."

Darwin theorized that the appendix in humans and other primates was the evolutionary remains of a larger structure, called a cecum, which was used by now- extinct ancestors for digesting food. The latest study demonstrates two major problems with that idea. First, several living species, including certain lemurs, several rodents and a type of flying squirrel, still have an appendix attached to a large cecum which is used in digestion. Second, Parker says the appendix is actually quite widespread in nature. "For example, when species are divided into groups called 'families', we find that more than 70 percent of all primate and rodent groups contain species with an appendix." Darwin had thought that appendices appeared in only a small handful of animals.

This appears to be yet another wrong argument for evolution that has been taught for decades.

DNA sequencing now has much better arguments for evolution anyway. Our DNA has pieces that appears to be useless mutations of something that was useful millions of years ago. But a naysayer might argue that these DNA fragments just appear useless like the appendix, and might someday be proved to be useful.

Tuesday, Aug 18, 2009
Evolutionist says scientific truth is social
The Why Evolution Is True blog quotes an anthropologist to explain why an evolution sub-theory is not true:
Is the Aquatic Ape Theory fairly described as pseudoscience? Every statement of natural causes is potentially scientific. What distinguishes science from pseudoscience is social. Pseudoscience is supported by assertions of authority, ... I think that the Aquatic Ape Theory in 2009 fits the description.
So evolution is true because it is science, and it is science because all the other scientists say so. The AAT is not science because the mainstream evolutionists don't like the proponents of AAT.

This is lame. The way to prove AAT wrong is to find some fossil or DNA or other evidence that contradicts the theory. Or find some better theory that explains what AAT explains.

I don't know whether AAT is true or not, and I don't think that anyone else does either. It is a theory with some remarkable explanatory power. I hope that someone proves it true or false. But in the meantime, scientists should take it as seriously as the other explanations.

This is the problem that I have with a lot of these evolutionists. They are so dogmatic about what is true or false. When they have no evidence, they will launch into a lecture about what is or is not scientific. If they were really scientific, then they would be willing to admit it when they don't have any good evidence for or against a theory.

The Wikipedia evolutionists devote a lot of energy into editing the page on Pseudoscience, and into maintaining lists of pseudosciences. But for various reasons, there is no real agreement about what is or is not pseudosciences. These pages exist largely as a way of putting down other beliefs. And if you take the view that definition of pseudoscience is social, then saying that some theory is pseudoscience is just another way of saying that the theory is out of favor among the mainstream scientists.

Monday, Aug 17, 2009
Jewish paranoia about code words
There is currently a Wikipedia edit war over what NY Times columnist Judith Warner said Phyllis Schlafly:
Critchlow points out that Schlafly "never identified Jews as part of any conspiracy," but then she didn't have to: phrases that invoke godless, countryless "well-financed" minorities are a well-recognized code among those who fear world domination by Wall Street and the Trilateral Commission. But Critchlow, a professor of history at St. Louis University, lets all this wink-winking go on without comment.
I say both sides are wrong. Warner is a feminist, a Jew, and a kook. This paragraph is just a slimy smear. No reviewer with any integrity would write anything so ridiculous.

Warner does not actually say who uses the code phrases. She says that some people recognize the code phrases, but does not say whether Schlafly and Critchlow are among those who recognize them.

I realize that Warner is Jewish, and the NY Times is a largely Jewish newspaper, but Warner was reviewing a book that was not about Jews at all. It is strange for her to launch into a vague and incoherent rant about Jewish conspiracies, and to complain that the book does not similarly write about Jewish conspiracies.

Wednesday, Aug 12, 2009
Evolutionists are feuding
Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne writes:
And now Mooney and Kirshenbaum have published an equally shallow and unreflective editorial in the L. A. Times. It’s a rambling, confused piece, accusing the new atheists of hurting science literacy, implying that Richard Dawkins has, in the main, impeded the acceptance of evolution, and even invoking the ghost of Charles Darwin against us. (Why are we supposed to worship everything that Darwin ever said? He was a man, not a god.)
It is amusing to see these leftist-atheist-evolutionists bicker about how best to promote their goals. For months, the new atheists have been feuding with the accommodationists. The new atheists believe that all religion is equally evil, and must be attacked. The accommodationists try to solicit the mainstream Christians to join in the attack against the Young Earth Creationists.

I think that these folks are trying too hard to promote their ideology, and not hard enough to promote scientific truths.

Richard Dawkins is working on a pro-evolution book to follow up his pro-atheism book, and here he interviews creationist Wendy Wright. I was expecting to agree with Dawkins, but I think that Wright got the better of him. Instead of confronting her with facts and explanations, Dawkins ended up launching an attack on her motives. Why would anyone care about her motives? I just want to know what the evidence proves.

Unfortunately, Dawkins' attitude is very common among evolutionists. They are more interested in rooting out some religious belief than actually explaining some science. I am not sure who is worse -- the new atheists or the accommodationists. Neither is willing to fairly deal with the scientific issues without ideology.

Here is what Chris Mooney and another accommodationist say:

It all might sound like a petty internecine squabble, but the stakes are very high. The United States does not boast a very healthy relationship between its scientific community and its citizenry. The statistics on public scientific illiteracy are notorious -- and they're at their worst on contentious, politicized issues such as climate change and the teaching of evolution.
Those subjects -- evolution and global warming -- are the most politicized because they are promoted by scientists and scientist wannabes who are simultaneously pushing a political-religious agenda. Maybe if the scientists in those fields would stick to the science, then people would accept the science.

Monday, Aug 10, 2009
Dieting could lead to a positive test for cannabis
Dope smokers have long denied any long term effects. However it is a basic biochemical fact that marijuana stays in the system far longer than alcohol.

NewScientist reports:

CANNABIS smokers beware: stress or dieting might trigger "reintoxication", resulting in a positive drug test long after you last used the drug.

The main psychoactive ingredient of cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and once in the body it is readily absorbed into fat cells. Over the next few days it slowly diffuses back into the blood. Since THC is taken up by fat more readily than it diffuses out, continual intake means some THC can remain in the fat cells.

It has been suggested that stored THC can be released at a later date in situations where the body's fat is rapidly broken down. This is based on anecdotal reports of spikes in blood cannabinoid levels in people who have not taken the drug recently but have experienced extreme stress or rapid weight loss.

The phenomenon has just been proved in rats.
The Selfish Genius
I thought that Richard Dawkins was the leading proponent of evolutionism. He provokes a lot of people with his leftist-atheist-evolutionist views, and he is trashed on Conservapedia, but there are also mainstream evolutionists who disagree with his theories.

There is a new book, The Selfish Genius: How Richard Dawkins Rewrote Darwin's Legacy, with some details.

Also David Sloan Wilson trashes Dawkins on group selection.

The issue, as I understand it, is that Dawkins argued that evolution acts on the gene level only. That is, evolution produces the genes that best replicate themselves. Others say that an organism in a group can act for the good of the group, and such behaviors will evolve because they help the group to survive. An example might be an ant colony, where ants seem to be programmed to act for the good of the colony. Dawkins acknowledges that there could be kin selection, where ants work to help genetically similar ants, but he denies that there is ever group selection.

This reminds me of Stephen Jay Gould, who for many years was the most famous evolutionist, and maybe the most famous scientist of any kind. And yet he frequently denounced as being wrong by experts.