National Poetry Month is almost over — and we’ve survived! To honor the occasion, here is Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the U. S. and A.


Smokey the Bear heads
into the autumn woods
with a red can of gasoline
and a box of wooden matches.

His ranger’s hat is cocked
at a disturbing angle.

His brown fur gleams
under the high sun
as his paws, the size
of catcher’s mitts,
crackle into the distance.

He is sick of dispensing
warnings to the careless,
the half-wit camper,
the dumbbell hiker.

He is going to show them
how a professional does it.

Expelled: The Party Game!

BPSDBSo, I emerged from my burrow wherein I had been writing my Serious Essay on the history of classical mechanics, and I discovered that Premise Media, the producers of the Expelled movie, had sent out a whiny and cranky e-mail pleading that people take groups to see their little flick. (I didn’t get the e-mail, just as I wasn’t invited to their Potemkin press conference back in March, but I’m not jealous, ’cause I received much better things in the mail recently, which I’ll be writing about soon, Isis willing.) UprightAlice points out that the message really does sound like it was composed by Mad Lib.
Continue reading Expelled: The Party Game!

The Web Spinning ‘Round

Both T. Ryan Gregory and Abbie Smith have moved into new digs. In the former case, the move was voluntary, while in the latter, it appears to have been a choice expedited by the mysterious vanishing of her old site. Update your blaggregators, and say hello to them both!

I’m actually somewhat skeeved that the old ERV site upped its chucks and huffed the æther. Last summer, before Michael Behe’s The Edge of Evolution had turned out to be a complete flop, I had started compiling a list of debunkings, several of which resided at the old ERV. Hopefully those pages can get pulled from the various archives and republished at the new site.

Other stuff of note which I’ve seen lately in my local neighborhood of Network nodes:

Both Isabel Lugo and Brian Switek have discussed the relative roles of concrete examples and abstract reasoning in mathematics education. Elsewhere, Glennda Chui points us to a description of an “ILC Fan Club” in Tokyo. Which is better: that the International Linear Collider has a fan club, or that it meets in a bar basement? Two weeks ago, the ILC Fan Club hosted an all-women panel discussion on gender equality, an area in which physics has plenty of problems still to solve.

We fret a lot these days about how to “communicate science with the public,” but reading about the “Accelerator Ladies’ Night” reminded me, in an odd way, that while science is a global enterprise, the public to which we’re trying to communicate is divided into all the diverse cultures of the human species. Consider the analogy which novelist Aya Kaida proposed for explaining neutrino experiments:

Some experiments, like the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, have measured particles zinging our way from the Sun. Other investigations produce neutrinos here on Earth; for example, K2K uses the proton synchrotron at the KEK facility in Tsukuba to make a beam of neutrinos, which is fired toward the Super-Kamiokande detector in Kamioka, 250 kilometers away. By measuring the neutrinos which arrive at Super-K, physicists can figure out what happened to them en route. Aya Kaida says that the neutrinos in the K2K beam are “cultivated fishes,” while the ones from the Sun are “wild.”

Vive la différence! In the U. S. and A., we might speak of animals “raised on a farm” versus “caught in the wild,” but when it comes to fish, I’m not sure we care. By and large, it’s not a distinction to which we are sensitive, and a person explaining neutrino research would reach for a different analogy. While the physics is the same everywhere on this spinning world of ours, its encounters with culture vary in all the ways we maddening mammals are able to differ.

Finally, David Guarrera, a string theory Ph.D. student at the Institvte, has posted the first in a series of essays on false vacua. Happy reading!

Basing Hopes on Pseudoscience

BPSDBOnline polls are not scientific. To state the matter more precisely, a poll on a website which is open to the entire Network and has only minimal measures to guard against repeat voting measures the people who were motivated to respond, not a representative sample of the population. Of course, it’s just like a creationist — beg pardon, a cdesign proponentsist — to rely upon a pseudoscientific tool for spurious validation of his pre-established beliefs. It is also in the nature of things that, on the Network, such attempts will backfire.

To wit, consider the poll on the Expelled! movie‘s MySpace page. The question was asked, “Do you think the theory of Intelligent Design should be taught in our education system?” The Evil Darwinismistic Conspiracy was alerted to the poll at 10:36 AM Eastern Time, and less than five hours later, this is where the results stand:
Continue reading Basing Hopes on Pseudoscience

Quote of the Day

This is Jay Davis, reviewing the movie Expelled! in the Real Detroit Weekly (23 April 2008).

Proponents of ID are fond of saying that it’s not the same as creationism (read: creationism sans the talking snake and the magic rib). But if ID isn’t creationism, then oral sex isn’t sexual relations.

Davis suggests that if we start teaching Intelligent Design in the schools, we should also teach Deliberate Motion as an alternative to classical mechanics (planets move because of “an Intelligent Mover pushing them around,” don’t ya know?). While we’re at it, the germ “theory” of disease is just a theory, so we should embrace the controversy and present it alongside “Divine Retribution theory.” Commenters at Orac’s site have already pointed out that while promoting Expelled!, Ben Stein has made remarks which sound more than a little like “Deliberate Motion.” For example,

Assuming it all did happen by Random Mutation and Natural Selection, where did the laws of gravity come from?

And, come to think of it, Michael Behe’s dystheistic view of Intelligent Design is basically a Divine Retribution theory of disease. He concedes that drug resistance could have evolved, although his understanding of it is spectacularly bad, and his attempts to use it as an “edge of evolution” are irredeemably flawed. But while the malaria parasite’s resistance to medications could possibly have evolved, Behe says, malaria itself was intelligently designed.

Oh, and before I vanish back into my silent retreat, I should add that Skeptic’s Circle #85 is now online at Andrea’s Buzzing About.

Open Books

Hmmm. It appears that I get to spend this week working on something which is not this website. However, it’s not in my nature to leave whatever readers I’ve got without something else to read, and fortunately for me, the Internets have delivered some juicy material recently. Two books are in the works, and you, Gentle Reader, have a chance to contribute to both of them.

Both are mathematical in nature. The one geared to a more general audience is Jason Rosenhouse’s big book on the Monty Hall Problem. He’s finished the first draft, and is gathering feedback on the first chapter. Go, read the PDF, and offer your comments!
Continue reading Open Books

Shall I Be Plain?

At the most recent Boston meeting of Skeptics in the Pub, after Mike the Mad Biologist had given his talk, the conversation split up into different corners of the room. Over at my end, I recall, we were having a chill discussion about cartoons and the strange people one can find beside Los Angeles freeways, while across the way, the far side of the Asgard’s backroom developed into a fierce argument over something-or-other. When we chanced to look in their direction, our impression was that our fellow skeptics had staged an impromptu performance of Richard III. The fellow sitting in the throne-like chair surveying the debate with interest and cool decision no doubt added to the effect.

Whenever you get a bunch of science enthusiasts together in a bar, they start talking Shakespeare. It’s happened twice already, so it must be a rule. And it was with this rule on my mind that I happened to search the Internet today, looking for something else and finding this video instead. Now, we no longer need to imagine what Peter Sellers would sound like doing Laurence Olivier doing Richard III doing “A Hard Day’s Night.”

Now, we know.

Spielberg to Adapt GitS

I’m late in remarking upon the news that Steven Spielberg has snared DreamWorks the rights for Ghost in the Shell. We are to be treated to a live-action, 3D adaptation written by Jamie Moss. According to Variety,

Universal and Sony were also chasing “Ghost in the Shell,” but Steven Spielberg took personal interest in the property and made it happen at DreamWorks.

” ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is one of my favorite stories,” Spielberg said. “It’s a genre that has arrived, and we enthusiastically welcome it to DreamWorks.”

Mm-hmmm. I suppose that, basking in a John Williams score, we’re going to learn how Motoko Kusanagi just wants to be a real girl, while Public Security Section 9 hunts down the hacker once known as the Puppet Master but since rechristened the Blue Fairy.

Creation, Power and Violence

The amount of hatred one can earn simply by speaking one’s mind and doing one’s job never fails to astonish me. All the more remarkable is how the people who hate so viciously are the very ones you’d expect to be tolerant, or at least quietly begrudging — people whose ancestors, both familial and ideological, were themselves the targets of bigotry in generations past, when different powers were the oppressors. Yet today, even in a country which prides itself on a long list of freedoms, speaking the plain, factual truth of the world is a sure way to win oneself ire, derision and abuse.

Both history and current events teach us that forces of prejudice and inequity oppose the dissemination of truth to certain sectors of society. As recently as 2006, the Afghan schoolteacher Mohammed Halim was drawn and quartered by motorbikes, the remains of his body put on display so that others would think twice before defying Taliban law and committing the unforgivable crime of teaching female children. I doubt the Taliban thugs who beat the algebra teachers of Ghazni have any particular animosity towards the mathematics; given a moment’s reflection, they might wholeheartedly support the math lessons necessary to train engineers who then build weapons to be used against the United States. The crime in their eyes, I’d wager, is not the material, but the audience.

In the country where I grew up and am writing now, the story is a little different: most of the time, hatred against educators does not escalate to physical violence, although threats of violence are common enough, and most of the time, the factor provoking abuse is not the audience, but the lesson itself.

The plain truth I’m talking about is the biological principle of evolution. The single most powerful idea in biology, this discovery has withstood decades of criticism to emerge triumphant as one of the most well-checked propositions in human history. Learn about evolution, and you can go to work on diseases, or help find out where species both living and extinct fit into the family tree of life. You can understand the living world, and help preserve human life within it.

Open your mouth about evolution around the wrong people, though, and you can find yourself harassed, ejected from your job and even beaten in the street.

Just ask these people.
Continue reading Creation, Power and Violence

Bensteinian Rhapsody

BPSDBVia John Lynch comes MartinC’s “Bensteinian Rhapsody.” (For the tune, try here.) The part right after the guitar solo is my favorite, so here it is, with extra links for added value:

I’ve got a little animation of a cell,
When in haste, copy paste, yes indeed that was the plan, though —
Copyright infringement lawsuit noose is tightening on me —
Sternberg’s ethics, (they’re a shocker)
How ‘bout Crocker, (off her rocker)
And what to say of Guillermo? Guillermo-oh-oh-oh
I’m without tenure, and nobody loves me
He’s just a headcase, embarrassing his faculty —
Spare us the whines of this mediocrity —
Please I pray — on my soul, Will you make it so —
Guillermo! No—, we will not make it so — make it so —
Guillermo! No—, we will not make it so — make it so —
Guillermo! we will not make it so — make it so
Will not make it so — make it so
Will not make it so — make it so
No,no,no,no,no,no,no —
That Eugenie, she’s a meanie, but there’s much worse godless foe!
Beelzebub sent Dick Dawkins and his friend, PeeeeZeeee — PeeeeZeeee, PeeeeZeeeeeeee!

Robbins on Broadcast Media

Joshua pointed me to Tim Robbins’s keynote speech at the National Association of Broadcasters.

“In all seriousness folks, let’s face it: we are at an abyss, as an industry and as a country. And I know that saying we are at an abyss is not the stuff of keynote addresses, but all sarcasm and irony and rude pithiness aside, we are at a critical juncture in this nation’s history. This is a nation divided, and reeling from betrayal and economic hardship. . . .”

Imaginary Ethics

BPSDBWelly welly welly welly, welly welly well. I don’t normally read the Huffington Post, but thanks to UprightAlice at Pharyngula, I’m hearing that there’s some news worth a listen. This here is James Boyce, who had been upset that Yoko was selling out to the slime of humanity, but then learned more:

I never thought that someone, far less Ben Stein, would take a song as famous as “Imagine” and use it in his film without permission.

However, I have learned that in fact Yoko Ono did not license the song for use in the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, and any use of the song in that film is being made without authorization.

Let’s just. . . savor the moment, shall we?

Ethan Smith at the Wall Street Journal has a piece too. It’s behind a paywall, but going through Google News gets the full story. Smith writes,

Ms. Ono’s lawyer, Jonas Herbsman, of Shukat, Arrow, Hafer, Weber & Herbsman, said in an interview Wednesday: “It was not licensed.” With respect to the filmmakers, he says: “We are exploring all options.” It is not clear what remedies if any may be available to Ms. Ono.

Damn, but this is entertaining. I think the next logical step is for Premise Media to sue Yoko Ono. Right?

Smith also says that the Expelled producers had legally obtained rights to use the Killers’ song “All These Things That I’ve Done.” This goes against the insistence of the Killers’ message board moderators, so somebody has miscommunicated somewhere.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Several commenters here and there are saying that this must all be a ploy to get the Expelled sleaze-fest some publicity. Because there isn’t a real Darwinist conspiracy, they’ll bloody well piss enough people off that they’ll get the smack down and then whine about being repressed. I can’t wait for the next attention-whoring gambit from Premise Media: at this rate, the only way they’ll top themselves is when Ben Stein gets caught with a pound of pure.