The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘theory’

Trio of Good News in the Battle Against Creationism!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 12, 2013

I am happy to report to you that there have been three really good developments in the scientific and skeptical battle against one of the worst bug-a-boos: creationism.  Rather than go into a huge amount of detail about each one, I’ll give a few of my own comments and link to the original sources on each.  Read on to the end – the best one is last :)

1.  Ball State University Takes a Stand for Science and Kicks “Intelligent Design” to the Curb

In this article from Inside Higher Ed, a very positive development is outlined wherein the university made a very strong statement against the inclusion of so-called “intelligent design” as science under the auspices of academic freedom.  I think this was so well done on the part of the university leadership that it should serve as a template for other institutions to follow.  In part, the article states:

In what First Amendment watchdogs called a victory, Ball State University’s president on Wednesday spoke out against intelligent design as a viable scientific theory. At the same time, the university announced that a professor accused of proselytizing remained part of the faculty but was working with administrators to ensure his courses aligned with Ball State’s view that science instruction should be about science and not religion.

“Intelligent design is overwhelmingly deemed by the scientific community as a religious belief and not a scientific theory,” President Jo Ann Gora said. “Therefore, intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses. The gravity of this issue and the level of concern among scientists are demonstrated by more than 80 national and state scientific societies’ independent statements that intelligent design and creation science do not qualify as science.”

The question is not one of academic freedom, but one of academic integrity, she added. “Said simply, to allow intelligent design to be presented to science students as a valid scientific theory would violate the academic integrity of the course as it would fail to accurately represent the consensus of science scholars.” … [emphasis added]

Read the entire article here

2. Christian Publisher Removes Loch Ness Monster From Biology Textbook

You may recall that some time ago, I reported about how some creationists were going to such ludicrous lengths to undercut the teaching of evolution that they were actually selling textbooks which taught that the Loch Ness Monster was real and evidence against evolution.  Apparently, the publishers of those same textbooks are now omitting any mention of dear ol’ Nessie since it seems that would be a claim too outlandish even for reality-challenged creationists.  Here’s more:

A Christian education publisher based in Tennessee has removed references to the existence of the Loch Ness Monster from a biology textbook.

According to Scotland’s Sunday Herald, Accelerated Christian Education, Inc. has opted to remove a statement from a textbook used in Europe and will likely do the same for American textbooks.

“Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland?” reads the deleted passage.  “‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.”

Mark Looy, chief communications officer for the Young Earth Creationist organization Answers in Genesis, told The Christian Post that he approved of ACE’s decision.

There are just so many of these legends, like the dragon mentioned in Beowulf, the numerous accounts of St. George and the dragon, and so on, that they can’t be dismissed,” said Looy. … [emphasis added]

If the bolded statement above is any example of the shoddy standards of evidence adhered to by creationists, it is no wonder they don’t have a scientific leg to stand on.

3. Creationists and Climate Change Deniers Lose in Kentucky

Some time ago, I wrote a post about how the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are going to push back hard against anti-scientists like creationists and global warming deniers.  Well, our friends from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) are reporting that a significant victory has been achieved in a state that you might not associate with strong science standards: Kentucky!  A few weeks back, creationists and global warming deniers attempted to derail the adoption of the NGSS by the Kentucky State Board of Education, and they were rebuffed :)

The Kentucky Board of Education declined to make any changes to a proposed regulation that would enact the Next Generation Science Standards as Kentucky’s state science standards, despite the protests of evolution deniers and climate change deniers. In a lengthy document dated August 1, 2013, the Kentucky Department of Education summarized the thoughts of all who submitted comments on the regulation, and provided detailed replies. On the topics of evolution and climate change in particular, the department wrote (PDF, p. 139):

“The agency also received statements of support related to the inclusion of particular science topics such as climate change and evolution, stating that meaningful scientific debate on the validity of evolution and climate science has ceased. Proponents of the continued inclusion of evolution pointed to the overwhelming acceptance of evolution in the biological science community. Proponents of the inclusion of climate change education contend that Kentucky students deserve the most up to date science education, which includes climate change. [The department agreed with these comments: see, e.g., pp. 104 and 105 on evolution, and pp. 115 on climate change.]

Over one hundred substantially identical emails were received stating an opposition to the continued inclusion of evolution in the proposed standards, characterizing evolution as a theory and not a fact. These commenters asked that intelligent design be added to the standards. Other commenters questioned the scientific validity of evolution. The agency also received several comments specific to the inclusion of climate change in the proposed standards, including concerns that climate change science was overemphasized to the neglect of other science concepts or that climate change is not a settled issue in the scientific community.”

The three important antievolution goals — banning the teaching of evolution; balancing the teaching of evolution with creationism, whether in the form of “creation science” or “intelligent design”; and belittling evolution as controversial — were in evidence. So were all three of the pillars of creationism — arguing that evolution is scientifically controversial; arguing that teaching evolution is linked with negative social consequences; arguing that it is only fair to teach “all sides” of the supposed controversy. The same themes were also reflected in the comments about climate change.

The Kentucky Board of Education approved the department’s report on August 8, 2013, so, as WPFL in Louisville, Kentucky, reports (August 8, 2013), “The regulation now heads to Kentucky’s Administrative Regulation Review Committee. If approved in the Kentucky General Assembly, the new standards would go into effect during the 2014-2015 school year.” Kentucky would join Rhode Island, Kansas, Maryland, and Vermont as the first five states to adopt the NGSS — unless the legislature, which includes vocal critics of evolution and climate change, refuses its approval. [emphasis added]

I want to jump on the bolded part above; the battle in KY still isn’t finished.  It will require people to lobby their state legislators in Kentucky in order to encourage them to accept the NGSS.  No doubt the anti-science lobby will pull out all the stops to derail this process, but we have to speak up and encourage the legislature to accept the NGSS as written.

And think of this: if the NGSS is accepted in Kentucky, then it will be a huge defeat for creationists and climate science deniers all over the nation.  That’s because if a religiously conservative state like Kentucky can do it, then any state can do it.

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The State of Louisiana Comes Lurching into the 20th Century!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 5, 2012

My friend and skeptical colleague Phil over at Skeptic Money has passed along some welcome news: the Louisiana private school voucher program has been found to be unconstitutional!  Whoo-hoo!!!  :)[**Aside: If you recall, the state of Louisiana has been a hotbed of creationist activity over the years; more on that here and here.  And yes, that fact is important.  Read on...]

This is news partly because the program was being used to funnel public school money to private religious schools which specialized in indoctrinating children into fundamentalist forms of Christianity which taught, among other things, creationism as “science”.  In addition, let us also not forget that this was the award-winning 21st century educational plan which would teach that the Loch Ness Monster was real as a way of supporting creationism.  Phil has some more interesting information on these developments:

Louisiana $11 Million Creationism Give Away 

News from the State of Louisiana today!

“A state judge on Friday shot down Louisiana’s sweeping school voucher program, ruling that the state could not use funds set aside for public education to pay private-school tuition…”

This is huge.  They were going to spend $11 Million to teach creationism.

“Louisiana is preparing to spend over $11 million to send 1,365 students to 20 private schools that teach creationism instead of science as part of Governor Bobby Jindal’s new voucher program.”

This $11 Million is to come out of the public schools.  According to a report from “American Legislative Exchange Council” Louisiana ranks 49 out of 51 (They also ranked the District of Columbia).  I guess they want to race to the bottom.

The governor is not happy about the ruling.

“Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who had championed the program, called the ruling “wrong-headed” and “a travesty for parents across Louisiana who want nothing more than for their children to have an equal opportunity at receiving a great education.” “

A great education?  These children are not being educated.  They are being thrown back to the bronze age.  We might as well teach them that 2+2 equals “fish”.

“While State District Judge Tim Kelley ruled the voucher program unconstitutional, he did not issue an immediate injunction to stop it. The 5,000 students currently receiving vouchers will be able to continue attending their private schools pending an appeal, state officials said.”

What?  The state creates a blatantly illegal program and a judge rules against it but yet it continues.  It looks like they are still going to spend that $11 Million on creationism.  I feel like we live in some kind of bizzaro world.

This is all promoted by a guy that wants to be the next President of the United States Bobby Jindal.

So… the program will continue for the immediate future (probably until the end of the current academic year), which will no doubt give Jindal and his political allies time to come up with another cockamamie scheme that will bilk the taxpayers and direct their money towards religious zealots who have no interest in teaching their kids (or anybody else’s kids) science.

I agree with Phil.  The irony here is that Jindal and his religious right allies go on and on about “giving the kids a great education” but it’s apparent they wouldn’t know good science education if it bit them squarely in the ass.  Remember folks, these are the same people who want to give public tax money to schools that teach the Loch Ness Monster is real.  Just chew on that for a bit, folks…

In conclusion, I think it is appropriate to end this post with the following clip from Bill Maher’s movie Religulous.  In it he is interviewing a U.S. Senator (Mark Pryor from Arkansas) who is trying to justify creationism.  When challenged by Maher, the Senator responds with the following, quite telling, line: “You don’t have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate…”

Yup, he really said that.  Watch for yourself (the dialog leading up to the line starts at 4:00):

Wow.

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Private School Vouchers in Louisiana and the Dumbing Down of Curricula: Not Just for Creationism!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 8, 2012

This past June, I reported that the science curriculum in Louisiana was on its way to going down the proverbial tubes, and evidence of this fact was made available through the uncovering of a creationist curriculum which wants to seriously teach the “reality” of the Loch Ness Monster.  Well, as I predicted over a year ago, due to the stupidity of Louisiana’s so-called “academic freedom” law, the state will now be funding (with taxpayer dollars) private school vouchers which will be used to push all manner of nonsense, far beyond your usual garden-variety young-earth creationism, in Louisiana schools.  It seems that the door to all manner of flummery and idiocy has been thrown wide open, and the students of these Louisiana voucher schools will be subjected to some truly unbelievable “facts” in their education; just get a load of these (from Mother Jones)…

14 Wacky “Facts” Kids Will Learn in Louisiana’s Voucher Schools

—By

Separation of church and what? Currier & Ives/Library of Congress

Thanks to a new law privatizing public education in Louisiana, Bible-based curriculum can now indoctrinate young, pliant minds with the good news of the Lord—all on the state taxpayers’ dime.

Under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s voucher program, considered the most sweeping in the country, Louisiana is poised to spend tens of millions of dollars to help poor and middle-class students from the state’s notoriously terrible public schools receive a private education. While the governor’s plan sounds great in the glittery parlance of the state’s PR machine, the program is rife with accountability problems that actually haven’t been solved by the new standards the Louisiana Department of Education adopted two weeks ago.

For one, of the 119 (mostly Christian) participating schools, Zack Kopplin, a gutsy college sophomore who’s taken to Change.org to stonewall the program, has identified at least 19 that teach or champion creationist nonscience and will rake in nearly $4 million in public funding from the initial round of voucher designations.

Many of these schools, Kopplin notes, rely on Pensacola-based A Beka Book curriculum or Bob Jones University Press textbooks to teach their pupils Bible-based “facts,” such as the existence of Nessie the Loch Ness Monster and all sorts of pseudoscience that researcher Rachel Tabachnick and writer Thomas Vinciguerra have thankfully pored over so the rest of world doesn’t have to.

Here are some of my favorite lessons:

1. Dinosaurs and humans probably hung out: “Bible-believing Christians cannot accept any evolutionary  interpretation.  Dinosaurs and humans were definitely on the earth at  the same time and may have even lived side by side within the past few  thousand years.”—Life Science, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

2. Dragons were totally real: “[Is] it possible that a fire-breathing animal really existed? Today  some scientists are saying yes. They have found large chambers in  certain dinosaur skulls…The large skull chambers could have contained  special chemical-producing glands. When the animal forced the chemicals  out of its mouth or nose, these substances may have combined and  produced fire and smoke.”—Life Science, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

3. “God used the Trail of Tears to bring many Indians to Christ.”—America: Land That I Love, Teacher ed., A Beka Book, 1994

4. Africa needs religion: “Africa is a continent with many needs.  It is still in need of the   gospel…Only about ten percent of Africans can read and write.  In some   areas the mission schools have been shut down by Communists who have   taken over the government.”—Old World History and Geography in Christian Perspective, 3rd ed., A Beka Book, 2004

[And, believe it or not, it actually gets worse from here... :( ]

Click here to read the rest of the Mother Jones article

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Thoughts on Calling the Creationist Bluff

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 2, 2012

I’m happy to say that I received a bit of a shout out from my scientific and skeptical colleague Greg Laden over at Science Blogs for my recent JREF Swift post “Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?” I think Greg makes some excellent points and observations about my post in his analysis, so I wanted to return the favor and make note of some of his points.

[**Aside: If you're in the Minneapolis area this July 5-8th, drop by Convergence 2012 and see both Greg and me.  We're both participating in the Con, and I look forward to discussing these topics with him (plus anyone else interested) more there.]

For Greg’s full breakdown, check out his entire post…

Should the Flying Spaghetti Monster Rear his Awesome Noo-Noo?

My comment: What’s next? Teaching “The Flintstones” as scientifically-verified, historical fact?  *facepalm*

Matt Lowry, whom I hope to be seeing in a couple of weeks, has written an article on his blog and republished on the JREF web site, called Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?

The idea is this. There has been a recent change in strategy among creationists (which, I’m sorry, but I may have started a few years back for which I apologize). Instead of pushing creationism per se, they push “academic freedom” which doubles as a way to repress the teaching about climate change, evolution, and other inconvenient science, and a way to introduce whatever other “alternative view” a creationist or anti-science teacher might pull out of his or her nether regions. An by “nether regions” I mean material provided by the Heartland Institute, stuff they picked up at the Creation Museum, or took off the Answers in Genesis web site.

Matt is re-suggesting and giving new air to an idea that we all mutter under our collective breath about now and then; If they want to teach their particular religion in the classroom, then fine, but then we also must teach the origin stories of every one of the thousands of distinct tribal groups documented by anthropologists, all the other non-Abrahamic state level religion such as Hinduism, the much-hated1 Islam, and, of course, we must provide the origin and evolution related parts of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. …

Exactly.  The basic premise is this: if you want to allow one non-scientific “alternative” (such as young-earth creationism, the standard form of creationism pushed by fundamentalist Christians in the United States), then you’d better be damn well ready to allow every other alternative that comes knocking at the public school door.  That means, as Greg points out, Islamic views of creationism (that’ll get the Christian fundies’ knickers in a twist), Raelianism (basically the atheistic idea that aliens, not God, created humankind – kind of like in the science fiction movie “Prometheus”), and perhaps even Scientology (which is so nutty I’ll just refer you here for more on that weirdness) should be expected to receive “equal time” in the public school science class.

Greg goes on…

… Matt is obviously being both serious and not serious at the same time. Sometimes this seems like a strategy one should try, a sort of massive passive aggressive attack. “Well, then, fine. Let’s just do that. Let’s see what the Bhagavad Gita says about cellular biology,” is how we would say it here in Minnesota, where Passive Aggressive originated and is still a refined art….

Exactly, again.  Of course, I’m not being serious – at least, I’m not being serious in the sense that I actually want our public science education system to collapse into a deepening, spiraling abyss of stupidity.  Which is what would happen if we allowed every goofball with a hare-brained “theory” to promote their nonsense as science.

Finally, some closing points from Greg on precisely why we shouldn’t be allowing YECs (or Islamic creationists, or Raelians, or Scientologists) to push their religious/pseudoscientific agenda in our schools:

… First (but not most important), the curriculum is full. Only time neutral suggestion are reasonable. At times it seems like everyone has a thing they want taught in school. … [emphasis mine]

Yup.  Just picture this… we allow the pseudoscientists to push whatever nonsense they wish, under the auspices of “equal time” and “teaching all views”.  If we were to seriously do that, how much time do you think would be left over to teach actual science to kids in our schools?  I’m thinking… around two weeks… which should really boost those ACT scores!

Greg continues:

… Another reason is the simple fact that if we let one of the hoard past the moat the rest will feel like they’ve been invited. The wall between church and state would actually have to be breached, or at least, a gate lowered, to let this happen. That can’t be allowed. This has happened already; at present, there are religiously based charter schools in the US being funded by tax dollars that give religious instruction and don’t teach evolution because the religion of the school does not accept it. …

I spoke to this above, but it bears mentioning again because Greg nails it here.  The danger to our public school system goes beyond watering down the science curriculum in school; it also goes to the broader question of funding.  If we allow these creationists to get away with pushing their nonsense as science in schools, then we will reinforce their arguments that funding should be deviated from the public schools to the kinds of blatantly religious schools Greg mentions.  And the less money for the public schools, the less they can afford to teach science (because it’s expensive!), and so on… I think you get the idea.

Greg’s last point, which is also (in my opinion) the most important one:

… Another reason which is the secret reason Matt would never really accept teaching the Origin Story of the Iroquois, as interesting and culturally relevant as it may be, as a scientific theory in a life science class, is because it is not science. A closely related but distinctly different reason is that it is not true.

One of the most important points Matt makes, and that I imply above, is that we are no longer talking about creationism vs. evolution. Increasingly we are talking about science in general. …

That’s it, in a nutshell.  We teach science in science classes, period.  If you want to talk about religion and God, there’s a place for that, even in our secular public schools: it’s called comparative religion or philosophy/humanities class.  And if you want to worship a particular deity, there’s also a place for that: it’s called church.

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Creationists Push for the Loch Ness Monster: How Pseudoscience Cross-Pollinates

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 25, 2012

I’ve written here before about the state of Louisiana’s so-called “academic freedom” law which is essentially a backdoor attempt to push creationism as science in public school science classes.  As many critics of the law pointed out when it was passed, this would serve to dumb-down science standards and inevitably harm the education of students in Louisiana by placing pseudoscientific notions such as creationism on an equal (or better) footing than accepted evolutionary science.  Well, as predicted, the consequences of this law are now becoming realized, and I’m sorry to say that things in Louisiana are getting even more stupid than I had predicted.  Read this article for more detail:

Christian fundamentalist textbooks touting the Loch Ness Monster as proof of Creationism

For the 2012-2013 school year, thousands of Louisiana students will receive state-funded vouchers to attend private schools, many of which hold religious affiliations.

One of these schools — Eternity Christian Academy, in Westlake, Louisiana — utilizes the A.C.E. Curriculum Program, a Christian fundamentalist course of study that teaches students to “see life from God’s point of view.” And unbeknownst to most theologians, scientists, and amateur monster hunters, the Lord’s viewpoint apparently incorporates Scotland’s favorite cryptid.

Herald Scotland reports that a certain textbook in the A.C.E. curriculum transcends standard Creationist teachings and instead informs students that the Loch Ness Monster is proof positive that evolution never happened. (And here I always assumed Nessie was The Great Beast from the Book of Revelations.) Explains Herald Scotland:

“One ACE textbook – Biology 1099, Accelerated Christian Education Inc – reads: “Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.”

Another claim taught is that a Japanese whaling boat once caught a dinosaur. It’s unclear if the movie Godzilla was the inspiration for this lesson.

Jonny Scaramanga, 27, who went through the ACE programme as a child, but now campaigns against Christian fundamentalism, said the Nessie claim was presented as “evidence that evolution couldn’t have happened. The reason for that is they’re saying if Noah’s flood only happened 4000 years ago, which they believe literally happened, then possibly a sea monster survived.”

The Loch Ness Monster as “evidence” of creationism?!!… Oh… my… FSM.

So it’s come to this, folks.  As a direct result of the “academic freedom” law in Louisiana, some versions of creationism which are probably even too extreme for many creationists are being seriously pushed as part of the “alternate science” curriculum available to teachers and students…

Apparently, this is the new cover for biology textbooks in Louisiana – image source

I wish I could say that I was surprised, but honestly I’m not.  This sort of development is the inevitable result of making science standards so loose (through the invocation of so-called “academic freedom”) that just about any kind of stupid, pseudoscientific nonsense which is completely unsupported by the scientific community can pass muster and be taught as if it were science.  As I wrote recently, perhaps this is just the kind of thing we need to have happen in states like Louisiana that try to give a thinly veiled wink and nod to creationists under the auspices of “academic freedom”; perhaps it is time to advertise far and wide that any kind of nonsense can be taught in Louisiana schools.  And perhaps there will be a point where the politicians in Louisiana may become so terribly embarrassed at what is passing for “education” (after all, one has to wonder how amenable they would be to Islamic creationism, for example) in their state that they might act to remedy the situation.

Until that day comes, however, I think we should be prepared for much more silliness to come out of Louisiana.  One thing’s for sure, it will be entertaining.

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“Teach Alternate Views” Humor from Non Sequitur

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 19, 2012

In some of my recent blog posts, I wondered about the utility of calling the bluff of creationists and going with their argument of “teaching all views” regarding evolution, creationism, etc.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, this June 18th cartoon from Non Sequitur just nails it :)

Image Source

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Creationism 25-Years After Edwards v. Aguillard

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 9, 2012

As a quick follow-up to my last post, I wanted to share with you all the following YouTube video from a symposium on the topic of how creationism has mutated and spread around the world in the last 25 years, after the famous Edwards v. Aguillard Supreme Court decision which found that teaching creationism as science violated the U.S. Constitution.  Give it a look…

Symposium | Why Does the Debate Matter?

On May 11th, 2012 Stanford’s Constitutional Law Center, along with the Center for Law and the Biosciences and the National Center for Science and Education (NCSE) hosted the symposium, “Science and Religion in the Classroom: Edwards v. Aguillard at 25.” Nathan Chapman (Stanford) moderated the panel, “Why Does the Debate Matter?” featuring Michael McConnell (Stanford), Hank Greely (Stanford), Ronald Numbers (Wisconsin), Michael Ruse (Florida State) and Eugenie Scott (NCSE).

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Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 6, 2012

[**Note: The following post is a guest post hosted over at the James Randi Educational Foundation's blog.  Enjoy! :) ]

Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?

Many readers of this blog are no doubt, like me, a bit disappointed (though not entirely surprised) that a creationist-friendly law protecting so-called “academic freedom” of teachers is now on the books in Tennessee. The “Monkey Law”, as has been labeled in honor of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial from 1925 , would seek to encourage teachers in the state’s public schools to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that arouse “debate and disputation” such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

Indeed, as the National Center for Science Education notes:

“Maybe it has a no-religion clause,” the Tennessean characterized the law’s critics as arguing, “but it gives a wink to teachers looking to promote their beliefs in the classroom — a move that would launch costly lawsuits that history shows school districts tend to lose.” Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, told the newspaper that her group is in touch with concerned parents across the state, “waiting for one to report First Amendment violations teachers could make under the mistaken notion that they now have full protection.”

A very similar law promoting this somewhat Orwellian notion of academic freedom was enacted in Louisiana in 2008. Of course, anyone who has followed the creationist movement for any amount of time sees quite clearly what is going on here: after their high-profile defeat in the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial in 2005, where they tried to push for explicitly including creationism (under the re-labeling of “intelligent design”), creationists are now falling back on an old, but tried and true, tactic – attacking and attempting to weaken the teaching of evolution. [Aside: Note that when I mention “creationists” I am referring to the usual, fundamentalist Christian variety so common in the United States, the young-earth variety. This is quite important, for reasons you’ll see later.]

My guess is that the thinking from the creationists is probably along these lines: we have these children in our churches where we can teach them the “truth”, so all we need to do is discourage the schools from teaching evolution. By keeping these children ignorant of evolution (and science in general), the creationists win by default; hence the language in the “Monkey Law” emphasizing the teaching of the non-existent “scientific weaknesses” of evolution. This is basically code telling the creationists to make up whatever fiction they wish about evolution and teach these straw man notions in public school science classes. And by doing so, the creationists then automatically steer the students in the direction of non-scientific alternative explanations.

Speaking of non-scientific alternatives, let us note that the new Tennessee law also makes specific references to the science of global warming and human cloning, both increasingly hot-button issues for social and religious conservatives in the United States. But, interestingly, the language is more open-ended and doesn’t stop explicitly at those topics; in fact, the language states that “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that arouse “debate and disputation”. Note that the law doesn’t specify among whom these topics can arouse debate and disputation. And I think it is on this point that the Tennessee lawmakers may end up getting hoisted by their own petard. I’m not referring to the inevitable lawsuits which will come along once some teacher starts to teach creationism explicitly (lawsuits which the state will, in all likelihood, lose). Rather, I am referring to the potential lawsuits that other wacky and non-scientific ideas are not being taught in Tennessee public school science classes. …

Click here to continue reading the entire post

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More Evidence Against Those Supposed “Faster-Than-Light” Neutrinos

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 20, 2012

In the ongoing story of the supposedly “faster-than-light” neutrinos discovered last year, there is another big mark against this claim being the real thing: the failure to replicate the phenomenon in an independent experiment.  As I stated then, most especially when dealing with an extraordinary claim such as this, one cannot begin to draw any conclusions until there have been separate, independent attempts to verify and replicate the results.  Until then, we should suspend judgment and remain skeptical of extraordinary claims.

Well, more of that judgment is now in… in a recent BBC News article, it is reported that a team (called Icarus) independent from the original research team (called Opera) from the same facility, Gran Sasso, in Italy failed to find the apparent “faster-than-light” signal which caused such an uproar last September:

Neutrinos clocked at light-speed in new Icarus test

An experiment to repeat a test of the speed of subatomic particles known as neutrinos has found that they do not travel faster than light.

Results announced in September suggested that neutrinos can exceed light speed, but were met with scepticism as that would upend Einstein’s theory of relativity.

A test run by a different group at the same laboratory has now clocked them travelling at precisely light speed.

The results have been posted online.

The results in September, from the Opera group at the Gran Sasso underground laboratory in Italy, shocked the world, threatening to upend a century of physics as well as relativity – which holds the speed of light to be the Universe’s absolute speed limit.

Now the Icarus group, based at the same laboratory, has weighed in again, having already cast some doubt on the original Opera claim. …

This is an excellent example of how real science, especially cutting-edge science, progresses.  Claims are not taken at face value; they are always open to criticism and are not necessarily accepted (especially if they go against well-established theories such as Einstein’s relativity) without good, strong, repeatable evidence.

In short, as Carl Sagan stated: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

And the evidence in support of the claims of “faster-than-light” neutrinos seems to be getting less extraordinary every day.

Posted in physics denial/woo, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

“Faster Than Light” Neutrinos Likely the Result of a Bad Cable Connection

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 23, 2012

**Update (2-25-12):  It seems the situation is a bit more complicated than previously thought, and there is another potential source of error that has been discovered.  More details at this CERN link:  http://press.web.cern.ch/press/PressReleases/Releases2011/PR19.11E.html

*****************************

Last September you may recall quite a bit of buzz going around about the supposed discovery of faster-than-light neutrinos.  While the media was going nuts about it, and while various cranks were crowing about “the physics establishment being overturned”, a number of scientists and science bloggers (including me) expressed great interest in this experimental result while also providing a cautious dose of skepticism about the entire affair.  That’s because a theory that is so well-tested as Einstein’s relativity could be overturned or radically adjusted by such a result only if we were absolutely sure of the outcome; and, at the time, not even the scientists who announced the FTL result were very sure of it…

This tended to be the general view among physicists about the apparent “faster-than-light” neutrinos :)

Well, it seems our skepticism was well-founded.  From a recent post on the Science Insider blog, it looks as if the “faster-than-light” neutrino signal (which amounted to a discrepancy of 60 nanoseconds or 0.000 000 060 seconds) was probably the result of a bad cable connection…

BREAKING NEWS: Error Undoes Faster-Than-Light Neutrino Results

It appears that the faster-than-light neutrino results, announced last September by the OPERA collaboration in Italy, was due to a mistake after all. A bad connection between a GPS unit and a computer may be to blame.

Physicists had detected neutrinos travelling from the CERN laboratory in Geneva to the Gran Sasso laboratory near L’Aquila that appeared to make the trip in about 60 nanoseconds less than light speed. Many other physicists suspected that the result was due to some kind of error, given that it seems at odds with Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which says nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. That theory has been vindicated by many experiments over the decades.

According to sources familiar with the experiment, the 60 nanoseconds discrepancy appears to come from a bad connection between a fiber optic cable that connects to the GPS receiver used to correct the timing of the neutrinos’ flight and an electronic card in a computer. After tightening the connection and then measuring the time it takes data to travel the length of the fiber, researchers found that the data arrive 60 nanoseconds earlier than assumed. Since this time is subtracted from the overall time of flight, it appears to explain the early arrival of the neutrinos. New data, however, will be needed to confirm this hypothesis. [emphasis added]

If true (and my money is on it being true), it wouldn’t surprise me at all. When I was an undergraduate doing research work in a mass spectrometry lab, it took me and my lab mate a couple of days to figure out why the damn thing wasn’t working properly. After almost two days of checking everything (every setting, every seal on the chamber, every line of code), what was the error?

Answer: a bad BNC cable *facepalm*

And I was just working on a lousy table-top sized mass spectrometer.  I can barely imagine the level of complexity in dealing with an experiment of the scale of the CERN-OPERA operation; the fact that they could have missed a lone, loose fiber optic cable doesn’t surprise me at all.

While I’m pretty certain that this error (or similar ones) will explain the situation, I still think it is worthy for some outside research group to attempt a replication of the original, apparent FTL neutrino result.  I say that because it could be worth really nailing down exactly what went wrong in this whole experiment so that other researchers don’t make similar mistakes in the future.  Of course, there is the outside chance (however infinitely remote that may be) that perhaps there is something legitimate to the FTL result.

Either way, science marches on and we learn something about the universe.  Neat, eh? :)

Posted in physics denial/woo, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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