The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘trial’

Creationists in Kansas Come Full Circle: They File a Lawsuit Against the Teaching of Evolution

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 28, 2013

Have you ever heard that phrase: truth can be stranger than fiction?  Well, the topic of this blog post seems to fit that statement.  In the history of creationism vs. evolutionary science, there have been all kinds of shenanigans played by creationists in their attempts to promote their religion as science; in the beginning, this often took the form of outright bans against the teaching of evolution.  In fact, it was just such a state ban in Tennessee that led to the now famous Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925.

Well, here we are nearly nine decades after that opening salvo in the creationist/evolution battles, and creationists in Kansas are taking a page from the old (and I mean OLD) playbook… they are filing a lawsuit to stop the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (since the NGSS promotes the teaching of evolution, which they claim “promotes atheism and materialism”).  Read this report from the National Center for Science Education for more details:

Anti-NGSS lawsuit filed in Kansas

Are the Next Generation Science Standards unconstitutional? A complaint filed in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas on September 26, 2013, alleges so. The complaint inCOPE et al. v. Kansas State Board of Education et al.contends (PDF) that the NGSS and the Framework for K-12 Science Education (on which the NGSS are based) “will have the effect of causing Kansas public schools to establish and endorse a non-theistic religious worldview … in violation of the Establishment, Free Exercise, and Speech Clauses of the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment” (pp. 1-2). The plaintiffs ask for a declaratory judgment in their favor and for an injunction prohibiting the implementation of the NGSS in Kansas or, failing that, an injunction prohibiting the implementation of the sections of the NGSS to which they object.

NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau told the Associated Press (September 26, 2013) that it was a familiar argument, but “no one in the legal community has put much stock in it.” He added, “They’re trying to say anything that’s not promoting their religion is promoting some other religion,” and dismissed the argument as “silly.” Steven Case, director of the University of Kansas’s Center for Science Education, concurred, citing previous court rulings as evidence that the new lawsuit “won’t hold up.” “This is about as frivolous as lawsuits get,” Case told the Associated Press. The Kansas state board of education voted 8-2 to accept the Next Generation Science Standards on June 11, 2013, as NCSE previously reported, and the lawsuit is evidently attempting to undo the decision. … [emphasis added]

I would like to speak to Josh Rosneau’s comment that I put in bold above; this really is the kind of thinking employed by creationists.  They believe that you’re either with them or against them, and there’s no such thing as a grey area within their black and white thinking.  Therefore, if you are not actively promoting their religious beliefs, then you are by default promoting the opposite of their religious beliefs which is atheism.  Never mind that one can hold religious beliefs, even adhere to Christianity, and still accept evolutionary science; these creationists think that there can be no room at all for modern science within their belief system.  So, if they view science as the enemy – as arch-creationist Ken Ham and his followers appear to believe – then science must be fought at every turn.  Hence stupidity like this lawsuit…

thestupiditburns

Of course, I have no doubt that this lawsuit will go down in flames, as it should.  And I have no doubt that it will prove to be yet another embarrassing blow to the creationist movement, maybe becoming as famous as the Dover vs. Kitzmiller trial a few years ago.  But I also have no doubt that these creationists will not stop there; they will attempt to thwart every effort to teach good science in our public schools.  And because of that fact, we must be ever vigilant.

Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Purveyor of Fake “Bomb Detectors” Found Guilty of Fraud

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 25, 2013

Wow, sometimes the good guys win one. In case you didn’t know, there has been a long-running skeptical campaign against a pseudoscientific fraudster, James McCormick, who sold bomb dowsing kits to the Iraqi military. Yes, you read that correctly, dowsing kits – as in “water witching”! And no, dowsing doesn’t work. And yes, it resulted in a lot of people getting killed, because these things didn’t do squat to detect bombs. And yes, it pleases me greatly to see this criminal finally receive justice…

James McCormick guilty of selling fake bomb detectors

James McCormick arrives at the Old Bailey
McCormick’s fake bomb detectors were used at Iraqi checkpoints staffed by the British military

A millionaire businessman who sold fake bomb detectors to countries including Iraq and Georgia, knowing they did not work, has been convicted of fraud.

James McCormick, 56, of Langport, Somerset, is said to have made £50m from sales and sold more than 6,000 in Iraq, the Old Bailey heard.

Police said the devices, modelled on a novelty golf ball finder, are still in use at some checkpoints.

One Iraqi bomb victim described him to the BBC as a “morally bankrupt” man.

During Tuesday’s hearing at the Old Bailey in London, the court was told McCormick’s detectors, which cost up to $40,000 (£27,000) each, were completely ineffectual and lacked any grounding in science.

Richard Whittam QC, for the prosecution, said: “The devices did not work and he knew they did not work.”

McCormick’s claims

McCormick had claimed the devices could bypass “all forms of concealment”, detecting drugs and people along with explosives, the court heard.

He claimed they would work under water and from the air, and would track an object up to 1km (3280ft) below the ground.

The bomb detectors came with cards which were “programmed” to detect a wide array of substances, from ivory to $100 banknotes.

Other substances could be detected, it was claimed, if put in a jar with a sticker which would absorb its “vapours” and was then stuck on a card that would be read by the machine.

In reality, McCormick’s device was based on $20 (£13) golf ball finders which he had purchased from the US and which had no working electronics.

Police said McCormick showed a complete disregard for the safety of those who used and relied upon the device for their own security and protection. …

Serves this scumbag right.  I hope they throw the book at him, not only for his crimes but also to send a clear message to the other fraudsters and charlatans out there: we’re watching you.  Skepticism matters.

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Creationist Proposes Show Trial to “Disprove” Genesis

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 29, 2013

Okay, so this news has been all over the Internet in recent days: a California creationist is challenging anyone to disprove the literal  interpretation of the book of Genesis.  More on this:

Creationist Wagers $10,000 That No One Can Prove Genesis Wrong

adam-eve-apple

…The wager is $10,000, the arena is a minitrial (featuring a  bailiff and a court reporter along with the judge), and the rules state that  evidence must be “objective, valid, reliable and calibrated.”

“They [evolutionists] are not stupid people, they are bright, but  they are bright enough to know there is no scientific evidence they can give in  a minitrial,” Dr. Joseph Mastropaolo,  who has a PhD in kinesiology and taught biomechanics and physiology at a  California University for more than 25 years, told The Guardian.   “It turns out that there is nothing in the universe [that] is evolving — everything is devolving, everything is going in the opposite  direction.”…

And here are the rules as outlined by Dr. Mastropaolo…

  • The non-literal Genesis advocate puts $10,000 in escrow with the judge.
  • The literal Genesis advocate and contributing writer for the Creation  Science Hall of Fame, Joseph Mastropaolo, puts $10,000 in escrow with the  judge.
  • If the non-literal Genesis advocate proves that science contradicts  the literal reading of Genesis, then the non-literal Genesis advocate is awarded  the $20,000.
  • If the literal Genesis advocate proves that science indicates the  literal reading of Genesis, then the literal Genesis advocate is awarded the  $20,000.
  • Evidence must be scientific, that is, objective, valid, reliable and  calibrated.
  • The preponderance of evidence prevails.
  • At the end of the trial, the judge hands the prevailing party both  checks.
  • The judge is a superior court judge.
  • The venue is a courthouse.
  • Court costs will be paid by the prevailing party.

Please make note of that bolded point in particular, because it really begs the question as to what exactly Dr. Mastropaolo (and other Young-Earth Creationists) consider to be “scientific evidence”.  And this is nothing new, as Mastropaolo has been here before, calling this challenge the Life Science Prize in the past.  As this excerpt from an article by Dr. Michael Zimmerman (creator of the Clergy Letter Project) details, in his previous attempts to put on these show trials, Mastropaolo seems to play fast and loose with definitions:

… When I proposed that we agree on definitions of evolution and creationism as a starting point, things went awry pretty quickly.  In response to my suggestion that we use the classic textbook definition for evolution (a change in allele frequencies in a population over time), Mastropaolo’s second argued that “change in allele frequency is about as meaningless a definition of evolution as can be offered.”  Mastropaolo himself countered with the following:  “evolution is the development of an organism from its chemicals to its primitive state to its present state.”  My Ph.D. in evolutionary biology didn’t help me make any sense out of that definition.  Mastropaolo went further and said that I “may not be competent to contend for the Life Science Prize.”

He very much liked the phrase “competent to contend for the Life Science Prize, also warning me that “Evolutionist hallucinators so out of touch with reality are psychotic by medical dictionary definition, and therefore not mentally competent to contend for the Life Science Prize.” … [emphasis added]

This displays a flaw common to creationist thinking: they define evolution to be something other than what scientists (or “evolutionists”, as they call them) define it to be!  So by playing around with the definitions like this, the creationists can stack the deck in their favor through simple equivocation.

But it gets better.  This whole thing seems to be copied from the famous JREF Million Dollar Challenge; a problem with how this is set up which is different from the JREF challenge: it is asking the challenger to prove a negative, whereas the JREF challenge is asking the challenger to demonstrate a particular claimed ability. This is a big difference, because by asking the challenger to prove a negative, it allows the creationists in this case to play fast and loose with definitions, standards of evidence, etc. – just as Mastropaolo has done in the past.

Last, but certainly not least, creationism has been put on trial as recently as 2005, and it lost quite badly.  Does anyone remember a little thing called the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial? 🙂

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Tennessee “Monkey Bill” Becomes Law and Science Education There Backslides

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 11, 2012

The National Center for Science Education has reported that the infamous “Monkey bill” in Tennessee has now become law by default, because while Gov. Haslam didn’t sign the bill, his refusal to veto it led to it automatically becoming law after a certain waiting period.  More from the NCSE…

Governor Bill Haslam allowed Tennessee’s House Bill 368 to become law without his signature on April 10, 2012, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal (April 10, 2012). The law encourages teachers 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.”

In a statement, Haslam explained, “I have reviewed the final language of HB 368/SB 893 and assessed the legislation’s impact. I have also evaluated the concerns that have been raised by the bill. I do not believe that this legislation changes the scientific standards that are taught in our schools or the curriculum that is used by our teachers. However, I also don’t believe that it accomplishes anything that isn’t already acceptable in our schools. The bill received strong bipartisan support, passing the House and Senate by a three-to-one margin, but good legislation should bring clarity and not confusion. My concern is that this bill has not met this objective. For that reason, I will not sign the bill but will allow it to become law without my signature.” …

… Probably contributing to Haslam’s unwillingness to sign the bill were the protests from state and national civil liberties, educational, and scientific groups, the editorials against the bill from the state’s major newspapers, and the petition effort organized by Larisa DeSantis of Vanderbilt University, which garnered thousands of signatures calling for a veto of HB 368.

What happens next seems inevitable: sooner or later, some creationist teachers are going to attempt to use this law as cover to teach creationism in public school science classes; they’ll get called out on it and taken to court; they will lose, likely costing the state many millions of dollars (plus giving them much-deserved embarrassment) in the process.

It looks like Tennessee has taken one step along the road presented by this graphic:

Way to go, Tennessee!  Welcome back to the 19th century!!!

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Help to Turn Back the Assault on Science Education in Tennessee!

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 4, 2012

Finally getting back to completing my series of recent posts about evolution and creationism (see here and here for the previous ones), I wanted to pass along an update about a situation in Tennessee.  It seems that, in its infinite wisdom, the Tennessee legislature has decided to pass  its own version of the Louisiana “Academic Freedom” Law, which is little more than a touchy-feely way of saying that they want to protect teachers who want to teach creationism in public school science classes. The National Center for Science Education has an update on the bill…

Continued opposition to Tennessee’s “monkey bill”

Tennessee’s House Bill 368 was sent to Governor Bill Haslam on March 29, 2012 — and columnists in newspapers across the state are continuing to press the case against the bill. Nicknamed the “monkey bill” by former Speaker of the House Jimmy Naifeh, HB 368 would encourage teachers 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.” Haslam now has till April 9, 2012, to sign the bill, allow it to become law without his signature, or veto it.

The Murfreesboro Daily News Journal (March 29, 2012) editorially lamented, “At a time when Tennessee is becoming a national center for technological and alternative fuel research and development, it is odd — to say the least — that our state Legislature would push scientific debate back more than 85 years,” adding, “Science and teacher associations across the state and nation oppose this legislation, yet our Legislature is determined to impose its will on the classrooms of Tennessee, showing a general disrespect for scientific academia in favor of running its religious views up a flagpole.”

Writing in The Tennessean (March 29, 2012), Leslie Brunetta — a science writer and cancer survivor — argued that antievolution bills such as Tennessee’s “are bad for my health and the health of each of the 1.5 million Americans diagnosed with cancer every year,” for while evolutionary theory helps to guide cancer research, the “challengers of evolution theory” provide no actual research program. She concludes, “If you’re looking for a cure for your cancer, don’t look to evolution-deniers for hope. As for me, I give thanks to Darwin and the researchers who have stood on his shoulders.”

And writing in the Knoxville News Sentinel (March 30, 2012), columnist Pam Strickland commented, “Tennessee has already tried this teaching creationism once before, The story is known worldwide as the Scopes Monkey Trial and is told through the play and movie ‘Inherit the Wind.'” She added, “if Haslam or his staff is reading, they need to know that the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Association of Biology Teachers, the National Association of Bioscience Teachers and the National Earth Science Teachers Association are all against HB 368.”

So that’s the bad news: the Tennessee legislature has passed the bill.  But there is good news: it seems that the governor of Tennessee is having serious reservations about signing the bill into law, seemingly because he sees it as ripe for a lawsuit which the state will inevitably lose while spending millions upon millions of dollars in court costs attempting to defend.  And, especially in a time when taxpayer dollars are so tight, it doesn’t make much fiscal sense to try defending a law which is highly likely to go down in flames.

That’s where you and I come in: we need to help encourage Gov. Haslam to veto this bad legislation!  To do so, please consider signing onto the following petition, and then spread the word to all of your friends – especially the ones who live in Tennessee!

Urge Tennessee Governor Haslam to support sound science and veto HB 368

As parents, educators, and concerned citizens, we call on you to veto HB 368, which encourages teachers to present scientific topics such as evolution and global warming as “controversial.” This bill is deeply misleading and will only serve to confuse students about well-established scientific concepts. Our children need the best education possible in order to excel in college, compete in a 21st-century job market, and cope with the future challenges of climate change. Governor Haslam, we strongly urge you to support sound science and veto HB 368. …

Click here to read the entire petition

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

85th Anniversary of the Scopes “Monkey” Trial

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 6, 2010

As a reference to the long & twisting history of the evolution/creationism conflict in the United States, I just wanted to point out that today is the 85th anniversary of the infamous Scopes “Monkey” Trial. This trial was an American legal case that tested the Butler Act which made it unlawful to teach any thoughts on the origin of man other than the Biblical account of man’s origin – in other words, it was illegal to teach evolution.  John T. Scopes had the audacity to actually teach his students science (the horror!), and he was fined and put on trial for doing so…

Ah, how far we’ve come in 85 years.  Not only is evolution now recognized as the unifying principle in biology – as well as being confirmed & connected via geology, archaeology, anthropology, chemistry, physics, and cosmology – but across the world the notion of creationism is widely recognized by educated & thinking people as thinly-veiled religiously motivated pseudoscience.

However, despite this progress, the forces of ignorance and anti-science continue their crusade to hold us back.  While their attempts to force creationism in its varied forms – from Young Earth Creationism to so-called “Intelligent” Design – into science classes have been thwarted time and again, they still fight against the teaching of evolutionary science at every turn.  They can’t make it illegal, but they can (and do) pressure teachers, principals, and school boards to dumb down, or even delete completely, the teaching of evolution in schools.

But we’ll fight on.  We have to.  If you’re interested in joining the fight on the side of science & reason, I suggest you get in touch with the National Center for Science Education.

Posted in creationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Church of Scientology Convicted of Fraud in French Court

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 28, 2009

Well, this latest news caps a really crappy week for the Church of Scientology, which makes me happy 🙂

Last May, I blogged about a story on how the French government was pursuing a court case against the Church of Scientology for fraud.  Well, today the verdict is in: guilty. And what was revealed during the course of the trial was very interesting…

Scientologists convicted of fraud

A French court has convicted the Church of Scientology of fraud, but stopped short of banning the group from operating in France.

Two branches of the group’s operations and several of its leaders in France have been fined.

The case came after complaints from two women, one of whom said she was manipulated into paying more than 20,000 euros (£18,100) in the 1990s.

A Scientology spokesman told the BBC the verdict was “all bark and no bite”.

France regards Scientology as a sect, not a religion.

Prosecutors had asked for the group’s French operations to be dissolved and more heavily fined, but a legal loophole prevented any ban.

Instead, a Paris judge ordered the Church’s Celebrity Centre and a bookshop to pay a 600,000-euro fine.

Alain Rosenberg, the group’s head in France, was handed a two-year suspended jail sentence and fined 30,000 euros.

Three other leading members of the group were also fined.

I have to admit, given the Church of Scientology’s overly litigious nature and proclivity for targeting their critics as “fair game” for a number of aggressive strong-arm tactics, it is refreshing to see someone stand up so strongly to them.  I suppose that more and more people are getting tired of the CoS cult and their quest for brainwashing & manipulating their members.  But, you can expect the CoS to continue their loathsome practices for as long as they are able.

And they can try, but as long as they do there will be those who oppose them.

Posted in cults, psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Scientology on Trial

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 28, 2009

An interesting bit of news… apparently, the leaders of the “Church” of Scientology (CoS) are on trial in France for fraud.  Here’s a news clip I saw from the BBC about it…

Now those of you who are familiar with the CoS won’t be surprised by this in the least.  But just in case you weren’t convinced by Tom Cruise’s public displays of frothing insanity that the CoS was nothing more than an international money grubbing, brainwashing cult, I suggest you check out Xenu.net (also known as “Operation Clambake” 🙂 ) for more info.  If you know anyone who is expressing even a passing interest in Scientology and/or Dianetics, tell them to look at Xenu.net first, and that will set them straight!

I agree with the prosecuting lawyer in the case in that the fact that the CoS is being taken to court at all is a victory of sorts.  This is because the CoS has a history of attempting to silence their critics through a variety of intimidating tactics.

In any case, stay tuned for more info.  Apparently, the ruling from the French court will be handed down June 17th – it will certainly be interesting to see what happens.

Posted in cults, psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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