Volume: Number 10 | Issue: Number 4|
Date: APRIL 2005
For the Members of Central Ohioans
for Rational Inquiry
Founded by Ann Pratt in 1996
“What you think you know - may not be so.”
Skeptics’ Forum – The Public Is Welcome
MEETING: Saturday April 16 at 10 AM.
PLEASE NOTE: This is the 3rd Saturday of April!
LOCATION: Hilliard Branch - 4772 Cemetery Road, Hilliard, OH 43026
TOPIC: The recent ABC presentation concerning UFOs w/ Peter Jennings.
SPEAKER: After viewing the tape, a roundtable discussion will follow.
BUSINESS: Follows discussion.
LUNCH: Follows Meeting; attendees are invited to gather at a nearby venue.
IN THIS ISSUE:
ARTICLE: “Appalling rhetoric in the Schiavo case
EDITORIAL: Are we living according to a “Daily Show” script?!? Part 2
FALLACIOUS ASSAULTS: The Pinellas Park Protestors
RATIONALLY SPEAKING: Book Review by Massimo Pigliucci
MINUTES: March Meeting.
"Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know." –
[Michel Eyquem, seigneur de Montaigne (1533–1592)]
"The degree of one's emotion varies inversely with one's knowledge
of the facts - the less you know the hotter you get." –
(Click thumbnail to view)
Don Wright - SLATE
ARTICLE: Lifers on the Loose
The appalling rhetoric in the Schiavo case
By Cathy Young, a contributing editor @ Reason Magazine March 29, 2005
This column originally appeared in the Boston Globe.
I wish I could see something good or noble in the political and media circus over the sad fate of Terri Schiavo—such as a nation's willingness to focus its attention on one person's life or death. No doubt, some people trying to keep Schiavo, or her body, alive are driven by sincere humanitarian passion. But, mostly, this spectacle has been a sickening display of cynicism and fanaticism.
According to every credible source, there's no such person as Terri Schiavo anymore. Her cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that governs consciousness, was destroyed 15 years ago by oxygen deprivation during a cardiac arrest. What remains is a body in a vegetative state, capable of physical reflexes including random eye movements, meaningless sounds, and facial contortions that may look like smiles or frowns.
Loved ones often wishfully mistake these reflexes for signs of awareness; no one blames Schiavo's parents for clinging to such hopes. Far more blameworthy are the know-nothing activists, politicians, and pundits who tout video clips of Schiavo as proof she is fully conscious. These clips of Schiavo exposed in her pathetic state strike me as a far worse indecency on television than Janet Jackson's exposed breast.
Let's leave aside for a moment the legal and constitutional issues. What's truly striking is the volume of hysteria and misinformation from Schiavo's so-called supporters.
There have been outlandish assertions that Schiavo can communicate and even talk, despite findings to the contrary by her doctors and court-appointed guardian. Miraculously recovered patients whose condition was in no way comparable to Schiavo's—such as Kate Adamson, who was unresponsive for 70 days and was misdiagnosed as being in a permanent vegetative state—have been paraded on TV. A neurologist with right-to-life affiliations and limited expertise opined, without a medical examination or tests, that Schiavo may be minimally conscious—a claim one staunch conservative, Dr. Elizabeth Whelan of the American Council on Science and Public Health, dismisses as "politically generated junk science. "
The rhetoric flies high, with comparisons to Nazi Germany, concentration camps, and executions; with cries of "death by starvation" (is it "death by suffocation" to take a patient off a respirator?), "murder, " and "medical terrorism"—that last one from House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Some have compared Terri to Jesus. Her husband Michael, who wants her feeding tube removed, has been compared to wife-killer Scott Peterson. On the website of the conservative National Review, writer Kathryn Jean Lopez railed at the feminist groups' lack of outrage that "a man—and his male lawyer and doctor—backed up by a male judge, is cutting off his wife's food." We live in bizarre times when a conservative chides feminists for not acting like professional male-bashers.
Amidst such hysteria, is it any wonder that some champions of "life" are making death threats against judges and legislators who have ruled or voted the "wrong" way?
The case does involve tough questions—about Michael Schiavo's integrity (though it's hard to sort out the conflicting and biased reports) and about the certainty that Terri Schiavo had expressed a wish not to be kept alive in this condition. But for the ideologues driving this campaign, those questions aren't the heart of the matter. In National Review, Princeton University jurisprudence professor Robert George, a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, explicitly stated that even if fully known, Terri Schiavo's prior expressed wishes would be irrelevant, supposedly because we can't know ahead of time what we will want in a severely disabled state.
I'm not one to see a theocratic threat hiding under every bed. But here, the issue is whether life-and-death decisions are to be made by individuals within the law, or by the state on the basis on some people's understanding of what God wants. And I stress some people's: The majority of religious Americans support the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube, and even evangelicals are evenly divided.
Is there hypocrisy on both sides? Sure. Some on the left might well be championing Schiavo's survival as a disability rights or women's rights cause if it weren't being championed by right-to-life conservatives. The liberals who lambaste Republicans for trampling states' rights like federalism only when it suits them. But two wrongs don't make a right; and what the right is doing in the Schiavo's case is indeed a great wrong.
Please add your info to the *CORI* *MAILING* *LIST*
@ the NEW and IMPROVED CORI Website: Ohio Skeptic
Thanks for your help! [- Charlie Hazlett ]
Are we living according to a Daily Show script?!
– Pt. 2
In the March BULLETIN, we said:
The 2004 U.S. presidential election was decided by voters who oppose the theory of evolution or await the Rapture or speak in “unknown tongues” or trust faith-healing or have a name for their angel or send money to television preachers or think Satan is a real spirit stalking America. Some people predict a clash of civilizations – between the irrational theocracies of the Middle East and, uh, well . . . whatever!
Continuing along that track:
The language of those who would continue the imprisonment of Terri Schiavo is imprecise, either due to ignorance or for purposes of propaganda. She is not "disabled" in the normal context of the word. Her body is, for all practical purposes, dead - being kept alive solely through extraordinary means. She's not in a coma. People recover from comas. Her condition is diagnosed as a "persistent vegetative state." There is no medical record of someone recovering from a persistent vegetative state. This is not just a state of brain damage. Terri Schiavo has sustained, irreversible brain death. “The lights are on but nobody's home.”
In this case, there is no one to experience pain or suffering because the brain isn't functioning in a way that allows for that experience. [ - Ed]
Don Wright - SLATE
During Our National Feeding Tube Nightmare:
Dr. William Hammesfahr, the only one of the eight neurologists to examine Terri Schiavo who asserted that she was not in a persistent vegetative state, has been touted (by Fox News' Shemp Hannity, among others) as an outstanding physician who has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine. In fact, his "nomination" consists of a letter from his Congressman to the Nobel Committee stating that he deserves to be nominated for the "Nobel Peace Prize in Medicine" (the Committee was no doubt impressed).
Dr. Hammesfahr is the practitioner of a questionable method of treatment for stroke survivors that is generally not recognized in the medical profession (in plain English, he may be a quack); he has been disciplined by the Florida Medical Board and has never published in legitimate peer-reviewed journals. [Cathy Young in Reason ]
Who was the first blogger?
" ... though I adore them with all the duty possible, yet the more a man considers and observes them, the less he finds of difference between them and other men."
[Samuel Pepys, diarist, observing his boss, Charles II]
Charlie Hazlett and Art Hites have crossed over into blog world. A blog is a web log, a cyber journal, informal and personal. Both blogs are representative of their composers’ life views.
Why blog? Why not?
Please Visit Charlie's Corner ;
and Rev. Art - Minister of Rants
To contribute to the Bulletin or to comment –
Contact, Rev. Art - Editor
Fallacious Assaults - from Bag News
Those FLORIDA PROTESTORS
The Looney Left doesn’t own the franchise
for the theatre of the ridiculous!
In taping over their mouths, are these protesters suggesting that they are being denied the right to give life to their views?
If Mrs. Schiavo's brain has essentially been reduced to spinal fluid, and any life-like behavior on her part is simply the result of involuntary reflexes, what do these folks mean by "life?"
If credible courts have repeatedly heard this case, and have consistently ruled that it was Mrs. Schiavo's intent not to be kept alive in this manner, then who exactly is being silenced?
What's with the placement of the tape if Mrs. Schiavo's subsistence has no oral aspect to it, and her nutrition is provided solely through a gastric tube?
Do the protesters believe life lasts forever - just as long as nobody breathes a word otherwise?
Considering that the heart attack which led to Mrs. Schaivo's brain damage was caused by bulimia, couldn't these protesters be seen as attacking her?
"Well, Little Missy Terri - if you had just kept your food down, you'd still have a life today" . . . )
Rationally Speaking - monthly e-column, April 2005
© by Massimo Pigliucci, 2005
No icons of evolution
A review of Neo-Creationist Jonathan Wells’
“Icons of Evolution: Why Much of What We Teach
About Evolution is Wrong”,
Washington, DC: Regnery, 2000
Since there are omissions, simplifications, and inaccuracies in some general biology textbooks, obviously the modern theory of evolution must be wrong. This is the astounding line of reasoning that provides that backbone of Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution. It is the latest book in a series of neo-creationist productions, dressed with the slightly more respectable label of “intelligent design theory”, to drive a wedge into the perceived perniciousness of modern science, and of biology in particular. This is another astonishing example of the fact that evolution-deniers seem to consider attacks on science popularizing as genuine intellectual feats, as if they had found huge holes in the primary literature that truly constitutes the core of any respectable science.
Wells is a fellow of the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, which has been at the forefront of the neo-creationist assault on science over the last few years. Accordingly, his book is predictably endorsed by other fellows of the same institution and luminaries of the evolution-deniers movement such as Michael Behe (author of Darwin’s Black Box), Phillip Johnson (Darwin on Trial and The Wedge of Truth, among others) and Dean Kenyon (Biochemical Predestination and Of Pandas and People). Wells himself seems particularly well positioned to engage in this never-ending debate given his double PhD in theology and molecular biology. Alas, Icons falls much short of a critique of evolutionary theory, or indeed of any significant contribution to the “evolution wars.”
Wells’ idea is simple: in the ten chapters that make up most of the book, he tackles an equal number of what he calls “icons,” i.e., myths, of evolutionary biology, attempting to show how biology textbooks don’t tell the whole story, are out of date, or oversimplify what is known. From there he concludes that—since these icons are the best “proofs” of evolution—biologists don’t really have a leg to stand on and they should once and for all abandon their ideological positions and open their minds to a truer and better science, which of course must include the possibility of intelligent supernatural design .
There are several flaws with this line of reasoning, which I will examine in turn. First, textbook examples are no “proof” of anything. Second, Wells’ critique of the ten icons is much less devastating than he seems to think. And third, science simply doesn’t work the way Wells apparently conceives it.
The fact that science (not only biology) textbooks contain plenty of oversimplifications and inaccuracies, and occasionally even major conceptual errors, is not news to anybody and has always been decried by professional scientists and educators. There are sadly understandable reasons for this state of affairs. For one thing, general science textbooks are written by people who are either not practicing scientists or are directly competent in a fraction of the topics to be covered. Even when several authors collaborate the situation does not improve significantly. Second, textbooks (unlike technical research books) are partially financial operations, so that sometimes academic rigor gets sacrificed in lieu of more pressing matters such as publishing deadlines (although there are first rate textbooks around, many of which Wells conveniently forgets to mention). Third, pedagogical efficacy is often considered—rightly or not—more important than scientific rigor; after all, the audience is made of young students with little background in the discipline to be studied, not by professionals who understand the subtleties of the subject matter. Regrettable as all of this is, to conclude that therefore evolutionary biology is a big lie constructed on thin evidence is analogous to the preposterous suggestion of abandoning, say, quantum mechanics because many physics textbooks do not portray it accurately, or even make egregious conceptual mistakes in explaining it. It just doesn’t follow, and it is pure wishful thinking on Wells’ part to pretend otherwise.
As for the icons themselves, I will have to limit myself to a brief discussion of a couple of them here, but I provide a more detailed, chapter-by-chapter, analysis elsewhere (Pigliucci 2001). Let me therefore consider the first and last—and perhaps the most important—of the “icons”: the Miller-Urey experiments on the origin of life, and the current status of the research on the origin of humans.
As is well known, in 1953 Stanley Miller—at the time a student of Urey—published a historical paper in which he demonstrated the possibility of the inorganic synthesis of some of the fundamental building blocks of life, given conditions that were thought to resemble those of the ancient earth. This experiment is still presented in many textbooks as the scientific answer to the question of the origin of life. And Wells is right in maintaining that it shouldn’t be. For one thing, even if we do accept Miller’s results at face value, they are far from constituting an answer to the origin of life question. At most they provide an interesting beginning. More importantly, the recent consensus among geochemists is that the ancient earth atmosphere was essentially chemically neutral, not reducing like the one Miller simulated.
However, textbooks should still devote space to Miller’s experiment for its historical (and pedagogical) value: not only it was the first modern piece of empirical research on the origin of life, thereby taking the whole field away from metaphysical speculation, but it is also a great example of how science progresses by questioning its own assumptions and results.
As for this being an icon of evolution in Wells’ sense, there are two problems with his position. First, Wells gives his readers the completely misleading impression that the field of research on the origin of life is still at the level of Miller’s 1953 experiment, and that given the questionable validity of the latter, the whole enterprise is in disarray. Au contraire, this is an area of extremely fecund theoretical and empirical activity, with new hypotheses, findings and experiments being published at a very rapid pace . More to the point of the creation-evolution debate, the Miller experiments and the whole question of the origin of life have nothing to do with the truth or lack thereof of evolutionary theory. By definition, evolution is something that happens after life originates on a planet, and cannot be invoked to answer the question of how this happened. By the same token, evolutionary theory cannot be blamed for not being able to solve the problem of the origin of life even if the latter might remain a mystery forever. It is certainly true, as creationists are fond of saying, that evolution requires life to have originated, but the two are entirely distinct scientific questions, addressed by different fields of research. For that matter, evolution also requires a universe to exist beforehand, but nobody would say that if we don’t understand the origin of the universe this is a fatal blow to Darwinism (well, actually, naive young-earth creationists such as Duane Gish do, but that is another story: Pigliucci 2000b, chapter 11).
The “ultimate” icon in Wells’ book concerns the story of human descent. This is perhaps one of the most peculiar chapters in the entire book, because even Wells is forced to concede ample ground to the evolutionists! He begins the chapter with the usual complaint about the naive scientists that were fooled by the “Piltdown man” hoax in 1912. I know of several scientists who feel the sting of shame, that Wells wants them never to forget, because of science having been duped by a fraudulent finding. But Piltdown was neither the first nor the last practical joke scientists will ever face. Furthermore, it is yet another beautiful example—which textbooks should promote—of how science really works. It is true that this alleged intermediate between humans and chimps was more or less accepted (not without challenge) for several decades. However, it is also true that the human fossil record at the time was so scant that it was very difficult to raise substantive objections to the Piltdown findings. More importantly, scientists—not creationists—uncovered the hoax, a development prompted by the very fact that more and more discoveries of genuine human and proto-human fossils made it quite clear that Piltdown didn’t fit anywhere in the emerging picture. Since science works by a consilience of evidence , it was the progress of science in virtue of its self-correcting mechanisms that prompted evolutionists to reject Piltdown and eventually uncover the fraud. I have yet to find a similar example of acknowledgement of error in the evolution-denying literature, despite the fact that such errors have been ubiquitous in that literature.
Wells, as much as he desperately tries to debunk what to him is the most crucial component of evolutionary theory, the history of human descent, is backed against the wall by his own knowledge of biology. Unlike more naive creationists, he has to grudgingly admit that “Many human-like fossils have been found since 1912, and unlike Piltdown they appear to be genuine. Some have distinctively ape-like features, while others are more human-like” (p. 218) and “Obviously, the human species has a history” (p. 223). So much for destroying the ultimate icon.
But perhaps the most damning point about Wells’ book is the general conception of science that it emerges from it. Given his scientific training, he should have known better. It is clear that either the education system at Berkeley has failed in his case, or that Wells does indeed have an ideological agenda (which he was forced to admit in a public debate with me at the University of Tennessee. See http://burns.tns.utk.edu/research/cb/evdebate.htm). Wells’ whole argument hinges on the idea of the crucial proof of a scientific theory. If that pillar fails, the whole enterprise is useless. Now, Wells is far from showing that any of the icons are in fact fundamentally flawed or represent an insurmountable obstacle for evolutionists. But even if he succeeded, Wells’ conception of science is so simplistic as to be labeled by philosophers of science as “naive falsificationism.”
Falsificationism, it may be recalled, is the idea proposed by philosopher Karl Popper that any amount of positive evidence is not enough to sustain a theory unless such theory also makes predictions that could—in principle—being demonstrated to be wrong, i.e., the theory is potentially falsifiable. Popper, however, did not advocate discarding a scientific theory at the first sign of trouble. Indeed, Thomas Kuhn clearly showed that real science is a lot more messy and that before switching paradigms the amount of trouble has to be substantial, or one risks living in a perennial state of flux in which no progress is actually possible . The real “evidence” for evolution is not to be found in individual experiments, and it is certainly not to be expected in textbooks for beginning students. Rather, it is found in the enormous amount of facts about the biotic world that accumulate every year in the primary literature and that make no sense outside of the evolutionary paradigm. Components of this paradigm are constantly being tested in countless laboratories around the world, and—for the most part—the theory has withstood the test of time. More importantly, this is the way science really works, regardless of Wells’ naive and ideologically motivated views that it should be otherwise (he admits in an online article, available at http://www.tparents.org/library/unification/talks/wells/DARWIN.htm, that he enrolled in his second PhD—in molecular biology—for the express purpose of “destroying Darwinism”).
What have we to learn from this latest attempt at debunking evolution? Two things. First, that it is indeed a good idea to pay more attention to how our textbooks are written. This is not just so that individuals like Wells will not be able to use their cheap ammunition in a public debate, but more importantly because the “icons” can actually be properly used to show students that science is an engaging and ever changing enterprise, not a monolithic block of static knowledge. Second, we should finally get the message that evolution deniers are always at work, and that they are making inroads with both the public and politicians. How long until we get out of the ivory tower and start defending reason and science, as well as doing a better job at teaching them?
Acknowledgments. I wish to thank the following people for a critical reading of this manuscript and for providing me with valuable insights and suggestions: Wesley Elsberry, Jim Foley, Carl Johnson, Niall Shanks, Frank Steiger, and Dave Ussery.
One of Dr. Pigliucci's interests is in the general area of philosophical research, where he got a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee under the supervision of Dr. Jonathan Kaplan.
The Pigliucci Evolutionary Ecology Lab, focusing on plant ecological and evolutionary genetics, was established in 1996 at the University of Tennessee, in Knoxville, and has recently moved to SUNY-Stony Brook, on beautiful Long Island (NY).
The lab conducts research in the general area of plant ecological and evolutionary genetics. The approach is mostly organismal, although molecular work is done in collaboration with other laboratories. The major types of research employed are field studies of the ecology of natural populations and laboratory / greenhouse studies under controlled environmental conditions. There is an emphasis on sophisticated, computer-assisted, statistical and graphical analyses of the data obtained. Underlying most of their efforts is the goal of a better understanding of how adaptations evolve and what factors limit their efficacy.
CORI Minutes for March 5, 2005
Speaker: David Chew, M.B.A.;C.P.A.;
Lecturer in Accounting and Business, Ohio Dominicum College
Topic: An Overview- Social Security (S.S.)
Following are some interesting points brought out by speaker:
1. First social security measures were taken by individual companies to benefit their employees.
The first government sponsored program instituted by Bismarck in Germany in 1800's
2. In U.S. Social security became a reality in 1936 which consisted of retirement and death benefits at a time when average life expectancy was 63.6 yrs. of age.
3. In the intervening years other programs emerged:
a. 1939-Spousal benefits
b. 1954- Farmers entered the program
c.1956 Unemployment and Disability benefits added.
d. 1961- Employees could opt for lower benefits at age 62.
e. 1965 Medicare benefits started
f. 1983- Trust fund formed- Surviving spouse and children benefits expanded.
4. Increasing burden on the system , especially since fewer workers are contributing .
It is estimated that if nothing is done the system will go bankrupt by 2042
5. Various proposals to shore up the system are suggested and are being discussed
a. Slowly increasing the eligibility age to at least 67. This has already been started for younger age groups.
b. Decreasing benefits as well as increasing workers and employer's contributions. At present contributions by both are removed from incomes up to 90,000.00 dollars.
c. Privatizing a portion of the employee’s contribution and reducing benefits.
6. Initial response of the public has been negative to changes while at the same time recognizing the need for change.
7. Speaker pointed out that Medicare and Medicaid programs are in much more dire straits as costs are increasing at a much greater rate than losses in the S.S. program.
Respectfully submitted, Eleanor Reibel, Sec'y.
<=== "Arrrgghh! I should have killed that
@~X^%#*$! Rev. Art when I had him in First Grade!!
Good fortune. Please spread the meme.
COMMENT! Don't smoke in bed . . .