Stupidity on Stilts

It’s the now-famous Megan Fox review of modern science. Reposted from Skeptical Analysis.

– by John Blanton

Up front, full disclosure: I did not coin the phrase, “stupidity on stilts.” My inspiration is Professor Paul Braterman of Glasgow University.  When blogger  asked him about some creationist pseudo scientific babble he called it “bullshit on stilts.” I’ve merely given bullshit another name and adopted the phrase for my own use. I’m thinking I’m going to find it a lot of employment. Let’s start here.

In  the video embedded below, fundamentalist Christian home-school mom and conservative cultural critic Megan Fox — no relation to “Transformers” actress Megan Fox — visits the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and purports to “audit” the museum for its “liberal bias.”

This is so remarkable. What I will do is hopscotch through the 30-minute clip and pick up legible pieces of Fox’s monologue and then apply some Skeptical Analysis. I will start with a screen shot from the video as available on YouTube. The original is not top-notch videography, and there’s not much I can do about that. I pumped up the contrast a bit, but that’s as far as I could go.

MeganFox-01

She starts by examining a display on eukaryotic cells. The display seems to be explaining the distinction between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. She’s puzzled, having not been exposed to the concept before. True confession: Before I started following the creationists around 25 years ago this was a puzzle to me, as well. If they covered this in my high school class I must have been asleep. For the record, prokaryotes are simple cells with no nucleus. Eukaryotes are more complex cells, having their chromosomes contained within a cell nucleus. Bacteria are prokaryotes. Complex life forms such as us are made up of eukaryotic cells. Here’s what Fox has to say:

Now they’re going to tell you how the evolution of the cell begins.

She reads from the display, and I’ll just transcribe from the image.

MeganFox-02

Eukaryotes are different from other cells because they have a nucleus, which contains the cell’s DNA, and other specialized compartments. These different compartments perform different tasks within the cell.

Only, after Fox says “DNA” she just continues with “blah blah blah.” Then she resumes reading.

At first, all eukaryotes were single-celled, and many still are today.

The display text continues:

But every organism, living and extinct, that is not single-celled—including you—is made up of eukaryotic cells.

What Fox says at this point is so remarkable.

What? If many still are today, then that would support the theory that they have never changed, that have always been as they are today. Not that they started some place else, and they are here, but that they were always this, and still are today. This makes no sense. No sense.

Fox quotes the text:

… living and extinct, that is not single-celled—including you—is made up of eukaryotic cells.

Then:

Well then doesn’t that suggest that everything was made up of eukaryotic cells in the beginning? Also that they weren’t something else that became eukaryotic cells. They are always and have been eukaryotic cells.

None of this makes any sense. It doesn’t make sense to a 5th grader. It doesn’t make sense to a 3rd grader. It doesn’t make sense to a 30-year-old. None of this makes any sense.

She continues.

This is muddled thinking. This is thinking from like Darwin thinking from, you know, a hundred years ago. And we should know better by now. We really should know better by now. Darwin once said that if the single cell is more complex than I think it is, then all of my theory is … I’m going to have to start all over again.

Between now and then what we have discovered is that the single cell … if the single cell back then were, you know, a Buick, then the single cell now is a galaxy. So Darwin, himself, would have said, “OK, back to the drawing board. None of this makes any sense.” But yet we’re still stuck with 100-year-old science. Disgusting. No one cares. Does no one care? Does no one want to know the truth? Because I want to know the truth. Because this [pointing to the display] makes no sense.

At this point Fox heads off toward another display, leaving views to ponder. Is this for real? Is all this just a put up by some anti-creationists to make creationists look stupid?

Let’s assume for the moment that this is not a joke. Let’s apply some Skeptical Analysis. First of all, who is Megan Fox?

Don’t confuse this Megan Fox with the actor Megan Fox. This one is so-called conservative social critic Megan Fox. That said, about the earliest I could find about this Megan Fox is that she has a YouTube channel and a Facebook page. It does not appear that Fox writes a bunch of stuff. She posts videos on her YouTube channel and then links to them on Facebook. Taking a look at her Facebook page we can get the idea of her conservative bent. First, she seems to be a fan of Ben Carson, a politically conservative hero to many and potential candidate for president as a Republican. Here’s Fox’s take on Carson’s latest book:

Fans of Megan Fox

STORY TIME! Megan Fox checks out Dr. Ben Carson’s newest book. Dr. Carson would make a terrific President. Time to have someone in the Oval Office who is not a lawyer or career politician. Time to have someone with real world experience and the skills of a neurosurgeon to get his country back on track the way he’d tend to a sick patient. His book is HIGHLY recommended!

Fox also seems to align herself with some conservative views on illegal immigration:

Fans of Megan Fox

The CDC has been burying evidence that the “mystery respiratory illness” was rare in the United States until the surge of invaders from Central America over the summer. This disease is caused by the enterovirus that is common in Central America but rare here. The people the Obama regime allowed to flood our border and then redistributed around the country brought this virus with them, and now American children have it.

She does not seem to be a big fan of science and likes to trumpet failures of the scientific establishment.

ANOTHER SCIENTIST CAUGHT MANUFACTURING DATA AND FAKING RESULTS: This is a real problem in the scientific community in the year 2014. I think this started in the late 1990s and into the 2000s. There’s been a culture change, where Alinsky political methods became adopted by the scientific community and they have a “ends justify the means” attitude toward their work now. There’s no longer an atmosphere where faking results and manipulating data to reach desired outcomes is frowned upon. Scientists seem to do this all the time now, and that’s because scientists have become too politicized. This is the result of so many of them getting caught up in the Anthropogenic Apocalypse Cult and joining in the mob intent on propping up the doomsday assertions that the Left wants propped up. Since they fake data for that purpose, it’s no longer forbidden to fake data in other areas too. Like this scientist in Japan caught doing just that, manipulating data to get the results that she wanted:

That posting links to a news story about scientific misconduct:

Japan scientist quits as cell research discredited

Her attitude toward science is colored by a distaste for modern theories of biology and other fields that support biological evolution:

SCIENTISTS ARE AGAIN BAFFLED AND PUZZLED BY DISCOVERY OF NEW FISH IN PLACE THEY THOUGHT FISH COULD NOT EXIST. Life finds a way to continuously defy what scientists say can’t exist or can’t be true. Again and again, scientists are caught having to admit they were wrong (again!) when it comes to some creature that is not as fragile as they claimed. That’s the problem that I have with modern science: claiming all the animals are so fragile. When in reality humans still don’t know all there is to know about the natural world and the assumptions that scientists make are so often wrong. They say animals can’t exist below certain depths…until we find out there’s thriving life down there. They say certain animals went extinct…until we find out they didn’t. The problem with modern scientists (which sets them apart from scientists of the past) is that today these people claim to be the definitive experts on things that we are still learning about. There’s a hubris to these people that did not exist in the past. 30 years ago, scientists weren’t baffled and confounded so often as they are now because the scientists didn’t claim to know everything. The problem is that when science became politicized and the scientists started pushing agendas they left true science behind to pursue this “the animals are fragile!” agenda. In reality, nature is hearty. The animals will thrive long after humans are gone. Watch an abandoned building: in a year, nature has reclaimed it. In five years, the place is unrecognizable. In 10 years, it’s like no building even existed. This is not a fragile planet.

That posting links to a story from ABC News:

How Scientists Found Deepest-Ever Fish 5 Miles Down

What is especially notable is a comparison between what’s in the ABC news item and what Fox says in response. Take for example this excerpt:

They say animals can’t exist below certain depths…until we find out there’s thriving life down there.

Then read the remainder of the ABC News item. I have highlighted a pertinent text:

“We’re pretty confident it’s a snailfish,” Dr. Alan Jamieson from the Oceanlab at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland told ABC News. “Not that we know. It’s a new species.”

The Ocean Schmidt Institute and Oceanlab carried out the 30-day voyage on the ocean vessel, the Falkor, as part of the Hadal Ecosystem Studies (HADES), an international project funded by the National Science Foundation that explores trench and hadal ecosystems. The Falkor, using unmanned landers, encountered the critter with two or three other new species of fish while recording 104 hours of footage at depths as low as 10,990 meters.

The fish is 20 centimeters in length, with a distinct snout similar to that of a cartoon dog. It also has long and very thin and fragile fins described as “tissue paper underwater,” though scientists will not be able to identify it until a physical sample is captured, according to Jamieson.

“If you don’t have a sample, a physical sample in your hand, you cannot do it,” he told ABC News. “Which is why we can’t do it for the fish.”

Fish contain osmolyte, a protein that allows their cells to function under high pressures, allowing them to thrive at low depths. Scientists theorize that the lowest level at which a fish can survive at is 8,200 meters below the surface.

Timothy Shank, the director of the program and an associate scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said the program hopes to capture a physical sample in the near future.

“Absolutely. No doubt,” Shank said. “We put out fish traps. We put out landers that have baited traps on them. We very much want to capture these deep-sea living fish.”

Other voyages in the Mariana Trench through HADES will continue, with one set in the coming weeks on the Falkor again, according to Shank. The current voyage took one physical sample of another, unidentified species of snail fish. It will take approximately one year to formally declare a name for that species.

Jamieson told ABC News that deep-sea exploration is important and necessary for learning more about fish life and the depths at which they can thrive.

“There are still things to find because we weren’t expecting that,” Jamieson said. “And it shows that complex animals such as fish can exist much deeper than we thought.”

“Scientists theorize that the lowest level at which a fish can survive at is 8,200 meters below the surface.” This fish was found at a depth of 8,145 meters. Does Fox have a problem with reading comprehension? If not, is it possible she thinks her readers do?

Again Fox: “When in reality humans still don’t know all there is to know about the natural world and the assumptions that scientists make are so often wrong.” Yes, humans still don’t know all there is to know about the natural world. That’s why we have the study of science. Scientific study is aimed at finding out stuff we don’t already know. Yes, the assumptions scientists make are often wrong. Correcting false assumptions is part of what science does.

Fox’s misinterpretation of what was reported in the ABC News item is one of 1) comical, 2) reflective of a poor understanding of the real world, 3) deliberate misrepresentation. Or some of all three.

What I have noticed is that creationists, Fox apparently being one of them, tend to have issues with science in general. They don’t trust science. Science is telling them things about God and Jesus they don’t want to hear. Science is Neil deGrasse Tyson getting on television and telling kids the universe was not created in six days. Science is bad. Scientists are bad or at least fools.

Unfortunately the creationism camp tends to get followed by the politically conservative faction of society, and these conservatives vote together and put into places of power like-minded people. These elected officials tend to vote against grants for politically disfavored scientific studies, and they attempt to incorporate pseudo scientific notions such as creationism into public school curricula.

It is, then, with particular glee that Fox has highlighted the story of discredited researcher Haruko Obokata. See, science is bad. Evolution is science. Evolution is bad. (my interpretation) What Fox fails to notice, much less emphasize, is that Obokata’s research fell victim to the scientific method. The scientific method incorporates attempts to falsify scientific theories. When one researcher reports something, other scientists attempt to replicate the results. Failing the ability to replicate, scientists get suspicious and demand a closer look. Science, as a result, has proved to be a highly-reliable method for discovering the truth. Only people not comfortable with the truth will find fault with this approach.

I’ve gone all this way examining who and what Megan Fox is, but I’ve yet to examine her examination of the Natural History Museum exhibits. It’s time to do that.

The exhibit discusses prokaryotic cells versus eukaryotic cells. Since I didn’t get any of that from my high school biology (asleep?) I will just take it off the top of my head. Prokaryotic cells are simple. No nucleus. The DNA just exists unconstrained within the cell’s cytoplasm. Eukaryotic cells are more complex. The principal DNA exists in the chromosomes within a defined cell nucleus. The cytoplasm of eukaryotic cells harbors any number of mitochondria. Mitochondria perform a number of useful function for the eukaryotic cell, and they are thought to have originated as bacteria that infiltrated eukaryotic cells in the deep evolutionary past. Mitochondria participate in cell mitosis (splitting) by, themselves, splitting and becoming introduced both daughter cells. Sperm cells (generally) do not have mitochondria, so in sexual reproduction only the female’s mitochondria are passed on to the offspring.

I’m thinking Fox did not know all of that.

The exhibit explains that originally all organism that were composed of eukaryotic cells were single-celled. Now eukaryotic cells make up all multi-cellular life. No multi-cellular life is composed of prokaryotic cells. So Fox makes the comment, “What? If many still are today, then that would support the theory that they have never changed, that have always been as they are today.”

This 74-year-old brain of mine is unable to come to grips with Fox’s conclusion. How does the statement that previously all eukaryotic life was single-celled, and now all multi-cellular life is composed of eukaryotic cells support the “theory that they have never changed?” May I be allowed to answer that one?

First of all, “they” in fact never changed. “They” all died. A long time ago. What we see around us are “their” descendants. What has happened is biological evolution. The populations of succeeding generations have changed over the millions of years, and we now see, not only single-celled eukaryotic life forms, but multi-celled eukaryotic life forms. An example of a single-cell eukaryote is the paramecium. An example of a multi-cell eukaryote is Megan Fox.

I’m going to leave the remainder of Megan Fox’s commentary for the reader to digest. In fact, I’m going to leave the remainder of Fox’s museum tour for subsequent posts, because this post is becoming overly long. Keep reading.

NBC’s Mysterious Origins of Man

Here’s a repost from the Skeptical Analysis blog. The story has aged a lot since it first aired on TV, but the concern is still the same. Speculation and fabrication are presented as valid accounts.

– John Blanton

It can’t be possible I have not already done a post on this. Apparently I have not. It’s about time.

Charlton Heston introduces the documentary

Charlton Heston introduces the documentary

It’s been nearly 20 years since this came out. OK, nearly 19. But I’m not going to wait for the the anniversary. I will get this going by reposting my notes from 18 years ago. This appeared in the April 1996 issue of The North Texas Skeptic shortly after the show first aired on NBC. I will follow up this post with a series of posts touching on the main topics of the documentary.

NBC’s Mysterious Science

by John Blanton

“The Mysterious Origins of Man,” which aired on NBC in February, had a lot not to like about it. Besides giving a very good impression of an attack on science, it exhibited on the part of its producers and major players an appalling ignorance of some basic facts of the universe. In this cynical world, where, it would seem, half the population is trying to manipulate the other half, there is a temptation to find wonder in such innocence and naivet. Would that the enemies of this country were such babes in the wilderness.

If you did, you should not have missed it. Besides Charlton Heston (more famous as Moses and Ben Hur), there were our own local creationists Don Patton and Carl Baugh, come to explain how the scientific establishment continues to ignore their evidence and to promulgate the myth of evolution. Those even faintly acquainted with Patton and Baugh will be struck with one glaring irony in the program. The luster of national exposure for their young-Earth agenda was more than slightly dimmed by the show’s continual reference to fossils millions of years old. Maybe that’s why at the MIOS meeting the following week, Don showed considerable modesty when making reference to his appearance. I further noted that many of the creationists at the meeting had not seen the program. It aired when many of them were at church.

Naturally, the program has its detractors. I will not dwell on their remarks. I have a video of the program. Watch it, and you can supply your own comments. The producers have responded to their critics, however, and they have graciously allowed us to reprint the text. To me these thoughts, spilled out on paper, make my case completely (John Blanton):

PRODUCERS’ RESPONSE TO THE CRITICS

By Bill Cote, Carol Cote and John Cheshire

(Reprinted with permission)

As we expected, the response to our show has been heated. We’ve been accused of pseudo-science and setting back the course of education in America. But our goal was simply to present the public with evidence which suggests an alternative view to some of our most accepted theories. After all, the theory of evolution is still a theory, not a fact, and therefore alternative views should be welcomed, not banned.

Probably the most common criticism is that the show gave no opposing view from the academic community. The producers’ position is that the accepted view has been so frequently presented to the public that only a brief summary by the host was necessary. It was more valuable to focus on the documented anomalous evidence.

For example, if man evolved from the apes around 5 million years ago, then how does the scientific community explain tools of modern man found in rock strata dating to 55 million years old? (J.D Whitney, California State Geologist, Table Mt. Mine) Those artifacts currently reside in a museum in Berkeley, California. When we applied for permission to film them, we were denied by the museum.

Another criticism is that the information in our show is presented by experts who do not hold degrees in their fields of expertise and therefore their opinions are not endorsed by the scientific community. But Dr. Virginia Steen McIntyre holds a Ph.D. in Geology and was a fellow with the USGS when she did her field work in Mexico. Her conclusions about the age of the spear points she dated (250,000 years BP) were backed by two other USGS members, yet because of their implications, the findings were ignored and her career was ruined.

In the case of the Paluxy River man tracks, to our knowledge, no accredited archaeologist has ever proven the prints to be fake. Furthermore, many scientists have referred us to an article written by Kuban and Hastings who seem to be the experts on this site. They categorically deny that there is any validity to the prints and that the case has been solved.

It is interesting to note that the scientific community refers to this report as if it is definitive proof, when in fact neither gentleman is an accredited archaeologist, anthropologist or paleontologist. If this is to be a fair discussion let’s all play by the same rules.

Many of our critics are using very strong language, calling us morons, liars, and subversive creationists. These are emotional responses, not logical arguments. To set the record straight, we are not creationists or affiliated with any group whatsoever. We are being attacked on a personal level, because we are questioning issues that have been deemed too fundamental to be questioned.

We are fully aware that the information presented is highly controversial. This was re-iterated by Charlton Heston in the show, “We’ve seen a broad range of evidence, some of it highly speculative. But there are enough well documented cases to call for a closer look at the conventional explanation of man’s origins.”

We never take the stance that we know the answers or in any way suggest that we will provide them. We are merely offering an alternative hypothesis. In this way, we feel that the American public is fully capable of making up its own mind. Bill Cote, Carol Cote and John Cheshire Producers of The Mysterious Origins of Man. To follow the controversy on our World Wide Web site:

http://www.bcvideo.com/bcvideo

– Copyright 1996: Bill Cote, Carol Cote and John Cheshire. . . . May reprint with permission. – Distributed (not written) by Thomas Burgin . . . Direct any inquiries to bcvideo@interport.net.

The Media Takes Note as We Reclaim the Word “Skeptic”

 JamesInhofe

In the last issue of Cause & Effect, we told you about a joint statement signed onto by 48 fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, which called upon the news media to stop referring to those who refuse to accept the reality of climate change (such as Sen. James Inhofe, pictured here) as “skeptics,” and instead call them what they are: “science deniers.” Well, they heard us, and there’s been a swell of coverage of the statement, sparking analysis and debate throughout the media.

Paragraph taken from an article from December 2014 CSI newsletter, Cause & Effect.

Crazy on Stilts

I picked up on this item about Food Babe a few weeks ago. Here is a repost from the Skeptical Analysis blog:

– John Blanton

Emily Finke posted this on Facebook. Thanks, Emily. Just when I thought crazy had maxed out, you put the spotlight on this. It’s a page cached on Google, and it appears to have come from an actual site called Food Babe. Now I learn that Food Babe is the blog of Vani Hari:

Vani Hari, also known on her blog as the Food Babe, is an American blogger known for her criticism of the food industry. She has gathered over 350,000 signatures via petitions pressuring food companies to remove ingredients from their products or change their production processes. Companies including Kraft, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, and Subway have changed or reconsidered ingredients in their products as a result of her campaigns. She has been frequently criticised for promoting pseudoscientific claims and beliefs in her work.

[Some links deleted]

Think the critique is a bit strong. You may get a better idea after reading a post from apparently 23 August 2011:

This is Google’s cache of http://foodbabe.com/2011/08/23/no-reason-to-panic-on-the-plane/. It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on Nov 10, 2014 21:01:32 GMT – See more at: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Ffoodbabe.com%2F2011%2F08%2F23%2Fno-reason-to-panic-on-the-plane%2F#sthash.ZtonmYFq.dpuf

Food Babe Travel Essentials – No Reason to Panic on the Plane!

I’m on the plane to LAX, the first leg en route to our first stop – Tokyo! I can’t think of a better time or place to write this article.

Airplane travel, is unfortunately (and fortunately!) a big part of my way of life. I’d be surprised if you added up the amount of travel I have conducted for work and personal if it didn’t end up being a full year of my life. For this reason, I set out to find out exactly the best strategies to keep your body energized, free of aliments, and flying high when you are on the bird!

A few facts about what airplanes do to your body –

When your body is in the air, at a seriously high altitude, your body under goes some serious pressure. Just think about it – Airplanes thrive in places we don’t. You are traveling in a pressurized cabin, and when your body is pressurized, it gets really compressed!

Compression leads to all sorts of issues. First off your body’s digestive organs start to shrink, taxing your ability to digest large quantities of food. Secondly, this compression reduces the ability for your body to normally circulate blood through your blood vessels. Sitting down for long hours while this is happening, exacerbates these issues, leading to what they call “Economy Class Syndrome.” Economy Class Syndrome results the action of sitting in a cramped space for a long period of time, thus resulting in blood flow loss to the legs. A unhealthy person or someone who eats a poor diet, smokes, has heart disease, diabetes or an auto-immune disorder has a larger risk of developing DVT, which basically causes a blood clot in your one of your large veins in your leg and you risk death.

Additionally, the pressurized cabin reduces the humidity by 40% of what humans typically thrive at. The Sahara Desert has more humidity at ~25% than your airplane does at ~10%. Remember your body is made up of 50% water, if the humidity is reduced by 40%, your body becomes very dehydrated, very quickly and usually without you feeling the effects until after you get off the plane. Dehydration causes all sorts of issues from fatigue, headaches, constipation, light headedness and even death in extreme cases.

The air you are breathing on an airplane is recycled from directly outside of your window. That means you are breathing everything that the airplanes gives off and is flying through. The air that is pumped in isn’t pure oxygen either, it’s mixed with nitrogen, sometimes almost at 50%. To pump a greater amount of oxygen in costs money in terms of fuel and the airlines know this! The nitrogen may affect the times and dosages of medications, make you feel bloated and cause your ankles and joints swell.

Did you know certain countries require that airplanes and even passengers be sprayed with pesticide before they take off? This means if you are visiting one of these countries you are breathing in these fumes potentially all flight, especially if they were sprayed on board. Horrific!

Ok enough horror facts about airplane travel (especially while I am flying right now!)…Here’s my Food Babe tips on what you can do to avoid and/or protect yourself of all the facts I mentioned above.

Food Babe’s Tips: First Class Airplane Tips for your Body

Before you Fly:

  1. Choose a seat as close to the front as possible. Pilots control the amount of airflow and it is is always better in their cabin.
  2. Eat a light meal or fast, it is better to digest as much of your food as possible before getting on the plane
  3. Exercise! You reduce your risk of developing DVT dramatically and you will also improve your body’s circulation ability
  4. Drink at least 16 ounces of water before your flight, and limit alcohol and caffeine
  5. Bring your own food. Airport and airplane food is overly processed and contains more GMO, pesticides, MSG, and chemicals than can make your head spin! Bring circulation enhancing foods! Some great ones that are easy to travel with are dark chocolate, blueberries, grapes, oranges, avocados, ginger, and pumpkin seeds.
  6. Don’t forget to pack an empty water bottle to be filled at the airport, or to buy water before your flight. I like to bring at least 32 ounces of extra water with me on any flight.
    I can’t tell you how many times the airlines have been stingy giving me water (even in First Class!)
  7. Ask your Acupuncturist or Nauropath for herbs that can help prevent you from contracting colds, flus and other viruses through the recycled air
  8. The following two things are a must for international flights! Moisturizer and a little spray bottle of evian spritzer can do wonders in rehydrating your skin on long flights.

In Flight:

  1. Drink 8 ounces of water for every hour of flying time
  2. If you experience a headache, pains or aches, think about using turmeric, garlic or willow bark which are all natural alternatives to aspirin
  3. Fast or eat small light carbohydrate rich whole foods. Limit any heavy dairy or protein rich foods. Whole grain carbohydrates are better tolerated than proteins at a high altitude.
  4. Do not drink alcohol or caffeine on long flights
  5. Walk or stretch every 30 mins while in flight, if you can’t get up from your seat, rotate your ankles and raise your arms over your head to stretch
  6. Keep your hands clean with natural hand sanitizer spray and avoid touching your face as much as possible
  7. Don’t forget to take your natural herbs that can strengthen your immune system

After your Flight:

  1. Continue to drink 8 ounces of water every hour
  2. Aim to do at least 15 mins of yoga or other form of exercise
  3. Consider getting a massage, which as been known to reduce jet lag
  4. Continue eating circulation enhancing foods
  5. As soon as you can – swim, take a shower and/or a steam bath to rehydrate your skin

Exercise before the plane: Check!

Now that you have read all of that:

Let’s compare the nonsense with the facts:

  • “You are traveling in a pressurized cabin, and when your body is pressurized, it gets really compressed!” Fact: Airliner cabin pressure is maintained at the 8000-foot level. As the aircraft ascends the pressure is allowed to drop. When the altitude exceeds 8000 feet the cabin is pressurized from air taken from the engine compressors. While flying in an airliner your body is not compressed. It’s at less pressure than it was at the airport (unless you got on the plane at La Paz).
  • “Additionally, the pressurized cabin reduces the humidity by 40% of what humans typically thrive at.” Fact: The airliner compensates for the lack of humidity by adding moisture to the air that’s pumped into the cabin.
  • “The Sahara Desert has more humidity at ~25% than your airplane does at ~10%.” Fact: Humidity in the Sahara rarely exceeds 30%. It’s typically at 4% to 5%. Airliner cabin humidity is kept low—in the 10% range. This is about typical of a day in Tuscon, Arizona. You stay hydrated by drinking water during the flight.
  • “The air you are breathing on an airplane is recycled from directly outside of your window. That means you are breathing everything that the airplanes gives off and is flying through.” Fact: See the above. Cabin air comes from the engine compressors. It’s as clean as any fresh air you will find in nature.
  • “The air that is pumped in isn’t pure oxygen either, it’s mixed with nitrogen, sometimes almost at 50%.” Fact: Air, at sea level, at 40,000 feet, is 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, plus carbon dioxide, argon and other trace gases. That’s what you get from the engine compressors.
  • “Choose a seat as close to the front as possible. Pilots control the amount of airflow and it is is always better in their cabin.” Fact: The entire cabin gets the same air. Sitting up front will not get you better air.

There is enough bullshit in the foregoing to question anything else from the Food Babe. Vani Hari has done all women a disservice by tagging her blog as “Food Babe.” This kind of thing wants to give the impression that “babe” is associated with “airhead.” Don’t fall for it. I know lots of babes, and they are not airheads.

Sources:

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

This is the second installment of the review of Ben Stein’s Expelled video. It was previously posted on the Skeptical Analysis site.

– John Blanton

FreeToThink

This is the second in a series reviewing Ben Stein’s Expelled video. The first was sort of an introduction—introducing some of the players and giving readers a feel for what this production is all about. I also dipped into the first of six people who were supposedly expelled for speaking out against Darwinian evolution or even seeming to support the concept of Intelligent Design.

The first personality was Dr. Richard von Sternberg, who supposedly (watch the video) lost his position at the Smithsonian Institution because he published a paper by creationist Steven C. Meyer in the journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, of which he was the unpaid editor.

In the video Ben Stein interviews Sternberg, and they discuss the terrible consequences of Sternberg’s actions. His “life was nearly ruined.” That, I find interesting. His life was not ruined. It was nearly ruined. Without outright fabrication the video conveys the idea that Sternberg’s life was ruined when, in fact, it is never stated that his life was ruined. Only nearly ruined. Speaking as a person whose life has been nearly ruined many times, I am eternally grateful it was only nearly ruined and not actually ruined.

Such is the art of propaganda, which this video is all about.

There is something else curious about Stein’s interview with Sternberg. They discuss what is supposed to be a grievous injustice perpetrated on an honest man, but no details are revealed.

Sternberg tells us that he lost his office (at the Smithsonian), but he does not describe the scene. He had to turn in the keys to his laboratory space. How did this happen? Did the lab manager come to him and say, “Dr. Sternberg, you can no longer work here. Hand over your keys and never set foot here again?” If that’s what happened, then why doesn’t Sternberg in the interview provide the circumstances, name names and dates?

To me the answer is clear. Sternberg and Stein are not being straight forward with viewers. They both know the details, and they know that revealing the details would be detrimental to their argument, their argument being that Sternberg suffered a terrible injustice. The conclusion from the known facts is that Stein and Sternberg are not honorable men. I will extend that to saying that Intelligent Design is not a worthy cause, because it requires dishonorable tactics to promote itself.

Here are the facts not mentioned in the video, reprinted from my previous post:

Posted by JAC on February 3, 2005 9:36 AM

Although I do not wish to debate the merits of intelligent design, this forum seems an apt place to correct several factual inaccuracies in the Wall Street Journal’s Op Ed article by David Klinghoffer, “The Branding of a Heretic” (Jan. 28, 2005). Because Dr. von Sternberg has filed an official complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, I cannot comment as fully as I would wish.
1. Dr. von Sternberg is still a Research Associate at the National Museum of Natural History, and continues to have the usual rights and privileges, including space, keys, and 24/7 access. At no time did anyone deny him space, keys or access.
2. He is not an employee of the Smithsonian Institution. His title, “Research Associate,” means that for a three year, potentially renewable period he has permission to visit the Museum for the purpose of studying and working with our collections without the staff oversight visitors usually receive.
3. I am, and continue to be, his only “supervisor,” although we use the term “sponsor” for Research Associates to avoid personnel/employee connotations. He has had no other since Feb. 1, 2004, nor was he ever “assigned to” or under the “oversight of” anyone else.
4. Well prior to the publication of the Meyer article and my awareness of it, I asked him and another Research Associate to move as part of a larger and unavoidable reorganization of space involving 17 people and 20 offices. He agreed.
5. I offered both individuals new, identical, standard Research Associate work spaces. The other accepted, but Dr. von Sternberg declined and instead requested space in an entirely different part of the Museum, which I provided, and which he currently occupies.
6. As for prejudice on the basis of beliefs or opinions, I repeatedly and consistently emphasized to staff (and to Dr. von Sternberg personally), verbally or in writing, that private beliefs and/or controversial editorial decisions were irrelevant in the workplace, that we would continue to provide full Research Associate benefits to Dr. von Sternberg, that he was an established and respected scientist, and that he would at all times be treated as such.
On behalf of all National Museum of Natural History staff, I would like to assert that we hold the freedoms of religion and belief as dearly as any one. The right to heterodox opinion is particularly important to scientists. Why Dr. von Sternberg chose to represent his interactions with me as he did is mystifying. I can’t speak to his interactions with anyone else.

Sincerely yours,
Jonathan Coddington

By the time Ben Stein concludes his interview with Richard Sternberg, he has become completely disillusioned. Never had he thought our country’s liberties could be forsaken over a matter such as posing challenging questions about science. He did not have far to go to find another example. The video shows a clip extolling the virtues of George Mason University, a short distance from where he was standing.

Caroline Crocker

Now he relates the sad tale of Dr. Caroline Crocker:

Caroline Crocker (b 1958) is an American immunopharmacologist who taught a biology class at George Mason University in 2005, while employed in a non-tenure track contract position as “contingent faculty”. She also held another teaching position at Northern Virginia Community College. After her contract at George Mason University was not renewed, as is common with such positions, she claimed that she lost her job there “for teaching the problems with evolution” in a lecture which she repeated in a class at Northern Virginia Community College in the presence of a Washington Post reporter on November 2, 2005.

A GMU spokesman told the reporter that the university let her go at the end of her contract period for reasons unrelated to her views on intelligent design. In January 2006 she began a postdoctorate year at the Uniformed Services University. Her case has been presented in a Discovery Institute intelligent design campaign and features in the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

[Some links removed]

I have previously covered the Caroline Crocker story in the September 2010 issue of The North Texas Skeptic. What I will do here is just plagiarize myself and paste the main body of that story:

I feel sure that Crocker never actually taught creationism to her students. She apparently did much more than that. As Crocker has demonstrated, it’s possible to create a lot of mischief without actually teaching creationism. Some have noted that Crocker is not so much the victim that is painted in Expelled. But she is still worth a book.

Free to Think is Crocker’s story of her ordeal with GMU, and more. The following is from the publisher’s Web site.3

The heart of the book covers how she impartially presented the students with the scientific evidence for and against evolution and the scandalous reprisals that resulted. It continues with the saga of the attempted lawsuit and ends, triumphantly with a call to action.

After you have read the book you are invited to return and to post a comment. Being over-eager, I posted a comment before I even received a copy:

I reviewed the Washington Post item from 5 February 2006 that included an interview with Crocker. It appears she freely admits to promoting what are distorted and incorrect views about the science behind biological evolution. Only a single example here: She repeated claims by Jonathan Wells about the peppered moth experiments:

“The experiment was falsified. He glued his moths to the trees.”

I am a photographer, and if somebody wanted photographs of moths for a book or a magazine or a paper, this is exactly what I would have done. I would have glued the moths to the trees. Students hearing Crocker’s explanation would be left with the conclusion that real scientists are lying to them in this case. That was obviously the point Crocker was trying to get over. She was, in effect, deliberately lying to the students.How can a teacher who does this expect to keep her job?

After posting my comment I received a response from Kevin Wirth. He reminded me that comments were solicited only from people who had read the book and wanted to discuss the book. He said he was going to move my comment to the blog section.

That started a nice dialog with Kevin Wirth. Besides being the CEO of Leafcutter Press, Crocker’s publisher, he appears to support Crocker’s cause and also to oppose the science behind biological evolution. His position is not surprising. A little Internet research reveals that Kevin Wirth is also the name of the Director of Product Development for Access Research Network (ARN). From the ARN Web site:4

Seattle area resident Kevin Wirth is a founding member of Students for Origins Research (now known as Access Research Network) and is the CEO of a micro-publishing firm called Leafcutter Press. He has been conducting research on viewpoint discrimination against students, educators, and scientists who are Darwin skeptics for over 25 years, and just recently collaborated with Dr. Jerry Bergman in the publication of a groundbreaking book on this topic titled Slaughter of the Dissidents. Kevin seeks to create greater public awareness of not only the plight of dissenters who have been discriminated against for harboring doubts about Darwinism, but also provides access to vital information supporting a rationale for skepticism about evolution-related issues.

Kevin wanted to make an issue of the pepper moths glued to trees, but there was no basis for his argument. Bernard Kettlewell did glue moths to tree trunks for various reasons, one being perhaps to take photographs. No secret was made of this, and if any experimenting was falsified (using Crocker’s language), this was not it. Crocker was wrong to make this statement in class, either through design or ignorance. Neither instance would be commendable.

A single case could be excused, but this was a pattern with Crocker. Her statements in the Washington Post story, plus other data, point to a deeper problem. The Post story is informative beyond the peppered moth remarks:5

But this highly trained biologist wanted students to know what she herself deeply believed: that the scientific establishment was perpetrating fraud, hunting down critics of evolution to ruin them and disguising an atheistic view of life in the garb of science.

Also:

Before the class, Crocker had told me that she was going to teach “the strengths and weaknesses of evolution.” Afterward, I asked her whether she was going to discuss the evidence for evolution in another class. She said no.

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has put up a Web site in response to the Expelled video, and this includes a section devoted to Crocker.6

The late D. James Kennedy produced a video featuring Caroline Crocker. The video is posted on the Coral Ridge Ministries (CRM) Web site, and it contains samples from Crocker’s classroom presentation at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC).

One slide says this:7

Scientists are Confused
Scientists have differing opinions on this issue; intelligent design model is gaining ground.
Gould and Eldridge [sic] (evolutionists) “There is no validation of the position that speciation causes significant morphological change.”
Werner von Braun (rocket scientist), “It is unscientific to teach evolution only.”

Another slide features Archaeopteryx and Eohippus:8

Presumed Transitional Forms

Archeopteryx [sic]
Birds there in same layer.
Is a bird (like an ostrich), not a reptobird.
Only one complete fossil and has been questioned as a fraud.

Horse
Eohippus is found in the same layers as the modern horse.
Eohippus is the same as modern-day hyrax.

I am certainly confused. “Scientists having differing opinions” is a standard part of main stream science and is not peculiar to biological evolution. Also Crocker’s statement “intelligent design model is gaining ground” is overly optimistic on her part. The modern Intelligent Design conjecture has been kicking around since about 1990, and in this time no serious research has come out supporting it. Science magazine is the premier American professional science journal. What mention I have found of Intelligent Design (disregarding letters to the editor) in Science has been derogatory.

The Gould and Eldredge quote is addressed on NCSE’s Exposed site:9

Gould actually said “But continuing unhappiness, justified this time, focuses upon claims that speciation causes significant morphological change, for no validation of such a position has emerged.” (Gould, SJ and Eldredge, N, “Punctuated equilibrium comes of age” Nature 366, 223-227, 1993). In other words, there is a question of the order in which speciation and physical diversification take place, not “confusion” over whether any link exists between such diversification and speciation. Crocker’s erroneous quotation and mischaracterization of the author’s intent show poor scholarship, and encourage her students to misunderstand key concepts.

I am glad that Crocker mentioned von Braun’s disdain for teaching only evolution. That pretty much settles the issue, because we all know the great rocket engineer held the ultimate truth on all other matters under his consideration. No, seriously, this is not an argument from science. It’s an amateurish attempt at argument from authority.

I don’t know what a reptobird is, but Archaeopteryx had features common with some dinosaurs that modern birds do not. I will go Crocker one better on the “one complete fossil” claim. A review of the ten known Archaeopteryx fossils indicates every one of them is missing at least some small part (or much more). Too bad for Crocker; after she made her wild claims about Archaeopteryx in 2004-2005 another fossil was assigned to Archaeopteryx siemensii in 2007. It is the “the most complete and well preserved” yet.10

It was easy for Crocker to make the claim “has been questioned as a fraud.” All she has to do is to assert that Archaeopteryx is a fraud, and the foregoing statement becomes true. In fact, astronomer Fred Hoyle and physicist Lee Spetner also made this assertion. What Crocker failed to mention is that these claims were refuted by scientists familiar with archaeological research and not so familiar with cosmology.11

I could find no research that backs up Crocker’s statement that “Eohippus is found in the same layers as the modern horse.” A FAQ entry on the Talk Origins site gives the following possible origin:12

…Eohippus fossils have been found in surface strata, along side two modern horses, Equus nevadensis and Equus occidentalis.

The quote is from The Neck of the Giraffe by Francis Hitching, who does not provide a justification for the statement. Talk Origins traces the statement back to a book by creationist R.L. Wysong. Crocker appears to have lifted a bit of myth from creationist literature and used it in class with no attempt at confirmation.

The statement that “Eohippus is the same as modern-day hyrax” is amateurish and unbecoming of someone holding a Ph.D. in the life sciences. Eohippus is not the same as a hyrax. The rock hyrax is the closest living relative to the modern elephant.

Crocker has another interesting slide in the CRM video:13

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Failed at medical school (could not dissect).
Had some training as a clergyman.
Rich kid who enjoyed partying, drinking, and gambling.
Went to Galapagos Islands.
Father was not pleased.

That settles it for me. If Darwin was such a slacker, then the whole science of biological evolution is worthless trash. Anyhow, this seems to be Crocker’s argument, and it lacks a certain amount of scientific and scholastic rigor.

A closer look at the Kettlewell research story finds little actual controversy within the scientific community, Crocker and Wells notwithstanding.

Laurence Cook has posted his lecture on The Rise and Fall of the Peppered Moth. I have copied his text for you to read, but you can follow the link to see the complete presentation.14

Michael Majerus wrote Melanism: Evolution in Action, and biologist Jerry Coyne reviewed the book in Nature. Coyne’s review was critical of Kettlewell’s experimental technique, but Majerus disputes Coyne’s interpretation and has emphasized support for Kettlewell’s conclusions. Others have been critical of Kettlewell and the peppered moth research, including a book by journalist Judith Hooper titled Of Moths and Men. Regardless, all critiques of moth research have been refuted by those scientists who actually do the research. See the Wikipedia page for the whole story.15

What has not happened is that Jonathan Wells and others critical of peppered moth research have not gone into the field and done their own research and published the results in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. It has become apparent that the science of Intelligent Design does not involve any actual scientific research.

If arguing against Darwinian evolution is what Crocker was paid to do for NVCC (and possibly GMU), then they should have hired me for the job, because I could have done it better. Had GMU hired me to disparage Darwinism I would have pulled up the work of someone like Michael Behe. Behe’s argument from irreducible complexity has some semblance of a scientific basis. If there is no Darwinian pathway leading from an ancestral feature to a modern feature, then something else must account for the modern feature besides Darwinism.

Behe has been pitching this argument for about fifteen years, but he has not been making any headway. So far irreducible complexity exists only as a conjecture with no scientific research to back it up. Unlike the arguments put forward by Crocker, irreducible complexity more closely resembles real science. If Crocker had wanted to argue against Darwinism in her GMU class, she could have cited Behe, but she also would have had to note that irreducible complexity has not in any way been demonstrated. Obviously she did not bother to do any of this.

I may have been the first to post a comment about Free to Think, but the first comment to stick was posted by Ray Bohlin.16

Great Read! As is usually the case, the full story is even worse than the abbreviated version in Expelled. Her book will not only help you see how unseemly academia can be, but also inspire you with personal stories of Caroline’s impact on students.

Of course, Ray Bohlin is our own Ray Bohlin. He has a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Texas at Dallas and currently heads up Probe Ministries in Richardson, Texas. Probe Ministries was co-founded by Jon Buell, founder and president of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE), also in Richardson. FTE is the publisher of the book Of Pandas and People, the original “text” book geared toward Intelligent Design. Despite having a Ph.D. in biology, Bohlin has a curious view of biological evolution. At the Texas Faith Network conference on 3 November 2003 in Dallas he addressed those in attendance and stated he believes all modern life forms have a common ancestor. All except humans, he said. We do not share ancestry with those other creatures. Bohlin is a fellow of the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture, the principal organization promoting Intelligent Design in the United States.

Both Expelled and the CRM video feature some glowing testimonials by students. Crocker also mentions these in the book. So, why was such a popular teacher expelled? GMU stated that student complaints kicked off the process. Who is to know? I don’t have an official poll of Crocker’s popularity with students at GMU, but there is an on-line survey from NVCC students. Some of them gave her good reviews. Others, not so good. Readers should be wary of any negative comments posted by students, even assuming the posts are by actual students. A failing student can use such a vehicle to even the score with a teacher.17

There is another Web site called N.C.S.E. Exposed that purports to correct “errors in the National Center for Science Education’s fact-free attack on Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.” The section pertaining to Caroline Crocker emphasizes the high praise she received as a teacher but does not dispute that she taught creationism or even Intelligent Design. The page contains several links to external material. A linked page discusses the Washington Post story, and it quotes text favorable to Crocker. However, it omits Crocker’s incriminating remarks, previously mentioned. There is a link to a page attempting to refute the Miller-Urey experiment (one of the Jonathan Wells icons). Another linked page tells of rave reviews for Icons of Evolution. Crocker has written her own rebuttal to the “false claims” about her, but the link to that page is broken.18

Besides Free to Think, Crocker has written Guide to Cell Structure and Function (2005) and has authored a chapter in The Immunopharmacology of Allergic Diseases (1996). In addition to a number of peer-reviewed papers, the page claims she has contributed magazine articles to SalvoMagazine, including “What Exactly is the Problem with Evolutionary Theory” and “Do ID Proponents Get Persecuted in the Academy?” The first is nowhere to be found but the second is in the 4-2008 issue. She has contributed “Intellectual Freedom Must Include Conservative Professors, Scientists” in Washington Examiner, 30 June 2008.19

You can view the video that started the whole expelled business back in 2008. It runs about an hour and 38 minutes, and the screen is small, but it’s free. Get some popcorn.20

Leafcutter Press has a press kit for Free to Think. Besides a rundown on the book, the kit provides extensive biographical information on Crocker.21

References
http://www.freetothinknow.com/
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0981873448/thenorthtexasske
http://www.freetothinknow.com/
http://www.arn.org/infopage/wirth.htm
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/03/AR2006020300822_pf.html
Also at
http://www.ntskeptics.org/news/news2010-07-20.htm#interview
http://www.expelledexposed.com/index.php/the-truth/crocker
http://ntskeptics.org/creationism/expelled/Crocker/carolinecrocker3.jpg
http://ntskeptics.org/creationism/expelled/Crocker/carolinecrocker2.jpg
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeopteryx
10 ibid.
11 ibid.
12 http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/horses/eohippus_equus.html
13 http://ntskeptics.org/creationism/expelled/Crocker/carolinecrocker1.jpg
14 http://ntskeptics.org/creationism/expelled/Crocker/cook.htm
15 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peppered_moth_evolution
16 http://www.freetothinknow.com/
17 http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ShowRatings.jsp?tid=649890
Pages are archived here at the following links:
http://ntskeptics.org/creationism/expelled/Crocker/ShowRatingsPage1.pdf
http://ntskeptics.org/creationism/expelled/Crocker/ShowRatingsPage2.pdf
http://ntskeptics.org/creationism/expelled/Crocker/ShowRatingsPage3.pdf
18 http://www.ncseexposed.org/#crocker
The broken link points to this domain: http://intellectualhonesty.info/
19 http://intellectualhonesty.info/
http://www.salvomag.com/new/articles/salvo4/IDcrocker.php
http://www.slaughterofthedissidents.com/template/static/20case_studies/CROCKER_C.html
http://www.slaughterofthedissidents.com/template/static/20case_studies/CROCKER_C.html
http://www.arn.org/blogs/index.php/2/2008/10/26/another_look_at_skeptic_magazine_s_criti
http://www.slaughterofthedissidents.com/template/static/20case_studies/Letter_to_GMU_081505.pdf
20 http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/expelled-no-intelligence-allowed/
21 http://www.freetothinknow.com/about-2/about-dr-caroline-crocker-2/

 Resuming fresh material

For readers’ convenience and before I forget to do it, I’m linking to duplicate copies of pertinent documents:

ShowRatingsPage1.pdf

ShowRatingsPage2.pdf

ShowRatingsPage3.pdf

The above mentions images—screen shots—from the Web site of Coral Ridge Ministries. I have no evidence these are actual copies of Crocker’s classroom presentations (at NVCC, not at GMU). We have only the Coral Ridge Ministries reference to them as Crocker’s material. Here are the images.

carolinecrocker1

carolinecrocker2

carolinecrocker3

carolinecrocker4

carolinecrocker5

With the assistance of Kevin Wirth I was able to contact Caroline Crocker by e-mail. I asked about these presentation slides. She told me that what I needed to know was in the book.

With that in mind I purchased a copy of Free to Think. Contrary to what I had hoped, based on my correspondence with Crocker, the book does not give any details about what she taught in her classes (about evolution or creationism). The pertinent details are on page 89. “Dr. Carter” was her new boss in 2004.

‘The meeting went quite amicably at first, talking about the past semester
and the TAC project, bur then it turned in an unexpected direction. I was alrcady
standing, ready to leave, when without preamble, Dr. Carter announced, ”I’ve
been told by several students and faculty that you’re teaching ‘creationism.’ I am
going to have to discipline you. You won’t be allowed to teach lectures this coming
semester, but will fulfill your hours by teaching labs.” He stood up as he spoke.

[Page 89]

The best I can make of that is that one or more people complained that Crocker was running down Darwinian evolution, and this got reported as teaching creationism. We will have to take her word that she did not teach creationism or even Intelligent Design.

It would not be surprising if Crocker never actually taught creationism. Creationists do not have to do that. Creationists will accomplish their core goal if they can dismiss the vast body of science behind Darwinian evolution. They believe, and in many cases rightly so, that doing damage to  mainstream science will leave students with the idea that alternatives such as Intelligent Design have merit.

As I mentioned in my NTS piece, Crocker received both good and bad reviews from her students. Regarding whether she taught Intelligent Design, here is one that says she did:

Interesting class, but she teach ID and use a bunch of inaccurate propaganda to do it. She also plays favorites if
you don’t toe the line. You’ll still get credit, but just keep in mind she’s teaching a bunch of BS.

Crocker’s culpability in the matter becomes additionally apparent with events following her 2004 encounter with “Dr. Carter.”

Northern Virginia Community College

At the same time Crocker taught at GMU, she was also an adjunct professor at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC). On November 2, 2005, she gave a lecture which she told a reporter was the lecture that had led to her losing her job at a previous university. She said “I lost my job at George Mason University for teaching the problems with evolution. Lots of scientists question evolution, but they would lose their jobs if they spoke out.” Crocker had described the lecture beforehand as teaching “the strengths and weaknesses of evolution”, and when asked afterwards if she would be discussing the evidence for evolution in another class, said that she would not as “There really is not a lot of evidence for evolution.” Myers remarked that this statement was grounds for her dismissal.

Subsequently, she resigned from NVCC and began work for the Department of Defense in cancer research.

Intelligent design

Crocker became the Executive Director of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center in early 2008. She left the Center in the summer of 2008 to pursue other endeavors. She appeared in a Coral Ridge Ministries video entitled The Intelligent Design Controversy in Higher Education and in the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The claims she made in the Coral Ridge video about transitional fossils (and specifically Archaeopteryx and the evolution of the horse) were criticised by PZ Myers as being factually incorrect. Crocker currently runs a promotional website advertising her public speaking. According to the website topics include: The Censorship of Science, Evolution: Fact, Science, or Religion, along with an Alpha course.

[Slight edits (misplaced period) and some links deleted. The first reference to “Myers” is presumably biologist and noted atheist PZ Myers.]

This bit puts to tests Ben Stein’s statement in the video that not only did Crocker lose her job at GMU, “she suddenly found herself blacklisted, unable to find a job anywhere.” I guess by that he means anywhere but the United States Department of Defense and the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center.

Lest we delude ourselves that Ben Stein is just performing a scripted role in a video production, there is ample evidence he is a supporter of creationism. I will just mention here his endorsement of Crocker’s book. In the Forward, he praises Crocker’s courage and forthrightness, which is laudable. He also displays the complete lack of knowledge of the subject matter and the disregard for scientific integrity that so exemplifies creationist thinking.

Despite lack of clear evidence that Darwinism explains everything it purports to, no one is allowed to question that the evidence had to be “Darwinist”, that is, accidental. Despite the truth that no life could exist without the basic laws of gravity and physics and thermodynamics, and despite the absence of any evidence that these laws came into being accidentally, one cannot question that they must have come about by chance.

Despite the fact of the incredible, mind boggling complexity of the cell, despite the truth that no one has ever been able to explain how a cell could have hundreds of thousands of interlocking parts that repair and reproduce themselves, no one is allowed to question that the cell happened by accident.

[Page ix]

Expelled features four additional people of courage who have been expelled. Next up is Guillermo Gonzalez.

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

It’s been suggested I add some skeptical news items and posts to the NTS blog. I’m going to start by reposting a series I previously wrote the the Skeptical Analysis blog. Here is the first installment. I’ve added some screen shots from the video that were not in the original.

– John Blanton

In 2008 the word began to circulate, and there was a lot of excitement. I eagerly awaited the release of the video and purchased my copy through Amazon. It’s Expelled, starring movie and television personality Ben Stein.

Expelled

As you can see, the subtitle is No Intelligence Allowed. If by now you are getting the idea this is going to be about Intelligent Design, then you can come up to the head of the class.

Also, note that Ben Stein’s most famous movie role was Ferris Bueller’s teacher in the movie. You may think it’s just a coincidence this video’s title is Expelled, but I see a deeper intent.

Anyhow, the video is about Intelligent Design, and it starts with an elderly and bearded professor dryly explaining biological evolution. He intones in a dry way, reminiscent of Ben Stein’s portrayal in the movie.

Moving through history, in an unguided and undesigned way, the theory of evolution …

Ben Stein is sitting on the very back row of the class room (where else). He speaks out.

Excuse me.

Professor:

Yes … Ben!

You get the idea the two have been through this before.

Ben:

How did life begin in the first place?

Professor (exasperated):

Mr. Stein, you have the same question every time.

Ben:

But you never answer, Sir.

The professor stutters in obvious confusion, or could it be frustration? His response is unintelligible. All this time the other students are watching the exchange much as spectators at a tennis match.

Ben Stein continues:

Could there have been an intelligent designer?

Students’ faces turn in unison and cast a gaze at their professor. They are looking for an answer. If there is one. The professor is beaten.

Of course he is. He’s not a real professor. He’s just an actor playing a part in the video. He’s following the script. The theme music strikes a down beat, and the titles roll.

Expelled is nothing if not a good video production. The titles are first rate. The production is by Premise Media:

Ben Stein’s ‘Expelled’ To Be Auctioned as Premise Media Faces Bankruptcy

Ben Stein’s creationist propaganda film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is facing auction after the film’s makers, Premise Media Holdings LP, filed for bankruptcy.

Expelled was Stein’s attempt to push ‘intelligent design’ into the mainstream, but it failed on just about every level.

The Anti-Defemation League condemned the film, which attempted to link evolution to the Holocaust. Academics and scientists, as well as film-makers and documentarians, heaped scorn on the movie. And critics panned the movie, Roger Ebert first among them.

The really pernicious thing about Stein’s propaganda film, however, is not that it pushed intelligent design and creationism, but that it attempted to convince Americans that we should teach these things in our public schools.

Americans have voted with their wallets, and now Expelled and Premise Media are feeling the pinch.

Some background: I purchased my first copy of the video in 2008, and I lent it to somebody and never got it back. No problem. Following the bankruptcy of Premise Media Amazon now offers the disk at the low price of $2.00. Shipping is $4.00 from the original source (not Amazon). So I was this week I was able to get a replacement copy for less than I paid for the original.

Anyhow …

Spoiler alert: This is a propaganda film. As propaganda it is first rate, and I am here to tell you I have looked at a lot of propaganda. This aspect is what I will analyze most in this and following reviews. There is no science. Sorry.

The propaganda starts with the titles, again first class.

The theme music is playing. It’s by Andy Hunter, and it’s first class. It’s stirring, and it propels the viewer into the story line. Some children are playing soccer in a street. There is a wall. It soon becomes apparent the street is supposed to be in West Berlin in the days of the Soviet Union, and the wall is the Berlin Wall. There is no color. The titles are cast as an old news reel film, sometimes jerky.

Expelled-01

The scene cuts to some military officers poring over plans on a table. It’s apparent they are not Wehrmact. They must be Soviet. The screen flashes a depiction of the route of the Berlin Wall and the fortified border that separated East and West Germany from 1961 to 1989. The theme music is a quick string beat that moves the viewers along.

Expelled-02

We see soldiers setting up wooden posts and stringing barbed wire. There is a bullet-pocked wall with names painted on it, but it is just a part of the title sequence, and the names are those of the producers.

Hands are placing concrete blocks on top of a partially-completed wall and securing them in place with mortar. Workers mortar more blocks in place. The music surges forward, the rhythm compels the viewers attention.

Men in suits stand in the street and observe the construction of the wall. They are perplexed. Crowds in the street mill behind the men.

The wall is nearly to it’s full height, and it partially obscures a poster on a wall behind it. The poster is part of the credits, listing Mark Mathis as associate producer.

Expelled-03

A soldier in uniform and wearing a Wehrmact style helmet marches by a shop window. He has a rifle slung over his shoulder.

People watch. The wall is nearing completion. Expressions on the faces of the people are grim. The are obviously frustrated. They can do nothing.

Now there is barbed wire above the top of the wall, and through the barbed wire we can see a street sign on the other side. Only it’s not a real street sign. It’s part of the credits, and the street names spell out “Simon Tondeur Editor.”

The title theme continues. Now all questions vanish. This is the Berlin Wall. There is a sign in an odd mixture of German and english that says “Achtung West Berlin.”

The title sequence draws to a close, and we again see the children kicking the ball in the street. Finally it sails over the wall and disappears. The children stand and stare. The ball is obviously gone forever. Behind the wall. Just as liberty and justice disappeared behind the wall in 1961. The theme music winds down and strikes a final chord. The presentation begins.

There is an auditorium. The crowd is waiting for the main speaker to appear. It’s Ben Stein. He’s waiting back stage. Waiting for the introduction to conclude. Waiting to walk on stage. The scene cuts to biologist and noted atheist Richard Dawkins, who says:

The battle over evolution is only one skirmish in a much larger war.

Others weigh in.

Creationist Jonathan Wells says, “Science simply makes no use of the hypothesis of God.” Biologist and noted atheist PZ Myers says, “Ask yourself, what does Intelligent Design give us—nothing.” Another scientist speaks: “We cannot accept Intelligent Design as an alternative theory.” And another, “They will never accept that we have a better argument, and they just pester us and waste our time.”

This section also features an interview with Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine. Ben Stein grills Shermer on the validity of Intelligent Design, and to my distress Shermer lets him off entirely too easily. Shermer is asked whether Intelligent Design is pseudo science or real science (my terms). Shermer places Intelligent Design mostly in the pseudo science portion of the spectrum. What he should have mentioned is that Intelligent Design is a complete fraud and is really just creationism dressed up in a cheap tuxedo.

In any event, that pretty much sets the mood. Mainstream science is really down on Intelligent Design. And God. But freedom?

Ben Stein comes to the podium and begins to speak. He speaks of freedom. He reminds us freedom is what made this country. Freedom is what made this country great. His speech evokes images of American icons, such as the Washington Monument, which the video displays while Stein is speaking. His speech evokes the image of Martin Luther King, shown, as well.

Ben Stein speaks of threats to liberty. The video shows these threats. It shows black people in the South standing up for their rights. It shows black people being manhandled by the police.

Richard von Sternberg

We see Ben Stein on site at the Washington Monument. It is a place where freedom was threatened. From a view of the monument the camera pans to the left, and we see the Smithsonian Institution. This is a place where freedom was threatened.

Ben Stein meets with Dr. Richard von Sternberg, a victim of repression:

Richard M. Sternberg is an American evolutionary biologist who has completed a BS degree from University of South Carolina and has two PhDs; the first from 1995 in molecular evolution from Florida International University, and a second in systems science from Binghamton University. He did post-doctoral work between 1999 and 2001 at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) at the Smithsonian Institution, on thephylogeny of brachyuran crabs.

In February 2001 he began work as an invertebrate taxonomist for the National Institutes of Health at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, later becoming a staff scientist. The position allowed time for research work, and he continued at the NMNH, now as an unpaid research associate. Soon after starting work, he agreed to take on the unpaid position of Managing Editor of the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a taxonomic journal which usually publishes descriptions of newly identified species. Also in 2001, he joined the editorial board of the Baraminology Study Group, a young earth creationist “creation science” attempt to identify and classify the created kinds mentioned in scripture. He has stated that he is an outside critic and remained skeptical of their young earth beliefs. Around this time he was sympathetic to historic ideas of structuralism of patterns in nature, but could not go from that to inferring the existence of a designer. He occasionally met proponents of intelligent design, and in 2002 presented a lecture on formal causation to the ISCID intelligent design group’s “Research And Progress in Intelligent Design” (RAPID) conference.

[Some links removed]

Sternberg relates how he used to work at the Smithsonian, but he does not anymore. The reason does not is he got crossways with the scientific orthodoxy. He was editor of a scientific journal and dared to publish a paper that gave credence to Intelligent Design. That’s why he doesn’t work there anymore. He lost the office he had at the Smithsonian, and he was pressured to resign. His religious beliefs were investigated.

Some skeptical analysis will be beneficial.

Sternberg met with Steven C. Meyer, the author of a paper that Sternberg published in the journal of which he was editor. Apparently the two arranged to have the paper published in order to give Intelligent Design the prestige of having a paper published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Sternberg did not consult with others on the editorial board of the journal, but he selected the four reviewers, including himself. He has never revealed the identities of the other three reviewers, which I presume were fans of Intelligent Design.

At any level of reading the paper has no scientific merit. I have read it and found it to be at the level of an op-ed piece that might be printed in the opinions section of a newspaper. You can read it for yourself.

The editorial board was highly outraged, which outrage provided much of the fuel for the fire storm fanned in the video.

Sternberg did not lose his job. He was not employed at the Smithsonian. He was employed at the National Institutes of Health, and in his free time he was doing unpaid research at the Smithsonian. His job as editor for the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington was a voluntary, unpaid position. He announced his resignation as editor even before the paper in question was published.

The National Center for Science Education dug a little deeper:

The Claim

“In October, as the OSC complaint recounts, [Sternberg’s supervisor] Mr. Coddington told Mr. Sternberg to give up his office and turn in his keys to the departmental floor, thus denying him access to the specimen collections he needs.” (Wall Street Journal editorial, linked from Expelled website)

The Facts

According to Coddington in a January 2005 communication, “Well prior to the publication of the Meyer article and my awareness of it, I asked him and another Research Associate to move as part of a larger and unavoidable reorganization of space involving 17 people and 20 offices. He agreed. I offered both individuals new, identical, standard Research Associate work spaces. The other accepted, but Dr. von Sternberg declined and instead requested space in an entirely different part of the Museum, which I provided, and which he currently occupies.”

Jonathan Coddington is more explicit in his posting on the Panda’s Thumb blog:

Posted by JAC on February 3, 2005 9:36 AM

Although I do not wish to debate the merits of intelligent design, this forum seems an apt place to correct several factual inaccuracies in the Wall Street Journal’s Op Ed article by David Klinghoffer, “The Branding of a Heretic” (Jan. 28, 2005). Because Dr. von Sternberg has filed an official complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, I cannot comment as fully as I would wish.
1. Dr. von Sternberg is still a Research Associate at the National Museum of Natural History, and continues to have the usual rights and privileges, including space, keys, and 24/7 access. At no time did anyone deny him space, keys or access.
2. He is not an employee of the Smithsonian Institution. His title, “Research Associate,” means that for a three year, potentially renewable period he has permission to visit the Museum for the purpose of studying and working with our collections without the staff oversight visitors usually receive.
3. I am, and continue to be, his only “supervisor,” although we use the term “sponsor” for Research Associates to avoid personnel/employee connotations. He has had no other since Feb. 1, 2004, nor was he ever “assigned to” or under the “oversight of” anyone else.
4. Well prior to the publication of the Meyer article and my awareness of it, I asked him and another Research Associate to move as part of a larger and unavoidable reorganization of space involving 17 people and 20 offices. He agreed.
5. I offered both individuals new, identical, standard Research Associate work spaces. The other accepted, but Dr. von Sternberg declined and instead requested space in an entirely different part of the Museum, which I provided, and which he currently occupies.
6. As for prejudice on the basis of beliefs or opinions, I repeatedly and consistently emphasized to staff (and to Dr. von Sternberg personally), verbally or in writing, that private beliefs and/or controversial editorial decisions were irrelevant in the workplace, that we would continue to provide full Research Associate benefits to Dr. von Sternberg, that he was an established and respected scientist, and that he would at all times be treated as such.
On behalf of all National Museum of Natural History staff, I would like to assert that we hold the freedoms of religion and belief as dearly as any one. The right to heterodox opinion is particularly important to scientists. Why Dr. von Sternberg chose to represent his interactions with me as he did is mystifying. I can’t speak to his interactions with anyone else.

Sincerely yours,
Jonathan Coddington

What is so interesting is that in the video Sternberg says, and Stein accepts as fact, that he lost his office. Sternberg never mentions in the video that he was given another office.

This episode sets the standard for the remainder of the Expelled video. It is a pure propaganda piece with a complete complement of innuendo, misstatement and deceit by omission. This is the standard of the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture, the creationist organization that sponsors the campaign promulgated in this video and a number of others.

Sternberg is the first of the “expelled.” Others to follow are Caroline Crocker, Guillermo Gonzalez, Robert Marks, Pamela Winnick and Michael Egnor. And I haven’t even gotten to the gas chambers and the Nazi connection. This video is a beauty, and there will be more to come in future installments of Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled.

Pseudoscience at a Science Museum?

During a recent visit to Dallas’ new science museum, Tim Crookham, found some Perot Museumpseudoscience in the museum’s gift store, and he brought it to the museum’s attention.  The following is his account of what happened.

On Saturday, March 9th, I went down to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. It’s a new museum that opened in Dallas in December of 2012. At the end of my visit I stopped by the gift shop. While looking around the museum store, I saw a necklace in a box with the words “Titanium Sport Energy Necklace” printed on the box. It looked like the braided necklaces I’ve seen baseball players wear. I picked up the box and the description on the back read something like “works with your body’s energy field to increase energy and promote well-being.” It also had things like “good for those with back pain and poor circulation”. I’ve seen enough Randi talks, Penn & Teller B.S. shows, and Richard Saunders clips that the skeptical alarm bells were ringing loud and clear. I was both shocked and disappointed that this found its way into the museum. I tried to find an employee to tell, but the store was packed.

Titanium_sport_energy_necklace

I went back to the store the next day and talked to an employee and the store manager and told them this necklace was pseudoscience and doesn’t belong in the museum. They told me that the buyers for the store are in California and that they would pass along my concern. They didn’t seem to understand that this was not a good thing to have in a science museum. I went home and drafted an email to the museum in which I included some web links such as one from sciencebasedmedicine.org regarding the unscientific nature of the product. I remembered Eugenie Scott saying that it’s important to CC: knowledgeable people and organizations on emails and the two that came to my mind were the JREF and the Skeptics Society. I also copied the museum’s PR director since the email address for the museum was just a generic inf@ email address. Below is my email:

Dear Perot Museum Representative,

I came across some alternative medicine pseudoscience being sold at the Perot Museum Store and was shocked and disappointed. The item that caught my attention was the Titanium Sport Energy Necklace. This item claims to work with the body’s energy field to increase energy and promote health. There is no scientific evidence to support those claims. As a member of the Perot Museum, I request that Titanium Sport Energy Necklace and any other pseudoscientific merchandise be removed from the museum store so as to align the store with the scientific mission of the rest of the museum. Below are articles regarding energy necklaces and their lack of scientific support.

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/pseudoscience-sells/#more-15791

http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500368_162-4525964.html

http://www.wired.com/playbook/2010/11/baseball-phiten-neckwear/all/

Regards,

Tim Crookham

Perot Museum Member

The next day I received a response with the words, “Thank you so much for your input. We will coordinate with the Museum Shop to effect removal as soon as possible.”

Yay for science and skepticism!!!

UPDATE: This story has also been covered by D.J. Grothe on the JREF Swift blog: Score One for the Good Guys

Power bracelets for sale, capitalism meets new-age.

by John Blanton

This is from the North Texas Skeptics Travel and Amusement section. OK, so there is no Travel and Amusement section, but there should be. Especially the amusement part.

On vacation in Fort Myers, Florida, we met up with some friends and stopped by a crafts fair going on near the river front. Lots of good stuff, including handmade soaps, peanut brittle and the usual fair fare. Plus power bracelets.

PowerBracelet

I’m getting old and a bit cynical, and it seems nothing is new to me. So when I saw this booth the entire scenario played out in my mind before it played out in the real world. The following dialog is barely approximate.

“What are you selling?”

“Power bracelets.”

“How do they work?”

“I’ll give you a demonstration.”

He hands me one, and I’m not supposed to put it on, just hold it in my left hand. I have to put my camera down first, lest it be damaged by the power. I am then expected to stand on my left foot only and extend my right arm. He’s going to press down on my right hand. Jesus, how far back did I see this coming?

He takes the bracelet (my left hand is now empty) and presses down. No way can I keep from dropping my right arm or else falling down. Then I take the bracelet in my left hand, and he prepares to press down on my right. I swear to Jesus I know exactly what is about to happen.

Sure enough, as soon as he starts to press down I drop my resistance and allow my right hand to be pushed down. He immediately senses I am dropping my resistance, and he immediately quits pushing. My right hand is not supposed to go down while I am holding the bracelet in my left hand. It’s his job to see this does not happen.

We go through this charade a couple more times, and I cannot resist a laugh. He is puzzled and becomes even more puzzled when I remark, cryptically, “You have no idea just who you are dealing with.” I promised him his picture would be posted on the Internet and went off to join my friends.

I’m telling you, Skeptics, it’s out there, it always has been and it always will be. There is just no end to the fun.

An Evening with Eric Meikle and a Special Expert Guest

Fascinating evening.  Eric Meikle discussed the continued prevalence of evolution denial in the United States and explained how the National Center on Science Education (NCSE.com) supports everyone involved in school administration, parents and students, teachers and administrators, as well as policy-makers in the accurate teaching of evolution, and now, climate science.

Meikle discussed the NCSE’s role in assembling and supporting the team to ultimately prevailed in theKitzmiller vs Dover trial http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_ Area_School_District.  Fortunately for NT Skeptics, accompanying Meikle to our dinner is none other than Robert Pennock (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_T._Pennock), philosopher of science and one of the witnesses for the plaintiff at the Dover trial.
Pennock discussed his work a Michigan State in which they are pushing the boundaries of our evolutionary understanding.  In one of their most significant projects, they are using the principles of evolution to solve engineering problems that can improve our lives and the world in general.  In essence, they are turning up the speed on evolution to create better cars, safer tools, and much more.  For many who doubt whether the principles of evolution can produce significant design improvements, this will be clear evidence that it can.  In addition to this exciting work, Pennock shared some insights from his his book Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0262661659/thenorthtexasske. Purchasing his book through this link helps to support NT Skeptics. It is available in electronic format.

North Texas Skeptics Flashback, July 1992

It’s still July, right?  This was a busy month with a trip to The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas.  Now, just in time, a history flashback 20 years ago in July from the newsletter archives.

In the July 1992 newsletter, Pat Reeder covered global warming, currently referred to as “climate change”, and back then often referred to as “the greenhouse effect”.  It is interesting that the tone of the article leaned toward skepticism against the existence of human-caused climate change, mainly because of some inconsistencies in the evidence at that time.  Even a few years ago, many skeptics were on-the-fence about climate change.  Today, most skeptics in the movement are pretty convinced by the evidence that there is anthropogenic climate change.  To examine the evidence yourself, check out sites like the National Center for Science Education‘s Climate Change 101, and Skeptical Science.

Another story briefly covered the local television minister, Robert Tilton, who was in the middle of lawsuits over his healing claims.  Tilton was accused of swindling his followers into sending him money to heal them through their prayer requests that they would mail to Tilton’s organization.  Investigations found that Tilton took the money, and the requests were thrown in the trash without being read.

Pat Reeder wrapped up his section with a news roundup of various national articles about witches, astrologers, and Elvis sightings.

Long time NTS member John Blanton described his investigation into local practitioners of the Gerson therapy diet.  John attended a lecture on healing through Gerson therapy, and describes the basic claims of the therapy and reports about some of the people he spoke with at the lecture.  You can read more about Max Gerson, his claims, and the risks on Wikipedia.

Dan Phelps covered Reverend Carl Baugh, a young Earth creationist who claimed to find human footprints next to famous dinosaur tracks in the Paluxy River basin in Glen Rose, TX.  Baugh established the Creation Evidence Museum in a trailer outside of Dinosaur Valley National Park in Glen Rose.  In the museum he displays his claimed evidence for a young Earth, including evidence of the coexistence of man with the dinosaurs. Dan visited the museum and reported what he found there.

Check out the full July 1992 newsletter for all the details.