NTS LogoSkeptical News

Recent and fast breaking news of interest to skeptics.

We scan the spectrum of news of interest to skeptics. We quote people literally, and a lot of what people write is absolute nonsense. We present nonsense along with legitimate thought in order to give skeptics a view of the world on the other side of reason.

See back issues at the News Archives page.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

NCSE Reports

The National Center for Science Education is the premier organization opposing the introduction of pseudo science into public education. I give money to the NCSE. You should, too.

The NCSE publishes a six-times-a-year journal. It highlights guest articles of interest, book reviews, and a window into recent development regarding creationism and denial of global warming science. Here is an item from the September-October 2015 issue:

Louisiana: “We will read in Genesis and them [sic] some supplemental material debunking various aspects of evolution from which the student will present.” So wrote a Louisiana science teacher to her principal, as quoted by Zack Kopplin, writing in Slate (2015 Jun 2).

In his article, Kopplin continued his presentation of evidence that the teaching of creationism is prevalent in Louisiana’s public schools. As in his earlier article for Slate (LW15 Apr 21), he relied on material obtained from various Louisiana school districts via public records requests.

NCSE’s Josh Rosenau commented, “We know that one in eight high school biology teachers advocate for creationism, even though it’s unconstitutional,” but also suggested that the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act may have encouraged Louisiana’s teachers to do so.

“Louisiana politicians have supported the Science Education Act because they intended it to allow creationism in the classroom,” Kopplin observed, noting that the proponents of the bill in the legislature as well as the governor have conceded as much.

Welcoming the prospect of a lawsuit over the revelations produced by his public records requests, Kopplin concluded, “But for the moment, because Louisiana politicians refuse to take action, Louisiana students are reading Genesis in science class.”

Friday, 20 November 2015

Information Theory and Evolution

Chris Adami provides some insight.

By: Kevin Hartnett

November 19, 2015

There are few bigger — or harder — questions to tackle in science than the question of how life arose. We weren’t around when it happened, of course, and apart from the fact that life exists, there’s no evidence to suggest that life can come from anything besides prior life. Which presents a quandary.

Christoph Adami does not know how life got started, but he knows a lot of other things. His main expertise is in information theory, a branch of applied mathematics developed in the 1940s for understanding information transmissions over a wire. Since then, the field has found wide application, and few researchers have done more in that regard than Adami, who is a professor of physics and astronomy and also microbiology and molecular genetics at Michigan State University. He takes the analytical perspective provided by information theory and transplants it into a great range of disciplines, including microbiology, genetics, physics, astronomy and neuroscience. Lately, he’s been using it to pry open a statistical window onto the circumstances that might have existed at the moment life first clicked into place.

To do this, he begins with a mental leap: Life, he argues, should not be thought of as a chemical event. Instead, it should be thought of as information. The shift in perspective provides a tidy way in which to begin tackling a messy question. In the following interview, Adami defines information as “the ability to make predictions with a likelihood better than chance,” and he says we should think of the human genome — or the genome of any organism — as a repository of information about the world gathered in small bits over time through the process of evolution. The repository includes information on everything we could possibly need to know, such as how to convert sugar into energy, how to evade a predator on the savannah, and, most critically for evolution, how to reproduce or self-replicate.

This reconceptualization doesn’t by itself resolve the issue of how life got started, but it does provide a framework in which we can start to calculate the odds of life developing in the first place. Adami explains that a precondition for information is the existence of an alphabet, a set of pieces that, when assembled in the right order, expresses something meaningful. No one knows what that alphabet was at the time that inanimate molecules coupled up to produce the first bits of information. Using information theory, though, Adami tries to help chemists think about the distribution of molecules that would have had to be present at the beginning in order to make it even statistically plausible for life to arise by chance.

Quanta Magazine spoke with Adami about what information theory has to say about the origins of life. An edited and condensed version of the interview follows.

Candidates supporting creationism

Ben Carson touts creationism during Nashville speech

, dboucher@tennessean.com3:06 p.m. CST November 2, 2015

Republican presidential contender Ben Carson restated his views on creationism Sunday, wrapping up his weekend in Tennessee with a visit to one of Metro Nashville’s largest churches.

Carson delivered two speeches Sunday morning at Cornerstone Church in Madison. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who’s recently surged in GOP presidential polls, weaved between a litany of different themes during the speeches, including everything from economics to his background growing up in Detroit.

Although the address at times sounded like a stump speech, Carson repeatedly returned to religion. This included his retort to “progressives” who question why he doesn’t believe in evolution.

“They say, ‘Carson, ya know, how can you be a surgeon, a neurosurgeon, and believe that God created the Earth, and not believe in evolution, which is the basis of all knowledge and all science?’,” Carson said during his second speech.

“Well, you know, it’s kind of funny. But I do believe God created us, and I did just fine. So I don’t know where they get that stuff from, ya know? It’s not true. And in fact, the more you know about God, and the deeper your relationship with God, I think the more intricate becomes your knowledge of the way things work, including the human body.”

This is not the first time Carson has spoken about his doubts on evolution. Several national publications, including the Washington Post, BuzzFeed and others, have noted a speech from 2012 and other comments where Carson likened the big bang theory to “fairy tales” and questioned the motivation behind Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

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