August 21, 2005

Science Sunday

William Safire makes this claim about the term 'intelligent design':

... The marketing genius within the phrase -- and the reason it now drives many scientists and educators up the walls of academe -- is in its use of the adjective intelligent, which intrinsically refutes the longstanding accusation of anti-intellectualism. Although the intelligent agent referred to is Divine with a capital D, the word's meaning also rubs off on the proponent or believer. That's why intelligent design appeals to not only the DNA-driven Discovery Institute complexity theorists but also the traditional God's-handiwork faithful. ...

The fact that Safire thinks using the word intelligent 'intrinsically refutes' the anti-intellectualism of rejecting proven science intrinsically proves that he doesn't even know what anti-intellectualism is. The following New York Times article by Jodi Wilgoren, et al., may demonstrate that even-the-liberal-Times may not get the distinction between politics and science, which is its own form of anti-intellectualism. Although if you ever wanted a concise 'follow the money' article for the ID movement, this is it:

... Mainstream scientists reject the notion that any controversy over evolution even exists. But Mr. Bush embraced the institute's talking points by suggesting that alternative theories and criticism should be included in biology curriculums "so people can understand what the debate is about."

Financed by some of the same Christian conservatives who helped Mr. Bush win the White House, the organization's intellectual core is a scattered group of scholars who for nearly a decade have explored the unorthodox explanation of life's origins known as intelligent design.

Together, they have mounted a politically savvy challenge to evolution as the bedrock of modern biology, propelling a fringe academic movement onto the front pages and putting Darwin's defenders firmly on the defensive.

... "We are in the very initial stages of a scientific revolution," said the center's director, Stephen C. Meyer, 47, a historian and philosopher of science recruited by Discovery after he protested a professor's being punished for criticizing Darwin in class. "We want to have an effect on the dominant view of our culture."

For the [Discovery Institute]'s president, Bruce K. Chapman, a Rockefeller Republican turned Reagan conservative, intelligent design appealed to his contrarian, futuristic sensibilities - and attracted wealthy, religious philanthropists like the Ahmansons at a time when his organization was surviving on a shoestring. More student of politics than science geek, Mr. Chapman embraced the evolution controversy as the institute's signature issue precisely because of its unpopularity in the establishment.

... As much philosophical worldview as scientific hypothesis, intelligent design challenges Darwin's theory of natural selection by arguing that some organisms are too complex to be explained by evolution alone, pointing to the possibility of supernatural influences. While mutual acceptance of evolution and the existence of God appeals instinctively to a faithful public, intelligent design is shunned as heresy in mainstream universities and science societies as untestable in laboratories. ...

Some questions for Ms. Wilgoren: Since when is the explanation that god made everything unorthodox? Do political disputes have anymore bearing on what's scientifically accurate today than they did when Galileo was locked up by the church?

It's revolting for this supposedly objective reporter to describe ID as "much philosophical worldview as scientific hypothesis," without giving even an outline of the reasons (not the claim, the reasons) why it isn't a scientific hypothesis at all. Why can't it be tested in a lab? I know, but Ms. Wilgoren's readers will be left in the dark if they, too, don't know already. You can't prove divine intervention unless it happens in front of a video camera or something, and any case of claimed divine intervention is wholly disproven if something that's claimed to be 'irreducibly complex' can be shown to have any precursors with other functions in ancestral organisms.

Let's be plain: So-called intelligent design is shunned in university science classes because it isn't science, not because it's heresy. It's an insult to heresy to claim that this standard, dominant and tenacious worldview is some sort of rebel cause.

Then The Corner, and Republicans in general, also seem eager to demenstrate a shaky grasp of what the intimidation of scientists means, via a member of the Colorado State Legislature:

... As a (then) Colorado State Representative, I sponsored a bill to ban so-called therapeutic human cloning, in 2001 if I remember correctly.

A dean of the Department of Natural Sciences from a local university campus agreed, to my surprise, to testify in favor of the bill. She agreed with most the conservative critique of human cloning: the science isn't there; the promises are overblown; adult stem cells are providing therapies now; and even if it did work, creating human life to kill it for the benefit of others is morally and ethically problematic.

A day before the hearing on the bill, she apologetically called to say that she had been spoken to by university leaders, and she would be unable to testify. I don't know what threats were made, only that an academic willing to speak out against cloning was silenced by the administration. ...

Perhaps university leaders told her that her reputation as a scientist would be called into question if she threw the weight of her academic position as dean behind a personal opinion littered with factual inaccuracy. While the personal opinion could be debated, the science (young as it is) is showing a lot of promise. Emphasis mine:

... The Swiss researchers used a patch of fetal skin 1.5 inches square. They grew cells from it in tissue culture and let the cells spread out on sheets of a material called collagen, forming a kind of artificial skin. They cut that into pieces 3 1/2 by 5 inches and placed about four of them on 10-day-old burns in eight children. The burns were second- and third-degree, they said, and all would normally have undergone skin grafting.

The fetal-cell material disappeared, but it was not incorporated into the regenerating skin. The scientists determined that by testing the genes in a piece of skin taken from a healed burn in a female patient. The skin contained no male cells, which it would have if it contained any of the fetal material.

Skin cells secrete numerous chemical "growth factors" that cause progenitor skin cells to divide, spread out and attach to one another. Exactly how they differ from the cells of newborns or adults is uncertain.

... A main problem with healed but heavily scarred burns is that they contract, limiting the motion of joints. Grafts frequently leave an uneven contour on the skin surface. Neither of these problems occurred in the eight children, according to the report. There was "total recovery of mobility, especially in hands and fingers."

... The team calculated that the small piece taken in this case could ultimately produce more than 2 million of the squares that were put on the burns. ...

Why, oh why, do the wingnuts hate science?

Posted by natasha at August 21, 2005 03:00 PM | Science | Technorati links |

And they hate the born in favor of the unborn. I still remember theold cartoon. Panel one was a pregnant woman, and on his knees before her was a fot man in a suit saying "Miracle of life!" In the next panel she's holding a child, and he's pointing at her screaming "Dirty little welfare cheat!"

That says it all.

Posted by: Scorpio at August 21, 2005 05:26 PM

If I were a science teacher, I would say on the very first day of class, 'God created everything and you don't need to know anything else. We've covered ID and now we can get on with your education'.

Posted by: mikefromtexas at August 21, 2005 09:25 PM