Friday, April 13, 2007

Protein Evidence: T. Rex Related to Chicken

The Post article is here. An excerpt:
Unleashing a new, highly sensitive medical analyzer on fossilized bone from Tyrannosaurus rex, scientists have for the first time determined the precise molecular code of a dinosaur protein.

. . .

The first results, described in today's issue of the journal Science, show that the collagen protein in T. rex bone is extraordinarily similar to that of the modern chicken, confirming current thinking that dinosaurs' nearest cousins are birds.

Better start rethinking your chicken metaphors.

I now have much more respect for this man.

2nd SMU Prof: The Free Speech Defense of Efforts to Shut Down a Conference

In an arguably even more bizarre discourse on free speech rights and academic freedom, John Wise, another SMU professor is asserting that his free speech rights give him the right to use his political clout to shut down a conference in which his academic peers were scheduled to speak. (my previous post is here.) I am not sure that that is what he meant to say, but, if not, his position is hard to grasp.

He apparently fails to see the simple and crucial distinction between 1. speaking out against a conference and 2. using his power as a professor at a university to shut down a conference and keep it from ever happening. The writers to whom he is responding clearly were condemning the second and not the first. It is hard to understand how a reasonably educated person could have understood otherwise, or fail to see the distinction between 1. and 2.

As previously noted in the Dallas Morning News:
Science professors upset about a presentation on "Intelligent Design" fired blistering letters to the administration, asking that the event be shut down.

No one is saying that he does not have a right to speak out in the marketplace of ideas. However, he should not have the right to shut down the marketplace.

Are these two professors the best and the brightest at Southern Methodist University? Is anyone stating that they do not speak for the full faculty?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

SMU Prof: OK To Ban Speech If Speaker Is Not "Forthright"

In another remarkable statement of Darwinian Fundamentalist conviction, an SMU professor is asserting that it is just fine to shut down an academic conference if a powerful majority believes that the speakers have not been completely "forthright" about all their motivations and "intent" as reflected in their promotional materials. He also seems to suggest that speakers who hold certain personal religious convictions must fully disclose such convictions in the promotional literature before being allowed speak on a university campus.

He contends:
It is hardly censorship to demand both intellectual honesty and forthrightness in any public program on a university campus.

It is censorship when that "demand" is backed up with an attempt to shut down the conference. Let's look at the context: This statement is being made in defense of a group of established professors who tried to shut down a conference on Intelligent Design because, in their opinion, the speakers lacked sufficient "intellectual honesty" and "forthrightness." The attempt to "shut down" the conference is the language of The Dallas Morning News:

Professors opposed to the Bush library aren't the only angry faculty members at Southern Methodist University this week.

Science professors upset about a presentation on "Intelligent Design" fired blistering letters to the administration, asking that the event be shut down.

It should be obvious to all that this standard would have an enormously chilling effect on free speech and academic freedom in this country and in the university setting. If his standard were applied generally, nearly every politician in America would have to stop giving speeches immediately.

What is the dangerous idea that these professors want to ban from their campus? The idea that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection, and that such inquiries can be considered scientific in some sense.

The eminent professor's opinion piece is full of dubious opinions about the conference speakers' motives and mischaracterizations of the nature of the conference. I wish I had more time to tear it apart bit by bit. If one were to apply the professor's standards to his own article, it would be banned as well. I, for one, am glad it is not.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Nick Matzke's Stereotypes

In a comment on the Telic Thoughts blog, Nick Matzke of the NCSE has graciously revealed his working stereotypes of certain groups of people. After Bilbo laid out certain distinctions and differences between various groups that are skeptical of aspects of Darwinian evolution, he asked for comments: "Does anybody disagree with my diagram?" Matzke jumped in with his answer: "Yes." Part of his response is below. Notice Matzke's methods: he does not discuss the careful distinctions that Bilbo has laid out. He chooses to lump everyone into completely different categories to show that they are either religious or confused:
Bilbo's classification is just another version of the ID movement's big tent approach, which attempts to minimize the fact that ID was invented as a workaround once creation science was ruled unconstitutional, and that the movement was born and bred within American fundamentalism, and primarily exists to fill in the science section in the apologetics books and sermons of the fundamentalists. The secular-ish construals of ID, pretending that aliens or whatever could be the designers, are simply invoked for tactical reasons to attempt to avoid the creationism/apologetics charge. No one takes the aliens option seriously.

An accurate view would something like:

ID movement leaders:
~25% YEC & Biblical inerrancy
~50% OEC & Biblical inerrancy
~25% creationist, agnostic on the age of the earth & Biblical inerrancy
less than 5% accept common ancestry of apes and humans and go with some vaguer form of supernatural guidance, a strong view of Biblical inspiration but not quite inerrancy
- Plus a few percent (above and beyond the 100%) are not actually ID supporters, but generic cranks who hang out with the ID guys because the ID guys actually pay attention to them, unlike everyone else. E.g. Berlinski, Davison, etc.

ID supporters on the ground:
~50%+ YEC
~remainder OEC or agnostic/confused/haven't thought about it on the age of the earth
~10% who are confused by ID's deliberately vague language and think that "ID" means "theistic evolution" or something similar.

Mike Gene notes that people tend to be either "lumpers" or "splitters." Certainly observing similarities (lumpers) and differences (splitters) are both important in accurately analyzing people groups. However, Matzke apparently thinks certain distinctions should be ignored, even though they are very important to the relevant people groups. Note that he dismisses Bilbo's distinctions without making any attempt to show that they are inaccurate.

Clinging to simplistic and negative stereotypes and refusing to acknowledge distinctions is one of the main components of prejudice and bigotry. I do not know what is going on in Matzke's head, but the promotion of such stereotypes and the apparent denial of meaningful distinctions can only be harmful to civil discourse on this issue. It is also why so many people are skeptical of the Darwinian fundamentalist lobby.

In a previous post, I look at the question of when stereotyping results in bigotry.