To start with a cliche: you won't believe the week I've just had.
Unless you've ever moved.
My wife and I are on our way to New York to board the Queen Mary 2 on
We're overnighting in Syracuse and will be driving to NYC tomorrow.
So far the trip is uneventful.
One thing that is noticable is the types of cars that Americans
drive.There are almost no compact cars on the road in northern New York
state. And very few foreign (i.e. Japanese) cars. The majority of
vehicles are domestic (i.e. American) which surprises me because I've
driven American cars, and I'm surprised people would do it a second time.
Friday, April 28, 2006
To start with a cliche: you won't believe the week I've just had.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Seth Shostak is a name that I wouldn't really know if it wasn't for iTunes and the SETI podcast. His liking of painful puns and intelligent but folksy way of dealing with scientific issues appeals to me. (No math.)
It will always make me happy to say that Shostak is slamming the ID movement.
Unlike many Europeans, who find this whole debate faintly farcical, I am not amused. Teaching ID in biology class muddles science with metaphysics. In a country that rides high on technical proficiency, that's serious business.Support the man.
Friday, April 14, 2006
Hooray, good news in the papers...
Let's hope the American malaise doesn't spread to the UK.
Christ I'll be there in 3 weeks.
The Ottawa Citizen is often hit and miss about their coverage of a lot of issues. I thought they were getting a bit better with their coverage of several science related stories recently.
Then along came this article I found at the online site dated 8 Apr 06.
The opening starts out okay.
Canadian agency that funds university research made international headlines this week because it challenged a professor's assumption that evolution theory is incontrovertible.
Good start. I mean we all seem to agree with this and thankfully they haven't decided to argue the facts. But what the hell is this supposed to mean?
But the agency wasn't being backward, it was defending objective scholarship.
Hunh? Isn't reality objective?
Brian Alters, a professor of education at McGill University, had applied for a $40,000 grant to study "Detrimental effects of popularizing anti-evolution's intelligent design theory on Canadian students, teachers, parents, administrators, and policymakers." The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council rejected his application. Mr. Alters says that doesn't bother him: He knows SSHRC can't fund all applicants, and the council has given him funding for other projects.We all agree with the second part. Money is always tight, no matter how much is available. It's the classic guns and butter dilemma. But it's really the first part that stumps me. What would the positive effects be of teaching poor critical thinking and giving up when the questions get difficult?
What bothers him is one of the reasons the council gave for its refusal: that there was no "adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of Evolution, and not Intelligent Design theory, was correct." Mr. Alters was flabbergasted. "We don't have to justify gravity theory, plate tectonics, the earth going around the sun, germ theory. We award PhDs in evolutionary biology."
He's right: Evolution theory and intelligent-design theory are not two competing branches of biology. The first is biology; the second is metaphysics. Within the academic world the two theories are not equivalent in their scientific merit, which is why even the Vatican doesn't argue that Intelligent Design should be taught in biology classes.
I'll call this part a hit. Biology: evolution. Metaphysics: ID. We're back on track.
But Mr. Alters is researching education in the wider world, where many laypeople do question the theory of evolution. It isn't unreasonable for a multidisciplinary grant committee, representing Canadian society, to ask Mr. Alters to explain why his social-science research project needs to take a position on why and how organisms evolve. Mr. Alters is doing that, and more -- he's assuming it is "detrimental" for people to believe in intelligent design.
Whoa. Derailed. Of course he's assuming it's detrimental.
Would you start with the neutral position that Moon Hoax believers do believe what they say so it can't be assumed that it's detrimental to the study of history to believe in it. What if someone wanted to say that the French never made it to North America? Would you have to state that you didn't assume they were unlettered in history? Don't start with the position that the Potato Famine had a negative effect on the Irish population? It could go either way.
Okay, unfocussed half thought out rant over.
But why would they want you to assume that there was an upside to learning not-biology as biology?
His outrage that anyone would dare question evolutionary theory smacks, frankly, of an ideological bias. "The occurrence of evolution is a scientific fact," he says. That it is, but scientists must re-examine their theories and even their facts. Science isn't sacred, and if anyone ought to understand that, it's an academic trying to distinguish fact from belief. Einstein has been proven wrong, or incomplete, on some things. That isn't to say evolutionary theory is wrong, but it must be always open to discussion, elaboration and, yes, maybe re-examination.
Okay, that's true enough. But to continue the Einstien analogy, there are a lot of people out there trying to deny relativity lock stock and barrell. Would that have a negative effect on physics to believe in it?
Is it objective to assume, at the beginning of a research project and without evidence, that the beliefs of others are causing them harm? As the SSHRC committee put it, the proposal didn't substantiate the premise that intelligent design has detrimental effects on students and others.
Umm, sure. Is it objective to assume that believing in astrology harms your ability to objectively interpret astronomical data? Some stuff is just given.
Mr. Alters says that those very effects are what he wants to research, and he can't prove his premise until he's done the work. But it's easy to see why the committee had doubts about Mr. Alters' neutrality when he adds, "Intelligent design is a pseudo-science. Of course it has a detrimental effect on people." If Mr. Alters wants to study the effects of intelligent-design theory on education, he should. But his findings will lack scholarly credibility if they are based on an a priori assumption that people who accept intelligent design are damaged goods.
To borrow from Bill Maher, you don't have to give equal time to two sides of the argument if one side is full of complete crap.
Sometimes you're studying the pervasiveness or degree of a phenomenon.
I don't always agree with Christopher Hitchens, but apparently he agrees with me about the Judas Gospel
Thursday, April 13, 2006
There are a lot of people who only have a pop-science knowledge of evilution (can't resist), and I happen to be one of them. I read a lot of Gould and Dawkins (and feel qualified to comment whether or not they're actually at odds), and follow a lot of the issues in the States surrounding the 'controversy.'
It's so good to see a post like this one smacking down an argument that needs it.
Up early today.
We had to go up to the hospital to talk to my grandfather's doctor, Dr
F., before he spoke to Grampy about what decisions to take in the event
of his condition, mobility and prospects taking a downturn, but we were
a bit late. My grandfather is already DNR; having died once already, he
only wants one last shot at it. In the event of him needing full-time
care, needing to leave my grandmother and the others at the home, he
just wants to be made comfortable. Treatment should be withheld, pain
managed and family called.
Somewhere in the stress of all this, Mum mentally edited out the middle
step of treat, evaluate, release, repeat until release isn't an option,
discuss and carry out wishes; she got to treat then wishes. Our
conversations managed to take a load off her mind. Still, the idea of
making him comfortable as he waits to die feels like killing him.
I'm my typically conflicted self. I believe in dignity and quality of
life as self-evident; I don't want to loose my grandfather however. A
storied war vet with a presence in our family like his is a hard thing
to let go of. He may be the last Military Medal holder left in Nova
Scotia. That makes him at the pointy end of a passing generation.
And he's sick.
And he belives in quality of life as well.
And I don't want to not be able to call him and ask him about his card
He likes hearing from my sister and I. He enjoys our phone calls.
He hates most everything about what his life has become.
He feels useless. He doesn't know what he's good for.
He's sick. He can barely breathe.
We love him. We have to let him go. Within a couple of months we will.
We trucked to his room and sat with him for a while. I told small
stories of my wife not wanting to try a French restaurant in Tokyo for 2
years before she relented to my needling. Then we ended up there once
every month or two for supper.
I got him apple juice.
We made our good byes with Grampy around noon and visited my grandmother
briefly. I'll see her again.
Around 1300h we departed for Halifax Airport (I'll have to check if it's
actually international or not. We seem to have a fair number of
international airports that only fly to Moncton) in our Altima with the
dickey front left tire.
There are days when you have to make decisions. Some of them are affect
other people. Some of them are about other people. Some of them you make
around other people about them.
Today, a bit of all of them happened in one. My Mum, speaking to the
doctor treating my grandfather worried that he wouldn't be able to do
this sort of thing much longer.This sort of stress and recovery is just
too hard on a 90-year old, no matter how stubborn or robust he was in
his youth. The doctor knows the stress that he's been having adjusting
to his weakened state. He knows how independent my grandfather was, is
and wishes he still were. He knows that the move from a retirement home
to a nursing home would kill him, as my father says, as sure as a bullet.
Based on his assessment, the doctor felt that when he could no longer be
cared for at the retirement home and would have to make the move to the
next level of care, he would need to speak to my grandfather about
options. Options would mean continuing or discontinuing treatment. And
that means living or dying.
My mother was necessarily distraught over the idea of having to make
choices like that. She agreed with the doctor because we all know that
Grampy hasn't really wanted to live for a while now, and has said so on
several occasions; old soldier that he is, he can't surrender.
So we talked about it for a while. Somewhere in the conversation, I felt
a pang of guilt over spurring her to speak to Grampy about his wishes
yesterday. She wanted to, but was looking for a reason to avoid it and I
wouldn't give her one. Today we were discussing his death in more
concrete detail. I just wished briefly that the two conversations hadn't
been so close.
We spoke to the good folks at the retirement home and the manager
assured us that as long as he could weight bear, we wouldn't need to
consider endings. That may have bought him two months.
Mum resolved to speak to the doctor again.
In the evening my grandmother insisted that we have supper with her at
the home, which didn't please us much as senior portions and senior
level blandness would surely leave us wanting. In the end, you can't
really turn down aged family members flat. Two bags of microwave popcorn
back at the motel took the edge off.
There are days when you have to make decisions.
Monday, April 10, 2006
The Ottawa Citizen had an article on the Gospel when I got up on Friday.
The Halifax Chronicle Herald ran a similar article.
I didn't really read it too hard, but the basics were:
* A manuscript that had bounced around for about 30 years was
subjected to analysis, scrutiny and translation.
* It was a Coptic script written early Gnostic text
* It was dated to the 4th century
* Judas was depicted as heroic and following Jesus' directions. He
didn't betray; he obeyed.
The thing with it is that I don't really know what new, philosophically
or theologically, this brings to the table. First of all, Judas' role in
the crucifixion is well known, but the idea that it's vital and
indispensible has also been teased out of the canon and hashed over
pretty well. That an all powerful being's earthly incarnation would have
seen it coming is pretty obvious.
That Judas might have been dispatched isn't canon to my memory, but it's
hardly new either. Most famously it was dramatized in The Last
Temptation of Christ, which has a great exchange between Willem Dafoe
and Harvey Keitel on the subject.
Now, as a historical document it's riveting.We finally have a copy of
something that we'd only had references to previously. We have another
piece of the puzzle concerning the early history of Christianity.
So here we are at the end of another day.
I took a few notes at Duncan's Pub on Victoria Street, but still haven't
gotten them out of my daypack. (Try the Seafood Chowder if you're in town)
My grandfather is doing better, but still can't really stand on his own.
We're not sure if he ever will.
Bringing my grandmother up to see Grampy, we had to make sure that she
sat looking at his left side. Yesterday she spent all her time
commenitng on the razor cut on the right side of his chin. It seemed
that she couldn't focus on anything else when she was up yesterday. At
one point we started to giggle to ourselves about it.
Today, we had to avoid it. We actually wanted her to focus on the fact
that Grampy is sick.
Later in the day, Mum had to discuss the inevitable with him:
arrangements. Over supper we'd discussed it. And I'm glad she gritted
her teeth and asked him about his wishes. On some level, it's got to be
a worry for him as well, that his wishes might not be respected.
I still can't see improvement, in any real sense. And that makes these
visits all the more important.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
Last link of the day.
I mentioned the 9 scientists who signed the Dissent from Darwin petition in a post on the SSHRC debacle yesterday (or the day before).
Creekside takes down the National Post article in the link above.
Search the Ottawa Citizen archieve for the article I found.
No matter how thin you slice it it's still crap.
Dear New York Times.
Why would you take an article about anything scientific and quote Behe in it?
Hat tip to Canadian Cynic
Maybe I'm being lazy by linking to another post on the SSHRC decision, but the more we kick up a stink about how this went down the better. Maybe. But it's late, so here we go.
We overslept this morning. And then the phone rang.
My grandfather was unresponsive when they tried to wake him. The
preliminary thought was he might have had a massive stroke during the
night. If we were say anything to him, we'd want to get over to the
hospital soonest. There were periods where he wasn't breathing for a few
minutes at a time.
We rushed over.
My mother held his hand and he made a noise, gutteral and
sub-linguistic, but it was an acknowledgement. There was still presence
with advice from the doctor, he was moved to a private room. The doctor,
who has an obviously forgettable name, felt that 2-3 days was all he had.
We sat with him for a while, then I grabbed a cellphone and walked
outside. I called my father (still looking after the wife back in
O-town) and let him know what was going on. I just don't see how a
90-year old man can go to the hospital and nearly die 6 days out of 10
for a month and have anyone expect it to go on.
Then I called my sister and let her know the updates. Her husband is
away in Saskatchewan, so she doesn't think she can travel, what with the
neice and all.
I went back in and spoke with the nurse for a few minutes.
We sat with Grampy for a while longer when he rolled over. Ten minutes
later he sat up.
When the nurse asked "How do you feel?"
"With both hands."
He spent the next 10 minutes cycling through his favourite lines, quips
and wisecracks as he crawled toward lucidity.
Don't think I mean he's back up to full strength. He stopped breathing
for while periodically.
At one point Mum and I looked at each other when it happened. We didn't
know what to make of it. "Then he asked, 'How long?'"
"How long until I die?"
There are no answers to a question like that.
CanJet seems to be a reasonable way to travel. As a cut rate airline
it's decent. Let's face it Air Canada doesn't offer any more services
but will charge full service price.
My grandfather is ill again, or still, depending on how you view these
things. Lately, he's been in hospital more than out. He's one of these
old school guys who just doesn't seem to give up the fight, no matter
how much he may want to nowadays. At 90, it's really not that hard to
let go and decide to move on.
Or is it?
I don't know. I can think about it, but who knows anything until we're
It's a sad time in the family as his health declines. My mother,
travelling with me, is quite distraught. She's not sure what to do. As
my wife and I prepare to leave Canada, this is one of the things I have
It's still tough to make the visit.
We land easily enough and a rented Altima gets us to Amherst.
Saturday, April 08, 2006
SETI and Intelligent Design are not comparable. Continuing the theme that's already started up, I bumped into another article telling ID to go get bent when it want's to bask in the respectability of actual sciences.
Hat Tip to Nightlight for leading me to this one.
And then Canadian Cynic drops his hat into the fray.
His follow up post calls for Halliwell's resignation.
Friday, April 07, 2006
Under the headline 'Intelligent Design' debate crosses the border, the Ottawa Citizen actually sided with reason while exploring the background of the situation. ID is gaining some ground in Canada, that's undeniable.
The Social Sciences and Humanitites Research Council rejected Alters' proposal for a study on the topic as his proposal hinged on the 'assumption that evolution is unassailable.'
"If I was talking about gravity in an application," says Mr Alters, "I wouldn't have to justify the law of gravity. Evolution is not an assumption - it is a scientific fact."Which is pretty much what we're on about.
The article gives some background on the development of the debate, including the 9 uni professors who recently signed a petition doubting Darwin, which has a whiff of Discovery Institute crap on it.
I did find interesting that Janet Halliwell, v-p of the SSHRC,
has described the wording of the letter as 'misleading,' and said that the research council did not intend to cast doubt on the survival-of-the-fittest theorieswhich makes me laugh beacuse the next thing she told CanWest News Service was that
there is a growing belief among scientists that some phenomena in the natural world "may not be easily explained by current theories of evolution."
Larry Felt, a sociology prof at Memorial, rehashed the same points for the article. Frankly I didn't find it better than anything else out there. His only valuable quote was to say the council didn't want to
just yield predictable results that "dump on the religious right."Now, I don't particularly have a problem with that. I approach religion the same way I approach golf. I really don't get the point, see that some people do enjoy it and really wish they'd keep it to themselves. Don't buy me Bibles or golf clubs; don't pray for me or tell me how many under par you shot.
He described Mr. Alter's planned study as being framed in "good guy versus bad guy" language that rejected intelligent design out of hand.
I'll give Alters the parting shot:
Mr Alters insists that "popularizing pseudo-science is detrimental" by definition. "I shouldn't have to make the case."
Hoo and indeed ray.
He ends with 17 possible answers to why patients prayed for were slightly worse off.
1. God doesn't exist.
2. God doesn't intervene.
3. God is highly selective.
4. God ignores form letters.
5. God requires a personal reference.
6. God is unmoved by the size of your lobbying team.
7. God ignores third parties.
8. God takes His time.
9. God has a backlog.
10. God ignores you if you don't pray hard enough.
11. God ignores you if you're wicked.
12. God helps those who help themselves.
13. God does not hear the prayer of a Christian.
14. God chooses His own outcome measures.
15. God doesn't participate in studies.
16. God hates being told what to do.
17. God is malevolent.
Spectacular Arctic fossil shows how creatures first came ashore
Two, count 'em two, stories in the Citizen today. Normally, I'd worry about what they might say, but both of them assume the veracity of evolution.
If you recall yesterday, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council turned down an application for $40,000 in grant money to look at the effects of popularizing pseudo-science (ID in particular) on the acceptance of evolution in Canadian society. Among the reasons cited was the fact that the proposal didn't convincingly prove that evolution was correct and Intelligent Design was not.
McGill University in Montreal has decided to chalenge the decision, and I say more power to them for it.
The council reacted as such:
Eva Schacherl, a spokeswoman for the council, said Wednesday the multidisciplinary committee was not convinced the proposal's scholarly approach was sound or that it would provide objective results on the question.
And Alters responded to that:
Alters acknowledged those reasons were contained in his rejection but he was amazed he was expected to prove established scientific fact.
"Evolution is not an assumption - it's a fact of science," he said in an interview. "If someone was writing a proposal to investigate how people think about gravity, the researcher would not have to justify gravitation theory in the proposal."
"It's rather strange and it's also rather strange that one would think I need to make a justification that advancing a pseudo-science is detrimental to people. It's automatically assumed that popularizing a pseudo-science would be detrimental."
I'll post something about the results when in.
Interestingly enough this is a slightly different article than the one that appeared in the paper itself today.
The reactions are a little more muted in the online version. I'll post something about that article later today.
Still, the front page did have a good article about the Tiktaalik (did I spell that right? I really should just cut and paste) and it's importance as a transition fossil between water-dwelling and land-dwelling creatures.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
This Blogger Bar extension for Firefox is pretty great, but I seem to be having trouble with the computer tonight. So I'll do this post over again.
I've been running into post and articles recently where actual experts in fields loved by the Creationist (sorry, I forgot the tuxedo...ID) crowd have been telling the IDers to get out of their sandbox.
A while back SETI astronomer Seth Shostak wrote an article for Space.com (previously posted on) telling the ID crowd and get bent. He didn't see the connection between Intelligent Design and SETI.
Now, new to me, I've found a good post telling these guys to stop trying to paddle in the archaeological pool. It's always nice to hear someone saying that.
Give it a read.
PZ Myers (Pee Zed, to flaunt my Frostback side) picked up on the story of Brian Alters as well.
On behalf of Canada, I'll say it's not your fault, PZ, so no apology needed.
On the other hand, there are a lot of whack-a-doodles on your side of 49 who need to cough up a couple of mea culpas.
There was a reference to this week's Nature covering this as well, but the story is premium content and I don't have a subscription. If you do, let us know what it says.
Yesterday I think I mentioned that what happens with our American cousins affects us all. Today's front page of the Ottawa Citizen confirmed that for me. Staring me in the face was the above headline. (Weblink to the online version of the story)
The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council decided that McGill professor Brian Alters couldn't get a $40k grant
The planned project, submitted last year to the research council, is titled: "Detrimental effects of popularizing anti-evolution's intelligent design theory on Canadian students, teachers, parents, administrators and policymakers."Why you may ask did they deny the grant?
In denying his request, the research council's peer-review committee recently sent Mr. Alters a letter explaining he'd failed to "substantiate the premise" of his study.There comes a point when you have to wonder if they make people prove the atom in every proposal related to physics. (Upcoming Sarcasm Alert) "I'm sorry to report that your proposal has been declined. You failed to adequately justify the assumption in your proposal concerning the existence of gravity."
It said he hadn't provided "adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of evolution, and not intelligent-design theory, was correct."
Evolution is an assumption in the same way that gravity and the atom are. In the words of Gould, withholding assent makes one look foolish at this point.
The text of the letter was in a pull out quote which is reproduced at the end of the online article.
Interestingly the "evolution assumption" is buried in the middle. (Hoping that primacy and recency would make people overlook what may be the most telling comment?)
'Assumption' Sinks Grant Application
The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council's letter to McGill professor Brian Alters:
"The committee found that the candidates were qualified. However, it judged the proposal did not adequately substantiate the premise that the popularizing of Intelligent Design Theory had detrimental effects on Canadian students, teachers, parents and policymakers. Nor did the committee consider that there was adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of Evolution, and not Intelligent Design theory, was correct. It was not convinced, therefore, that research based on these assumptions would yield objective results. In addition, the committee found that the research plans were insufficiently elaborated to allow for an informed evaluation of their merit. In view of its reservations the committee recommended that no award be made."
Frankly, this is a worrying development in the Canadian scene. I'll see about follow up later.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
This is about the 3rd time I've bumped into links to this site.
Fags, shrimp, amputees: What is it about God hating things these days?
Unlike God hates fags (no link, I won't pollute the TFT screen with that shit), this site actually asks and pretty much wraps up the main question that can be asked about God and prayer. And it asks it in a pretty indisputable way.
A worthy site to check out for a profound question.
And then I screwed up the posting. (A prouder person would probably say that Blogger screwed up, but I'm not that proud and I think it was me...) Probably as big a screw up was the fact that I wrote the post around a whole squodge of stuff I was doing at work and just sort of tacked a segue into Stephen Harper on the end. I'm not even sure it made sense to me. Anyway, cut to the end, I went to edit the post and lost it.
Since that time, the article has come to the front with Aetiology, The Education Wonks, and others. (none had much to say about the connection to Stephen Harper)
There is a real threat here, though. While it is the States, what happens to our American cousins affects us all. And it's not like we're immune here, as evidenced by Pharyngula's comments on Canadian nut-job and general reality-denier David P. Wozney. (Linky goodness to the details at Archy from Pee Zed's website).
Ignorance provides fertile ground to grow itself.