May 29, 2007

Does science need religion?

Martin Rees, head of Britain’s Royal Society (i.e., national academy of science), thinks science needs all the support it can get from moderate Christians in these fundie-filled times. Unsurprisingly, Dawkins demurs: “If we are too friendly to nice, decent bishops, we run the risk of buying into the fiction that there’s something virtuous about believing things because of faith rather than because of evidence. We run the risk of betraying scientific enlightenment.”

Perhaps. But evangelizing that enlightenment to the more receptive end of the religious establishment can’t be all bad, can it?

Posted by Stephen at 3:25 PM in Religion + cults | Science + technology | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

April 24, 2007

Scientist of the Year

Meet Rupert Sheldrake, charlatan:

Many people claim expertise on psychic phenomena such as telepathy. But few can boast top-notch scientific credentials.
That’s what separates Rupert Sheldrake from the New Age pack. A botanist who earned a doctorate in biochemistry from Cambridge University and later studied at Harvard University, Mr. Sheldrake has earned an inter-
national reputation for applying scientific method to quasi-
scientific subjects.
Mr. Sheldrake spoke over the weekend at the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology conference at the Westfields Conference Center in Chantilly, winning a standing ovation from the crowd of 350 and demonstrating why he’s the world’s foremost go-to guy on all things paranormal.
Mr. Sheldrake, 60, abandoned a successful career in plant biology to advance a theory he calls “morphic fields and morphic resonance,” which holds that living beings inhabit unseen fields through which they can unconsciously transmit and receive information.
He says that’s why so many people say they can sometimes tell who’s calling before they pick up the phone or why dogs seem to know when their masters are coming home. He cited interviews with hunters who say they never look directly at their prey for fear that the animal will sense their stares and flee.
Rather than rely on anecdotal evidence, Mr. Sheldrake has conducted thousands of experiments aimed at testing the validity of such phenomena. In one trial involving two subjects, one of whom was blindfolded, he found that people successfully say whether they’re being stared at 60 percent of the time, higher than the 50 percent accuracy that would be expected if they merely guessed.
In an experiment on telephone telepathy, he had subjects decide who was calling from a list of four prospective callers. The rate if it were random chance would be 25 percent, but his subjects averaged an accuracy rate of 40 percent.
The experiment works best, he said, when the subjects have a close emotional tie. In a special aired on British TV, he conducted the trial with five sisters. Their accuracy rate was 50 percent.
“I think what this shows is that we’re much more interconnected with our environment than we think we are,” Mr. Sheldrake said.

Small wonder that John Maddox, editor emeritus of Nature, called one of Sheldrake’s books “the best candidate there has been for book burning in many years.”

But we are living in the new Dark Ages, so Sheldrake’s speaking calendar is full, and his research is apparently being funded by Trinity College, Cambridge.

Posted by Stephen at 12:02 AM in Science + technology | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

April 16, 2007

Unscientific American

Finally, the country gets to grips with astronomy astrology astronomology:

People in the U.S. know more about basic science today than they did two decades ago, good news that research-
ers say is tempered by an unsettling growth in the belief in pseudoscience such as astrology and visits by extra-
terrestrial aliens.
In 1988 only about 10 percent knew enough about science to under-
stand reports in major newspapers, a figure that grew to 28 percent by 2005, according to Jon D. Miller, a Michigan State University professor. He presented his findings Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The improvement largely reflects the requirement that all college students have at least some science courses, Miller said. This way, they can better keep up with new developments through the media.
A panel of researchers expressed concern that people are giving increasing credence to pseudoscience such as the visits of space aliens, lucky numbers and horoscopes.
In addition, these researchers noted an increase in college students who report they are “unsure” about creationism as compared with evolution.
More recent generations know more factual material about science, said Carol Susan Losh, an associate professor at Florida State University. But, she said, when it comes to pseudoscience, “the news is not good.”
… Belief in abduction by space aliens is [on] the rise, Losh said. “It’s not surprising that the generation that grew up on `Twilight Zone’ and early `Star Trek’ television endorsed a link between UFOs and alien spacecraft,” she said.
… Raymond Eve of the University of Texas at Arlington had mixed news in surveys of students at an unnamed Midwestern university.
The share that believed aliens had visited Earth fell from 25 percent in 1983 to 15 percent in 2006. There was also a decline in belief in “Bigfoot” and in whether psychics can predict the future.
But there also has been a drop in the number of people who believe evolution correctly explains the development of life on Earth and an increase in those who believe mankind was created about 10,000 years ago.
Miller said a second major negative factor to scientific literacy was religious fundamentalism and aging.

Unfortunately the fundies aren’t ageing anywhere near fast enough.

[Recycled post: I’m traveling. Originally published on February 17th 2007.]

Posted by Stephen at 12:30 AM in Evolution | Religion + cults | Science + technology | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

March 24, 2007

Creationist Marketing 101

Young-earth creationists are clearly smart, strategic people, so I wasn’t at all surprised to received an email “in Christ” from one Gus Foster, requesting my “support and promotion” for a University of Akron “creation seminar” by Robert and David Gentry. “Our battle cry,” Foster wrote, “is the editorial that the Akron Beacon Journal wrote after the [Ohio Board of Education] November election, in which they maintain there is no compatibility between creation and science. We have a surprise in store for them.”

I’m sure they do, and I’m happy to oblige—particularly after looking at “world-
renowned nuclear physicist” Robert Gentry’s Web site:

Did you know that scientific evidence abounds to sup-
port the biblical accounts of creation and the flood? Were you aware that reports outlining this evi-
dence passed peer review, and were published in the open scientific literature? Have you heard that, decades later, this evidence still stands unrefuted by the scientific community?
Etched within Earth’s foundation rocks — the gran-
ites — are beau-
tiful microspheres of coloration, halos, produced by the radioactive decay of primordial polonium, which is known to have only a fleeting existence.
The following simple analogy will show how these polonium microspheres — or halos — contradict the evolutionary belief that granites formed as hot magma slowly cooled over millions of years. To the contrary, this analogy demonstrates how these halos provide unambiguous evidence of both an almost instantaneous creation of granites and the young age of the earth.
A speck of polonium in molten rock can be compared to an Alka-Seltzer dropped into a glass of water. The beginning of effervescence is equated to the moment that polonium atoms began to emit radiactive particles. In molten rock the traces of those radioactive particles would disappear as quickly as the Alka-Seltzer bubbles in water. But if the water were instantly frozen, the bubbles would be preserved. Likewise, polonium halos could have formed only if the rapidly “effervescing” specks of polonium had been instantly encased in solid rock.
An exceedingly large number of polonium halos are embedded in granites around the world. Just as frozen Alka-Seltzer bubbles would be clear evidence of the quick-freezing of the water, so are these many polonium halos undeniable evi-
dence that a sea of primordial matter quickly “froze” into solid granite. The occur-
rence of these polonium halos, then, distinctly implies that our earth was formed in a very short time, in complete harmony with the biblical record of creation.

Or as the seminar flier succinctly puts it (click on image to view full-size), “God Spoke the World into Existence Instantly About 6,000 Years Ago.”

Curiously, Gentry has had a few problems persuading the scientific community to buy into this nonsense, despite resorting (unsuccessfully) to litigation.

The hapless Foster also notes that he is “personally trying to locate and communicate with Deborah Owens Fink,” the creationist crazy and UA associate marketing professor who was booted off the Ohio board in November. If he does find her—and a careful search of this blog may yield some clues—he might want to seek some marketing tips.

On the other hand, if Fink knows as much about marketing as she does about science, Foster may be better off in his current clueless state.

Posted by Stephen at 12:02 AM in Education | Evolution | Religion + cults | Science + technology | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

February 17, 2007

Unscientific American

Finally, the country gets to grips with astronomy astrology astronomology:

People in the U.S. know more about basic science today than they did two decades ago, good news that research-
ers say is tempered by an unsettling growth in the belief in pseudoscience such as astrology and visits by extra-
terrestrial aliens.
In 1988 only about 10 percent knew enough about science to under-
stand reports in major newspapers, a figure that grew to 28 percent by 2005, according to Jon D. Miller, a Michigan State University professor. He presented his findings Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The improvement largely reflects the requirement that all college students have at least some science courses, Miller said. This way, they can better keep up with new developments through the media.
A panel of researchers expressed concern that people are giving increasing credence to pseudoscience such as the visits of space aliens, lucky numbers and horoscopes.
In addition, these researchers noted an increase in college students who report they are “unsure” about creationism as compared with evolution.
More recent generations know more factual material about science, said Carol Susan Losh, an associate professor at Florida State University. But, she said, when it comes to pseudoscience, “the news is not good.”
… Belief in abduction by space aliens is [on] the rise, Losh said. “It’s not surprising that the generation that grew up on `Twilight Zone’ and early `Star Trek’ television endorsed a link between UFOs and alien spacecraft,” she said.
… Raymond Eve of the University of Texas at Arlington had mixed news in surveys of students at an unnamed Midwestern university.
The share that believed aliens had visited Earth fell from 25 percent in 1983 to 15 percent in 2006. There was also a decline in belief in “Bigfoot” and in whether psychics can predict the future.
But there also has been a drop in the number of people who believe evolution correctly explains the development of life on Earth and an increase in those who believe mankind was created about 10,000 years ago.
Miller said a second major negative factor to scientific literacy was religious fundamentalism and aging.

Unfortunately the fundies aren’t ageing anywhere near fast enough.

Posted by Stephen at 8:16 PM in Evolution | Religion + cults | Science + technology | Permalink | TrackBack (0)