Monday, May 12, 2008

Here's the Harm...

By the way, I justed wanted to point out a new site I've added to the links in the sidebar. What's the Harm? is a site dedicated to exposure all the injurious consequences of various pseudoscience and woo. It's easily worth a couple hours of your time, so check it out.

For a taste of the contents, here's a link to an article on there discussed something called facilitated communication. Those of us who work with the mentally disabled run into this bit of gobbledygook quite frequently - it's the process by which a "helper" tries to get an autistic person* to spell out words by putting a stylus in the disabled person's hand and then "supporting" it as he or she suddenly, miraculously, is able to use the stylus to type words out on a keyboard. It's essentially the same effect as using a ouija board, only substituting a human victim for the planchette. Amazingly, it appears that the disabled victims are always exactly as smart and knowledgeable as the person "supporting" their hand. FC chicanery has also resulted in more than a couple family-destroying sexual abuse claims.

*Sometimes people with other disabilities are exploited in this way, but the severely autistic are at particular risk by they generally possess extraordinarily poor communicative abilities.

16 comments:

Garret said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Garret said...

Sorry, I realise my original q was confusing as asked let me try again-
Just a simple question. How is ID not MERELY an argument for polyphyletic descent versus monophyletic Universal Common Descent? How is merely questioning the ability of natural selection (which clearly influences micro-evolution) to be all that UCD proponents claim it is, to be a horrible unscientific backstep? Do you not realize that there is a lot of extrapolation in the theory of Universal Common Descent?

JAK said...

Ummmmm.

Garret, did you maybe write this comment referring to a different post? I'd be happy to discuss this one, but it really seems off topic...

Garret said...

no, kind of obscure, I know...but I went to "where's the harm" and saw ID, so technically....
Here is a non christian ID guy who tells his story, actually, the famous Smithsonian one...
http://www.rsternberg.net/pdf/sternintellbio08.pdf

Garret said...

I like the lunar landing hoax controversy, it cracks me up. Did you guys see the Fox special on that some years back? The Japanese have a high def camera orbiting the moon and should eventually show us the proof that will clarify the issue.

check out the link-
http://www.jaxa.jp/topics/2007/11_e.html

peace

JAK said...

I understand now, Garret, and I'll try to give you a useful answer within the constraints of a blog comment...

There are a couple of things here.

First, ID typically argues against evolution through a series of negative propositions - something was too complex to have appeared by chance, something else is irreducibly complex and couldn't be useful except in its final form, and so forth. It's not much of an argument for anything.

Second, the concept of polyphyletic descent is just a fancy sounding term for "after their kinds". I'm sure you know that. For the moment, I'll leave aside the problem that nobody can really define what a kind is in any rigorous and consistent way, and instead focus on what we'd expect to see if we had a situation of polyphyletic descent.

The main thing we'd expect to see are differences in very specific genetic areas, such as those governing body plans of significantly different organisms, say, sea anemones and cats (I'm focusing on animals here, but we can extend the discussion in general to all organisms). In a polyphyletic model, we wouldn't necessarily expect genes governing body plans to be similar - there's no reason for them to be. (One could advance the argument that the designer selected similar genes because they worked well, but such an argument doesn't bring any new information to the table.)

The problem though, is that we do see very similar genes in animals.

The genes that regulate body segmentation in animals are called homeotic genes, or Hox genes, and they're highly conserved. This means that if you look at a sea anemone, you'll see hox genes that are nearly identical to hox genes in cats. Or birds. Or us. In point of fact, you can interchange hox genes among species, and the body plans still develop properly. This is exactly the situation we'd expect to see with common descent, and it is present in every animal that we know of. Based on things like this, we can build the nested hierarchy of species relationships that most people call the Tree of Life.

Now, the interesting thing here is that the notion of common descent isn't intrinsically or inextricably connected to natural selection. Natural selection operates on populations of organisms with no regard for how those organisms are related to other populations of organisms. Natural selection does not imply common descent in and of iself.

Now, rather than go on and really bog down comments on Skippy's main post, I'll stop typing.

If you are really interested in pursuing this topic, there are probably better places to do it, some of which are friendlier than others, and which are more conducive of lengthy dialogs, with pictures.

JAK said...

One more thing that I should've put in last night.

The primary strategy for ID proponents to-date has been to try to shoehorn the concept into high-school level science classrooms. This is problematic for several reasons, the most egregious of which is that high-school science classes aren't the appropriate place to be teaching fringe material (creationism of any sort is fringe material with respect to science). High-school science classes are for giving students a broad-brush overview of the prevailing scientific knowledge and models so that students are ready for more advanced material when they get to college (as a practical matter, high-school science may be several years behind the current state of the subject matter, which is a problem in its own right...). Putting ID in high-schools is a fairly transparent tactic of getting to kids before they have the background to understand the issues. It's not a matter of "teaching the controversy", it's a matter of stealth indoctrination.

That said, teaching it as part of a sociology or comparative religion class, even at the high school level, could be done, if it was narrowly confined and not presented as science.

It's telling that the only people anywhere pushing ID are those with religious agendas...

Garret said...

Okay Jak,
Thanks for the input. I understand about the high school bio, prep for college dealio. High school is not the place for that, though it could be argued that "what is the harm" (get it?) taking a week or just a day to address the issue, as I am sure many do.
The "explore evolution" book from discovery is doing a rather fair job then, as it addresses homeotic genes, and presents UCD arguments for and against in 5 areas-fossil succession, anatomical homology, molecular homology, embryology and biogeography. A separate section on natural selection.

Important news from North Korean scientists just declassified....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBaPI2AKu2g

JAK said...

Skippy -

How do you want to handle the ID digression here? I'm happy to either take it to IIDB or talkrational or whatever, if Garret is agreeable. Elsewise, I suppose we can continue here. The only problem with that, apart from the fact that your discussion will be hijacked, is that it doesn't allow me to post graphics. (The whole polyphyletic/monophyletic thing could've been addressed with two pictures and about half the words that I used.)

Skippy said...

Imagine my surprise at creating a post to denigrate facilitated communication and then waking to find that it had spawned an multi-page discussion of creationism.

I'm perfectly fine with you guys carrying on this discussion here, but it may indeed be easier to continue on IIDB. It's up to you guys, I suppose.

JAK said...

Your call, Garret. You're missing out on the cool pictures by keeping it here, but IIDB can become a pile-on pretty quickly. Makes no difference to me.

Garret said...

Hi Jak,
It's alright, really. There will ultimatly be no convincing- but you will be happy to know I have been cross checking concepts such as ORFan genes on Panda's thumb, and trying to be fair looking into the subject.
I will take any links you throw my way and comment though-
Thanks,
Garret
ps I would like you to read the r sternberg link, its a fun read, and would be interested in your comments.

JAK said...

I've read partway through the Sternberg article. I'll put together some thoughts on it when I'm done.

JAK said...

Regarding Sternberg -

What you've really got here is a case of a guy with Discovery Institute connections going back to at least 2001 acting as a research associate at the Smithsonian (not an employee...) who gamed the system to get Meyers' article published when it really shouldn't have been.

I'll refer you to this article for some details, but I'm not sure I'd agree that Sternberg is a "non Christian" ID guy, and I'm basically convinced that he's engaged in some misrepresentation of his views of things between 2001 and the present.

I do expect that over the next few years we'll see the concept that is currently called ID evolve (oh, the irony...) into something that looks a lot like theistic evolution (which is what the Catholic church teaches, to all intents and purposes), and I expect that that transition will cause some upheaval within the ID crowd (Behe's honestly almost there, anyway...). Where the dust settles is anyone's guess, but I suspect the middle ground positions(the old-earth creationists, mainly) get swallowed up and we'll be back to the old Evolution vs Young Earth Creationism scenario.

Garret said...

Jak,
Thanks, will read the link.
Take care,
Garret

JAK said...

Final comment on Sternberg -

It may well be that he has some legitimate grievances about the way his case was handled, but it's stretching the story to claim that what happened was because he supported ID.

His support of ID was incidental to the fact that he broke rules and violated policies.

Anyhow...