Tag: evolution

Akin breakin' science

By Phil Plait | August 24, 2012 6:31 am

[NOTE: This is not my first foray into political opinion on this blog, so I expect to get a lot of comments which could charitably be called angry. BEFORE YOU COMMENT, first, read the ample links I have included in this post. These are how I back up my arguments, and reading them first may prevent you from saying something already refuted. Second, read my note about posts covering politics and religion. Third, read my commenting policy. Thank you in advance.]

Unless you’ve had your head buried in the mantle of the Earth this week, you probably heard what Missouri Congressman Todd Akin said about women’s bodies and rape. If you haven’t, my friend Matt Lowry at Skeptical Teacher has the lowdown.

But in a nutshell – apt phrasing, that – Akin claimed that:

First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare… If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

This is so appallingly ignorant – to be kind – that it makes my brain explode. Pregnancy from rape is not rare; tens of thousands occur every year. His claim about the female body is complete claptrap, nonsense. And his use of the word "legitimate" is just grossly insulting. As President Obama said the next day: "Rape is rape".

So here we have a man who has not just no knowledge of what happens during rape and conception, but actually provably wrong knowledge. And he makes laws about these things.

It’s clear that Akin’s beliefs are driven by his religious fundamentalism. This would be a matter of concern to me for any lawmaker, but you have to understand: he sits on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee!

The irony in this should be evident.

And worse, Rep. Akin is not the only woefully under- and simply miseducated person on that committee who attacks science. It’s full of such antiscience people. Examples include Mo Brooks, a global warming denier; Ralph Hall, who tried to use porn to scuttle a science funding bill; Jim Sensenbrenner, another global warming denier; Paul Broun, a creationist (a creationist on the science committee!); Dana Rohrabacher, another climate change denier, and more.

It’s mind boggling.

Today, more than ever before, we need politicians who are educated about science and technology. At the very least our economic future depends on science! Yet we have people on the Science Committee who are devoted to actively destroying it.

This is why I support Science Debate 2012. The goal of this organization is to educate the public about where politicians stand on science issues, including evolution, global warming, energy, and the economy.

We need to hold current politicians accountable when they are flatly against reality, and we need to make sure we elect ones who are reality-based. As Rep. Akin showed us clearly, this spans a broad range of political issues.

Let me leave you with this: in America, only about half the people of voting age actually go out and vote. That means there is a vast, untapped resource of people who can make a real difference in November.

If you don’t vote, then you are letting someone else decide for you what to do with your money, your life, your future, and even your very body.

Learn the issues. Vote.

Related Posts:

Erasing false balance: the right is more antiscience than the left
Republican candidates, global warming, evolution, and reality
Next up for Congress: repeal the law of gravity
Antiscience party

You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true

By Phil Plait | November 1, 2011 7:00 am

Here at BA Central, I have my hands full trying to battle the Forces of Darkness: those who would spin, fold, and mutilate reality for their own gain. They may be motivated by greed, or power, or ignorance, or ideology, but the thing they all have in common is, they’re wrong. They come in many flavors: homeopaths, psychics, creationists, antivaxxers… and yes, sadly, far too many politicians.

And I can rail against them time and again, my arsenal filled with the facts from an entire Universe at my disposal, yet make hardly a dent in their armor.

Sometimes, though, a small dose of satire penetrates right through that shielding and pierces the very heart of antiscience. Thank you, The Daily Show, for fighting this good fight:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Weathering Fights – Science: What’s It Up To?
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

Related posts:

You can’t explain Bill O’Reilly
Ironic Onion
What else is there not?
Dork Tower busts ghosts

You know who wanted to see evolution in action? Katydid.

By Phil Plait | October 8, 2011 7:00 am

A few nights ago, my wife went outside for a moment, only to come running back in a minute later, grabbing me. "Phil, come out here, you have to see this!"

So I went out, and she pointed out this lovely lady to me:

I recognized it right away: a katydid, though that’s a fairly generic name. I think that’s actually an example of Microcentrum retinerve, or the Lesser Angle-winged Katydid (though it’s possibly Microcentrum rhombifolium; it’s hard to tell in these pictures*). They’re pretty common in North America, though usually not this far west from what I can tell. It was roughly 5 – 7 cm long, and quite pretty. I suspect this one is female because there are no brown spots near the tops of the wings, which males have (I wondered briefly if it may have been a nymph, but this late in the season that seems unlikely). I would’ve checked for an ovipositor, but c’mon, have some respect.

Check out those wings: they look amazingly like plant leaves, which is of course why my wife was so excited. The obvious conclusion is that long ago, the insects like this that had greenish wings with vein-like structures were harder to spot by predatory birds, and were able to pass this characteristic down to their kids (ones that were easier to see got eaten, and didn’t get a chance to reproduce as much). Little by little, bit by bit, every time one insect’s wings looked a bit more leafy than its siblings it would tend to live longer, and reproduce more. Over thousands, millions, of generations of katydids we get this: an insect that would be incredibly difficult to see from the air. Natural selection at work, my friends. Some people would even call this evolution. I know I would.

A very cool thing to see, and a fun example of how wonderful and subtle nature can be.

But sometimes subtlety is overrated. Wouldn’t it have been cooler to see one like this?

[If you like pix of insects, my Hive Overmind co-blogger Ed Yong just coincidentally mentioned the blog Myrmecos by Alex Wild, which has stunning photography.]

* And duh, of course I had to look those names up online. I’m an astronomer, not a bugologist.

Related posts:

Caturday bugs me
Busy as
That’s gotta sting
Happy Halloween! [DO NOT CLICK THAT if spiders freak you out. Seriously.]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Caturday, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: evolution, katydid

Republican candidates, global warming, evolution, and reality

By Phil Plait | September 8, 2011 12:27 pm

So, last night was another debate among the Republican candidates for President. While Ron Paul appears to have done quite well, at least according to an MSNBC poll, it was Rick Perry who is grabbing headlines.

Of course, that’s because what he said was outrageously awful. About climate science, he said, "…just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact, Galileo got outvoted for a spell." That analogy is so ridiculous it’s hard to know where to start; but a good place might be to simply say that Galileo had the advantage of being right. Just because a tiny fraction of people claim global warming isn’t real, or that humans aren’t responsible, doesn’t make them correct. Especially when going up against the overwhelming evidence compiled by a consensus of 97% of scientists who study climate as their career.

Also, the religiously conservative Perry should be a bit more circumspect on his analogies. It wasn’t scientists who were fighting Galileo, it was religious conservatives.

Bismillah, no!

Jon Huntsman, as expected, stood up for science, as Sheril Kirshenbaum points out on her new Culture of Science blog. And while I disagree with Huntsman on a number of social and government issues, it’s nice to know one of the Republican candidates is willing to at least dip his toe in reality. But how messed up is it that supporting actual evidence-based research is considered political suicide in the GOP?

If you’re curious about where the other candidates stand on issues of global warming and evolution, Luke Scientiæ has compiled an overview. I’ve looked it over and that article falls into line with what I’ve read elsewhere as well. It’s not a pretty picture; with the exception of Huntsman essentially all the currently viable candidates have gone out of their way to deny basic science such as evolution. That includes Ron Paul.

As Tom Chivers wrote for The Telegraph about this cohort of antiscience candidates:

Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution, as the old saw goes. Nothing: not anatomy, not biochemistry, certainly not genetics. Not species distribution or death or the immune system or sex. Nothing. It’s like trying to explain the behaviour of football players without acknowledging the existence of a game of football.

As I’ve pointed out before, the same is true for climate science. It’s de rigeur for Republican candidates to deny global warming, and it’s even worse for Tea Partiers. That’s not surprising as the noise machine rattles on; a recent study that did not link cosmic rays to global warming is being touted as saying exactly the opposite (you can find links to more about that on Greg Laden’s blog). Heck, a paper that got lots of play in the global warming denial sphere was so flawed a journal editor resigned over it, saying it should not have been published. But that won’t even slow things down.

As we get closer to the Republican nomination — yegads, still a year off — expect to see the noise ratcheted up and the rhetoric to get even more heated. This is going to be a very long process, and given what I saw last night, an embarrassing one.

Related posts:

The increasingly antiscience Republican candidates
Did Rick Perry just admit to violating the US Constitution?
Michele Bachmann needs to check her ID
Next up for Congress: repeal the law of gravity

Some good news, some bad news, and some background

By Phil Plait | April 19, 2011 12:30 pm

With the seeming onslaught of attacks on reality coming from all over the country, I hate to add to the bad news… but I will because the bad news shows just how silly antiscience legislators can be, and there’s also some good news to go along with it. So that’s nice. And I’ll end with an article that shows us why those of us in the reality-based community have such a hard time pushing back against nonsense.

The Good:

A couple of years ago Louisiana passed a law designed to destroy good science, allowing teachers to use creationist materials in the classroom, despite this being a clear violation of the US Constitution. So why is this good news? Because a bill has been filed to repeal that awful law. Even cooler, this bill came about because of efforts by a high school student in Baton Rouge named Zack Kopplin, who has been working with the Louisiana Coalition for Science.

In high school I was busy goofing off with my friends. Zack Kopplin is busy taking on the entire Louisiana State legislature.

Good on him! And while it’s still in the early stages of this fight, it shows that grassroots efforts can get things done.

The Bad:

Read More

Antiscience bill passes Tennessee House vote

By Phil Plait | April 8, 2011 7:00 am

A bill clearly intended to promote and protect antiscience passed in the Tennessee State House yesterday, by a vote of 70 – 23.

Let that sink in. 70 to 23.

The bill is another in a long series of creationist (and broadened into other antiscience topics) wedge bills designed to weaken the teaching of real science in public schools. The summary makes that clear:

This bill prohibits the state board of education and any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or principal or administrator from prohibiting any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught, such as evolution and global warming.

On the surface this sounds like legit science; after all, science thrives on understanding the weaknesses in ideas so they can be improved. But if you read that last part, conservative antiscience rears its head: the two specific cases mentioned are evolution and global warming.

That doesn’t sound like real science is the motivation behind this bill — and reading quotes by its supporters confirms it. What this really means is that if a teacher wants to declare the Earth is 6000 years old (or make some other clearly wrong ideologically-based claim), that teacher cannot be stopped.

Similar antiscience bills (usually given the Orwellian title of "academic freedom bills") have been created in Oklahoma (though defeated, barely), Mississippi, and in Louisiana, where creationist and part-time exorcist Governor Bobby Jindal signed it into state law.

So this bill passed the House, but it still has to pass the Tennessee Senate. They have their own version up for vote targeted for April 20. If you live in Tennessee, I urge you to go to the NCSE website, read up on this, and then write your local representative.

Because if this bill passes into law, then…

Fingering evolution

By Phil Plait | February 12, 2011 12:38 pm

I suspect the science in this may be a bit off, but it’s cool, and honestly, more than a little creepy.

If you like this — that is, if it doesn’t completely freak you out like it did me — then check out Cyriak’s blog and website which is loaded with such things. DO NOT MISS The Wall of Shatner. Very, very seriously funny and weird and freaky and messed up.

Tip o’ the finger (hahahah! Get it?) to Arthur Taylor.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Humor
MORE ABOUT: evolution, fingers

Why isn't science doing better under Obama?

By Phil Plait | November 2, 2010 12:30 pm

Over at The Intersection, Chris Mooney has an interesting discussion about why science is still so massively under attack right now, even though Bush’s anti-science regime is gone, and Obama promised to restore science to its rightful place.

Chris notes things have changed. In an interview he did he notes that before, it was a top-down attack, orchestrated by the White House. Now, we’re seeing more of a bottom-up effort to suppress science. I agree, though I’ll add that a lot of Congresscritters are pushing hard against science; I could easily name a half-dozen Senators and Representatives who are virulently antiscience. But we are seeing it at all levels, from school boards up to state legislatures (and Attorneys General) up to Congress.

There are too many attacks to even list coherently, ranging from climate science to evolution and stem cell research. It’s the same old list, in fact, but a lot of the names have changed since 2008. With this election today, I certainly hope things get better, but if anyone from the Tea Party is elected it certainly won’t help.

I implore everyone reading this to find out where your candidates stand on important issues. Not just taxes and health care and all that (which has become so polarized it’s obvious where people are just by what party they claim as their own) but also on science topics. I am hardly a single-issue voter, but where someone stands on things like global warming and the teaching of creationism is pretty important to me, too.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Science, Skepticism

Shouldn't Senators understand the Constitution?

By Phil Plait | October 19, 2010 12:00 pm

OK, this should be pretty obvious: the first official act of someone who is elected Senator of these United States of America is to swear to uphold the Constitution. So it stands to reason that maybe, just maybe, the person doing the swearing should understand the Constitution. Right?


Yeah. Watch this:

OK, first off: I know that picking on Christine O’Donnell, Republican candidate for the Senate in Delaware, is like shooting fish in a barrel, but easier. However, the media is screwing this up: personally, I don’t care what she believed ten years ago in college. Everyone does stupid stuff in college. It’s college. I’m far more concerned with what she believes now. And she’s emblematic for the rest of the Tea Party as well.

There are a lot of things to note in this video. The first is that multiple times she ducks Wolf Blitzer’s question about whether or not she thinks evolution is a myth, saying that her beliefs about evolution and creationism aren’t important; what’s important are local schools and what they can teach. That is utter baloney. As a Senator, she might be asked to vote on bills that are directly or indirectly involved with this issue, and her personal belief is very important indeed.

And why duck the question? Is she ashamed of being a creationist, or simply trying to avoid looking foolish on television?
Read More

Creationists still can't seem to evolve

By Phil Plait | October 11, 2010 12:30 pm

Creationists make me laugh (at least, when they aren’t making me beat my head against a wall). Sometimes their tactics adapt — dare I say evolve? — to new situations (like when they changed their name from creationism to Intelligent Design), and sometimes they don’t. Cherry-picking, taking things out of context, and deception are de rigueur for many of them.

smbc_evolutionEnter creationists Bob Enyart and Fred Williams. The former is the host (and the latter a guest host) of a creationist radio program called — hang on to your irony gland — Real Science Friday. On the October 8 show, they tackle (well, try to tackle) several issues about science, including one involving me. I downloaded the episode and listened to it, and wasn’t terribly surprised to hear them grossly mischaracterize science all through it. They manage to pack a whole lot of outright wrongness into just a few minutes; anyone who has passed middle school science would be able to see where they’re wrong. It’s the usual tour-de-force of creationist nonsense.

Which brings us to me. Last year, I took creationist Spike Psarris to task for misusing the term "evolution" when it comes to astronomy. Psarris has a series of videos out about creationist astronomy. In them, he uses the term evolution to stir emotions in creationists, and not for what it actually means. He then tried to squirm out of that, saying astronomers use the term evolution all the time. I then showed where he was being very deceptive there, trying to distract his readers away from the point that he was seriously misusing the term.

Re-enter Enyart and Williams. Starting at 18:45 in their radio show, they talk about this. Of course, they praise Psarris (who is wrong, wrong, wrong), but then turn to my own blog posts about him.

Oh wait, did I say "posts", plural? I meant they turn to my first blog post. That’s important; we’ll get back to that.

Read More


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar