Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mystery Noise Investigation Enrages Discovery Institute

Take a look at at this article about a mystery noise that's been annoying neighbors in Pikesville, Maryland.

Residents reported explosions and flashes of light in the middle of the night. They reported the noise to the police, who seemed skeptical until they captured it on video. According to the article,

"Whatever it is there's a scientific explanation," said Johns Hopkins University Physicist Dr. Peter Armitage, who reviewed the video tape evidence and went to the neighborhood where it's happening to see if he could find any possible causes.

Armitage says more evidence is needed before he can form a scientific conclusion.


[Bonnie] Friedman agrees. "We even said maybe it's aliens. We're at the point where we'll listen to anyone's theory. We just need to stop it because my homeowners need to sleep."

This has apparently enraged the Discovery Institute. Spokesman John West said, "Scientific materialism--the claim that everything in the universe can be fully explained by science as the products of unintelligent matter and energy--has become the operating assumption for much of American politics and culture." He took issue with Armitage's claim that the noise and light must have a scientific explanation: "Although this line of reasoning exhibits a surface persuasiveness, it ignores the natural limits of scientific expertise... If the history of scientific materialism in politics shows anything, it is that scientific experts can be as fallible as any one else."

Biologist Jonathan Wells thinks Bonnie Friedman is not being fair by considering aliens as a valid explanation, but not God: "Probably everyone would concede that attributing design to space aliens doesn’t ultimately solve the problem; it just moves the solution further away.... Why not God?"

Sounds pretty convincing to me. I don't know why the Baltimore County police aren't considering the possibility that this sound-and-light show is supernatural. After all, the Bible tells us that God intervenes all the time in human affairs. Why not in Pikesville, Maryland?


[All quotes from DI spokesmen are genuine, although they have been taken out of context for comic purposes.]

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

John Derbyshire Has Expelled for Lunch

John Derbyshire and I disagree about many things, but one thing we can agree on is the rank dishonesty of the intelligent design movement. In this piece for National Review, he takes on "Expelled" and the Discovery Institute, and when he's done, there's not much left to say.

Some choice quotes:

"When talking about the creationists to people who don’t follow these controversies closely, I have found that the hardest thing to get across is the shifty, low-cunning aspect of the whole modern creationist enterprise."

"The old Biblical creationists were, in my opinion, wrong-headed, but they were mostly honest people. The “intelligent design” crowd lean more in the other direction. Hence the dishonesty and sheer nastiness, even down to plain bad manners, that you keep encountering in ID circles."

"The “intelligent design” hoax is not merely non-science, nor even merely anti-science; it is anti-civilization. It is an appeal to barbarism, to the sensibilities of those Apaches, made by people who lack the imaginative power to know the horrors of true barbarism."

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Work of Dalia Krieger in Combinatorics on Words

My student Dalia Krieger recently defended her Ph. D. thesis successfully. She'll be leaving Waterloo soon to take up a postdoctoral position in Israel. That's a good excuse to talk about some topics in combinatorics on words.

Dalia's thesis focused on problems dealing with "critical exponents". To explain what she did, I first need to define the notion of powers in words. By a "word", I just mean a string of symbols. A square is a nonempty word of the form xx where x is a word. For example, the word murmur is a square in English (let x = mur). Similarly, we can define cubes, and more generally, n'th powers, where n is an integer ≥ 1.

We can even define fractional powers! We say that a word y is a p/q power if y is of length p, and consists of a word x of length q repeated some number of times, followed by some prefix of x. For example, alfalfa is a 7/3 power, because it can be written as (alf)2a. We say that the exponent of alfalfa is 7/3.

The critical exponent of an infinite word x is defined to be the supremum of the exponents of all subwords of x. (Here a subword is a contiguous block of letters; it is called a "factor" in Europe.) Of course, this supremum could be infinite. Given an infinite word, it is a very interesting and challenging problem to determine its critical exponent.

Now, there is a particular class of infinite words that is of particular interest: these are the word that are generated by iterating a morphism. A morphism is a map that sends every letter in some finite alphabet to a finite word. We can then apply the morphism to a word by applying it to each individual letter and concatenating the results together. Thus, a morphism is a map f that satisfies f(xy) = f(x)f(y). Provided the domain and range of a morphism are over the same alphabet, and the morphism is non-erasing (never maps a letter to the empty string), we can iterate a morphism, obtaining longer and longer words. If in addition f(a) = ax for some word x, then each iterate, starting with a will be a prefix of the next, so we can talk about the unique infinite word that has all the iterates as prefixes.

The simplest example of such an infinite word is the Fibonacci word, generated by iterating the map φ that sends a to ab and b to a. When we iterate this map, starting with a we get,

a, ab, aba, abaab, abaababa, abaababaabaab, abaababaabaababaababa, ...

Notice that each word is the concatenation of the previous two.

The Fibonacci word evidently contains cubes; for example, the cube (aba)^3 appears in the last word above. What is its critical exponent? In a beautiful paper in 1992, Mignosi and Pirillo showed that the critical exponent is

(5+√ 5)/2,

or about 3.618. (This is the "golden ratio" plus 2.)

On the other hand, the famous Thue-Morse word t is generated by iterating μ on 0, where μ sends 0 to 01 and 1 to 10. (Such a morphism is called "uniform" because each letter gets sent to a block of the same length.) The critical exponent of

t = 0110100110010110 ...

is 2, as was proved by Thue about a hundred years ago.

Dalia proved many results in her thesis, but here are some of the easiest to state: first, every real number > 1 can be the critical exponent of some infinite word. Second, if an infinite word is generated by a uniform morphism over the binary alphabet, then the critical exponent is always either infinite or rational. (She also gives a way to compute it.) Third, if an infinite word is generated by an arbitrary non-erasing morphism, then the critical exponent is always either infinite or algebraic. (An algebraic number is one that is the zero of a polynomial.) Furthermore, she can say which algebraic number field the critical exponent must lie in.

These are beautiful results, and the proofs are quite difficult. Before her work, computing the critical exponent of a word generated by a morphism was a kind of "black art", but now it can usually be done without too much work.

Congratulations to Dalia for a great thesis!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Comical Misunderstandings of O'Leary and Marks

I rarely read Denyse O'Leary's blog because it is so unreadable: she is, without a doubt, one of the worst writers in Canada. But today I noted this post praising a recent talk by Robert Marks, the Baylor engineering professor and intelligent design advocate, on the subject of algorithmic information theory, and the work of Turing, Gödel, and Chaitin.

I wasn't at all surprised to see that O'Leary doesn't really understand what's going on. After all, she has no training in science and mathematics, and her books demonstrate her lack of understanding. In her post's most comical moment, she gives Alan Turing's first name as "Alvin", apparently confusing computer science's most famous theoretician with a chipmunk.

But Marks is not stupid, so I was surprised to see several significant misunderstandings in his powerpoint presentation.

Mistake 1: The title is wrong. He says, "Things Gödel Proves a Computer Will Never Do". But it was Turing, not Gödel, who proved that there are problems that a Turing machine cannot solve.

Mistake 2: Marks calls the idea that "There exist things that are true that cannot be derived from fundamental principles" a "new startling mathematical idea from algorithmic information theory". But it isn't. It's an old idea from Gödel, dating from 1931.

Mistake 3: Marks says "we can't write a computer program to determine anything another arbitrary computer program will do. (This is called Rice’s theorem.)". This is false (and I have just finished teaching a course about the subject). Rice's theorem is about the languages accepted by Turing machines, not the machines themselves. For example, the problem "given a computer program, does it run for more than 100 steps on empty input?" is certainly solvable, simply by simulating the program in question. Less trivially, the problem of deciding whether a given Turing machine ever makes a left move on a given input is also solvable. I sometimes give this problem as a homework problem in my course. Marks, apparently, would get it wrong.

Mistake 4: Marks says that "Gödel’s Proof (1931) showed, from any set of assumptions, there are truths that cannot be proven." Again, not true. Presburger arithmetic, for example, is complete, consistent, and decidable.

Mistake 5: This objection may be more contentious. Marks thinks the work of Gödel and Turing has important implications for physics. I don't, and the reason is that we don't prove our theories in physics the same way we prove our theorems in mathematics. Physical theories represent our current understanding of an approximation to the natural world, not diktats on how it must behave.

If anything, it at least possible that novel physical theories overturn our understanding of the importance of, say, the halting problem. As Robert Geroch recently remarked at the Perimeter Institute, the existence of Hogarth-Malament spacetime might imply that the halting problem is solvable (it provides an infinite timelike curve entirely in the history of another point, so we could set up the computation "back then" and see if it ever terminated "later").

Marks clearly derives his understanding of Gödel and Turing from reading popular works, not textbooks on the subject. I'd recommend he read Torkel Franzen's Gödel's Theorem: An Incomplete Guide to Its Use and Abuse.

As for O'Leary's claim that Gödel's and Turing's work somehow puts a "nail in the coffin of materialism", the kindest thing I can say is that she has not proved her case. Indeed, she hasn't even presented a case.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Leg Lengthening: A Scam for the Credulous

It's always fun to read the comments at William Dembski's blog, Uncommon Descent. Because that blog is carefully moderated, hardly any criticism is posted. The result is an unadulterated picture of the views of Dembski's supporters, and that picture isn't pretty. But it is funny.

Take, for example, this thread. It starts with the idiocy of Barry Arrington, who seems to think that Karl Popper wrote "scientific text[s]".

But the hilarity really starts with a post by "Gods iPod", who wrote

I PERSONALLY have witnessed a bona-fide New Testament-level miracle.

I don’t expect you to believe on my say-so, but I have witnessed, not on a stage a hundred feet away, but less than 10 feet away, a woman’s leg grow about 1 1/2 inches. She was born with one leg shorter than the other. There was no song and dance, no raised voices, no spectacle, just a short request to God to heal her leg, and it did. In front of my eyes.

So yes, I believe in miracles.

Yes, that is funny. But I have to admit that I honestly feel sorry for credulous and deluded believers like "Gods iPod", who are taken in by the "leg lengthening" scam and feel that they have witnessed a miracle, when all that they have seen is a common carnie trick employed by fake faith-healers. James Randi discusses precisely this scam on pages 128-130 of his book, The Faith Healers, with pictures and an explanation of how the scam was carried out by phony faith-healer W. V. Grant.

What better evidence that we need to have courses in critical and skeptical thinking beginning in the early grades?

Rare Tom Lehrer Videos

Growing up in the late 1960's, I was introduced to the songs of Tom Lehrer by my friend Scott Turpin. Lehrer is a mathematician who taught at MIT and Santa Cruz, but he is best known as one of the best musical satirists of all time. He produced a small number of albums in the 1950's and 1960's, but essentially stopped all performing in the late 1960's. A small number of songs written afterwards, such as the songs he wrote for the TV show "Electric Company", are available on compilations.

Now I see that a channel on YouTube has resurrected some extremely rare video performances of his songs. And here you can see a video of some of his songs about mathematics. If you, like me, never had a chance to see Lehrer perform in person, these videos will come as a welcome surprise.

It's too bad Lehrer became bored with performing and writing. I would have loved to have heard him comment on Reagan, Bush, and Bush junior.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

David Berlinski, King Of Poseurs

David Berlinski is yet another of those academic nonentities that the Intelligent Design crowd has elevated to the status of expert, despite having a minuscule scientific publication record and not a single significant contribution to science or mathematics. Berlinski is fond of writing, mostly negatively, about the theory of evolution, despite understanding virtually nothing about the subject, and somehow manages to get his essays published in famous scientific venues, such as Commentary.

Berlinski is sometimes described as a mathematician, although his Ph. D. is apparently in philosophy, not mathematics. MathSciNet, the online version of Mathematical Reviews, a journal that attempts to review nearly every mathematical publication, lists exactly 8 items authored or edited by Berlinski. Two are books for a popular audience: (Newton's Gift and The Advent of the Algorithm). Of the remaining 6 items, 3 are contributions published in Synthese, a philosophical journal, for which Berlinski served as editor and wrote brief introductions and the other 3 are largely philosophical papers, published in Synthese, the Biomathematics series, and Logique et Analyse. Two of the last three didn't even merit a genuine review in Mathematical Reviews.

Berlinski also published a 1998 contribution entitled "Gödel's Question" in Mere Creation, an intelligent design book edited by William Dembski and published by that famous scientific publisher, InterVarsity Press. This piece of mathematical junk was already taken apart by Jason Rosenhouse, so I won't comment on it further other to say that it is so content-free, it could not be published in any reputable mathematical journal.

When Berlinski boasts that he "got fired from almost every job [he] ever had", one can only listen open-mouthed at the chutzpah to transform a mark of shame into a badge of iconoclasm. WIth such a miserable publication record, it's amazing he was ever hired to begin with.

Berlinski's fame, such as it is, derives from his popular books, which include A Tour of the Calculus in addition to the ones I listed above. Some reviewers, mostly those with no mathematical training, like his books for their literary value. Personally, I find them insufferable. To explain why, I can do no better than to list some excerpts from a review of A Tour of the Calculus by Jet Wimp, at that time a professor at Drexel University, and published in The Mathematical Intelligencer 19 (3) (1997), 70-72:

"Reading Berlinski's book A Tour of the Calculus, I was first angered, then revolted, then finally wearied: the three stages of grief of the hapless reviewer. Berlinski wants to maek the calculus available to everyone--anyone who wants, simply, "a little more light shed on a dark subject". This delirious tract is the result....

"Berlinski's greatest friend, but ultimately his worst enemy, is metaphor. The gongorisms that saturate this book actually confound what the author claims is its central mission: to teach the novice calculus. The Berlinski rhetoric ultimately becomes suffocating. The metaphors explode from all directions...

"This expositional overload implies a cynical disrespect for the subject...

"I was particularly annoyed by Berlinski's biographical snippets... Had Berlinski done his homework, he could have told us some interesting things about mathematicians that were really true. He might have told us, for example, that Newton's explosive temper and dark moods were most likely caused by mercury poisoning, and chemical analysis of the floorboards of his still extant alchemical laboratory have revealed heavy concentrations of that metal. But then, perhaps such an observation lacks poetry.

"I was dismayed at the author's rudimentary grasp of mathematical history. It is painful to find so little learning in a book that purports to explain an intellectual discipline...

"Of all the passages in the book, I found the following the most mortifying... I flushed with embarrassment (as would anyone who loves mathematics) when I read this rebarbative grunge quoted (disapprovingly) in a review in The New Scientist...

"Regrettably, Berlinski's readers will emerge from his verbal thickets hearing nothing."

This reviewer sees through Berlinski's obfuscations for what they are: a pretentious exercise with no relation to genuine exposition.

Now that Berlinski has appeared in "Expelled", expect to see even more of this pompous poseur in the media.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pseudoscience Bonanza!

One of the few advantages to living in an area with a lot of fundamentalists is that you can obtain crackpot works of pseudoscience very cheaply at the local book sales. I'm not sure why the fundies like these things, but my guess is that credulity in one area leads to credulity in others.

I like to have these books so I can be prepared to answer their arguments, but I don't like enriching the authors. So buying used copies satisfies both desires. (I admit, however, that if the book is still in print, buying a used copy indirectly benefits the author anyway, since it decreases the supply of available copies, thus making it more likely that someone else who wants one will have to buy a new copy.)

Here's what I picked up for a total of $4 at the recent Canadian Federation of University Women booksale in Waterloo:

The work of Barry Fell is particularly interesting, because the author was, at one time, a legitimate scientist, holding an appointment in marine biology at Harvard. His archaeological ideas, however, are pure crackpottery. Fell claims that linguistic evidence, inscriptions, and architectural evidence points to substantial colonization of North America by the Iberians, Celts, Greeks, ancient Hebrews, and Egyptians, beginning about 1000 B. C. E.

Fell's arguments, such as they are, were entirely eviscerated by Kenneth Feder in his marvelous book Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. I recommend Feder's book to any skeptics interested in phony archaeology.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Does Anyone Like "Expelled"?

Does anyone like the movied "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed"? Anyone?

Pretty much no, if you read the reviews at Rotten Tomatoes. So far, only 2 critics out of 22 have something nice to say, and one of them is from Mark Moring of Christianity Today. (Poor Mark doesn't seem to know the difference between "infer" and "imply".)

I love this line from the Hollywood Reporter review: "more than lives up to its subtitle". And the New York Times said, "One of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” is a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry." At the end, the reviewer says, "“Expelled” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). It has smoking guns and drunken logic."

Carnival of Mathematics #31

Welcome to Carnival of Mathematics #31 !

Step right up, folks, and behold the amazing properties of 31. Now, you all know that 31 is a prime number. But that's not all -- 31 is also a Mersenne prime, that is, a prime number of the form 2p - 1. There are currently only 44 such primes known, and nobody knows if there are infinitely many. If I had to bet, I'd wager that the question of whether there are infinitely many will not be resolved in my lifetime.

So 31 = 25 - 1. And 231 - 1 = 2147483647 is a pretty interesting number, too. It's another Mersenne prime, and it's also the largest integer representable in 32-bit signed arithmetic. Because of that, when programs die because of integer overflow, you might end up with 2147483647 in some unexpected places, such as this video game, where a Toyota GT achieves the faster-than-light speed of 2147483647 mph.

So if 25 - 1 is prime, and 2 25 - 1 - 1 is prime, is 22 25 - 1 - 1-1 also prime? Regrettably no. We currently know 4 different prime divisors of 22147483647 - 1, and they can be found here, on the line labeled M ( M (31) ).

Oops, I got sidetracked there. Let's go back to 31. One more property of 31 (which I got from the very cool book by François Le Lionnais, Les Nombres Remarquables) is that it is the only prime number known that can be written in two different ways in the form (pr - 1)/ (pd - 1), where p is a prime and r, d are integers with r ≥ 3 and d ≥ 1. One such representation for 31 is (25 - 1)/(2-1). Can you find the other?

OK, enough about 31 ... back to the carnival!

Step right up, and learn how to factor monic quadratic integer polynomials at Life Jelly. Too easy for you, my friend? Then you can go directly to factoring arbitrary quadratics.

Polynomials not your game? Then how about figurate numbers? The simplest example of a figurate number is the total number of balls in an equilateral triangle, like a rack of pool balls. A rack of pool balls has 5 rows of balls with 1,2,3,4, and 5 balls, for a total of 15, so 15 is the 5th triangular number. Denise, at Let's Play Math, has a gentle introduction to these numbers. Question: what's the smallest number ≥ 1 that is both triangular and square? Can you prove there are infinitely many? (See Beiler, Recreations in the Theory of Numbers, Chapter 18, for more about these numbers.)

I'm allergic to cats, but don't let that stop you from visiting Calculus for Cats and the Prime Number Theorem over at

What's that you say? Not hard enough? Then drop on over to Charles Daney at Science and Reason for an introduction to the factorization of prime ideals in extension fields. You might want to scan his previous entries if you're entirely lost.

Now, wait, I understand, you've had enough algebra. It's time for geometry. Visit 360, the informal blog of the Nazareth College Mathematics Department, for some real life nonagons. Were the Beatles really closet Bahais?

It took me a while to figure out why David Eppstein's blog is called 11011110; maybe there was a hex on me. I guess he's lucky his parents didn't name him George. But his blog always contains deep and beautiful results explained in simple ways, and this contribution about biclique covers is no exception. Step right up!

Our last geometric contribution comes from Praveen Puri at Math and Logic Play, who offers a puzzle based on the square. Free admission!

Next up, we have a bevy of logical beauties. While we're waiting for Jason Rosenhouse to finish his book on the Monty Hall problem, you can think about this variation from Magpie Tangent. Almost Philosophy gives us an introduction to propositional logic. Quan Quach at blinkdagger gives us a macintosh mystery with a prize for the winner. And Presh Talwalkar at Mind Your Decisions recounts a classic, the hat problem.

After all that logic, it's time for some illogic. Visit my own blog to see how a mathematics educator abuses mathematics for Jesus .

That's all there is folks, there isn't any more. Until Carnival of Mathematics #32, that is.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Lying for Jesus, Mathematically

I've previously commented about Marvin Bittinger's book, The Faith Equation: One Mathematician's Journey in Christianity. I called it a "combination of ignorance and intellectual dishonesty". Now that I've had a chance to read it more carefully, I find I was too kind. It is pure and utter dreck. Actually, "dreck" is far too kind. I find it hard to convey the self-satisfied stupidity that is found on nearly every page.

Instead of giving a detailed critique, in the spirit of the Carnival of Mathematics, I'll focus on some of the questionable mathematics that Bittinger uses.

Christian apologists have long been fascinated by the power of mathematics. My colleague Wesley Elsberry has taken apart an argument from 1925 here, where the author claims that the current rate of growth in human populations implies a young earth. The writer of that bogus argument claimed that "Figures will not lie, and mathematics will not lie even at the demand of liars." Unfortunately, the reverse is true: it's easy to lie for Jesus, mathematically. And probability theory is one of the easiest tools to abuse.

In The Faith Equation, tiny probabilities are assigned, often with little or no justification, and probabilities are multiplied together with no evidence of independence. These tactics are particularly evident in Chapter 4, "The Probability of Prophecy". In this chapter, Bittinger concludes that prophecies in the Bible constitute an event of probability 10-76, which is a miracle that proves the accuracy of the Bible and the existence of God.

As I've already pointed out, Bittinger ignores significant criticism about his claimed prophecies. Tim Callahan's Bible Prophecy: Failure or Fulfillment?, Farrell Till's Prophecies: Imaginary and Unfilfilled and Jim Lippard's Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah all take issue with many of the prophecies claimed by Christians. I see no sign that Bittinger has read these critiques; he certainly hasn't cited them in his reference list.

I'm not going to get into the accuracy of individual prophecies here; instead, I want to comment on one tool that Bittinger uses to justify his small probabilities. On page 93, we read:

"There is a concept from probability that we use often in these arguments. Suppose an assertion, such as God promising never again to flood the earth after the time of Noah's Ark, occurred t years ago, and to date the prophecy either has not been fulfilled or was just fulfilled. Statisticians would then estimate the probability of the event to be approximately one over twice the number of years: 1/(2t). We refer to this as the time principle and use it extensively."

There are two problems here: first, the "time principle" is completely nonsensical and second, it is not used by "statisticians" as Bittinger claims.

The "time principle" is nonsensical for several reasons. First, it is based on years, an entirely arbitrary way to measure time. We can get any probability we like from the formula 1/(2t) simply by changing the unit of measurement. If we measure time in centuries instead of years, the probability increases by a factor of 100. If we measure time in seconds, the probability decreases by a factor of about 31,000,000. Second, a well-established principle of probability is that if a space is partitioned into events, the sum of all the probabilities must be 1. But the sum of 1/(2t) for t from 1 to n can never be 1, since it is .91666... for n = 3, and 1.041666... for n = 4. Third, it doesn't take into account the character of the assertion. If I asserted in 1975 that "people will write the year 2000 on their checks", this would clearly not be fulfilled until 25 years later. Yet it would occur with probability 1 (or at least close to 1), not 1/50 as the "time principle" suggests.

Is the "time principle" used by statisticians, as Bittinger claims? I used MathSciNet, the online version of Mathematical Reviews, a review journal that attempts to review every noteworthy mathematical publication. I found no references to this principle anywhere in the literature. I then consulted a statistician down the hall at my university, who had never heard of this principle and agreed it was nonsensical.

So Bittinger's "time principle" is pseudomathematics, and is not used by genuine mathematicians. I asked Bittinger where he got it from, and he replied, "Your point is well-taken and I must admit that in some ways the time principle is a stretch. I did "develop" it on my own, and had it corroborated by a top-notch statistician in my department - mathematicians do that you know. I should have said something to this effect, and not "from probability."" I am glad that Bittinger admits that his "time principle" is bogus, and I hope to see a forthright admission to this effect on the website for his book.

Chapter 6 of The Faith Equation discusses the power of prayer. He begins by discussing a controversial study by Randolph C. Byrd that appeared in Southern Medical Journal 81 (7) (July 1988), 826-829, which claimed to show that heart patients showed a statistically signficant benefit from intercessory prayer. Bittinger does not acknowledge any criticism of the Byrd study; indeed, he says, "To a statistician, Byrd's study proved intercessory prayer was effective." But Tessman and Tessman (Skeptical Inquirer (March/April 2000), 31-33 pointed that Byrd's study is bogus for three reasons: the analysis of the results was conducted in a non-blinded fashion by Byrd, the criteria used for evaluating the outcomes were created after the data had been collected, and the study's co-ordinator was non-blinded. Bittinger does not cite the work of Tessman and Tessman, nor other critiques by Sloan, Bagiella, and Powell (Lancet 353 (1999), 664-667) and Posner (Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine 4 (1) (Spring/Summer 2000). By refusing to acknowledge informed criticism of these prayer studies, Bittinger abdicates his responsibility as a professor and an academic.

These two examples should suffice to show how the case in The Faith Equation is so transparently weak that even non-mathematicians should be able to spot the flaws.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Expelled Exposed

Seen the silly movie Expelled? Go read the debunking first. (I have a small part in the debunking; the NCSE has cited my review of Pamela Winnick's book in support of their case.)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

More About The Presidential Science Debate

Well, it looks like the proposed April 18 presidential science debate in Philadelphia is not going to happen. Obama, to his discredit, has refused to participate, and McCain didn't even respond; Clinton was non-committal.

But the good folks at Science Debate 2008 aren't giving up. The latest proposal is a nationally-televised debate on NOVA, the PBS science show, on either May 2, 9, or 16, with host David Brancaccio.

If you have any contact with the campaign staff of the 3 major candidates, contact them to let them know you want this debate to happen.

Update: Clinton and Obama refused to participate in the science debate, but they have time for this debate at Messiah College on "faith, values, and other current issues".