Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Breaking News: A Creationist Dishonestly Doctors a Quotation

Yes, I know it is not really breaking news. Creationists have been dishonestly doctoring quotes for years. But still, each new episode can be breathtaking in its chutzpah.

The latest dishonesty comes from that paragon of boot-licking virtue, Salvador Cordova. In a recent post at Uncommon Descent, he says of intelligent design

Some critics claim that it’s ‘creationism in a tuxedo’. My response to them is: what’s so bad about being in a tuxedo?”

Although it's true that some people have called intelligent design "creationism in a tuxedo", the original citation is the far more damning appraisal that intelligent design is "creationism in a cheap tuxedo". I can understand why ID advocates would want to omit the modifier "cheap". After all, if your tuxedo is expensive, almost anyone can look good. But a cheap tuxedo demonstrates the wearer to be a poseur.

The phrase originates with Leonard Krishtalka, a professor at the University of Kansas and director of the Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center. He used it in a presentation held in 2000 at the Lied Center at the University of Kansas. His use of it is documented in this article from November 2000 by Kansas physicist Adrian Melott, who would later go on to use it as a title of an opinion piece in Physics Today.

So, yet another example of creationists doctoring a quotation to make themselves look better. Stop the presses!

Monday, April 24, 2006

McKnight Gets It

Peter McKnight of the Vancouver Sun has this fine article about the Alters affair. Brian Alters, you may recall, is the McGill University professor who had his grant to study the detrimental effects of intelligent design propaganda on Canadians' understanding of science turned down by the federal granting agency, SSHRC, because (it claimed) there was inadequate "justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of Evolution, and not Intelligent Design theory, was correct."

I previously blogged about this sad story here. Incidentally, I finally received a response from SSHRC's Janet Halliwell about my concerns. The response appears to be a form letter, which refuses to forthrightly address the denial letter. In my opinion, in light of her misrepresentations, Professor Halliwell should resign from SSHRC.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Fibonacci poetry

would like
to tell you
about a new kind
of poetry
for math lovers.

based on
a sequence
of Fibonacci
invented eight hundred years ago.

kind of
poem the
syllables number
1,1,2,3,5,8, then stop.

blame me
if you find
this sort of poem
uninteresting. The blame goes
to one Gregory K. Pincus of Los Angeles.

(Hat tip to Mark Gluck.)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Stupid Creationist Letter Award for April

In my monthly feature, the Stupid Creationist Letter Award for April goes once again to a letter published in my college alumni magazine, this time by a certain Lance F. James.

This letter is, if possible, even stupider than last month's. It, too, is responding to President Tilghman's speech arguing that intelligent design is pseudoscience.

Let's play stupid creationist bingo again! Ready?

President Tilghman ... apparently believes that we should base our "science" of origins on faith in naturally occurring spontaneous generation, a notion debunked by Pasteur and a phenomenon never observed by anyone, anywhere at any time.

Amazingly dumb. Mr. James confuses spontaneous generation -- the ancient notion that complicated organisms, such as mice, could arise from decaying plants or meat -- with abiogenesis, the modern theory that the first replicators (likely rather simple molecules) could arise from chemical precursors. I wonder why he thinks Pasteur's experiments, which were performed in the mid-19th century, have anything at all to say about modern theories such as the RNA world?

And don't you love the irony of the theist complaining about unobserved phenomena?


While Dr. Tilghman is clearly free to make faith-based statements grounded in philosophical naturalism, she should not pass them off as hard science, and certainly should not insist that they be the only perspective taught in the nation's classrooms.

Faith-based statements? I see no faith-based statements in Dr. Tilghman's talk. Evolution is based on evidence, not faith. And of course, Mr. James confuses "philosophical naturalism" with methodological naturalism.


Darwinism as an explanation of origins is a theory in crisis.

Yeah, right, anything you say. Too bad Glenn Morton has this great page indicating that creationists have been proclaiming the death of evolution for 150 years now. Morton calls it the "The Longest Running Falsehood in Creationism". And I'll bet anything James considers himself bound by the 9th commandment. Go figure.


The fossil record is a continuing embarrassment to Darwinists.

Now, now, Mr. James. Where's your originality? Can't you come up with anything that's not straight out of the Index to Creationist Claims? But I guess you're right. The fossil record is a great embarrassment to Darwinists. That's why, just this week, the Darwinists were trying their damndest to cover up the latest find, Tiktaalik roseae, a transitional form between fish and tetrapods.


The volume and organization of information in DNA and the irreducible complexity of operating systems within the cell defy construction by Darwinian random variation and natural selection.

Poor Mr. James -- seduced by the nonsense of Behe and Dembski, but unable to see through their smokescreen. I teach Kolmogorov information theory at my university and I can tell you that information is trivial to generate. Any random process, including mutation, will do.


Mr. James, you're a winner of stupid creationist bingo. Congratulations! And I hadn't even gotten to the end of your letter.

My Letter to SSHRC

You may have read about the decision of SSHRC (the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) to deny McGill professor Brian Alters a grant to study the detrimental effects that intelligent design pseudoscience has on Canadians' understanding of evolution.

Here is my letter to SSHRC's President, Stan Shapson. (You can write Stan Shapson yourself, too. Be brief and polite, but firm.)

Dear Stan Shapson:

I am writing to express my incredulity at the reasons proffered by the Research Development Initiatives Program at SSHRC for the denial of a grant to Prof. Brian Alters to study the detrimental effects of intelligent design on the Canadian understanding of evolution.

Your committee wrote, in part,

"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."

This is truly preposterous. The theory of evolution is one of the most-tested and best-substantiated theories in science. And, as Alters stated in his proposal, evolution is "the foundation on which all biological sciences are built". Intelligent design, on the other hand, is religiously-motivated pseudoscience pushed by charlatans.

It does not help the reputation of SSHRC that SSHRC's executive vice-president Janet Halliwell was then quoted in the Canadian press as saying Alters took 'one line in the letter "out of context" and the rejection of his application shouldn't indicate [SSHRC was] expressing "doubts about the theory of evolution".' [Ottawa Citizen, April 5]. To put it bluntly, this appears to be spin that is completely contrary to the facts. Prof. Halliwell has not responded to my e-mail inquiry.

An egregious decision has now been made worse by a failure to honestly admit the mistake and attempt to rectify it. I want to know how you plan to address this failure and I look forward to a prompt response from you.

Yours sincerely,

(Prof.) Jeffrey Shallit

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Worst Interview Ever

I just had the worst interview ever, with CHTV in Hamilton.

In my capacity as Vice-President of Electronic Frontier Canada (now sadly somewhat dormant) I do television and radio interviews. This was a phone interview for a TV show, a strange concept in itself.

The subject was ostensibly Craig Legare, an Edmonton man who was recently acquitted of attempting to lure a 12-year-old girl over the Internet for sexual purposes.

The show's producer, Lawrence Diskin, contacted me on Monday to see if I was willing to do an interview. In my preliminary discussion, I had pointed out that the problem is nothing new; as long ago as 1905, an editorial in the journal Telephony asked, "The doors may be barred and a rejected suitor kept out, but how is the telephone to be guarded?" I expected a calm discussion of how changing technology interacts with the law, and that's what the producer said he wanted. He didn't inform me others would be in on the interview.

When they called at 1:30 PM, I was surprised to find that Roy Green (apparently some right-wing local radio personality) would be on with me, as well as David Butt, who if I'm not mistaken was involved as Crown counsel in the grotesque and farcical 1993 police confiscation of paintings by artist Eli Langer.

No surprise, then, that the interview was just looking for a "gotcha" moment. When I pointed out that laws against luring must be crafted narrowly to avoid criminalizing things like sex education classes, or kids chatting about sex with each other, or reading each other Romeo and Juliet, the host immediately began to demagogue, asking "What about common sense, Jeffrey?" He wasn't interested in listening to my point.

Laws are bad when they are focused on a single medium of communication -- they make the mistake of attacking on the medium and not the message. If luring children for sexual purposes is the problem, let's make laws that address that problem, and not gear them to the Internet. Children can be lured just as well by someone leaning over your backyard fence, or calling your children on the phone when you are not home. The Internet isn't some entirely new threat; it just makes it easier. And laws geared to current media may prove inadequate when media change.

We should craft laws that address the behavior we consider criminal, and the laws should be so narrow that they don't also capture behavior we would consider legitimate. That was my point. I tried to make it, but the host was so intent on demagoguing, it seemed to go over his head.