RNCSE 22 (4)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2002
Date: 
July–August
Articles available online are listed below.
This issue also reprinted NCSE's Analysis of the Discovery Institute's Bibliography (2002 Ohio Board of Education Science Standards) and its appendix

Quote-Mining Comes to Ohio

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Quote-Mining Comes to Ohio
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch, NCSE Deputy Director
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2002
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
11–13
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Contributing to the ongoing furor over the proposed science standards in Ohio (see the articles in RNCSE 2002 Jan-Apr; 22 [1-2]; 4-5, 6-8, 8-9, 9-10, and 11, and "Ohio: An Evolving Controversy", p 4), the Discovery Institute submitted a "Bibliography of Supplementary Resources for Ohio Science Education" to the Ohio Board of Education on March 11, 2002. NCSE sent its analysis of the DI's Bibliography to the members of the Ohio Board of Education (OBE) on April 2 and posted it on NCSE's web site at http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/3878_analysis_of_the_discovery_inst_4_5_2002.asp on April 5, 2002.

In a lengthy rebuttal of the NCSE's analysis, the Discovery Institute complained to the OBE on April 8, 2002, that NCSE's "charges are not only groundless, but are a malicious distortion of the public record", adding that "The educational value of the articles is self-evident" and alleging that "every case of misrepresentation claimed by the NCSE dissolves completely on close inspection" (emphasis in original).

The rebuttal was also interesting because, possibly for the first time ever, the Discovery Institute explained what exactly it means by "neo-Darwinism":
  • the sufficiency of small-scale random variation and natural selection to explain major changes in organismal form and function;
  • the equivalence, given enough time, of the processes of micro- and macroevolution;
  • the usefulness of "molecular clocks" to determine historical branching points between species;
  • the existence of a single Tree of Life, with its roots in a Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA);
  • the congruence or matching of evolutionary trees (that is, phylogenies) derived from morphological and molecular evidence;
  • the appearance, in embryology, of a conserved stage revealing the common ancestry of all vertebrates.
Needless to say, the Discovery Institute's idiosyncratic definition of "neo-Darwinism" is not shared by anybody outside the "intelligent design" movement. On April 9, NCSE responded and informed the OBE:
NCSE stands by its analysis: in NCSE's view, and in the view of the majority of the authors of the publications in the bibliography who responded to NCSE's questionnaire, the DI's bibliography document is inaccurate, tendentious, and misleading. Moreover, despite the DI's desperate claim that "[t]he educational value of the articles is self-evident", NCSE reiterates that the bibliography is of no conceivable pedagogical value to K-12 science education. NCSE urges the Ohio Board of Education to rely on the expertise of the writing committee, scientists, educators, and fellow Ohio citizens, who have invested their valuable knowledge and countless hours in producing a superlative set of science standards.
On April 15, a revised version of the DI rebuttal, containing neither the word "malicious" nor any claim about the pedagogical value of the publications in the Bibliography, appeared at http://www.discovery.org/articleFiles/PDFs/quesAndAnsNCSECritiqueOfBib.pdf.

Working in the quote mine

The tactic of abusing the primary scientific literature for the purpose of misleading the general public is not new to the anti-evolutionist movement. Writing in 1981, John R Cole explained:
Creationists have developed a skill unique to their trade: that of misquotation and quotation out of context from the works of leading evolutionists. This tactic not only frustrates scientists but it misleads school board members, legislators, and the public. Whether such actions by creationists of selectively seeking out quotations or references in order to prove a preconceived case are willful distortion or the product of wishful thinking is irrelevant. Such acts misuse science and scientists in bogus appeals to authority (Cole 1981: 34).
The practice is so frequent among creationists (and other practitioners of pseudoscience) that it receives a name: quote-mining. There are even books devoted to nothing but quote-mining (such as Morris 1998). Quote-mining adds nothing to the discussion of scientific issues and generally confuses the nonspecialist with misleading and inaccurate interpretations of the original research - which, of course, is its goal.

The NCSE analysis of the DI bibliography combined with the responses of the authors to the specific issues raised by the DI show that this is another case of quote-mining. The DI is placing its own peculiar spin on the research presented in the scientific literature while ignoring the analyses and conclusions that the studies' authors have presented.

The text of the NCSE analysis appears in the feature article on p 11. We have also reproduced the original DI bibliography and the text of the query we sent to the authors cited by the DI. On page 25, we include an in-depth look at one article and the DI's summary of it.

References

Cole JR. Misquoted scientists respond. Creation/Evolution 1981; 6: 34-44.

Morris HM. That Their Words May Be Used Against Them. Green Forest (AR): Master Books, 1998.

Review: Infinite Tropics

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Year: 
2002
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
28–29
Reviewer: 
Charles H Smith
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Infinite Tropics: An Alfred Russel Wallace Anthology
Author(s): 
edited by Andrew Berry
London: Verso, 2002. 320 pages.
Some of the earliest surviving thoughts committed to paper by the English naturalist and social critic Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) were in a lecture he entitled "The Advantages of Varied Knowledge". Composed around 1843, it advocates a broad-based approach to the individual's education, one that recognizes the assimilation of a wide range of facts — and their logical integration — as the foundation for a dependably evolving belief system. He argues: "... here we see the advantage possessed by him whose studies have been in various directions, and who at different times has had many different pursuits, for whatever may happen, he will always find something in his surroundings to interest and instruct him ... ". He concludes the essay with the following vivid imagery:
Is it not fitting that, as intellectual beings with such high powers, we should each of us acquire a knowledge of what past generations have taught us, so that, should the opportunity occur, we may be able to add somewhat, however small, to the fund of instruction for posterity? Shall we not then feel the satisfaction of having done all in our power to improve by culture those higher faculties that distinguish us from the brutes, that none of the talents with which we may have been gifted have been suffered to lie altogether idle? And, lastly, can any reflecting mind have a doubt that, by improving to the utmost the nobler faculties of our nature in this world, we shall be the better fitted to enter upon and enjoy whatever new state of being the future may have in store for us?
No one has ever heeded his own good advice better than Wallace did. Born poor but with an intense native curiosity, he worked as a surveyor to his mid-20s before abandoning that occupation to turn professional natural history collector. He spent the years 1848-1852 in the Amazon Valley, then the even longer period 1854-1862 in the Indonesian archipelago (then known as the "Malay Archipelago"), collecting up a storm. His 12-year stint in the tropics would eventually make him famous — not only for his formulation of the theory of natural selection, but as the father of the modern approach to biogeography, and arguably as history's foremost field biologist and tropical naturalist.

Wallace's success was due in large part to his perseverance: both in amassing facts of significance to the naturalist and in tying these facts to logical explanatory structures. He gave his attention to just about anything that was deserving of interest: the manner of construction of native huts; the economic uses of plants; the colors of animals; trade between cultures; the geology, climatology, and physical geography of the lands he visited; native languages and vocabularies; special biological adaptations; the presence or absence of species from location to location; ethnological similarities and differences; the relative sizes of insects; and so on. His 1869 book The Malay Archipelago in particular is a gold mine of such information, woven together with a compelling narrative that still never fails to amaze — especially when one considers how he accomplished all of it by himself, as a solo, unsupported naturalist/explorer.

Thankfully, all this determination and insight as an investigator of nature and humanity was wed to an easy and lucid — yet forceful — writing style. In 1855 Wallace published his first essay on evolutionary biogeography; this was followed in 1858 by the famous elaboration of natural selection sent to Charles Darwin. From then on, it was off to the races: he averaged over a dozen published works per year for the next 55 years, right up through the year of his death. Neither was there even any falling off in production as he aged; in the last (ninth) decade of his life he edited or wrote eight books, plus a hundred or so shorter items.

Which brings us to Andrew Berry's splendid anthology. This is the fourth print anthology of Wallace writings; earlier collections were edited by Barbara Beddall (1969), Charles H Smith (1991), and, just this year, Jane Camerini (2002). Beddall's and Camerini's studies are relatively short works that focus on Wallace's work from his period in the field. Smith attempted to survey the full range of Wallace's interests, relying primarily on the entire texts of about a hundred key works. Berry has taken a new track, sampling, again, from the entire range of Wallace's oeuvre, but usually showcasing short excerpts of a couple of pages or less in length. This tactic allows Berry a flexibility lending itself to a more biographically contextual approach, and he has used this strategy to produce a study combining writings and editorial narrative that does a very good job indeed of delivering the man and his ideas to the reader.

The selections themselves are very well chosen — and in the case of Wallace, a man who published nearly eight hundred works, most of which almost no one has cast eyes on for upwards of a hundred years, this is by no means an insignificant accomplishment. Further, Berry, who unlike the individuals mentioned earlier has never done any other serious research on Wallace, has managed to produce an editorial commentary which is just about free of error, and which avoids overgeneralizing about a man regarding whom overgeneralization runs rampant in the literature. I do find Berry's fascination with the possibility that Darwin stole material from Wallace somewhat ill-advised, and to that extent agree with the late Stephen Jay Gould's reservations on this matter as stated in his Foreword. On the other hand, I take issue with the accuracy and/or advisability of some of Gould's other remarks — here, as in his many other writings on Wallace, his comments seem more relatable to prior agendas than to a dispassionate view of Wallace's ideas and achievements.

The summary outcome of Berry's collection is that it succeeds admirably as a tease inviting further exploration. In a 430-page project, it is hardly possible to review a man's work thoroughly when that man himself published well over 10 000 pages of material; in the case of Wallace, the goal of review is especially difficult, as he was anything but a conventional thinker and often projected neatly logical trains of thought that led to wholly unanticipated conclusions. As a result, scholarship (not to mention public opinion) has made the mistake of paying too much attention to the sensational in Wallace's world view, and overlooking the elemental.

As a good example, it is well known that Wallace was a prominent anti-vaccinationist — a fact that might lend itself to a variety of premature conjectures as to the quality of his judgment. Actually, however, Wallace did not deny that smallpox vaccination had been a useful means of dealing with the problem in its early years of application. But, he argued, ambient improvements in public health, unsanitary vaccine preparation standards, and conflicts of interest within the medical community by the later part of the 19th century had possibly led to a situation wherein the vaccination procedure was causing more mischief than the disease itself. And he backed this up with a never-refuted statistical analysis of the best available smallpox incidence data: among the first epidemiological studies of its kind.

A second example lies in Wallace's beliefs as to the possibility of life on other worlds. It is often stated, incorrectly (and in the Foreword Gould contributes to the misunderstanding), that Wallace believed life existed only on earth. Actually, his view was that only earth harbors conditions promoting higher (consciously self-aware) life-forms. Of greater interest, one might argue, was the methodology he used to come to such conclusions. In the case of his famous criticism of astronomer Percival Lowell's belief that humanoid-constructed canals existed on the surface of Mars, this method invoked a close analysis of the probable climate of Mars and the likely condition of its surface. Many of his conclusions in this regard have turned out to be quite close to modern knowledge of the situation, and for his efforts he is slowly gaining recognition as a founder of the science of exobiology.

There is hardly a historical individual whose world-view touched on a wider range of subjects still relevant to present-day concerns than Alfred Russel Wallace. Berry has performed a great service by producing this collection, which manages to avoid hero-worship or uncritical review, yet offers up a thoroughly sympathetic portrait of a truly exemplary human being.

References

Beddell BG, editor. Wallace and Bates in the Tropics: An Introduction to the Theory of Natural Selection. Toronto: Macmillan, 1969.

Camerini JR, editor. The Alfred Russel Wallace Reader: A Selection of Writings from the Field. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Smith CH, editor.Alfred Russel Wallace: An Anthology of His Shorter Writings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

About the Author(s): 
Charles H Smith
University Libraries
Western Kentucky University
Bowling Green KY 42101
charles.smith@wku.edu

Review: King of the Crocodylians

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Year: 
2002
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
30–31
Reviewer: 
Kevin Padian, NCSE President
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
King of the Crocodylians: The Paleobiology of Deinosuchus
Author(s): 
David R Schwimmer
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002. 221 pages.
Ever wonder how many books have been devoted to just a single fossil species? Jack Horner and Don Lessem did The Complete T rex. Ned Colbert published Little Dinosaurs of Ghost Ranch, about Coelophysis. Peter Dodson wrote about The Horned Dinosaurs and Ken Carpenter about The Armored Dinosaurs, but those were groups, not individual species. Besides, all those are dinosaurs. What about less "sexy" critters, like crocodiles?

Longtime NCSE member David Schwimmer, a professor at Columbus State University in Georgia, has published a very nice study of the giant crocodylian Deinosuchus, which was a contemporary of the last Cretaceous dinosaurs and certainly one of the largest crocodylians that ever lived. For that matter, it was one of the biggest land predators ever, even though its squatty crocodylian legs kept it closer to the ground than the big theropod dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus and Gigantosaurus. It may have been up to 12 m long, or even longer, much like those dinos. And maybe it even fed upon them. And this may be the first book devoted to a single non-dinosaurian critter.

For people who get chills from big fierce animals, or even from good in-depth studies of big fierce animals, this is a fine book to curl up with. The interest is not only due to the fact that Deinosuchus was so big and fierce; in fact, it is hard to tell just how big and fierce it was because there are no complete specimens, and much of the skeleton behind the head is only known from fragments. But the charm of this book is that Dave Schwimmer takes readers through the processes by which paleontologists reconstruct animals like this from less than perfect remains. He covers the anatomy, and explains the functional morphology that gives us clues to the animal's behavior (with help from living crocs). He shows the lines of evidence from other animals, plants, and surrounding sediments that tell us what the environment of Deinosuchus was like. He explains its relationships and compares it with other crocodylians in its fauna (and elsewhere in the world), and he sizes it up against other heavy contenders. He demonstrates how paleobiologists have been able to calculate individual ages of specimens and reconstruct the growth strategy that explains how the animal could get so big. He even identifies what may be Deinosuchus poop (coprolites, for you purists)!

After running this whole gamut, Schwimmer astutely acknowledges that his audience may not be completely satisfied, because he has not talked that much about dinosaurs. Could Deinosuchus have preyed upon dinosaurs? Can we realistically visualize it, waiting under the water's surface for a hapless duckbill or juvenile ceratopsian? Could it have dispatched such creatures with a single lunge and crunch? Do we have evidence for any of this? Do you really think I would spoil the ending?

I must, however, clear Dave's name in one respect. Some readers will wonder, "But wait: David Schwimmer. Isn't he the actor who plays the paleontologist Ross on the TV show Friends? How could he write a book like this?" Amazing coincidence: Dave and the actor share the same name, and Dave (like Ross) did a good deal of paleontology work in New York, where there is a good collection of Deinosuchus. But there the coincidence ends. In fact, our Dave has an e-mail tag that reads simply: "I'm not Ross."
About the Author(s): 
Kevin Padian
Department of Integrative Biology
Museum of Paleontology
University of California
Berkeley CA 94720-3140
kpadian@socrates.berkeley.edu

Review: An Evolving Dialogue

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Year: 
2002
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
32–33
Reviewer: 
Philip T Spieth
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
An Evolving Dialogue: Theological and Scientific Perspectives on Evolution
Author(s): 
edited by James B Miller
Harrisburg (PA): Trinity Press International, 2001. 544 pages.
The purpose of An Evolving Dialogue is "to provide a multidisciplinary educational resource for college, university and theological seminary educational settings, that will contribute to a constructive understanding of the dialogue between science and religion on the topic of biological evolution" (p 4). The book is admirably suited to its purpose.

Divided into five parts, the volume is composed of 28 articles that are reprints or revisions of papers published in the 1990s or late 1980s. The authors are major contributors in their disciplines. For the most part, their articles were addressed to a general readership. In its 2001 edition, An Evolving Dialogue is actually a clonal reproduction, with a macromutation, of an earlier version with a longer subtitle published in 1998. The fifth section of the 1998 version is "Evolution and Ethics"; in the 2001 version, it is replaced with a completely new fifth section consisting of 6 articles devoted to "intelligent design" (ID).

If a dialog between science and religion is to be successful, it needs to get its science right in order to provide a common ground upon which to build the dialog. The first two parts of An Evolving Dialogue provide a topical overview of evolutionary biology with articles by leading professionals such as Stephen Jay Gould, Mark Ridley, Douglas Futuyma, and Francisco Ayala. The two sections provide a reasonably good background for readers who are not versed in the evidence, theories, and principles of contemporary evolutionary biology. Biologists might find the articles useful for brushing up on a detail here or there.

The third part, "Historical and Philosophical Perspectives", includes an article on the concept of species by Ernst Mayr, followed by two particularly interesting historical articles. The article by Ronald L Numbers, published in 1986, predates the ascendancy of "intelligent design" as an anti-evolutionary perspective. Nevertheless, it provides illumination upon the mindset of creationists — for whom biblical inerrancy trumps scientific expertise — and serves as a needed reminder of the widespread hostility towards evolutionary biology that sadly exists among a significant fraction of the general public. John R Durant's 1987 article also predates ID but is eminently relevant to the issue. Durant gives a lucid exposition of the historical philosophical context that underlies the concepts of special creation and design and shows how these concepts were made philosophically untenable by the revolutionary impact of Darwin's insights.

The final article in the section is a reprint of Stephen Jay Gould's 1997 column in Natural History in which he elucidated his concept of non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA). It is not the most profound article in the volume, yet it gives a simple, clear definition of a philosophical point of view that pervades much of the book. Most of the scientists — and some of the theologians — whose articles touch upon both science and religion express some form of NOMA. A forceful example is Durant's comment:
If today we continue to be worried about the relationship between Darwinism and Christian belief, more often than not it is because we are faced either with science masquerading as theology or with theology masquerading as science. Only history can show us the full extent of the damage that is done by such pretense (p 266).
The fourth part is "Theological Perspectives". The authors include some of the leading contemporary theologians who strive to combine both good evolutionary science and good theology in their quests to find the proper relationship between these two important domains of intellectual endeavor.

In his article from 1996, John F Haught directly addresses the relationship between theology and evolutionary science, setting forth four "positions" — conflict, contrast, contact, and confirmation. This quartet provides an excellent functional framework for recognizing and classifying the contributions that different participants make to a dialog (or, for that matter, a debate) between science and religion. Haught's framework might provide a basis for developing a fuller, more closely reasoned, concept of NOMA, which falls under the rubric of "contact".

An important leitmotif in dialogs between theology and evolutionary science is the role of chance and indeterminacy. Haught explicitly recognizes the role of chance in evolution and its positive theological implications. And the theologian Elizabeth A Johnson, in her article from 1996, addresses the issue head-on. In a wonderful passage, she says:
No chance, no evolution of the universe. If it were not such an impossible oxymoron, chance might even be called a law of nature itself. Chance, consequently, is not an alternative to law, but the very means whereby law is creative. The two are strongly interrelated and the universe evolves through their interplay (p 358).
For evolutionary biologists, this passage should immediately bring to mind Sewall Wright's seminal ideas on the interplay between natural selection and genetic drift.

The fifth part is the site of the macromutation. It is also the section in which NOMA is violated. In the previous version of the book, the fifth part consisted of articles on evolutionary ethics, in which the authors pushed the envelope at the border between the domains of science and religion. In the current version, leading writers from the ID movement seek to infiltrate the magisterium of science with religiously-based philosophical ideas. Articles by the ID writers are paired with rebuttal articles, much as in the April 2002 issue of Natural History.

Two ID articles are by William Dembski; one is by Michael Behe. The first article by Dembski (from 1998) is an overview of the history and goals of the ID movement. The phrase "undirected natural causes" appears repeatedly, always in contexts in which it is equated with "Darwinism". Do not ask where natural selection is in this equation; it is not there. The major thrust of the article is Dembski's conflation of methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism. He clearly wishes both to be removed from science. Raymond Grizzle's article from 1995 should be read immediately after this article. Directly addressing the proponents of ID, Grizzle essentially accuses them of violating NOMA. He makes a clear case for the necessity of maintaining methodological naturalism within the magisterium of science.

Dembski's second article (from 1997) is a semi-technical summary of his ideas of actualization-exclusion-specification and his theory of complex specified information. Brandon Fitelson, Christopher Stephens, and Elliott Sober provide an even more technical rebuttal published in 1999. Dembski has some interesting ideas for readers interested in probability. Unfortunately, his treatment is based upon a "neutral" theory of evolution. Natural selection is never included, which makes Dembski's arguments irrelevant to evolutionary biology.

Behe's article from 1996 gives an introduction to his concept of irreducible complexity. In turn, the article by Kenneth R Miller from 1994 shows that, when the evolutionary roles of contingency and jerry-rigging are taken into account, the empirical examples cited by Behe fail to justify the conclusions that Behe wants to draw from them. More generally, Miller marshals an array of empirical examples to demonstrate that the facts of natural history are not in accord with predictions that can reasonably be made from a hypothesis of "intelligent design".

Overall, An Evolving Dialogue is a fascinating book. It makes a good resource for courses that delve into the relationship between the magisteria of science and religion; Gould's and Miller's essays are both on the agenda for my course at Berkeley. Be warned, however, that the book's physical layout has a few problems. One must look in three places to find out when and where the articles first appeared and who the authors are. Typos abound. The winner is in the Southern Baptist statement quoted on page 285: "this Convention accepts Genesis as teaching that man was the special cremation of God".

About the Author(s): 
Philip T Spieth
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
spieth@ncseweb.org