Bad at two things – intelligent designers on dark matter

It’s been a while since I felt it necessary to comment on the people who profess that things like “intelligent design” are science. However, tonight on Twitter the Discovery Institute mixed their usual nonsense – their fundamental distortion of biological science – with physics. Since they took it upon themselves to blend their area of obfuscation with my area of expertise, I feel the need to write. Their tweet and the post to which it links show that there are bad at more than one science.

If you read nothing else in this post, read this: they confuse two things and use their confusion to try to mislead the reader. First, dark matter physicists are still hunting for the fundamental explanation of the nature of dark matter, and when they figure it out they will take all the failed ideas and throw them away. Biologists already had that moment – in 1859, when Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species”, he showed that he had discovered THE fundamental explanation of natural biological diversity. That idea went on to succeed, at the elimination of all competing ideas. Biologists had their moment almost 2 centuries ago, while dark matter physicists are still waiting for their breakthrough. If anything, dark matter physicists have much to learn from the biological community.

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Sanctimonium Santorum, once thought extinct, reappears

Many years ago, I commented on the seeming extinction of the species Sanctimonium Santorum [1]. Like many species that were previously believed to be extinct, there has been a sudden and unexpected reappearance of this odd species. However, as I commented then,

In government, there are limited resources. There are only 100 Senate seats in the United States. From each state, there are only 2. Two candidates who vie for control of those seats are naturally in competition, and the forces both within and without the candidates’ spheres of control shape who will win the seat. It’s sociological natural selection. Often, many species of candidate appear for the scant seats, and only one can succeed. Many of the species wither and die; others seek the Presidency.

So it seems that this species, thought dead, has chosen to seek the Presidency. Here are some of my old observations of Senator Santorum:

Here’s a goodie from Senator Santorum in 2006, regarding the moral code of scientists who want to study the behavior of human stem cells. Enjoy.

[1] http://steve.cooleysekula.net/blog/2006/11/07/test-184/

From the Texas Freedom Network: 2011 Anti-science Quotes

Fresh from the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), here are their favorite anti-science quotes of the year: http://tfninsider.org/2011/12/26/2011-in-quotes-the-war-on-science/. By “favorite,” I of course mean the quotes that probably ensaddened the staff at TFN.

TFN ” . . . is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of more than 50,000 religious and community leaders. Based in Austin, the Texas Freedom Network acts as the state’s watchdog, monitoring far-right issues, organizations, money and leaders.” (http://www.tfn.org/site/PageServer?pagename=TFN_homepage)

It only makes sense in the light of Presidential aspirations

“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” [The title of the 1973 essay by the evolutionary biologist and Russian Orthodox Christian Theodosius Dobzhansky, who criticized the anti-evolution creationist movement.]

Almost 30% of humans carry the Human Papillomavirus. In women, HPV has been linked to 90% of all cervical cancers. The HPV vaccine is 90% effective at preventing infection by HPV. How is it that a virus evades our complex human immune system?

The answer is evolution. The multiple strains of HPV which lie dormant and unkilled in our bodies have adapted to our immune response; those strains which could not temper or evade our immune response were killed, and those that went unkilled then reproduced and became the strains that today routinely suppress our body’s natural defenses. In fact, the ability of a virus to survive, repopulate, and co-habit with our normal cell tissue only makes sense in the light of evolution. The HPV vaccine amends the failure of our body by providing an external means to trigger the desired immune response [2]. Without evolution, one has to posit some unfalsifiable and possibly malicious deity whose existence is consumed with the creation of tiny biological curiosities that wreak havoc on our species. When understanding the natural world, I prefer evolution to a construct.

And so it was a little strange that Gov. Rick Perry leapt to the defense of the HPV vaccine. Perry not only mis-understands the meaning of the phrase “scientific theory,” he chooses to wield it like a machete and then hack at evolution. Each stroke of his tongue seems meant to slash evolution from a grand view of life to some unrecognizable stump whose only merit is that it is somehow equal in stature the cheap theology and pseudo-science of literal Biblical creationism.

Said Perry of Rep. Michele Bachmann’s “HPV vaccine causes mental retardation” claim,

“I think that was a statement that had no truth in it, no basis in fact.” [Gov. Rick Perry, Ref. 3]

Perry, who signed an executive order requiring pre-teen girls to receive the HPV vaccine (with parental opt-out), has come out swinging against the Theory of Evolution. This is a terrifying behavior, because a scientific theory is hypothesis that is not only based on facts, but is better than facts because it explains them and predicts new ones which allow us to make progress in understanding and fighting disease.

Yet, while Perry defends his policy choice – one which is meant to insure that the co-evolution of HPV is stopped dead in its tracks – he so easily dismisses the very scientific theory that has given us the power to understand and master our immune response. Without that theory, cervical cancer becomes some punishment whose origin is shrouded in fear and whose treatment is a dose of guess washed down with a sip of hope.

It’s either sad, or funny, or both, that a person so focused on running a country cannot command a consistent and complete view of the facts. He changes his allegiance to the facts depending on whether he needs to support his policy choices or demonize the choices of other people. Choosing the facts that support your policies, rather than the policies that are supported by facts, is just the kind of behavior that led us to war and economic collapse in the last decade. Do we want that again?

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nothing_in_Biology_Makes_Sense_Except_in_the_Light_of_Evolution 

[2] “Immune response to human papillomavirus after prophylactic vaccination with AS04-adjuvanted HPV-16/18 vaccine: Improving upon nature.” Gynecologic Oncology Volume 110, Issue 3, Supplement 1, September 2008, Pages S1-S10. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0090825808004939

[3] “Rick Perry knocks Michele Bachmann’s HPV story.” Politico. September 14, 2011. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0911/63526.html