Thursday, 29 March 2007

Toying with the Truth in Science - part 3

Having dealt in my last few posts, with the DVDs and letter sent out to all UK Schools and colleges by the creationist group "Truth In Science" in September 2006, I can now turn my attention to the Teachers Manual which accompanied them.

This manual is called "Where does the evidence lead?". I shall aim to show you that the teachers' manual makes no effort to answer this question and that it's use in schools would in fact steer teachers and students in the opposite direction.

The booklet has an introduction which I will not cover simply because it repeats the various lies and distortions I have already discussed in parts 1 and 2 of the Toying with the Truth in Science posts.

The rest of the book is then split into 6 parts which are headed up as "learning outcomes". TiS themselves have tried to tell us that this material is relevant to the KS4 curriculum so lets compare the learning point they make with that.

To help me do this I have pinched my sons GCSE revision guide which is bang up to date and includes a section headed " What are you expected to know?"

Lets look at part 1 of the "teachers manual" titled "Life:The Big Questions";

Understand Darwin's theory of natural selection, and its historical background in the voyage of the Beagle and the publication of The Origin of Species

Well the problem with this is very subtle and in fact the actual sentence itself is fine. The problem is that nowhere in the films or the booklets does TiS actually explain what the theory of natural selection actually is. They only mentions bits and pieces, and never a complete whole. Never do we see the elements of the theory laid out piece by piece so as to be easy to understand and digest. Never presented in a way to help students learn, which is supposed to be what all this is about. Anyone would think TiS wanted the Theory of Evolution to look incomplete and badly thought out! Perish the thought.

Anyone who did not already know and understand the theory would see the gaps immediately, but remember the target audience here is our kids, who don't know the theory yet. So perhaps this DVD and manual has been carefully judged to give just enough information to make students think it has been explained, but nevertheless, to leave them so lacking in understanding that they are unable to defend the ideas it concerns against the simplest and most empty of counter arguments.

Turning to my son's text book we can see the following points; organisms compete for resources and mates, adaptations can help with these struggles, genetic information, variation, ToE is widely accepted (but not by all), ToE states that natural selection acts upon variation, evidence for evolution include fossils.

This is pretty brief and to the point as you might expect. Let's see how much of this is actually in the TiS material.

Understand that variation in beak shape and size of Galapagos finches provides evidence for evolution.

Yes it is, but the students will be left wondering why. The film does not explain why this is so. In my opinion this is deliberately done to further weaken the case for the Theory of Evolution in the minds of the students.

Know that domestic breeding is similar to natural selection.

Again, OK, but we still do not know what natural selection is? That is actually point number one in my son's text book.

Understand that Darwin provided the first plausible theory to explain the appearance of design in the natural world without an intelligent designer.

Well my son's book talks about Lamarck's theory which was the best guess before Darwin came along. In fact the bit of the curriculum which specifically talks about scientific controversies is actually referring to Lamarck's theory. Not, as the letter, teacher's guide and the home page of TiS would all lead you to believe, i.e. Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design has actually been specifically ruled out as unsuitable for coverage in science lessons. My previous posts in this series contain the full details of this.

OK this next one is a real killer.

Recognise that Darwinism is assumed to be true by most scientists.

To assume something means "suppose to be the case, without proof" or "adopt falsely".

This learning outcome is rather well designed to be slipped in under the radar of the unsuspecting. We however, are suspecting TiS quite a bit by now, and we are in a position to ask further questions that the students may not be able to come up with.

If students did think of these questions the teachers' manual leave the teacher in the dark as to what the answers actually are. I will ask;

What evidence is there that most scientists suppose the theory of evolution is true, without proof?

The final learning outcome listed in part 1 is;

Recognise that a growing number of scientists question the true extent of the creative power of natural selection.

I covered the slowly growing list of scientists who have signed a very tepid statement doubting if evolution can account for everything we see alone, which is a sensible scientific position to take, versus a very strong statement signed by PhDs called Steve. This demonstrates just how tiny a minority the "growing number" is in the real world.

So to summarise;

Don't explain evolution properly, make it good and ropey
Ignore the curriculum advice regarding previous theories and controversy and pretend they actually mean your own pet faith
Slip in straight forward lies about the views of most scientists and
Cap it all off with a misleading summary of the scientific controversy, or lack of one.

Look out for an analysis of "Learning Outcomes Part 2 - What Darwin Didn't Know" in my next post.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Toying with the Truth in Science - part 2

In my last post I started to cover the letter sent to all UK schools and colleges in September 2006 along with the DVD materials. In this post we will finish off the detailed analysis of the letter.

The third paragraph starts like this;

Intelligent Design is frequently menioned in news and scientific media, but most current school textbooks do not equip pupils to be informed participants in the discussion.

Well now, is ID frequently mentioned in the press? Yes it is mentioned from time to time there is some discussion, most of it by extremely well respected scientists saying that ID is basically rubbish. Is it mentioned frequently? How long is a piece of string? In any case there is far far less coverage in the UK than in the US. In fact you get far more press space taken up with Astrology, stories about UFO's, psychics and the like but no one seriously suggests that they should be covered by school science text books.

I analyse the odd ID article myself on my own blog from time to time. You really don't need letters after your name to pull the arguments apart and expose the emptiness of the ID claims.

Anyway we are discussing the issue, "Is ID mentioned in the press?", we are discussing it because the TiS letter seems to be implying that something which is being discussed in the press should be covered in school textbooks. They don't say why this should be so.

When you stop to think about it - there is no actual reason why this should be so. The contents of our textbooks depends upon the contents of the curriculum, it does not and should not depend upon the daily press.

What about the scientific media? Well I can only find reference to 9 peer reviewed papers on ID. There are tens of thousands on evolution. Of these 9 ID papers, 8 don't even publish any original research. This should not be a surprise from a "theory of ID" which simply states that sometime, somewhere, somebody intelligent designed something for no apparent reason. The ID papers all have very weak, if any, peer review and the one which does include some research does not actually address design at all.

More details on these papers can be found here.

So is ID a suitable subject for school science text books because it is in the news and scientific media?


By the way, while we are on the subject of scientific controversies, just think for a moment about the many fields where various hypothesis or theories are nowhere near as widely accepted as evolution theory is. Do various groups of scientists who favour minority views in their fields send DVD packs to high schools as part of the scientific debate? No, they do research and publish papers and try to win the debate by providing evidence. That is how science works and the fact that ID proponents don't follow this at all is another reason why this is not science.

Anyway, the letter goes on to say;

In February 2005, Lord Filkin, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the DfES, named Intelligent Design as a theory that could be discussed in schools (Hansard, House of Lords Written Answer 21 Feb 2005). We consider this to be one of the most important scientific issues that students can consider, and we are sending this letter and resource pack to every secondary school and college in the United Kingdom.

Well if that is what the government wants they who am I to argue? Hang on though. They say Lord Filkin said it "could be discussed", what does this mean? I believe in free speech, I think schools and students should be able to discuss anything they like. What exactly would a minister say could not be discussed in UK schools? Let's look carefully at what TiS have done here; they have jumped straight from "could be discussed" to claiming justification for sending out packs of materials for science classes.

If you have read the rest of this blog then you probably know what I am going to discuss next. If you haven't read it then you might anyway be thinking that February 2005 to September 2006 is a long time for nothing else to be said by the government on this subject, and you would be right.

In fact the government has actually said quite a bit more since then, the only thing is, what was said doesn't support the mangled version of reality that TiS are pushing. So guess what? They conveniently chose to ignore these further comments from the Minister for Schools.

Here they are;

Thank you for your letter of 21 March addressed to Ruth Kelly enclosing correspondence from your constituent, Cambridge about the teaching of creationism in the GCSE curriculum. I am replying as the Minister responsible for this area of education.
The science programme of study is statutory and indicates what must be taught, it does not list what should not be taught as such a list would inevitably become prohibitively long. Creationism and intelligent design are not included in either the present science programme of study or the revised science programme of study, to be implemented in September 2006.
The purpose of the science programme of study for key stage 4 is to enable young people to develop their understanding of science as a subject discipline ("how science works"), together with the skills and knowledge to make appropriate decisions about science as it affects their lives now and in the future.
The present science programme of study indicates that pupils should be taught:
that the fossil record is evidence for evolution, (Sc2.3h)
how variation and selection may lead to evolution or to extinction, (Sc2.3j)
how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence [for example Darwin's theory of evolution]. (Sc1.1b)
The scientific controversy referred to in the programme of study is that arising from Darwin's rejection of existing scientific theories based on the evidence he had collected. An example of such a theory is inheritance of acquired characteristics supported, among others, by the French scientist Lamark and based on the available scientific evidence at the time.
Creationism cannot be used as an example of a scientific controversy as it has no empirical evidence to support it and no underpinning scientific principles or explanations. It belongs in a different realm of knowledge, that of religion.
In Religious Education (RE) lessons pupils could work from unit 9B in the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority/Department for Education and Skills scheme of work for RE, which explores where the universe came from. This unit investigates the ways in which science and religion are often perceived to be in conflict. It asks whether they can aid each other, and so facilitate learning about and from religion.
The use of the word "theory" can mislead those not familiar with science as a domain of knowledge because it is different from the everyday meaning. In science the meaning is much less tentative and indicates a substantial amount of supporting evidence, underpinned by principles and explanations, and accepted by the international scientific community. However, it also signals that all scientific knowledge is considered to be tentative as it can be principle be disproved by new evidence.
Intelligent design is sometimes erroneously advanced as a scientific theory but it has no underpinning scientific principles or explanations supporting it and it is not accepted by the international scientific community.
Jacqui Smith, MP (Minister of State for Schools and 14-19 Learners)

After the issue of the packs came to the government's attention, this written answer was given;

Graham Stringer: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what advice he plans to give to schools on the information pack circulated to all schools by Truth in Science.

Jim Knight : It is up to schools to decide what teaching resources they need to help them deliver the national curriculum for science effectively. Neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories and they are not included in the science curriculum, the Truth in Science information pack is therefore not an appropriate resource to support the science curriculum.

The national curriculum for science clearly sets down that pupils should be taught: how uncertainties in scientific knowledge and scientific ideas change over time; the role of the scientific community in validating these changes; variation within species can lead to evolutionary changes; and, similarities and differences between species can be measured and classified.

From this page in Hansard.

The letter goes on to say;

We consider this to be one of the most important scientific issues that students can consider, and are sending this letter and resource pack to every school and college in the United Kingdom.

Well they don't say why they think it is so important. This is because they struggle to do this without using the G-- word. They genuinely, honestly and completely without reason, equate evolution with some kind of lack of moral fibre and spirituality. Yes I know that sounds odd but I will cover more of this in a later Blog and show you what I mean.

The rest of the letter explains that the second DVD is made of of short extracts of the first one and then asks for feedback.

Ok lets quickly summarise;

In September 2006 a letter with two DVDs was sent to every UK High School by Truth in Science.

We have seen that it has a misleading set up. That it contains downright fibs about the scientific context and finally culminates in a quote from a Government minister taken out of context and used to justify sending to schools something which the Government has explicitly rejected as unsuitable for use in schools.

Now I don't agree with everything the government does from time to time. But I do try to conduct myself openly and honestly. Truth in Science do know about the Government statements which say that their packs are not suitable for school use. They deliberately choose not to mention this on their web site, even now, months later, what else can this be but a deliberate attempt to mislead. Talk about a lack of moral fibre.

These relevant and straightforward facts reveal "Truth in Science" as an organisation which conveniently ignores such facts when they don't suit them. Not a lot of Truth in Truth in Science so far.

If you think that this kind of behaviour is both annoying and duplicitous just wait until we start to look at their "scientific claims".

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Toying with the Truth in Science - part 1

In my last post I reviewed the contents of the DVDs sent by TiS, at great expense, to every UK high school and college. This post will cover the letter sent with the DVDs.

The letter is addressed to the Head of Science and is signed by Andy McIntosh.

It starts benignly enough with the following;

New GCSE Specifications emphasise that students must understand how science works, to help them engage with and challenge the science they meet in everyday life. Students need to adopt a critical, questioning frame of mind, understanding how science impacts society and their lives.

Minor quibble - that last bit sounds a bit American to my ears - shouldn't that be ". . .impacts ON society. . .".

The next bit starts to stretch the truth a little;

To help staff at your school teach these topics . . .

Which topics? Ah - critical thinking and questioning - but wait for it . . .

. . . I have pleasure in enclosing free copies of the DVDs Unlocking the Mystery of Life and Where Does the Evidence Lead? These are classroom resources that outline a current scientific controversy over the origin of life and its diversity. They describe evidence for and against Darwin's theory of evolution, and a current alternative theory of Intelligent Design."

Here we go again. This is a variation on the cleverly implied claim on the TiS home page that evolution is a controversial science. Here we also have the conflation of Evolution theory with theories on the Origin of Life. Evolution theory makes no comment on the origin of life at all.

With regard to the diversity of life and evolution I covered this topic in an earlier post and demonstrated why evolution is not controversial at all by any reasonable person's measure of "controversy".

The issue of the origin of life is not scientifically controversial either, but rather interestingly, for almost exactly the opposite reason. Evolution has a ton of evidence from many different fields backing it up and is not controversial in that very, very few scientists don't accept it as fact (all of whom - surprise surprise - think the bible is absolutely and literally true).

Work on the origin of life has so far provided little evidence to back up any of half a dozen semi popular current hypothesis. No one seems to be claiming that they have any evidence that they know how life did actually start. Science so far has gotten no further than establishing when it happened, sometime between 3.9 and 3.5 billion years ago, and the fact that various "building blocks of life" can be easily generated by replicating conditions we think existed on the early earth. So this isn't controversial in the sense that no one has proposed anything at all as proven so there is not anything to disagree with and have a controversy about.

Half an hours web surfing has also failed to turn up any reference to the origin of life in any UK Science National Curricula so this appears to be a complete non-sequitur. (Please let me know if this is wrong - Mark)

Having watched the DVDs I strongly dispute the claim that they make that they show evidence for evolution - they have very little content at all. We do get some pretty shots of the wonderful wildlife of the Galapagos with comments such as; "variations in beak shape and size of the Galapagos finches provides evidence for evolution". We get no overview of the theory itself and the claims it actually makes to help us understand why different beak shape and sizes are good evidence and we get none of the other evidence for evolution which the National Curriculum covers.

In my view the filmmakers are deliberately setting up a particularly weak strawman version of the actual Theory of Evolution (ToE), to better enable them to cast doubt on it later on.

Finally in this paragraph of the letter they mention a "current alternative theory". The evidence we covered in an earlier post shows this be a simple lie - it is not accepted as an alternative in any sense of the word.

They also label Intelligent Design a "theory". In the scientific usage of the word, theory means an explanatory framework or idea which is backed up by lots of facts. In scientific talk, quite contrary to everyday usage, a theory is higher up the hierarchy of truth than a fact because it is in fact based on lots of facts.

In addition for a theory to be accepted as scientific it must be falsifiable; i.e. be capable of being proved false in some way. In other words it must be possible to make some observation or do some kind of experiment where the result proves that the theory is false. Evolution passes this test very easily and could be shown to be false in thousands of ways. E.g. a static fossil record, later forms of life fossilised out of developmental order men with dinosaurs, true chimeras, that is, organisms that combined parts from several different and diverse lineages (such as mermaids and centaurs) and which are not explained by lateral gene transfer, which transfers relatively small amounts of DNA between lineages, or symbiosis, where two whole organisms come together; a mechanism that would prevent mutations from accumulating; observations of organisms being created.

Intelligent Design fails this measure of science because you can always claim that your intelligent designer did it that way for reasons of their own which we don't or can't understand. In other words the idea that "god did it" can not be disproved at all by anything at all.

There was a famous court case in the US where the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classes was challenged. In the US it is against the constitution to teach religion. To defend themselves the ID side simply had to show that their claim that life was intelligently designed was science. After weeks of evidence they were dismissed as liars and pedlars of creationist propaganda.

I did an extensive blog entry on the judgement here if you want to read more about it.

To recap, we have seen misleading statements, outright lies and clever distortions of the truth and I have only covered the first two paragraphs in the letter - there are three more yet to come.

Comments welcome.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

DVD materials sent to British schools and colleges: a review

In September 2006 the group calling itself Truth in Science sent a pack of two DVD’s and a booklet to every high school and college in the UK.

I have now obtained the pack form my local school and have looked at it for myself.

This is my review on I have updated it a little and added a link to the evidence regarding the flagellum );

This is one of two videos sent to all UK high schools in September 2006 with a letter saying that it will help staff teach students "to adopt a critical questioning frame of mind".

Someone with half a mind will see through this as the science content is so incredibly thin.

I sat down with pen and paper and at the end of the hour could list the main claims made in this programme as follows;

1) No one can explain exactly how a bacterial flagellum evolved.
2) No one knows exactly how life started.
3) Life looks like it was designed because its really, really complicated and it looks like it was designed.

The video then leaves a rather large door open ready for someone to start talking religion - but stops at that point.

A rebuttal can be simply made as follows;
1) There is no evolutionary explanation for the existence of bacterial flagellum - yet. Who is setting the deadline? Or are they film makers claiming it is impossible to explain this? If so, why would it be impossible? Much good scientific work has been done to show this is bunk - have a quick look in the literature and you will find it. Here is a good up to date summary.
2) We don't know how life started. Well science is working on this question as well - again the video seems to claim we never will know but gives no evidence for why this should be so. None of this proves evolution theory wrong. The theory of evolution does not claim to have solved this scientific puzzle, in fact it does not comment on the origin of life at all.
3) Life looks like it was designed because its really, really complicated. Well, in fact, evolution theory claims it was designed, blindly and unintelligently, by the various processes described in the theory, and without any intelligent designer.

They do not address any of the huge mass of other evidence in favour of evolution.

What exactly is the theory of intelligent design? Sometime, someplace, somehow, someone/thing designed something intelligently. Feel the detail!

Just to let the other shoe drop - yes - this is a bunch of devout Christians trying to scrape any kind of case together to preserve their belief that a literal interpretation of the bible is true. 6,000 year old earth, dinosaurs on the Ark etc.

You may wonder why a group with such disparate qualifications got together. There are lawyers and philosophers here as well as a few scientists. Well they all have this same religious belief in common which mean's that they "know" evolution is wrong because it says so in the Bible - not exactly an unbiased assessment of the evidence.

PS. they use an analogy of a mousetrap. Whilst this has some merits at the molecular level I have seen this completely confuse people as it absolutely does not work as an analogy for anything more complicated like the eye etc. This is pretty obvious to anyone who has tried to explain evolution with these kinds of stories and so not to clarify it's use in this case is tantamount to deliberate disingenuousness.
Several of the people on the video were embarrassed if not completely humiliated by the court judgement in the US at the beginning of 2006 which completely dismissed any claims that these ideas and theories are scientific and not religious.”

The second DVD contains the same material but split up into 10 minute segments. This is rather ridiculously called ;"Where Does The Evidence Lead?".

At the risk of pointing out the obvious it is funny because the people at Truth in Science don't follow the evidence to the truth because they already know what that truth is - it says what it is in the Bible.

Future posts will cover the short workbook which accompanies the DVD's exposing the fallacious and misleading content for what it is.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

False claims on the home page of Truth In Science

This is an extract of the home page of the ironically named, "truth in science" web site;

The theory of Darwinian evolution has been presented as scientifically uncontroversial and the only credible explanation of origins. This is despite the National Curriculum which states:

Pupils should be taught…
“how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence (for example, Darwin's theory of evolution)”
The National Curriculum for Key Stage 4 Science (Sc1: Scientific enquiry)

Few schools have taught this controversy. This is partly because many popular textbooks present Darwinism as the only scientific theory of origins and give little coverage to alternative theories, sometimes misrepresenting them.

New GCSE Science Specifications in September 2006 give a fresh opportunity to reconsider what is taught about origins in science lessons. These specifications place an emphasis on students understanding 'How Science Works'. This concept is explained as follows by the Edexcel Examination Board:
“How Science Works is primarily about helping students to engage with and challenge the science they meet in everyday life. Students need to adopt a critical, questioning frame of mind, going ‘behind the scenes’ to understand the workings of science and how it impacts on society and their lives.”

We consider that it is time for students to be permitted to adopt a critical approach to Darwinism in science lessons. They should be given fair and accurate presentations of alternative views.”

Ok lets just take the key points here in order. They categorically state that the theory of evolution has been presented as scientifically uncontroversial.

This is true. It has been presented as such because it is uncontroversial. Let me try to prove it to you.

Look here at the Steve project which has the names of PhD’s who have signed up to a very strongly worded statement that says this;

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to "intelligent design," to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation's public schools.

You can only sign up to this if you have a PhD and your name is Steve i.e. about 1% of the population of Phd”s. They currently have 775 or lets say 775 x 100 = 77,500 scientists signing up to this.

Creationists/ID ers have also generated various lists - with much weaker statements - with few signatures and without making sure they are all PhD’s.

The most optimistic lists I can find have only about 600 sigs. A quick calculation based on these numbers shows 99% of scientists very strongly backing evolution and stating ID is rubbish. So no evolution is not scientifically controversial.

Truth in Science then quote a part of the curriculum which talks of scientific controversies being taught. They then say few schools have taught this controversy.

Now bearing mind what I have just said about how un-controversial this subject is then why would the government as part of the National Curriculum imply that it is? Something’s not right here.

The fact of the matter is that this is NOT, in truth, what the Government are actually talking about - why would you think they were? Oh yes Truth In Science “accidentally” gave you that impression didn’t they.

Have a look at this;

Truth in Science is currently pushing Intelligent Design. This is what Jacqui Smith, Minister of State for Schools, had to say about it in April 2006:

Intelligent design is sometimes erroneously advanced as a scientific theory but it has no underpinning scientific principles or explanations supporting it and it is not accepted by the international scientific community. - Jacqui Smith MP, Minister of State for Schools and 14-19 Learners

And this, again from the Minister for Schools;

The scientific controversy referred to in the programme of study is that arising from Darwin's rejection of existing scientific theories based on the evidence he had collected. An example of such a theory is inheritance of acquired characteristics supported, among others, by the French scientist Lamark and based on the available scientific evidence at the time.
Creationism cannot be used as an example of a scientific controversy as it has no empirical evidence to support it and no underpinning scientific principles or explanations. It belongs in a different realm of knowledge, that of religion.

The full letter can be seen here

So there we are. Truth In Science have deliberately set up the main page of their web site to mislead people and also to misrepresent the governments position.

- - -

Quote for the day;

“The zeal which begins with hypocrisy must conclude in treachery; at first it deceives, at last it betrays”
Francis Bacon, Sr. quotes (English Lawyer and Philosopher. 1561-1626)


The purpose of this occasional blog is to reveal the truth that lies beneath the group calling themselves "Truth In Science".

They actively campaign to get their own narrow religious views taught in British schools - as science. Yes read that again.

They are not short of funds having sent out thousands of DVD packs to British schools and colleges last year. I do not know where these funds have come from. I will try to find out.

I am a father of three, with no formal science qualification and a full time job. So this will be an occasional series which will be limited by the time I have available. I am motivated in part by my love for science, also my love for the truth and also by a wish not to see religion taught in science classes. I am an atheist myself and firmly believe in the freedom of religion and the freedom from religion which exists in Britain today. I firmly support the teaching of a wide range of religious beliefs in schools in the UK in Religious Education classes.

If I point out scientific errors I will back this up with appropriate references - I will not be making any arguments based upon my own authority - I claim none.

I will start by going through the truth in science web site and give you a running commentary which points out the distortions , lies, hidden context and the underlying agenda behind this group.

I also run my own personal occaisional blog called Cogita Tute - Think For Yourself ;

Cogita Tute - A Sceptical Blog

Some of the early material will come from this blog.

Comments are welcomed.