The Incompatibility Hypothesis: Evolution vs Supernatural Causation

The Incompatibility Hypothesis: Evolution vs. Supernatural Causation, by Paz-y-Miño-C & Espinosa

“Like the oil vs. water experiment, evolution and supernatural causation don’t mix. Evolution raises to the surface…”

Incompatibility Hypothesis Paz-y-Mino-C EspinosaSupernatural causation (i.e. the belief in a Supreme Being, creator and sustainer of the universe, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient) is a cultural pollutant, incompatible with empirical reality. “Belief” disrupts, delays and/or stops the correct comprehension and acceptance of evidence. We have postulated that the controversy over evolution-and-science versus creationism is inherent to the incompatibility between scientific rationalism/empiricism and the belief in supernatural causation (Paz-y-Miño-C & Espinosa 2012, 2013a,b,c, in press). This hypothesis (= incompatibility) helps us understand and explain the everlasting and fluctuating antagonism –in cycles, from moderate to intense opposition during human history– in the relationship between science/evolution and religion (Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2013a). In our most recent book chapter (Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa in press), we examine conceptually the incompatibility hypothesis (IH), its predictions and alternatives, and approaches to test it quantitatively. Image top-left: Like the oil vs. water experiment, evolution and supernatural causation don’t mix. Evolution raises to the surface.

Suggested Readings were The Incompatibility Hypothesis is discussed:

Book-Chapter: Paz-y-Miño-C., G. & Espinosa A. (in press). The Incompatibility Hypothesis: Evolution vs. Supernatural Causation. In Trueba G (ed) Why Does Evolution Matter: The Importance of Understanding Evolution. Cambridge Scholars, Cambridge.

Book-Chapter: Paz-y-Miño-C., G. & Espinosa A. 2013a. The Everlasting Conflict Evolution-and-Science versus Religiosity. pp. 73-97 [PDF]. In G. Simpson & S. Payne (eds) Religion and Ethics NOVA Publishers, New York. Download OPEN ACCESS at NOVA.

Scientific Article: Paz-y-Miño-C., G. & Espinosa A. 2013b. Galapagos III world evolution summit: why evolution matters. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 6:28. [PDF]. Open Access.

Scientific Article: Paz-y-Miño-C, G. & Espinosa A. 2013c. Attitudes toward evolution at New England colleges and universities, United States. New England Science Public: Series Evolution 1: 1-32. [PDF]. Read commentaries in Happy Birthday Charles Darwin – The Boston Globe and Basic Knowledge of Darwin’s Theory Lost in Some Classes – The Boston Globe Metro. The Standard Times of New Bedford published the note Evolution Misunderstood By Students, Faculty.

Scientific Article: Paz-y-Miño-C, G. & Espinosa, A. 2012. Introduction: Why People Do Not Accept Evolution: Using Protistan Diversity to Promote Evolution Literacy. Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 59:101-104. [PDF].

Public Talks, Interviews, and Discussions where The Incompatibility Hypothesis is addressed:

Interview by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (April 1, 2014) where both the book Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars, and the Incompatibility Hypothesis is discussed.

Disproof Atheism Society, Boston University (February 2014).

Atheists Alliance of America 2013, National Convention in Boston (watch and/or DOWNLOAD VIDEO from the AAA website).

Atheists Alliance of America 2013 (watch video in YouTube posted on September 2, 2013).

Other Scientific Publications Related to Acceptance of Evolution in the US and the World:

Paz-y-Miño-C, G. & Espinosa A. 2012. Educators of prospective teachers hesitate to embrace evolution due to deficient understanding of science/evolution and high religiosity. Evolution: Education and Outreach 5:139-162. [PDF]. Follow a discussion on this study in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Paz-y-Miño-C, G., Espinosa A. & Bai, C. 2011. The Jackprot Simulation couples mutation rate with natural selection to illustrate how protein evolution is not random. Evolution: Education and Outreach 4:502-514 [PDF] Visit The Jackprot Simulation website to access computer program and tutorials.

Paz-y-Miño-C, G. & Espinosa A. 2011. On the theory of evolution versus the concept of evolution: three observations. Evolution: Education and Outreach 4:308–312 [PDF].

Paz-y-Miño-C, G. & Espinosa A. 2011. New England faculty and college students differ in their views about evolution, creationism, intelligent design, and religiosity. Evolution: Education and Outreach 4:323–342 [PDF].

Paz-y-Miño-C, G. & Espinosa, A. 2010. Integrating horizontal gene transfer and common descent to depict evolution and contrast it with “common design.” J. Eukaryotic Microbiology 57: 11-18 [PDF].

Paz-y-Miño-C, G. & Espinosa, A. 2009. Acceptance of evolution increases with student academic level: a comparison between a secular and a religious college. Evolution: Education & Outreach 2:655–675 [PDF].

Paz-y-Miño-C, G. & A. Espinosa. 2009. Assessment of biology majors’ versus non-majors’ views on evolution, creationism and intelligent design. Evolution Education and Outreach 2: 75-83 [PDF].

Related Readings:

Book: Paz-y-Miño-C., G. 2013. Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars. NOVA Publishers, New York.

Secular VIP of the Week: Guillermo Paz-y-Mino-C

Secular VIP of the Week:

Interview posted by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science on April 01, 2014 08:36PM GMT

Guillermo Paz-y-Mino-C is an Assistant Professor of Evolutionary Biology at UMass Dartmouth, the author of Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars (Science, Evolution and Creationism), and a leading public speaker in the secular community. His work on the incompatibility hypothesis ‘science versus supernatural causation’ has been featured in The Boston Globe, The Standard Times, New England Science Public Series Evolution, and Secular World Magazine.

Professor Paz-y-Mino-C has published more than one hundred editorials about science and the environment and organized international discussions for scholars about the future of science education. Johnny Monsarrat interviewed him for the Richard Dawkins Foundation.

Read the entire interview at Secular VIP of the Week: Guillermo Paz-y-Mino-C.

Bill Nye defeats Ken Ham at Creation Museum

Bill Nye defeats Ken Ham at Creation Museum

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2014

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

“…It [takes] only a reasonable citizen, literate in science and evolution, with the courage to walk into the darkness of the Creation Museum, to illuminate the pervasive remnants of obscurantism...”

     It can be of great consequence to defeat creationism at selected battles, although not all fights should be fought and not all impostors enjoy “equal time” debating science under the illusion that a dialog between nonsense and facts will educate the public.

     But extraordinary circumstances do emerge: the draftsman of the Creation Museum, spiritualist Ken Ham, challenged Bill Nye, The Science Guy, to a duel. And Ham’s mistake was twofold, imagining that Bill Nye will not accept and, worse, organizing the clash at the preacher’s den, on February 4, 2014.

     Nye won the debate months in advance, perhaps years. His most recent and highly publicized advocacy for science literacy, awareness about climate change and support to education follow two decades of media exposure: from “The Science Guy” in the early 1990s, where elementary science was featured, to “The Eyes of Nye” in the mid 2000s, which questioned pseudoscience and educated viewers about addiction, antibiotics, nuclear waste, and cloning, to “100 Greatest Discoveries” and “The Greatest Inventions” for the Discovery Channel (both about technology and innovation), to “Stuff Happens” for Planet Green (pro-environment) and the latest “Solving For X” which highlights the value of algebra in children’s schooling.  

Bill Nye Evolution Literacy Debate

      With enough credentials to describe himself as a “reasonable man” and “a patriot” concerned about the United States imminent drift toward “producing a generation of students who do not believe in science,” Nye began his opening debate-statement by thanking the organizers for the invitation to “this facility,” the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Indeed, proper science museums are accredited by reputable organizations (i.e. American Alliance of Museums; see 2013 List of Accredited Museums), but the enterprise envisioned by Ken Ham, president/CEO and founder of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum, aims at smuggling pseudoscience via the façade of an educational institution —two million visitors since 2007.   

     The ultimate point in the debate was an old one, the ever-lasting conflict between science, represented by evolution, and supernatural causation epitomized by Biblical Creationism. In essence, an easy wrestling scuffle for science in today’s world —but not in the US, as pointed out by Nye, a unique nation in its opposition to evolution. Ham referred to the Old and New Testaments as “the book” —with which Bill Nye ought to be aware— containing “the evidence” for Origins, and for all beginnings, the universe, life, consciousness, morality; the list was long. Frightening!

     Nye took the path of explaining to Kentuckians how a cultural sense of scientific curiosity, innovation based on discovery, and love for exploring the realities of nature are the foundations of economic development and prosperity; the “things that matter” in a competitive world. “Mr. Ham, do you have a creation model that could help us predict something?” Of course, no answer, except for the recurrent reference to Genesis as the justification for empty arguments; however, the frustration resides not in the incoherent view of the cosmos by an individual who capriciously rejects facts, but on the impact that educational malpractice can have on students being encouraged to believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old, and that “because no one was there to witness evolution,” as portrayed by Ham, scripture suffices to explain the eons.

Riding Dinosaurs in Eden

“…because no one was there to witness evolution, as portrayed by Ham, scripture suffices to explain the eons…”

     Despite opposition to the debate by science celebrities and secular leaders, who ridiculed Bill Nye for lacking the “biology credentials” to confront an unpredictable, chaotic opponent in his turf, or for being “just an engineer with a Bachelors degree from Cornell (1977)” and holder of —almost meaningless for the critics— three honorary doctorates (Johns Hopkins University 2008, Goucher College 2000, Rensselaer Polytechnic 1999), or for not even resembling a “Navy-SEAL-Team-6-like-guy” toughened to take down a major target (yes, that contemptible was the blogging before the debate), The Science Guy overcame all significant resistance, and his persona and intellect prevailed. It took only a reasonable citizen, literate in science and evolution, with the courage to walk into the darkness of the Creation Museum, to illuminate the pervasive remnants of obscurantism.

     Judge for yourselves, the debate is available online (click here). Here are some statistics: 800 ticket-buyers in the audience, 70 media organizations, 10,000 churches, schools and colleges hosting a free-live stream (likely for Ham’s supporters), 750,000 viewers in YouTube within twenty four hours after the video was posted, and one of the top topics on Twitter. What was the major blow, if any? Well, 92% of 36,000 responders to a Christian Today poll declared Nye the winner.

     The big picture, however, is not the outcome of a debate, but that only 40% of Americans accept the reality of evolution. And not trusting science, in matters of science, can be suicidal in a world where our evolutionary background is the foundation of all our endeavors. — © 2014 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved.

Related Links:

BOOK: Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars

STUDY: Attitudes Toward Evolution at New England Colleges and Universities, United States

BOOK CHAPTER: The Ever-lasting Conflict Evolution-and-Science versus Religiosity

Scientific Article: Why People Do Not Accept Evolution? 

Back to Evolution Literacy website

BOOK Evolution Stands Faith Up Reflections on Evolution’s Wars

NOVA Publishers NY announces “Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars”

Author: Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C.

Book Description

Book_Evolution_Stands_Faith_Up_G_Paz-y-Mino-C“…Shot-gun marriages between evolution and faith have never worked, despite the tradition of pointing the barrel at evolution’s head. The truth is that evolution likes it single. Free, with no stoppers of thought or restrains on logic. And when lured unknowingly into the altar by those who see facts and fiction compatible, evolution has consistently stood belief up and walked away, sometimes run, toward its secular turf… [The] dream of arranging evolution’s wedding with belief will remain dormant for as long as evolution is awake.” Provocative, intriguing, a contemporary and concise analysis of the clashes between science and faith: In this book, Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C examines the societal sequels in public education, the future of America’s science and academia of believing in a deity. For this evolutionary biologist, educator and public speaker, “science is [the only] refined device for resolving ordinary curiosity and a powerful liberator of superstition.” He thinks of science as “the subsistence kit to defeat re-emerging fundamentalism” in the world. With a journalistic style in short, yet documented essays, Paz-y-Miño-C encourages the reader to question “faith healing,” the “silly” forecast of Armageddon on two occasions in 2012 (after postponing the first engagement), or the “wrongly called” The God Particle, which scrambles fiction with facts. He considers “belief” to be a “disruptor,” which delays and stops the correct comprehension and acceptance of evidence. He alerts us about the threats of rejecting science, our African and ape evolutionary ancestry, and the epidemic growth of anti-intellectualism among decision makers, whose interest in replacing “curiosity-driven science” with profitable laboratory-bench work to secure sales of “science products” will drive the “culture of discovery in America” to vanish. But this author also contrasts his inner “frustration in attempting to reverse, at least around [his] immediate circle of influence, such trend…” with essays in which his contagious passion for science emerges. In his prose, Paz-y-Miño-C ignites our imagination to “take off from the roof of the Boston Museum of Science and its Charles Hayden Planetarium, while flying in a helicopter that, after metamorphosing into a spaceship, leaves Earth to immerse us into galactic infinitude.” Or to hike among sea lions, while they rest on the Galapagos shores, and feel as Darwin did the magnificence of nature. Or to contemplate the night sky from the top of the largest volcano in the World, Mauna Kea, in Hawaii, and accept the fact that, one day in the distant future, all its telescopes —or their remains— will drift away on their carrier, the late “Big Island,” and sink in the Pacific when the summit of Mauna Kea succumbs to erosion, hence following the drowning fate of the Hawaiian Islands. This open-ended book assures: “Once embraced by all, this truly universal language —scientific rationalism/empiricism and evolution— shall lead us to a more cohesive understanding of nature and of our amazingly diverse human condition. Humanity’s ultimate challenge will be to collectively embrace reality, with no stoppers of thought or restrains on logic.”

Table of Contents:

Preface

Essay 1. Evolution Stands Faith Up: On Francis Collins’ & Karl Giberson’s “The Language of Science and Faith”

Essay 2. Faith Healing vs. Medical Science

Essay 3. Wrong at Forecasting Armageddon

Essay 4. Unforgettable Galapagos, a Summit, and Why Evolution Matters

Essay 5. Conservation Behavior in the Galapagos

Essay 6. Mauna Kea Telescopes to Sink in the Pacific – Hawaii

Essay 7. Boston’s Charles Hayden Planetarium

Essay 8. On the Wrongly Called “the God Particle”

Essay 9. A Stationary Ark on the Isle of Jersey

Essay 10. On Whales and a Whaling Museum

Essay 11. Denying Rome, the Exquisite Colosseum and Evolution

Essay 12. Lisbon’s Lesson: Honor the Value of Discovery

Essay 13. Can We Forecast the Fall of Today’s Empires?

Essay 14. All History is Black History

Essay 15. American Exceptionalism Built on Backs of the 99%

Essay 16. Rejection of Science Threatens to Be Epidemic

Essay 17. New England Professors Accept Evolution, but They are Religious

Essay 18. Massachusetts Gets an A- in Science Standards

Essay 19. Americans Want Candidates to Debate Science

Essay 20. Darwin Day Awaits Designation by the US Congress

Essay 21. Can Atheists Be Our Leaders?

Epilogue

Index

Series:

Science, Evolution and Creationism

Pub. Date: 2013 – 4th Quarter

Pages: 6×9 – (NBC-C)

ISBN: 978-1-62948-447-1

For information go to Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars by NOVA Publishers, New York Soft Cover

Find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.comAmazon UK

Review of Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars

by Dr. Greg M. Stott, Canada

This is an inspiring, readable collection of 21 essays of reflective value to everyone. You can dip into any of these well-crafted and thoughtful essays at leisure without concern for order. The layout of each essay is appealing, beginning with a quote extracted from the essay, which summarizes the key insight, and finishing with a list of suggested readings and resources. The essays, mainly written within the past 4 years, are taken largely from the author’s contributions to local newspapers and his online blog, Evolution Literacy.

The author is an evolutionary biologist and an atheist who originally immigrated to the U.S. as a graduate student from Ecuador. His preface to the book provides a rationale for these essays arising from his training as a scientist and the need to address the breadth of irrational thinking around us. Notably, he points to the vain attempt by many to try and accommodate scientific rationalism with supernatural beliefs. They are simply incompatible. To emphasize this point, his first essay, from which the title of this set of essays is taken, is based on his critical book review in Amazon.com of “The Language of Science and Faith” by Francis Collins (former head of the Human Genome Project) and Karl Giberson. Francis Collins, a widely respected genetic researcher but devout Christian, demonstrates a cognitive dissonance between one’s scientific skills and the emotional need for an ineffable, “spiritual” connection to something greater outside of oneself. This latter sense of connection with the natural world devolves into an inborn tendency to take mental shortcuts and default to “unseen” supernatural causes, a common impediment to critical thinking.

The essays address a broad range of topics, including faith healing, astronomy, physics, nature, archaeology, the curiosity-driven urge to discover, and the serious threat from the arrogant ignorant who equate opinion with knowledge, especially those in positions of power to further corrode education. As the author counsels, “Escort out of office those who see fiction and facts compatible, or worship ignorance-based opinions as rightful views of equitable value to the empirical truth.”

The author has a marvellously eloquent style of writing, full of inspiring metaphors and lateral observations that reinforce connections to the foundations of scientific inquiry and to biological evolution in particular. These thoughtful essays are accessible to the general public and an inspiration to all of us who should write an occasional essay for our local newspaper or an online blog to help clear the fog in our own communities and arm our neighbors against theistic anti-science, medical quackery and other irrational nonsense.

Evolution Meeting in Lisbon Raises Concern

Evolution Meeting in Lisbon Raises Concern

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2013

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

“…Lisbon taught us a lesson: its beauty and history, museums and palaces, cathedrals and monuments all honored the value of discovery, the irrefutable foundation of true civilizations.”

     There is a connection between Portugal’s cultural and historical commitment to explore the unknown and what just happened at the XIV European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB) meeting held in Lisbon August 19 to 24, 2013. But a preamble here is merited before I address the conference’s substantial outcomes.

     Portugal’s and Spain’s leadership during The Age of Discovery (1500s-1600s) is undeniable. The Treaty of Tordesillas, signed in 1494, aimed at sharing between both kingdoms the geopolitical control of the world, as much as it could be explored, conquered and, inevitably by post-Crusade-invasion practices, Christianized. And so it was.

Monument to The Discoveries with Henry The Navigator leading it, Lisbon, Photo © 2013 Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C.

     Exploration and discovery did nurture Europe’s curiosity for sighting the “planet’s final frontiers” in the 16th and 17th centuries, starting with the uncertainty of Earth’s shape and its implications for circumnavigation. But trade and profit were the vested motivators for the monarchies to “globalize” their understanding of the world which, 500 years ago, was not even conceived as a globe.

     In a classical Type One error effort —to use modern science terminology— Christopher Columbus, a Genoese explorer sponsored by Spain, failed at arriving to Asia via the Pacific, and instead bumped into unfamiliar terra firma in 1492. Columbus was conceptually wrong and died, in 1506, unaware of the mistake, but his maritime adventure brought, nonetheless, unprecedented wealth to Europe.

     The Portuguese Vasco da Gama tested with success, from 1497-1499, an alternative proposal: that India could be reached if sailing around Africa, relying, of course, on the Earth’s roundness, plus novel technology, instrumentation, and vessel design.

     In retrospect, Columbus and da Gama quests seeded today’s world interconnectedness. But it was science inspiring mere pursuit of knowledge —equivalent to research programs— which led to the prosperity later harvested. Both Columbus and da Gama thought the former arrived in the “West Indies.” Yet, it took additional expeditions (1499-1504), by cartographer Amerigo Vespucci, from Florence, to conjecture the existence of an entirely new continent in the Pacific, a major “paradigm shift” not unusual in science considering it relies on seeking the truth via skepticism.

Tomb of Vasco da Gama in the Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon, Photo © 2013 Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C.

     And science, materialized for its intrinsic significance, curiosity-driven and respected for advancing knowledge and debunking myth —rather than for amassing fortune when its applications expedite income for entrepreneurs— was the spirit of 1,500 international delegates gathered at ESEB 2013.  

     Lisbon was ideal for a conference about ancestry and change, legacy and improvement, the essence of evolutionary biology. At 34 symposia and 74 plenary talks, 360 speakers and authors of 900 posters discussed genetic and non-genetic (cultural) inheritance of traits, animal behavior, mechanisms of species recognition to avoid hybridization, natural and sexual selection, host-parasite interactions, human evolution, aging and senescence, emergence of drug resistance, conservation of wildlife, online resources and quantitative simulations to teach evolution, and climate-change impacts on ecological and evolutionary processes.    

     A sense of “fundamental research is what matters, not the sheer application of science for revenue” resounded during the conference. The concern that funding for basic science is scarce worldwide, the disinterest among benefactors in sponsoring “why questions” in studies, and rather favoring the “how much return will that generate for the industry, the patenting system, the biolabs, the administrative overheads,” and the uncertainty about the future of exploring ultimate queries —the reason for science’s existence— were at the heart of small talking during the conference. 

Splendid exhibit “Forms and Formulas” at Lisbon’s National Museum of Natural History and Science, Photo © 2013 Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. 

     But ESEB 2013 was not alone in this respect. During this summer, US researchers had specifically addressed the importance of sponsoring significant investigations. The Animal Behavior Society (ABS), for example, organized at its 50th anniversary meetings in Boulder, Colorado, July 28 to August 1st, the discussion “Time to Step Up! Defending Basic Science,” under the premise that behavioral research has been “ridiculed” and caricatured by elected officials as “wasteful government spending.” Ironically, behaviorists are the “role models” who continue to inspire worldwide interest in science, and ABS provided a list of them: Edward O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Judy A. Stamps, John Maynard Smith, and William D. Hamilton, among 15 others.

     Likewise, the American Society for Microbiology featured in Denver, Colorado, May 18 to 21, the President’s Forum “Curiosity-Driven Basic Research: Laying the Foundation for Discoveries and Application of the Future,” where “the critical importance of basic investigations and the need to articulate why discovery is so essential” was the consensus. And it cannot be otherwise at times when trivialization of reality, fed by entertainment, belief in the supernatural, disrespect for education, and self confidence nourished by how much is in the pocket, rather than in the schooled mind, can lead the populous to applaud emptiness.

     But Lisbon taught us a lesson: its beauty and history, museums and palaces, cathedrals and monuments all honored the value of discovery, the irrefutable foundation of true civilizations. — © 2013 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved.

Related Articles:

Unforgettable Galapagos, a Summit, and Why Evolution Matters

Galapagos Evolution Conference Adds to Understanding Part II

Can We Forecast the Fall of Today’s Empires?

To Deny Evolution is To Deny History

Galapagos Evolution Conference Adds to Understanding Part II

Galapagos Conference Adds to Understanding – Part II

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2013

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

“…University San Francisco of Quito and its Galapagos Institute for the Arts and Sciences excelled at managing the III World Evolution Summit with unique vision and hospitality and at highlighting the scientific relevance of the Galapagos, its role in Charles Darwin’s conceptualization of “his theory” of evolution by natural selection, and the importance of this volcanic archipelago as World Heritage… USFQ and GAIAS are exemplars of a liberal arts model in the Americas, one that merges institutional identity with cultural heritage…”

    I just represented UMassD at the World Evolution Summit, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos, Ecuador. The 200-attendee meeting took place June 1-5, 2013; it included 12 keynote addresses, 20 oral presentations by international scholars, and about 30 posters by, mostly, graduate and undergraduate students. It was the third Summit organized by University San Francisco of Quito (USFQ) and its Galapagos Institute for the Arts and Sciences (GAIAS). The Summit reverberates every four years.

     Both USFQ and GAIAS excelled at managing the event with unique vision and hospitality and at highlighting the scientific relevance of the Galapagos, its role in Charles Darwin’s conceptualization of “his theory” of evolution by natural selection, and the importance of this volcanic archipelago as World Heritage. Darwin visited the Galapagos in 1835 during an amazing journey (1831-1836) on board of the HMS Beagle, an expedition vessel commanded by Captain Robert FitzRoy.

Above, map of the Galapagos Islands by Captain Robert FitzRoy (1836)
Above, HMS Beagle at Tierra del Fuego, painted by Conrad Martens, ship’s artist (1831-1836)

     Under the umbrella “Why Does Evolution Matter?” the Summit included five sessions: evolution and society, pre-cellular evolution and the RNA world (RNA is a precursor molecule to DNA, the carrier of genetic coding), behavior and environment, genome, and microbes and diseases. Plus an unforgettable farewell party, Galapagean style, with live music, performances, and spirits. USFQ and GAIAS are skillful at including the Galapagos community in all events, which brings pride to all parties. USFQ and GAIAS are exemplars of a liberal arts model in the Americas, one that merges institutional identity with cultural heritage.

     The Summit was publicized by the media worldwide with instant twitting, video uploading online, TV and radio reporters chasing the speakers, and press releases. The Galapagos might be distantly located 600 miles west of the coast of Ecuador, but the Summit was constantly “close by” in the news. Indeed, there is no place on Earth like the Galapagos Islands and no better destination to discuss the reality of evolution.

Above, magnificent Swallow-tailed Gull. “…Indeed, there is no place on Earth like the Galapagos Islands and no better destination to discuss the reality of evolution…” Photo © 2009 Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C.

     I was invited by USFQ and GAIAS to present at the Summit my research program at UMassD. In my keynote address, I discussed “Evolution, Science, Pseudo Science and the Public’s Perception of Reality.” The topic is provocative and it did trigger sharp questions from the audience, dozens of twits, journalists impatient to get exclusive interviews, and an avalanche of sympathizers with my concerns about the low public’s acceptance of evolution worldwide. I contrasted with data the anecdotic perception, even among some of the co-keynote speakers, that opposition to evolution is a phenomenon restricted to the United States, and I framed the problem conceptually, subject to scientific inquiry and testing.

     During the past five years, my collaborator Dr. Avelina Espinosa (professor at Roger Williams University) and I have documented scientifically the patterns of acceptance of evolution in New England and the attitudes toward science by highly educated audiences [download PDF of scientific article on Acceptance of Evolution in New England]. With so many reputable universities, New England is a great “field site” for our studies. We have proposed that the controversy over evolution versus creationism (including all its modern forms: theistic evolution, creation science, young-earth creationism, Intelligent Design, BioLogos) is intrinsic to the incompatibility between scientific rationalism/empiricism and the belief in supernatural causation.

   Dr. Espinosa and I have published extensively on the topic and tested quantitatively the “incompatibility hypothesis” which helps us understand the core reason for the controversy science versus belief. This was the essence of my keynote address at the World Evolution Summit and my colleagues’ response, plus that of the audience, were amazingly encouraging. The media went beyond: “it is time, and important, to say it the way it is” stated Rodolfo Asar, host of the TV program “On Myths and Truths: Frauds in Science” when dialoguing with Dr. Espinosa and me. Rodolfo and his co-host, Maria Eulalia Silva, play a crucial role in educating the public, their program is featured primetime by Teleamazonas.

     What is the incompatibility hypothesis, how do you test it?, asked Rodolfo. I explained that acceptance of evolution and scientific rationalism is characterized by three main factors: the level of an individual’s understanding of science, her/his familiarity with the process of evolution, and her/his personal belief convictions [download PDF of scientific article about the Incompatibility Hypothesis]. In all our studies with the New England professors, educators of prospective teachers, and college students, the single negatively associated variable with acceptance of evolution is the degree of religiosity. And to test it, we have compared such trend with the views of non-believers, who do not possess the academic credentials of the New England scholars, but their levels of understanding the foundations of science and evolution are comparable to the highly educated professors. “Evolution is true regardless of our awareness of it,” I concluded.

     I must confess that the World Evolution Summit in the Galapagos shall remain as one of my most memorable experiences. — © 2013 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved.

Related Articles:

Unforgettable Galapagos, a Summit, and Why Evolution Matters

Darwin Day Awaits Designation by US Congress

Why the Notion that “The Theory of Evolution is Not an Explanation for the Origin of Life” is Wrong

Unforgettable Galapagos, a Summit, and Why Evolution Matters

Unforgettable Galapagos, a Summit, and Why Evolution Matters

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C.

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

Evolution Literacy © 2013

     There is no place on Earth like the Galapagos Islands and no better destination to discuss the reality of evolution. Charles Darwin visited this volcanic archipelago in 1835; the rest is 180 years of science’s history after a major paradigm shift from creationism –including all its modern forms: theistic evolution, creation science, young-earth creationism, Intelligent Design, BioLogos— to evolution.

     Evolution is true regardless of our awareness of it. The evolutionary processes preceded the emergence of our ape consciousness –which is only about 150,000 years old. Evolution itself is indifferent to our level of understanding of it, although we must admit that proper education leads to accepting evolution and admiring one of the most magnificent phenomena ever discovered, that of organisms’ transformations by means of natural selection as described by Darwin in The Origin of Species (1859).

     “Why Does Evolution Matter” was the theme of the III World Evolution Summit which just adjourned in San Cristobal Island, Galapagos, after a fascinating scientific gathering (June 1-5, 2013) organized by University San Francisco of Quito (USFQ) and its Galapagos Institute for the Arts and Sciences (GAIAS), Ecuador. Twelve international keynote speakers rationalized over evolution at the microscopic and organismic levels, the applications of evolutionary principles for the conservation of endangered species and their environments and, of course, for the relevance of evolution to human health. 

Above: Galapagos Center for the Arts and Sciences (GAIAS) of University San Francisco of Quito (USFQ), San Cristobal Island, Ecuador. Photo © 2013 Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C.
Above: Galapagos Science Center of University San Francisco of Quito (USFQ), San Cristobal Island, in partnership with the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA. Photo © 2013 Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C.

     USFQ and GAIAS shinned big: they led us to ‘dream’ about evolution… Yes, one can dream about reality, feel the joy of understanding the facts about life’s origins, from the tinniest molecules like RNA (an evolutionary precursor of DNA) to intriguing viruses who rely on RNA or DNA to infest each other or replicate inside cells and thus fuel unfolding biological complexity… and to the emergence of bacteria and archaea (prokaryotes, cells without a nucleus) and of nucleated unicellular organisms (eukaryotes), like amoeba, which reside freely in ponds or in the guts of reptiles and other creatures… and to the magnificent Galapagos hawks, penguins inhabiting the cold waters of this equatorial archipelago –away from their ancestral home in the South Pole— and sea lions resting on the shores occasionally awakening to hikers’ traffic. Indeed, uniquely amazing, beautiful, unforgettable.

Above: Galapagos Hawk. Photo © 2013 Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C.
Above: Galapagos Sea Lions. Photo © 2013 Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C.

     The keynote researchers shared their scholarly stories with two hundred attendees to the Summit. I have never seen so many high school Ecuadorian kids and college undergraduates twitting science, reporting in situ the outcomes of each talk, interviewing the speakers, making science part of their youthful experiences, unafraid of asking the simplest, yet most important question: Why is evolution the foundation of all? Well, I replied, evolution offers the only naturalistic explanation about biological phenomena; it relies on empiricism and rationalism, on facts and scientific observations of rigor. Evolution is a reality that can be tested and replicated and, if us, humans, understand and embrace it, it offers the foundation of all scientific thinking. Evolution is not only about natural history, it is about appreciating our place in the universe and securing our descendants’ future existence in healthy, evolving ecosystems.

     The Summit was also about launching the Lynn Margulis Center for Evolutionary Biology, affiliated with USFQ, in celebration of a genuine seeker of nature’s deep mysteries. Margulis (1938-2011) provoked fascinating controversies over the origin and evolution of cells, their nuclei and organelles, via symbiotic relationships among ancient life forms that apparently merged during the Earth’s early past. Lynn co-proposed the hypothesis of GAIA (no relation to GAIAS) which suggested that the complex associations of all organisms in the planet engender a homeostatic balance, a harmonic coexistence responsible for life’s perpetuity over eons. Lynn lived by this principle of fruitful association and influenced the academic careers of hundreds of naturalists; she was best friend to many, perhaps to most.

     Chemistry Nobel Laureate (2009) Ada Yonath, Israel, delivered a brilliant talk on the evolution of ribosomes, organelles responsible for the assemblage of amino acids and, therefore, of proteins, the essence of Earthy life. Her charisma on stage paralleled the profound evolutionary relevance of the research. An exuberant journey inside the intimate confinements of molecules brought us, the audience, to imagine infinitude at the micro scale, where atoms harmonize with each other, where chemical properties and magnetic interactions resemble the delicate balance invoked by GAIA at the macro scale. I felt inner ‘enlightment’ when reassured by Ada that evolution is within us, in every particle of matter that makes who we are.

     In my own talk, I addressed Evolution, Science, Pseudo Science and the Public’s Perception of Reality; in essence, my concerns about the current patterns of low acceptance of evolution worldwide and the conflict between the belief in supernatural causation and the reality of scientific rationalism/empiricism. I concluded that coexistence between faith and science is illusory due to their inherent incompatibility and that the controversy over acceptance of evolution will continue, indefinitely, via alternating mild and intense antagonism [download PDF of scientific article about the Incompatibility Hypothesis]. And while writing this piece, my research co-author and collaborator, Avelina Espinosa, alerted me about the upcoming debate The Origin and Evolution of Life: Is Galapagos a Detour? between Michael Denton, from the Center for Science and Culture (branch of the Discovery Institute –sponsor of the late doctrine of Intelligent Design) and Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic Magazine. The duel is part of the Las Vegas gathering freedomfesta “festival –July, 2013— where free minds meet to celebrate great books, great ideas, and great thinkers...” I hope Shermer delivers the greatness of Galapagos to honor the reality of evolution and puts to rest Denton’s efforts to smuggle the fictitious into science. — © 2013 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved.

Above: Galapagos Tortoise. Photo © 2013 Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C.

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Darwin Day Awaits Designation by US Congress

Darwin Day Awaits Designation by US Congress

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2013

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

“…Darwin Day… signifies the celebration of the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge. The igniting moments in human history when light was brought into our own origins, when understanding that ordinary apes, like Homo, were capable of the extraordinary, of discovering the truth and debunking obscurantism; yet we still struggle to make science the sole guiding star in our survival decisions, the reliable source of concern and joy, the toolkit to plan our departure from Earth –before our Sun in agonizing heat engulfs its nearest orbiting planets– and seek home somewhere else in the cosmos.” 

Above, close up photo of Charles Darwin statue © G. Paz-y-Miño-C. 2010, British Museum of Natural History, London

On January 22, 2013, representative Rush Holt (D) of New Jersey, and seven of his colleagues, introduced bill H.Res.41 to Congress expressing support for designation of February 12 as Darwin Day.

The Congressional Record of the US House of Representatives (p. H437), dated February 12, 2013, reports: 2 p.m. Prayer; approval of the Journal of the last day’s proceedings; Pledge of Allegiance… Darwin Day, among other items.

In one minute, Mr. Holt summarized for the House the purpose of the bill, which was later referred to the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology (more on this Committee below).

Why Darwin Day? The bill “whereases” explain:

Charles Darwin theory of evolution by the mechanism of natural selection, together with the monumental amount of scientific evidence he compiled to support it, provides humanity with a logical an intellectually compelling explanation for the diversity of life on earth.”

“The validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is further strongly supported by the modern understanding of the science of genetics.”

“It has been the human curiosity and ingenuity exemplified by Darwin that has promoted new scientific discoveries that have helped humanity solve many problems and improve living conditions.”

“The advancement of science must be protected from those unconcerned with the adverse impacts of global warming and climate change.”

“The teaching of creationism in some public schools compromises the scientific and academic integrity of the United States education systems.”

“Charles Darwin is a worthy symbol of scientific advancement on which to focus and around which to build a global celebration of science and humanity intended to promote a common bond among all of Earth’s peoples.”

“February 12, 2013, is the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin in 1809 and would be an appropriate date to designate as Darwin Day: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, that the House of Representatives (1) supports the designation of Darwin Day, and (2) recognizes Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge.”

Bill H.Res.41, itself, embodies the never-ending battle against irrationalism, the latter vividly present in the views of those who see evil in truth and menace in the realities discovered by science. Take, for example, last year’s remarks by congressman Paul Broun (R), from Georgia, a physician and member of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology (the very Committee to which the “Darwin Day bill” was referred), who declared: “God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.”

And Mr. Broun went on, as documented in video watched worldwide: “It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” “You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth.” “I don’t believe that the earth’s but about 9,000 years old.” “I believe it was created in six day as we know them.” “That’s what the Bible says.”

But what shocked me most about Mr. Broun’s remarks at the 2012 Sportsman’s Banquet at Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Georgia, was not the interactive mood of the audience excitedly identifying with and encouraging the speech to ascend to pulpit climax, but how startled looked the dozens of antlered-and-dead deer-trophies casted on the background which, unlike “deer in the headlights” helpless to the imminent collision with the unseen, seemed almost responsive and eager to stampede.

“…All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell…” Representative Paul Broun (R) Georgia, physician and member of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Ironically, the quadrupeds themselves symbolize evolution by natural and sexual selection, magnificent concepts explained to the Victorian public by Darwin on The Origin of Species (1859) and the Descent of Man (1871).

Darwin reasoned about antler evolution: “With stags of many kinds the branching of the horns offers a curious case of difficulty; for certainly a single straight point would inflict a much more serious wound than several diverging points.” “The suspicion has therefore crossed my mind that they may serve partly as ornaments. That the branched antlers of stags, as well as the elegant lyrated horns of certain antelopes, with their graceful double curvature, are ornamental in our eyes, no one will dispute. If, then, the horns, like the splendid accoutrements of the knights of old, add to the noble appearance of stags and antelopes, they may have been partly modified for this purpose, though mainly for actual service in battle.”

Image above from Darwin, C. R. 1871. The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. London: John Murray. Volume 1. 1st edition.

Indeed, Darwin Day –now awaiting action by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology— signifies the celebration of the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge. The igniting moments in human history when light was brought into our own origins, when understanding that ordinary apes, like Homo, were capable of the extraordinary, of discovering the truth and debunking obscurantism; yet we still struggle to make science the sole guiding star in our survival decisions, the reliable source of concern and joy, the toolkit to plan our departure from Earth –before our Sun in agonizing heat engulfs its nearest orbiting planets– and seek home somewhere else in the cosmos. — © 2013 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

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Interesting Site: ”Darwin’s Notebook”

“…A team of hip-hop and contemporary dancers injected life into the still artifacts at a museum… in a show called “Darwin’s Notebook” held at the University of Cambridge Museum of Zoology ” (Source Science Magazine: click on image below for details).

DarwinAsModernDarwin

Darwin’s Image Credit: Ben Swift/Nonsinthetik, from Hip-Hoppin’ Through Darwin’s Theories

New England Science Public Reaches The Community

New England Science Public Reaches The Community

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2012

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

 

 

“…New England Science Public will sponsor simultaneous events across institutions to celebrate iconic scientific achievements, their relevance and value in modern society. Via the NE-Science Public Reports, the initiative will publicize meta-data documents nationwide on trends in attitudes toward science and its controversies…”

     The last elections taught us something substantial about scientific rationalism and politics: Science was absent from the presidential debates despite that 84 percent of Americans ranked science, innovation and health care as the third most important topic in a debate, after the economy and taxes, and foreign policy and national security.

     ScienceDebate.org also revealed that 81 percent of likely voters would prefer public policies to be based on science, not the personal opinions or beliefs of elected officials. The fourth favored topic for a debate was the environment.

“…it is a challenge nowadays to disinfect science from the menace of “cultural common sense,” which is ubiquitously prized but often wrong…”

     Disappointment aside, the needed discussions about science controversies and the elections were brought onto our university campuses by the faculty and students, and there are two examples relevant to my later story here —an emerging inter-institutional New England initiative— on how to translate science to the public without the filters of ideology or political pollutants, although it is a challenge nowadays to disinfect science from the menace of “cultural common sense,” which is ubiquitously prized but often wrong.

“…acceptance of climate change as a reality, favorable views toward alternative sources of energy, and pro acceptance of evolution and stem cell research were ideologically divided …”

     The first event was a panel discussion, on Oct. 24, at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (UMassD): “What’s Your Fracking Problem,” a title that helped fill the brand-new Claire T. Carney Library Grand Reading Room. Hydraulic extraction of natural gas, climate change, energy policy and evolution were examined by professors in the civil and environmental engineering, public policy, and biology departments. The scholars revealed distressing statistics about the United States: acceptance of climate change as a reality, favorable views toward alternative sources of energy, and pro acceptance of evolution and stem cell research were ideologically divided with only 56 percent of the general public, 71 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of independents and 42 percent of Republicans supporting them.

“…Hundreds of students networked… using their cell phones for something meaningful, profound: the debate on science and the elections became theirs…”

     Roger Williams University, in Bristol, Rhode Island, organized an earlier and comparable event on Oct. 16: “Scientific Controversies and the 2012 Presidential Elections” at the impressive Global Heritage Hall and its adjacent Communications Department. The student movement “Hawk The Vote” managed the show uniquely and with immediate tweeting of an online-televised faculty panel facing vivid audience opinions over sustainability, nuclear waste, the science of reproduction in the context of women’s rights and health care. Hundreds of students networked in the RWU campus using their cell phones for something meaningful, profound: the debate on science and the elections became theirs.

“…UMassD and RWU have a powerful faculty and student potential in common, a desire to transcend, to make a difference, and collaborate by bringing science debates directly to their own public with no stoppers of thought or restraints on logic…”

     These two universities have a powerful faculty and student potential in common, a desire to transcend, to make a difference, and collaborate by bringing science debates directly to their own public with no stoppers of thought or restraints on logic. And it is here that my story over the New England Science Public initiative makes sense.

     Since 2007, UMassD and RWU professors have led an intercampus outreach collaboration through Biology New England South aiming at gathering sister institutions in the area to discuss science, network research collaboration, offer a forum for formal presentation of studies and make an impact on the regional communities. More than 1,300 students have participated at the annual BioNES meetings —which take place at RWU— during the past six years (representing UMassD, RWU, Brown University, Tufts University, University of Rhode Island, Providence College, Rhode Island College, University of Connecticut and Salve Regina University), 50 professors have presented papers (four world specialists in science communication as keynote speakers), 40 graduate and undergraduate students have competed for the BioNES prestigious awards, 15 awards have been granted to the best student oral presentations, and 220 posters have been exhibited.

     The BioNES initiative has seeded future challenges for New England Science Public, which will assimilate BioNES and work across campuses to outreach the communities and disseminate correct interpretation of science. NE-Science Public will sponsor simultaneous events across institutions to celebrate iconic scientific achievements, their relevance and value in modern society. Via the New England Science Public: Series Evolution, the initiative will publicize meta-data documents nationwide on trends in attitudes toward science and its controversies.

“…New England Science Public shall take [the] challenge to debate the difficult issues and thus reach out to the public and foster the proper understanding of reality.”

     This past Nov. 29, UMassD and RWU commemorated the transition of BioNES to New England Science Public at the Global Heritage Hall (RWU) with invited guests from 12 regional organizations —universities, colleges, industry and the media. A message extracted from Harry R. Lewis’ —former dean of Harvard College— 2006 book “Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education,” affected the 80 delegates in the audience: “A good university challenges its students to ask questions that are both disturbing and deeply important.” And New England Science Public shall take that challenge to debate the difficult issues and thus reach out to the public and foster the proper understanding of reality. — © 2012 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

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Americans Want Candidates to Debate Science

Americans Want Candidates to Debate Science

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2012

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

“…Statistics –reliable tools in the scientific method— strongly suggest that Americans want a presidential and congressional debate on science, innovation, health, and the environment, and that such dialog should exclude the personal opinions and beliefs of the candidates. Imagine, at last, a conversation over reality, facts, evidence, and rationality. If science becomes the backbone –better the brain— of candidates, and the voters are literate enough to assess it, a single debate shall suffice to unmask it all…”

     85 percent of Americans want a presidential science debate, although more registered democrats (89 percent) than republicans (83 percent) would like a match between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney over science-based challenges in healthcare, climate change, energy, education, innovation and the economy. In fact, 84 percent of likely voters rank science, innovation and healthcare as the third most important topic in a debate, after the economy and taxes, and foreign policy and national security.

“…Does the public prefer presidents and congressional representatives to rationally condition their outlooks to what science says?”

     These views stretch beyond the presidential elections, with 81 percent of probable voters also expecting congressional science debates. But what surprised me most about these figures, released by Science Debate Dot Org, was that 81 percent of the 1000 surveyed adults thought that public policies should be based on science, not the personal opinions or beliefs of elected officials. Really? Does the public prefer presidents and congressional representatives to rationally condition their outlooks to what science says? I love it, because the data implies that we can safely approach politicians and the public with facts, and expect broad appreciation for the truth, the backbone of science. Right?

Above: 81% of Americans want public policies to be based on science, not the personal opinions or beliefs of elected officials. Source Science Debate Dot Org 2012.

     Evolution, climate change, the importance of stem cell research, the benefits of vaccines to public health, the cleanness of clean energy, the dangers of pollution, are all scientific realities –not to mention the impending collision of an asteroid with Earth. But what politicians or the citizens believe about “reality” contradicts the enthusiastic 81 percent support for an honest conversation about facts.

“…what politicians or the citizens believe about “reality” contradicts the enthusiastic 81 percent support for an honest conversation about facts…”

     According to Gallup Poll, 40 percent of Americans accept evolution. Among them, 60 percent of democrats or independents versus 30 percent of republicans think evolution is true. Yet, there is no doubt among scientists that cosmic transformations and Darwinian evolution are factual. Gallup also reports that 58 percent of the general public think that climate change is occurring, versus 75 percent of democrats, 53 percent of independents, and 43 percent of republicans. But thousands of world researchers, advisors to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have compiled chronological evidence of concerning fluctuations in climate.

     Evolution aside, which formulation as a scientific reality dates back to, at least, 150 years, and to Charles Darwin’s seminal contributions (On the Origin of Species, 1859, and The Descent of Man, 1871), and whose on-and-off opponents always lose in the court of science and, frequently, in the court of law, the recent human-made corollaries of climate change are also factual despite the opinions of candidates, ideologies or congregations. But here is relevant trivia reported by Yale University and George Manson University Project/Center for Climate Change Communication: Americans trust President Obama (47 percent) more than former Governor Romney (21 percent) as “a source of information about global warming.”

“…what is expected from politicians by the public differs from what is observed in the electorate voting behavior…”

     Remember that four in every five responders to the Science Debate Dot Org poll preferred science-inspired public policies rather than belief-based decisions. However what is expected from politicians by the public differs from what is observed in the electorate voting behavior. Who is telling the truth about evolution or climate change, President Obama or former Governor Romney? The answer is scientists! And that should be the point of reference for those seeking genuineness: learn what science says about reality, expect politicians to understand and match that view, and cast votes accordingly.

“… science… should be the point of reference for those seeking genuineness: learn what science says about reality, expect politicians to understand and match that view, and cast votes accordingly…”

     Harris Interactive has surveyed that, despite medical researchers’ need of experimentation with stem cells to develop treatment or to prevent diabetes, Alzheimer or Parkinson disease, only 72 percent of the American public thinks such research should be allowed, in contrast to 82 percent of democrats, 73 percent of independents, and 58 percent of republicans. But misinformation about health can be even more scandalous, for example, one in every five adults believes that vaccines cause autism.

Above: Views about evolution, climate change, stem cell research, and alternative sources of energy by the American public, registered democrats, independents and republicans. Sources: Evolution: Gallup Poll 2007, Climate Change:  Gallup Poll 2012; Stem Cell Research: Harris Interactive 2010; Alternative Sources of Energy: Pew Research Center 2012.

     The Pew Research Center has reported 52 percent of public support to developing alternative sources of energy –to oil, coal and gas; 65 percent of democrats, 55 percent of independents, and 36 percent of republicans agree with this view; not surprisingly 81 percent of progressives versus 52 percent of conservatives think that more federal funding should sponsor alternative energy research. And three quarters of the electorate trusts more the Environmental Protection Agency –to research, monitor, set standards and reinforce policies concerning pollution— than the US Congress.

“…Imagine, at last, a conversation over reality, facts, evidence, and rationality. …”

     Statistics –reliable tools in the scientific method— strongly suggest that Americans want a presidential and congressional debate on science, innovation, health, and the environment, and that such dialog should exclude the personal opinions and beliefs of the candidates. Imagine, at last, a conversation over reality, facts, evidence, and rationality. If science becomes the backbone –better the brain— of candidates, and the voters are literate enough to assess it, a single debate shall suffice to unmask it all. — © 2012 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

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Mauna Kea Telescopes To Sink in The Pacific

Mauna Kea Telescopes To Sink in The Pacific – Hawaii

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2012

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

“…before the Dim End, all land telescopes will wear off and turn obsolete and… orbiting-the-planet observatories will likely replace them. Eventually, the shining domes resting on Mauna Kea will crumble while drifting away Northwest on their carrier, the late “Big Island.” These magnificent pieces of engineering will sink in the Pacific… when the summit of Mauna Kea succumbs to erosion, hence following the drowning fate of the Hawaiian Islands.”

Telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, Photo G. Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2012 

     Contemplating the night sky from the top of the largest volcano on Earth is spectacular. Indeed, on the Hawaiian Mauna Kea’s slopes, 13 astronomical observatories reach the universe through their light and radio-wave telescopes.

     From base to summit, Mauna Kea (33,500 feet) raises taller than the Mahalangur-Himal Mount Chomolungma (29,000 feet) or, as renamed in the 1860s, “Everest.” The Royal Geographical Society, responsible for the authoritarian christening, eagerly sought to immortalize fellow member George Everest, a Welsh prominent topographer, who in youth was Surveyor General of India (1830s-40s). Thus the centuries-old Tibetan tradition of honoring the marvelous Chomolungma with a beautiful native name (of course surreal “Mother Goddess”) was lost.

     But Mauna Kea, or “The White Mountain” (at times covered with snow), conserved its Hawaiian designation, traceable to the 11th century, and probably to the years 300-500, when Polynesians settled in the islands. The Mauna Wakea synonym, or “Mountain of the Deity Wakea,” is probably a more recent adoption since mythical traditions regarding the landscape customarily develop after the descriptive word-stock.

     Despite the appalling American and European business-men conspiracy to overthrow the Kingdom of Hawaii (1893), followed by a short-lived pseudo-sovereign republic (1894-98), an annexation as territory to the United States (1898), a granted statehood (1959), and a final Apology Resolution by the US Congress (1993) –which was co-signed by President Bill Clinton— for the “deprivation of the rights of Native Hawaiians to self-determination,” the ancestral cultures reverberate in contemporary Hawaii. 

Above: The Apology Resolution of 1993 -for the “deprivation of the rights of Native Hawaiians to self-determination”- was co-signed by the US Congress and President Bill Clinton

      Mauna Kea’s volcanic foundations emerge from the mantle, deep below the Pacific tectonic plate. A hotspot fuels with magma the islands in the Hawaiian Ridge, and these “huge masses of interconnected rock” move slowly –at the speed our nails grow— toward the Northwest. The Big Island (0 to 600,000 years old), the newest formation and where Mauna Kea is located, rests on the hotspot, while the remaining smaller islands of the Maui cluster (1-2 million years old), Oahu (2-4 million years old) where Honolulu is situated, and the Kauai cluster (more than 5 million years old) continue to erode and sink away from the hotspot. The current archipelago is destined to disappear under the ocean and, if the hotspot remains active, to be replaced by new islands. Hawaii is an exemplar of the reality of an evolutionary tectonic process.

“…The current archipelago is destined to disappear under the ocean and, if the hotspot remains active, to be replaced by new islands. Hawaii is an exemplar of the reality of an evolutionary tectonic process…” Image: aerial view of The Big Island – Photo G. Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2012 

    Regardless of the sporadic snowy peaks, the atmosphere over Mauna Kea is cloudless most of the year, free of high-elevation particle pollution and very dark with no artificial-nightlight influence, key factors for telescopic observations. And $2-billion in infrastructure and equipment have been brought to the summit by a dozen countries which work in partnership with the University of Hawaii, active manager of the “Astronomy Precinct” within the Mauna Kea Science Reserve.

     The Mauna Kea telescopes look grandiose in close proximity. Their white and silver domes stand out at twilight while waking up for their night runs: in 1968-70, the University of Hawaii built the first two large observatories (UH 0.9-m educational telescope and UH 2.2-m telescope); followed by the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (1979), Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (1979), UK Infrared Telescope (1979), James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (1987), CALTECH Submillimeter Observatory (1988), Very Long Baseline Array (1992), Keck I and II (1993-6), Subaru (1997), the Gemini North (1999), and the Submillimeter Array (2002). These instruments explore outer space under optical, infrared, submillimiter and radio spectra.

Above: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, Photo G. Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2012 

Above: Keck I and II observatories, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, Photo G. Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2012 

     I found much mysticism, however, intertwined with cosmological facts, at Imiloa, an impressive, beautifully colored educational facility, which is advertised as “part science center, part indigenous peoples museum” by the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Imiloa merges scientific knowledge and sacred traditions about “origins” as if they were empirically compatible, but they are not. We do know, for example, that neither the Hawaiian Islands nor humans were created, but that the former emerged from magma piercing its way out through the Earth’s crust, while the latter evolved 180,000 years ago from African ancestors whose descendants, the Polynesians, arrived in Hawaii. And thanks to the Mauna Kean telescopes –plus two millennia of astronomy— we are certain that the universe evolved autonomously, independent from the invention of mythology, and that it will end when the last stars deplete their own fuel.

Above:  Imiloa Astronomy Center sponsored by the University of Hawaii at Hilo, Photo G. Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2012 

     But before the Dim End, all land telescopes will wear off and turn obsolete and, if our species persists over a few more cosmic seconds in the time scale, orbiting-the-planet observatories will likely replace them. Eventually, the shining domes resting on Mauna Kea will crumble while drifting away Northwest on their carrier, the late “Big Island.” These magnificent pieces of engineering will sink in the Pacific, as archeological relics, when the summit of Mauna Kea succumbs to erosion, hence following the drowning fate of the Hawaiian Islands.  – © 2012 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved.

Above: the CALTECH Submillimeter Observatory, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, Photo G. Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2012 

On the Wrongly Called The God Particle

On the Wrongly Called “The God Particle”

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2012

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

[A book-review format of this article is available at Amazon.com]

“…without mass, no atoms would exist, no galaxies or stars, no solar systems or planets with life, and no brains capable of thinking about it…”

Computer-generated image of a proton-proton collision recorded with the CMS detector at CERN (2012). The data is consistent with the decay of a Higgs-like-boson into photons (dashed yellow lines and green towers). Alternatively, the data could also be explained by background processes consistent with the Standard Model (image credit CMS-CERN © 2012).

     Nobel laureate Leon Lederman affirms that the title of his 1993 book “The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question?” offended two groups: those who believe in God and those who do not. But this is another astute –and a posteriori— marketing pronouncement. If true, Lederman and coauthor Dick Teresi, a science writer, would have disappointed 95 percent of all Americans (the 80 percent of believers and the 15 percent of seculars), the book’s initial and major target audience.

     As particle physicist, Lederman’s intention with such an unfortunate and misleading heading –here I don’t only blame the publishers for scrambling science with the supernatural to secure sales— was to precisely reach the populous obsessed with science fiction, more than with science facts, and discuss the potential existence of the Higgs boson (a subatomic particle), which experimental demonstration, as predicted for decades, could bring major understanding to the essence of matter.

     This past 4th of July, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, celebrated with its own “fireworks,” or highly energetic particle collisions, the discovery of a Higgs-like boson generated at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a magnificent underground instrument built to study the fundamental structuring blocks of all things.

     I visited CERN, last year, located nearby Geneva, at the Swiss-Franco border. Its 17-mile circular accelerator speeds up, in opposite directions, subatomic “hadrons,” either hydrogen nuclei or lead ions, which gain energy after consecutive laps. At the instant of collision, scientists recreate the conditions immediately after the Big Bang, resembling the first events in the existence of our 14 billion-year-old universe. CERN is shockingly impressive; its amazing technology and scale of engineering caused me profound joy.

Square Galileo Galilei and THE GLOBE (Visitors Interpretation Center) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, nearby Geneva — Swiss-Franco border (photos G. Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2011).

     Hadron collisions produce short-lasting minuscule particles difficult to detect, and the Higgs boson has been indeed elusive. Its existence was postulated in 1964, in separate articles published in Physical Review Letters by Robert Brout and Francois Englert, Peter Higgs (alone), Gerald Guralnik, Richard Hagen and Tom Kibble. But CERN seems to have found it or, as cautiously announced, “measured the products of its decay,” thus inferring its existence.

  ATLAS control room at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN (photo G. Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2011).

     To help us imagine this day of discovery, or presumption that the Higgs boson is real, in his 1990s book Lederman traces back the history of particle physics to 2,600 years ago; sparkled by the Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus, who wondered about the simplest forms of matter, continuing with Democritus of Abdera (c 400 BP), who not only coined the term atom (“uncuttable”) but declared that “…nothing exists except for atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion,” and ending with the 1993 cancellation, by the US Congress, of the Superconducting Super Collider project to be built in Waxahachie, Texas, and which would have surpassed the LHC at CERN with a 54-mile-diameter particle accelerator.

  

Greek Philosopher Democritus of Abdera (460-370 BP) “…nothing exists except for atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion…” 

 

 

     What are Higgs bosons? Remember that atoms consist of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons, both occurring at a nucleus. Electrons cloud around the nucleus and are negatively charged. The entire atom package is kept together by electromagnetic forces. If a nucleus of hydrogen –the simplest known element which is essentially a proton— is accelerated and rammed against another proton an explosion occurs, which liberates subatomic particles. Physicists rely on a body of scientific knowledge, called the Standard Model, to theorize and explore experimentally –currently at CERN— the properties of such subatomic particles.

     About 60 of these particles have been hypothesized and/or documented to exist, and scientists classify them as bosons, hadrons and fermions (for technical terminology visit CERN’s Glossary). The Higgs is a boson and a crucial one to understand the properties of other elementary particles, for example, why some have mass and others, like the photons (components of light) don’t. Without mass, no atoms would exist, no galaxies or stars, no solar systems or planets with life, and no brains capable of thinking about it. (Note, however, that Higgs-like particles are expected to account for only a fraction of the total mass of the universe). CERN asserts that the characterization of Higgs will provide “the final missing ingredient in the Standard Model” and guide us in the comprehension of the forces acting at the microscopic core of nature.

Elementary subatomic particles (top: bosons, hadrons, fermions) and their interactions (bottom); source Public Domain.

     As for Lederman’s book (I belong to the 15 percent of seculars who detest its heading and insertions of subliminal mysticism into the facts), the prose offers an enjoyable ride, rich in historicity, sarcastic humor –rare for a physicist— and fantasizing dialogs with Democritus, Lederman’s imaginary physics peer. And to poise Lederman’s enlightenment about particle physics and its ramifications to modern cosmology with the views of one of his contemporary elementary-particles colleagues, I recommend reading Victor Stenger’s “God: The Failed Hypothesis” (2008), “Quantum Gods” (2009), and the latest “God And the Folly of Faith” (2012). – © 2012 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved.

Above, some of the books authored by Dr. Victor Stenger: “God: The Failed Hypothesis” (2008), “Quantum Gods” (2009), and “God And the Folly of Faith” (2012).

New England Colleges and Universities: Acceptance of Evolution and Religiosity

Acceptance of Evolution and Religiosity in New England Colleges and Universities

The Boston Public Library, a magnificent destination for enlightment (photo G. Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2010)

26% of the general faculty, 45% of the educators, and 35% of the students do not know that humans are apes…

15% of the general faculty, 32% of the educators, and 35% of the students believe, incorrectly, that the origin of the human mind cannot be explained by evolution…

30% of the general faculty, 59% of the educators, and 75% of the students are Lamarckian…

29% of the general faculty, 42% of the educators, and 37% of the students consider religion to be very important in their lives…

17% of the general faculty, 34% of the educators, and 28% of the students confess to pray daily…

To access complete post, statistics and link to original scientific article click on Acceptance of Evolution and Religiosity in New England Colleges and Universities

Massachusetts Gets an A- in Science Standards

Massachusetts Gets an A- in Science Standards

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2012

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

Massachusetts just got an A- on The State of State Science Standards, a 2012 report released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Although “The Bay State” ranked fourth in the nation, after California (A), District of Columbia (A) and Indiana (A-), the other New England states did poorly: Connecticut ranked 14th, Vermont 24th, Maine 30th, New Hampshire 31st and Rhode Island 33rd.

“A majority of states’ standards remain mediocre to awful,” the report says. “The average grade across all states is — once again — a thoroughly undistinguished C. In fact, it’s a low C,” highlights the Foreword to a 217-page state-by-state scrutiny of the science education expectations in physics, earth and space, and life sciences.

When contrasting the overall performance between 2005 and 2012, a reality emerges: only 11 states improved their grades, usually from F to higher — but still embarrassing — scores, except for the District of Columbia which went from a C to an exemplary A; 19 states worsen from a B or A to lower grades; and 20 states remained unchanged, half of them around F or D (see complete Table at the end of article).

In New England, Massachusetts was “degraded” from A to A-, Connecticut and Vermont remained in C, and Maine in D, Rhode Island decreased from C to D, and New Hampshire improved from F to D (image below).

The letter grades corresponded to numeric scores over 10 points; seven for content and rigor of state science standards and three for clarity and specificity. However, the assessment by the Fordham Institute was not about actual performance of students or teachers in physics, earth and space, or life sciences, but exclusively about the science expectations that schools are supposed to meet. Note that the U.S. world placement in math (25th), science (17th) and reading (14th) has been documented in previous studies.

A few questions emerge out of the Fordham results: If schools and teachers stick to a “C average” state of science standards, what quality of education are we really offering? If state science standards guide science education, how do we escape from this loop of poor standards and the expectation to follow them? Shouldn’t science teaching standards actually match the rigors of universal scientific progress? Should self-regulation in school curricula break apart from proper science education in the name of self-regulation?

The Fordham report stresses, nor surprisingly, four major problems inherent to these state science standards:

First, the undermining of evolution, a battle not only traceable to the Scopes Trial of 1925, in Tennessee, when the Butler Act (see original document) declared “unlawful to teach any theory, in public schools, that denies the Story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible,” but currently to the 2012 New Hampshire bill proposals to “require evolution to be taught as a theory, including the theorists’ political and ideological view points and their position on the concept of atheism” or “require science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established.” Both bills are hymns to ignorance.

[Updates on the Anti Evolution Bills in New Hampshire]

Second, vagueness in the statements of expectations about what students should actually learn or be able to do after learning; 29 states scored 1 or 0 in the clarity and specificity score of the assessment, out of three points.

Third, poor integration of scientific inquiry, a pernicious malady nationwide; rather than helping students to acquire scientific content through discovery, there is “too much attention to engineering and technology, as well as to “science process skills,” which leads to a technical mind-set where true scientific thinking is lacking.

And fourth, poor foundations in mathematical skills; in essence, the most significant tool for modern scientific explorations, that is mathematics, is avoided as the centerpiece of proper science education: a fear of equations and rejection of complexity, or, as one of my excellent students ironically puts it, “there are too many numbers in math.”

An illustration by Sarah Samaroo (image left) is the only humorous, purposely macabre, aspect of the Fordham report. She depicts on the cover a Tyrannosaurus rex grossly salivating and crushing, before gulping, massive paper balls — as if they were carcasses of cellulose — of the “Science Standards.” In the background, a mega eruption and in the foreground an asteroid colliding with Earth warns us of the imminent extinction of magnificent science standards that we could have fully possessed or preserved if proper scientific inquiry had been in our minds. – © 2012 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

“A majority of states’ standards remain mediocre to awful,” the report says. “The average grade across all states is — once again — a thoroughly undistinguished C. In fact, it’s a low C,” highlights the foreword to a 217-page state-by-state scrutiny of the science education expectations in physics, earth and space, and life sciences…

Below Complete State-by-state Grade Table Extracted and Adapted From the Fordham Report (grades 2005 vs. 2012):

LIGHT BLUE = grade improvement

WHITE = grade unchanged (or N/A)

PINK = grade worsen

Rejection of science threatens to be epidemic

Rejection of science threatens to be epidemic

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2012

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

“…There is a civic duty all citizens can exert to rectify the politics obscuring education: Cast our votes for candidates who sponsor proper schooling and support significant, not only profitable research. Escort out of office those who see fiction and facts compatible, or worship ignorance-based opinions as rightful views of equitable value to the empirical truth…”

Houston, we have a problem. And it has nothing to do with the explosion of an oxygen tank at 200,000 miles away from Earth that is threatening the lives of three astronauts cramped in a 1970s model of a spaceship, nor with an imminent meteor shower or solar radiation blast.

It is the rejection of science by elected officials and their constituents who, although privileged to grow up in a nation leading the most important quest of all, that of superb education and cutting-edge discoveries at prestigious universities, now dismiss the value of knowledge and of scientific realities essential to our existence.

And it is not only evolution that is rejected (my favorite topic, as a biologist and university faculty committed to education) but specifically space explorations, climate change research, stem cell studies, cloning and vaccinations.

The opposition resides, at times, on costs, a legitimate reason when prioritizing funding for billion-dollar projects like NASA’s Apollo (1960s-1970s), Shuttle (1980s-2000s) or International Space Station programs (1990s-2000s), but the resistance to the other fields is dubious under the economic justification (climate change) or relies on puritan thinking rather than on pro-health sincerity (stem cells, cloning and some vaccines).

 Figure above: Apollo rocket and lunar module at Cape Canaveral — photo G. Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2001.

Figure above: Suttle Model, International Space Station Training Facilities at NASA Houston — photo G. Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2011.

It is impossible to honor knowledge when a nation’s admiration for it vanishes, when its students rank 25th in math and 17th in science worldwide, or when the youth of 14 other countries reads more than our own, or when the term “professorial” becomes an insult or a reprehensible trait in a public figure, as if the sophistication gained by formal education were a malady that must be eradicated to ensure “equality” and fair share of omnipresent unawareness of all issues.

 

Figure above: World Reading Math Science Ranks Evolution Literacy — OECD PISA Database © 2009.

In the quest for attaining this absurd egalitarian recognition to low and high standards, the American colleges and universities have fallen into a pervasive grade-inflation. According to the Teachers College Record, a solid C was the most popular grade in the 1940s (35 percent), followed by B (below 35 percent), then by A (15 percent), and finally by D and F (above 10 and 5 percent, respectively). In the 1970s, the Vietnam War draft triggered a proliferation of A’s, which surpassed 30 percent. Today the A grade is fashionable (over 40 percent) and the “uncool” C is granted to only 15 percent of all college students — a situation accentuated at private institutions.

Figure above: Where A Is Ordinary: The Evolution of American College and University Grading 1940-2009 – Distribution of grades at American colleges and universities as a function of time— Rojstaczer & Healy — Teachers College Record © 2010.

Figure above: National average grading curves as a function of time, 1960, 1980, and 2007 for public and private schools — Rojstaczer & Healy– Teachers College Record © 2010. 

But trivializing education can be suicidal in a competitive job market where only earning a bachelor’s degree would keep a U.S. worker out of poverty. Indeed, education pays by reducing unemployment and rising income, and The Bureau of Labor Statistics has examined these trends: 15 percent of those without a high school diploma remained unemployed during 2010 and, if employed, they earned only $450 per week. Those who graduated from college reduced their unemployment to 5 percent and, if employed, earned more than $1,000 weekly. Only holders of master’s degrees and above — professional and doctorate degrees — secured a job more than 95 percent of the time and earned beyond $1,300 per week.

Figure above: Education Pays: Unemployment and Median Weekly Earnings as Function of Education – Bureau of Labor Statistics — © 2011.

Although the crisis in the current educational system is multi factorial and complex, there is a civic duty all citizens can exert to rectify the politics obscuring education: Cast our votes for candidates who sponsor proper schooling and support significant, not only profitable research. Escort out of office those who see fiction and facts compatible, or worship ignorance-based opinions as rightful views of equitable value to the empirical truth.

What can we achieve if public officials and their electors treasure education? An overwhelming support to science and reason; in fact, if citizens advance from holding a high school diploma to graduating from college, societal concurrence with major research topics will increase: space explorations from 50 to 70 percent; climate change from 45 to 58 percent; acceptance of evolution from 21 to 74 percent; embryonic stem-cell research from 51 to 71 percent; therapeutic cloning from 64 to 73 percent; and childhood immunization from 79 to 91 percent (data from Space Policy Journal, Gallup, Pew Research Center, Georgia Department of Human Resources and Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research).

And going back to Houston, and specifically to NASA, our “competent sentinel” when cosmic menace approaches Earth, its terrestrial problem is now to secure $19 billion during 2012 — about 0.6 percent of the $3 trillion federal budget — and continue with the programs: science (planetary, astrophysics), aeronautics, space technology, exploration, space operations and education, the latter alone worth $138 million (click on NASA’s Positive Impact on Society). Indeed, world-quality research and education can be expensive; is someone willing to try ignorance? – © 2012 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

Figure above: Space suit, International Space Station Training Facilities at NASA Houston — photo G. Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2011.

 

Figure above: Model vehicle for Mars exploration, International Space Station Training Facilities at NASA Houston — photo G. Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2011.

Atheists Survey On Science And Evolution

Atheists Science and Evolution Knowledge Survey

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. PhD  and Avelina Espinosa PhD – © 2011

American atheists understand the essence of science, are knowledgeable about evolution and well informed about the controversy over evolution versus creationism versus Intelligent Design (ID).

During the first two weeks of November 2011, we surveyed 133 atheists, non-believers and agnostics native to 35 states in the United States. Three hundred and thirty two members of Atheist Alliance of America (AAAmerica) received an email invitation to participate in an online anonymous and voluntary survey –40% of the contacted individuals responded. Among responders, 71.6% were males and 28.4% were females.

— Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. and Avelina Espinosa – © 2011 all rights reserved.

To access the survey results Click on:

Atheists Science And Evolution Survey

To test your understanding of science and evolution, you can respond to a shorter version of the survey and compare your responses to those of the 133 atheists, non-believers and agnostics who were polled in the study. Note that your responses will not affect the results already reported in the Atheists Science and Evolution Knowledge Survey. The server will simply help you compare and contrast your responses to those of the atheists, non-believers and agnostics polled in the study. You will be free to withdraw at any time by simply closing your browser. Click on SURVEY

Secular World Magazine published a summarized version of this study: Paz-y-Miño-C., G. & Espinosa A. 2012. Atheists’ knowledge about science and evolution. Secular World 8(1): 33-36 [PDF].

United States ‘exceptionalism’ built on backs of the 99 percent

United States ‘exceptionalism’ built on backs of the 99 percent

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2011

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth 

“A sense of inner exceptional nature probably drives the existence of most individuals and seems to be a Darwinian adaptive trait. Tribal pride is not only ancestral but ubiquitous…”

Overconfidence, or “believing you are better than in reality, is advantageous because it increases ambition, morale, resolve, persistence or the credibility of bluffing, generating a self-fulfilling prophecy in which exaggerated confidence boosts up success,” write Dominic D.P. Johnson and James H. Fowler in their latest article, The Evolution of Overconfidence, published in Nature in September.

Johnson and Fowler remark that “populations become overconfident, as long as benefits from contested resources are large compared with the cost of competition. The fact that overconfident populations are evolutionarily stable in diverse environments may explain why overconfidence remains prevalent today, even if it contributes to hubris, market bubbles, financial collapses, policy failures, disasters and wars.”

In “Democracy in America” (Volumes I, 1835, and II, 1840: visit Democracy in America Online), the French sociologist and historian Alexis de Tocqueville [image left] acknowledged and critically contemplated the originality and uniqueness of the 19th century emerging superpower, the United States. He called it “exceptional” for its generalized equality and constitutional democracy, and for its commercial habits and pragmatism.

In retrospect, his observations about American ideology, cultural cohesiveness and shared values were astute and visionary. But de Tocqueville also detected the underlying fabric of puritan thinking, the essence of our modern conservatism:

“Almost all the sects of the United States are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and Christian morality is everywhere the same. In the United States the sovereign authority is religious, and consequently hypocrisy must be common; but there is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, and there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth [Alexis de Tocqueville].”

The clause “American exceptionalism” was apparently used, depreciatively, by Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) while forecasting in the 1920s that the American wealth, technological pride and social fairness were temporary and fated to collapse, unless communism took over. Ironically, the Soviet system crumpled in the 1980s and its “restructuring” — Perestroika — led to political and economic reform by mimicking the market-based models of the West, which, paradoxically, became today’s fiasco in a landscape of deregulated money-making opportunities that did not benefit –mainly– the people.

Winston Churchill (UK), Franklin Roosevelt (USA) and Joseph Stalin (USSR), The “Big Three,” at The Yalta Conference, 1945. They met to discuss the future of Europe after World War II. [Click for VIDEOS The Yalta Conference].

The idea of exceptionalism consolidated in the United States and abroad after the 1950s, based on unparalleled industrial transformations, scientific achievements, competitive labor and education. Reality surpassed the cliche of uniqueness and actually disproved one of de Tocqueville’s assertions: that Americans’ exclusive trading interests “diverted their minds from the pursuit of science, literature and the arts” and that, therefore, exceptionalism was evident mainly in socio-economic affairs.

But living up to exclusiveness has proved difficult, and fast excessive wealth has led to ignore the history that created the “extraordinary.” It was judicious investment in rigorous education, basic science and technology that gave rise to the best universities in the world, the finest hospitals, unrivaled space explorations, magnificent natural history museums and ecologically managed national parks. Farms, factories, highway connectivity and urbanization prospered due to an agile economy that generated, in hindsight, short lasting bonanza.

“It was judicious investment in rigorous education, basic science and technology that gave rise to unrivaled space explorations” — Mission Control International Space Station — Houston, photo G. Paz-y-Miño C. © 2011

And it was an outstanding work force, driven by the highest standards of performance, that enriched today’s heartless, and sometimes brainless, “top 1 percent,” the financial conservative elite who opposes science, mocks intellectuals and ridicules college education. The overconfident mega-wealthy who question the reality of human-induced climate change, reject evolution, blame vaccines for causing mental retardation or autism, diminish the importance of biodiversity, and oppose environmental protection and clean energy.

Above: Cumulative Growh in Average After-tax Income, by Income Group (percentage change in income since 1979, adjusted for inflation); source US Congressional Budget Office, CBO Report October 2011

Above: Share of Total After-tax Income, by Income Group (percent); source US Congressional Budget Office, CBO Report October 2011

Yet, they claim the value of exceptionalism as their own and intend to renegotiate it for the upcoming elections, re-sell it to the voters — as in the profitable stock market — of course, without committing their assets, or taxes, to the continuation of the “extraordinary,” thus neglecting that “uniqueness” took a century to be erected over the human capital of workers, artists, scientists, musicians, teachers, novelists or poets, who invested themselves, and fully, to harvest collective good.

If a bailout is an “act of loaning or giving capital to a company, a country, or an individual that is in danger of collapsing, in an attempt to prevent ruin,” then the exceptionalism that we treasure must be rescued — “bailed out” — by the prosperous untouchable class that amassed fortune over the exceptional labor of their compatriots.  — © 2011 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

World Extreme Poverty Map 2008

Source: for original document Click on 2008 World Development Indicators, The World Bank.

For World Statistics on Poverty visit Global Issues Poverty Facts

 

Above: Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. Source World Bank Development Indicators 2008.

Above: In 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption. The poorest fifth just 1.5%. Source World Bank Development Indicators 2008.

Recommended Book: The Price of Civilization, 2011, by Jeffrey D. Sachs

“…At the root of America’s economic crisis lies a moral crisis: the decline of civic virtue among America’s political and economic elite. A society of markets, laws, and elections is not enough if the rich and powerful fail to behave with respect, honesty, and compassion toward the rest of society and toward the world. America has developed the world’s most competitive market society but has squandered its civic virtue along the way. Without restoring an ethos of social responsibility, there can be no meaningful and sustained economic recovery…” says author Jeffrey D. Sachs.

On Francis Collins and Karl Giberson “The Language of Science and Faith”

On Francis Collins’ & Karl Giberson’s “The Language of Science and Faith”

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C.  © 2011

“In matters of God’s nonexistence, the high-school-educated atheist is more lucid than the deeply religious scientist…”

“…A trilogy of spiritual books… has been written or sponsored by Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health NIH and former head of the Human Genome Project: The Language of God 2006, Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith 2010, and the brand new –coauthored with… Karl Giberson– The Language of Science and Faith 2011…”

“…Shot-gun marriages like this, between evolution and faith, have never worked, despite the tradition of pointing the barrel at evolution’s head. The truth is that evolution likes it single. Free, with no stoppers of thought or restrains on logic. And when lured unknowingly into the altar by those who see facts and fiction compatible, evolution has consistently stood belief up and walked away, sometimes run, toward its secular turf…” — © 2011 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C.

Trilogy Francis Collins Books“…the dream of arranging evolution’s wedding with belief will remain dormant for as long as evolution is awake.” Click on image to access complete article.

Boston’s Hayden Planetarium carries standard of scientific study – Editorial The Standard Times – Aug 17, 2011

Hayden Planetarium carries standard of scientific study

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2011

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth 

Science is just a refined device for resolving ordinary curiosity and a powerful liberator of superstition. It is the subsistence kit to defeat re-emerging fundamentalism. And by recalling Giordano Bruno’s and Galileo’s past, as Santayana reasoned over the value of remembering history, we restate our right to learn the truth. This is why Boston’s Charles Hayden Planetarium is more than a “light show,” but a salutation to the triumph of scientific inquiry over blind belief…

Giordano Bruno was not as fortunate as Galileo to opt for the imprisonment of his body in trade for thinking and writing about cosmology under house arrest. The Roman Inquisition orchestrated Bruno’s “civil” burning in 1600, at age 52, for blasphemy and heresy, and for conjecturing that the sun was a star and that God and the universe were one and the same.

Giordano Bruno Evolution Literacy

Statue of Giordano Bruno by Ettore Ferrari (1845-1929), Campo de’ Fiori, Rome, Italy

Galileo’s fate, as philosopher, physicist and astronomer, was more honorable than Friar Bruno’s. Although the Catholic church did find Galileo “vehemently suspect of heresy” in 1633, for defending Copernicus’ proposal that the sun, not the Earth, was at the center of planetary orbiting, his precious mind could not be smoked by the clergy, nor smoldered by the populous, but rather retreated to concealed productivity. And so the church chaperoned Galileo’s brainpower until age 77.

Galileo Galilei Evolution Literacy

Galileo Galilei (as depicted by Justus Sustermans in 1636) and his “Faces of the Moon”

George Santayana Evolution Literacy“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” proclaimed the Spanish-American logician George Santayana (image left) [or "The One Who Does Not Remember History Is Bound To Live Through It Again"]. Indeed, recalling Bruno’s or Galileo’s tale is not pointless. It reminds us that exploring the cosmos can be obstructed by irrationalism, and that our worshipping for free science must continue to safeguard humanity’s scientific legacies. It alerts us that the word “obscurants” was coined to denounce those who veil facts from the public.

And this brings me to the cosmic celebration role played by the renovated Charles Hayden Planetarium in Boston, but not before urging an equal revamp of its host, the Museum of Science itself.

Nitpicking aside, each “Undiscovered Worlds,” “Explore the Universe,” “Cosmic Collisions” or “The Sky Tonight” show is a tribute to centuries of space explorations, and a joyful remembrance that, despite Bruno’s sadistic silencing and Galileo’s confinement, the empirical truth prevailed over institutionalized ignorance.

Zeiss Starmaster Projector Evolution LiteracyThe audience’s amazement while watching the planetarium animations is contagious. A Zeiss Starmaster projector (image left) creates the illusion of space travel and it is fun to go along. Visual and sound effects impress human senses and the virtual take-off in a helicopter, from the museum’s roof, while flying over Boston and metamorphosing into a spaceship that leaves Earth to immerse itself into galactic infinitude is magnificent.

Not surprisingly for an institution accountable for promoting science literacy, the planetarium has adopted clever marketing slogans: “Discover the beauty and wonder of the night sky that has fascinated humanity for millennia,” or “We have learned that our solar system is not alone in the universe, and we have had to redefine our understanding of planets and solar systems,” and my favorite “Explore cosmic collisions, the hypersonic impacts that drive the dynamic and continuing evolution of the universe.”

And pro evolution aphorisms are vital for the 40 percent of New Englanders who still do not accept the reality of evolution and seek —together with 70 percent of their equally incredulous American counterparts— air-conditioned recreation at summer museums.

And in a free-market society where the Book of Genesis sells more than the Book of Reason, the Boston Museum of Science and its planetarium must compete not only with reputable national co-exemplars of proper public outreach, but with impostor “sister institutions,” like the “creation museums” and “Genesis parks” emerging in the United States, where pseudoscience and intelligent design are smuggled in planetaria and aquaria format to depict foolishness, and so lure thousands of ticket buyers to harass plastic dinosaurs and inhale Eden.

Night Sky Image by  Babak TafreshiThe night sky image by Babak Tafreshi, Lennart Nilsson scientific photography prize, 2009

But the Boston Museum of Science has just deployed an antidote to such pseudo-dinosauria frenzy: the exhibit “Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries,” open until Aug. 21 (2011), is another tribute to genuine science, and a co-effort with accredited institutions, including the American Museum of Natural History, Houston Museum of Natural Science, California Academy of Sciences, The Field Museum, and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Science is just a refined device for resolving ordinary curiosity and a powerful liberator of superstition. It is the subsistence kit to defeat re-emerging fundamentalism. And by recalling Giordano Bruno’s and Galileo’s past, as Santayana reasoned over the value of remembering history, we restate our right to learn the truth. This is why Boston’s Charles Hayden Planetarium is more than a “light show,” but a salutation to the triumph of scientific inquiry over blind belief. — © 2011 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

Galileo Explains Astronomy to Pope Evolution Literacy

Fluffy the Galileo of the lemmings Evolution Literacy

Fluffy, the “Galileo of the Lemmings,” with his stopwatch

Scientific Illiteracy

Is scientific literacy at risk of extinction?

Dr Guillermo Paz-y-Mino C image evolution literacyRead article by Natalie White, freelance writer and former reporter for the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, USA.

“What we see now is the United States losing its edge. If we want the nation to be cutting edge, then that nation must value science and realize that science is intrinsically important and practically important for progress,” Dr. Paz-y-Miño C. [Excerpt from the Spring 2011 issue of the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth Alumni and Friends Magazine] click on image to access article.

Wrong at Forecasting Armageddon – Editorial The Standard Times – June 3, 2011

Harold Camping wrong at forecasting “Biblical End”

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2011

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth 

Scripture is a silly source of insight to forecast the end of the world. But science helps us hypothesize more fascinating phenomena than the delusional Rapture…

If human extinction comes abruptly, it shall be from the darkness of our galaxy or from within the Earth. In fact, cosmic collisions and mega eruptions have decimated life more than once during Earth’s 4.6 billion-year existence. Ubiquitous nuclear explosions and the effects of radiation could also wipe out people and most organisms, but I will not elaborate here on such threats, since they have been examined by scholars and speculated in the media.

We can predict the probability of occurrence of some events based on prior empirical observations. I am certain that, for example, all readers of this article will not be around in the year 2100. I can forecast with less confidence that 20 percent of my college students’ grandparents, ages 60-70, will pass away within this decade, and that one in every five students’ excuses for missing an exam — due to a “death in the family” — will be legitimate. And I can infer from survivorship tables compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Judgment-Day spiritualist Harold Camping, age 89 — who just postponed his “The End” of the world from May 21 to Oct. 21 of this year — is reaching his own finale.

Harold Camping Armageddon Evolution Literacy Image

Judgment-Day spiritualist Harold Camping forecasting The End… of the world for either May 21 or October 21, 2011

Redundant natural phenomena have led human intellect to discover predictable patterns of reality and, in consequence, reject superstition. And this is true about the cycles of the moon, the emergence and diversification of life from simple to more complex forms, the continental migrations of birds, the blooms of magicicadas every 13-17 years, or the seasonal intensification of tornadoes and hurricanes. Science has awarded us the luxury of anticipating the maladies of the blood (hemophilia) or the mind (porphyria) among the inbred Royal Houses of Europe, as much as foreseeing the geographic journey of the next influenza outbreak.

Magicicada Image Evolution Literacy

Magicicada illustration by R. E. Snodgrass (click on image for full resolution)

The self-correcting character of science guided astronomers to debunk Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the years 100 — when the Earth was worshipped as “the heart” of the universe — and replaced such optical illusion with Copernican heliocentrism — 16th century — an obvious deduction for those who refused to imagine heavens and constellations in the sky and rather saw planets and their moons revolving around our closest star, the sun.

Astronomy and modern cosmology have made sense of the chaotic night sky and allowed us to broadcast the passage of comets, alignment of planets, meteorite falls and polar auroras triggered by the collision of solar-wind particles against the atmosphere.

But why should we care about predicting cosmic events? Because by witnessing their majestic beauty and immensity we can also study and assess their destructive potential; and an educated public in matters of real global survival is more precious and needed than a vociferous street crowd surrendering at the brainless certitude of Camping’s prediction of Armageddon.

NASA eclipse website Evolution LiteracyThe NASA Eclipse Website offers an impressive education playground for those curious about previous eclipses of our sun and moon, plus accurate schedules of upcoming eclipses up to 2015 [updates reach year 3000]. And NASA’s Asteroid and Comet Impact Hazards Program informs online surfers about the predictability and reasonable uncertainty concerning future collisions between Earth and cosmic debris.

Watching the sky for possible encounters with large asteroids is a priority considering our planet’s heritage: A 6-mile asteroid cremated the “ruling class” Reptilia 65 million years ago when blasting a 110-mile-wide crater in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Few reptile lineages survived and repopulated.

Don Davis image Dinosaurs Extinction Evolution Literacy

Illustration by Don Davis (for additional images visit Don Davis asteroid impact

The end of the dinosaurs dragged tiny mammals out of their burrows, and they revisited old reptilian professions with limited originality: they became arboreal climbers, terrestrial herbivores and hunters, cave flyers, aquatic divers, and killers of killers. Their major evolutionary innovations were sweat glands turned into milk-producing udders and breasts, internal eggs that matured within a womb, and large skulls encasing clever minds. And it was the primate mind, shaped even further by natural selection in ape descendants, us, the thinking apes, that evolved scientific reasoning and consciousness.

Chicxulub crater image Evolution Literacy

The Chicxulub crater in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico (for additional information visit “Revisiting Chicxulub” by the National Science Foundation)

It is the human mind through which the universe understands and predicts itself. And it is the scientific method, which civilizations have discovered and perfected over millennia, the most reliable approach to understanding the past and present, and hypothesizing about the future. There will never be Judgment Day or Rapture or Armageddon. Our planet shall remain cosmically unsafe with fluctuating danger until our sun, the cause of our existence, runs out of fuel within the next 5 billion years. — © 2011 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

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Humor: Judgment Day… did not happen

Harold Camping cartoon Evolution Literacy

A Stationary Ark on Isle of Jersey – Editorial The Providence Journal – March 25, 2011

A Stationary Ark on Isle of Jersey

[click on title to be redirected to The Providence Journal]

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2011

NoahsArk_as_by_TheProvidenceJournalIf the biblical story about the Ark were true, Noah’s attempt to save animals from the Flood would have driven them into inbreeding depression.

Sentenced to incest, the descendants from the surviving sexual pairs — which themselves were allegedly confined to uncertainty in a drifting vessel — would have accumulated lethal combinations of genes and followed an inescapable vortex toward extinction.

Indeed, critically small populations of organisms store much less genetic wealth than the progenitors from whom they usually originate. Deprived from a healthy shuffling of paternal and maternal traits — a phenomenon known as recombination and that enriches the genome of creatures that mate — the offspring of repetitive kin procreations soon become unfit, fail to reproduce and gradually vanish.

The cosmos appears indifferent to this pain and suffering. Yet the laws of nature have steered the emergence of empathy and consciousness in the universe via Darwinian selection. Self-aware apes, such as humans, understand tragedy or joy when afflicted or delighted by them; empathic people can also infer when other animals experience distress or appeasement. But this assertion is incomplete, since the cognitive Homo sapiens is surrounded by a diverse mosaic of mental power in his close and distant phylogenetic relatives.

Planet_Earth_NASAIntelligence has evolved gradually and in a continuum. And just like the fossil record, the pattern of human’s “brained companions” is scattered after historical and always ongoing natural extinctions. Chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans, capuchin monkeys and feathered creatures such as ravens, jays and parrots possess and seek empathy. They are proof that the mind is another byproduct — not a goal — of favorable conditions for the assemblage of organic matter in a Goldilocks-zone planet, hospitable like ours [click on image to be redirected to NASA: Earth], which has incubated life and later harvested intellect.

Empathy for each one of us and for other animals sometimes requires inspiration from the Ark’s metaphor, but not from Noah’s clumsy urgency to save provisions and secure self-subsistence in a landscape prone to fast inundation, but rather a well conceived and elegantly designed — under the scope of science — strategy for captive breeding and repatriation of endangered species.

I have a copy of “The Stationary Ark” (1976), with a handwritten note, “For Guillermo, with best wishes, Gerald Durrell.” But the first of Durrell’s books, in which he referred to the concept of the Ark in the context of preservation and propagation of threatened animal populations, was “The Overloaded Ark” (1953), which was followed by “My Family and Other Animals” (1956). Both gave this Anglo-Irish animal fanatic, born in India in 1925, fame and the income to fund the Jersey Zoological Park (1958) and house his personal collection of exotic animals.

TheStationaryArkBook

The Jersey Zoo became a world exemplar of how cutting-edge research, conducted at a tiny 30-acre patch of land in the English Channel Islands, off the French coast of Normandy, could lead to an international effort and successful captive breeding and reintroduction of the Mauritius kestrel and the Mongolian Przewalski’s horse — evidence that zoos can reverse the course of some human assaults on nature.

The_DodoDurrell adopted the flightless Dodo — a 3-foot-tall and 40-pound archaic pigeon endemic to Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, which became extinct in the 17th Century — as symbol of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, JWPT (nowadays Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, DWCT), founded in 1963. The trust sponsors conservation of rare and endangered mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. The Wildlife Preservation Trust International (WPTI) was later established in the United States, in 1971, as counterpart benefactor of JWPT, and evolved into EcoHealth Alliance.

Today, the Stationary Ark not only oversees conservation research of 200 species of animals in peril, but inspires empathy for wildlife among “educated Noahs” at a mini-university established at Les Noyers, and adjacent to the zoo. It was there where, in 1987, Durrell autographed the book I have, while I was student at the International Training Centre for captive breeding of endangered species; 2,700 graduates from 128 countries have been educated at the center since 1978, when it opened. — Durrell died at age 70.

Zoo_Trainees_JWPT_with_Gerald_and_Lee_Durrell_1987

Zoo keepers and trainees at Gerald Durrell’s home in Jersey (1987). Gerald Durrell, Lee Durrell and Jeremy Mallinson (Zoo Director at that time) appear in the back row, right.  Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. is in the front row, second from the right. 

Perhaps the ark metaphor can still be used, or resuscitated, as by Gerald Durrell, to inspire curiosity for investigating the frontiers of nature and to propose scientific solutions to the genetic erosion of increasingly small animal populations worldwide. Then there’s the “full-scale” depiction of Noah’s Ark at a 160-acre Genesis theme park to open in Kentucky in 2014, a $150 million investment that will intoxicate the minds of visitors with the idea that incest mating between two of a kind — just like Adam and Eve — can populate the Earth. — © 2011 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

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All History is Black History – Editorial The Standard Times – March 2, 2011

All History is Black History

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2011

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth 

AfricanPhenotype 

Illustration by JH Matternes, click on image to access more of artist’s fantastic work

An African American blogger just settled an online dispute over human origins by asserting, with magnificent wisdom, that “all history is Black History.”

His co-bloggers had rejected the evolutionary significance of a recent fossil discovery in Hadar, Ethiopia, of a 3.2 million year old foot bone belonging to Australopithecus afarensis –the famous Lucy’s lineage– which has unveiled hints about the locomotion habits of early hominids. The clever blogger brought reason into a trivial exchange of brain gas among sponsors of one wrong over another belief about human ancestry. “Deal with it” –that is with our common African heritage– were his last gentle, yet shut-up devastating words.

The left fourth metatarsal bone described in Science magazine by professors Carol Ward, William Kimbel and Donald Johanson, the latter discoverer of the very Lucy, also in Hadar, in 1974, tells a compelling story: Lucy’s relatives walked upright, a conclusion awaiting unequivocal evidence for almost four decades, and the tiny bone just provided it in its complex anatomy. The now famous AL-333-160 three-inch bone (in paleontology identification numbers are precious) resembles the bipedal human ‘arched’ metatarsals –shock absorbers for “walker apes”– and differs from the quadrupedal chimpanzee’s, bonobo’s and gorilla’s, which are more elongated.

AL-333-160 left fourth metatarsal A afarensisAL-333-160 left fourth metatarsal in dorsal, lateral, medial, plantar, and proximal views (Ward et al. Science 2011;331:750-753). Click on image to explore the Science magazine article and to download the power point slide for teaching. 

Lucy, herself 3.2 million years old, still is the most famous, although not most significant, hominid fossil ever described. Ardi, a 4.4-million year old almost complete skeleton discovered in Aramis, Ethiopia, by Tim White in 2009, and Toumai, a 7-million year old hominid skull found in Chad by Michel Brunet in 2001, are Lucy’s fair competitors.

Lucy was brought to celebrity status by her always calculating manager, Johanson, who named her after The Beatles song Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” thus launching her popularity into textbooks, anatomical reconstructions, cartoons of a stocky yet friendly smiling “ape cousin,” and full-body hairy depictions of her 3-feet tall “reconstructed flesh” at museums and exhibits of human origins.

Lovely Lucy Australopithecus afarensisLovely Lucy Australopithecus afarensis, for image credit and additional images click on her rostrum

For bloggers and alike who question the African origin of humans, of which Lucy’s tale is only part of the story since she was also born to common ancestors between her family and ours, the enigma has long been solved. But the journey to acknowledge that “we are all Africans” has been tortuous.

 

“…the journey to acknowledge that ‘we are all Africans’ has been tortuous…”

In The Descent of Man, 1871, Charles Darwin reasoned: “In each great region of the world the living [animals] are closely related to the extinct species of the same region. It is therefore probable that Africa was formerly inhabited by extinct apes closely allied to the gorilla and chimpanzee; and as these two species are now man’s nearest allies, it is somewhat more probable that our early progenitors lived on the African continent than elsewhere.”

Darwin’s inference was brilliant, but it took more than a century to be definitely embraced by scholars. This “Out of Africa” hypothesis has been corroborated by DNA evidence, physical anthropology, and specimens.

Out of Africa Hypothesis

The out-of-Africa journey and dispersal of modern humans. Click on Human Migration image from National Geographic to access high-definition map

Indeed ancient forms of Homo sapiens evolved to anatomically modern humans entirely in the Ethiopian realm, about 200,000 years ago. And they walked out of Africa to populate the planet, which can be demonstrated with fossils and genetic pedigrees of indigenous peoples worldwide. Even human languages follow a pattern of geographical distribution consistent with a common origin in Northeastern Africa and nearby Mesopotamia.

More recently, the “Multi Regional” hypothesis of human origins, which counters the out-of-Africa postulate by conceiving an overall hybridization and integration of all world Homo species, including archaic forms, such as the Asian Peking Man, Homo erectus, and modern variants, such as the Northeast African and Southern European Homo sapiens, into a unified single Homo sapiens sapiens, has regained closer attention –after losing power during the 1990s– due to the discovery of shared genetic features between us and Neanderthals, a fairly modern human variety which became extinct 40,000 years ago.

The single origin or Out of Africa idea is nowadays well accepted among scientists. And even if the multi-regional hypothesis regains strength, all ancestral forms of hominids seem to coalesce to Africa. Disagreements among scientists do not invalidate science as believed by misinformed illiterate bloggers, who insist that there are not enough fossils to account for evolution or that the questions about human origins are far from being answered.

As much as our African American blogger so intuitively stated that all history is, ultimately, Black History, Darwin’s own writings from 1871 continue to alert us about the essence of belief-based debates: “It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved.” — © 2011 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

African American Colorful Fishes

Two African Americans celebrating color and creativity, photo courtesy Rashida Charles

POLLS and SURVEYS on ACCEPTANCE of EVOLUTION and related topics

100 percent should accept evolution

GALLUP POLLS (click on links)

Gallup 2012: U.S. Confidence in Organized Religion at Low Point

Gallup 2012: In U.S., 46% Hold Creationist View of Human Origins

Gallup 2012: Four in 10 Americans are “very religious”

Gallup 2010: Four in 10 Americans Believe in Strict Creationism

Gallup 2010: Religion

Gallup 2010: Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design

Gallup 2009: On Darwin’s Birthday, Only 4 in 10 Believe in Evolution

Gallup 2008: Republicans, Democrats Differ on Creationism

Gallup 2007: Majority of Republicans Doubt Theory of Evolution

Gallup 2007: One-Third of Americans Believe the Bible Is Literally True

Gallup 2006: Almost Half of Americans Believe Humans Did Not Evolve

Gallup 2006: American Beliefs: Evolution vs. Bible’s Explanation of Human Origins

Gallup 2005: Most Americans Engaged in Debate About Evolution, Creation

Gallup 2005: Most Americans Tentative About Origin-of-Life Explanations

Gallup 2005: Darwin or Divine? Teens’ Views on Origin of Species

Gallup 2004: Third of Americans Say Evidence Has Supported Darwin’s Evolution Theory

 

PEW RESEARCH CENTER POLLS (click on links)

PEW 2010: U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey

PEW 2009: Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media

PEW 2005: Public Divided on Origins of Life

 

CANADA (click on links)

2011: EKOS

2011: EKOS attitudes toward science

2008: Origin of life

 

UNITED KINGDOM (click on link)

2009: Faith and Darwin: Harmony, Conflict, or Confusion?

 

23 COUNTRIES (click on link)

2011: Ipsos Global advisory: Supreme Being(s), the Afterlife and Evolution

 

EDUCATION (click on links)

2012: State of State Science Standards

2011: Education Pays: Bureau of Labor Statistics

2011: How America Pays for College

2001-2010: Science and Nature by Polling Reports

 

New England Professors Accept Evolution, But They Are Religious – Editorial The Standard Times – Jan 15, 2011

Why Accepting Evolution Matters

…New England professors accept evolution, but they are religious…

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2011

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth 

People do not “believe” in evolution; we either accept it, or doubt about it, or reject it. But the reality of the evolutionary process continues regardless of our cognitive awareness or position about it. Evolution is true.

Together with my collaborator, Dr. Avelina Espinosa, professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, we have uncovered the patterns of acceptance of evolution among university professors in New England, and the results are both fascinating and startling.

A cultural assumption has been that scholars are supportive of science and remain distant from belief-based perspectives regarding the natural world. Is this factual?

We surveyed 244 faculty — 90 percent Ph.D. holders in 40 disciplines at 35 colleges and universities widely distributed geographically in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. Our study was recently published online in Evolution, Education and Outreach, and the hard-copy report will appear in the March 2011 issue of the journal.

NewEnglandStatesInTheUSA

Why New England? The first shocking fact that triggered our interest in studying the Northeast of the United States was that, back in 2005, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press had documented that only 59 percent of New Englanders accept evolution, the highest score nationwide, and that the overall regional acceptance of evolution in the United States was even more distressing: 57 percent in the Northwest, 45 percent in the Midwest, and 38 percent in the South.

More alarmingly, in 2006, the United States ranked 33rd among 34 other countries where acceptance of evolution was assessed, in contrast to Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, France, Japan and the United Kingdom, top in the list, where 75 to 85 percent of adults accept evolution (Science, 2006).

Our study revealed that 91 percent of the New England professors were very or somehow concerned about the controversy of evolution versus creationism versus “intelligent design” and its implications for science education. In fact, 96 percent of them supported the exclusive teaching of evolution in science classes and a 4 percent minority favored equal time to evolution and creationism (the latter declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1987). And 92 percent of the faculty perceived intelligent design as not scientific and as proposed to counter evolution, or as doctrine consistent with creationism.

NewEnglandFaculty_IntelligentDesign 

Percentage of New England faculty (Fac) versus college students from public secular (Pub), private secular (Priv), and religious (Rel) institutions who consider one of the following statements to be consistent with intelligent design (ID): (A) ID is not scientific but has been proposed to counter evolution based on false claims; (B) ID is religious doctrine consistent with creationism; (C) no opinion; (D) ID is a scientific alternative to evolution and of equal scientific validity among scientists; (E) ID is a scientific theory about the origin and evolution of life on Earth.

Although 92 percent of the professors thought that evolution relies on common ancestry — or that organisms can be traced back in time to ancestors that reproduced successfully and left descendants — one in every four faculty did not know that humans are apes, or relatives of primates. Worse, 30 percent of the faculty were Lamarckian, or believed in the inheritance of acquired traits during an organism’s lifetime, like longer necks, larger brains, or resistance to parasites, which are passed on to the progeny, a hypothesis rejected a century ago.

NewEnglandFaculty_DefineEvolutionAs

Percentage of New England faculty (Fac) versus college students from public secular (Pub), private secular (Priv), and religious (Rel) institutions who consider the following definitions of evolution to be either true (black bars) or false (color bars): (A) gradual process by which the universe changes, it includes the origin of life, its diversification and the synergistic phenomena resulting from the interaction between life and the environment; (B) directional process by which unicellular organisms, like bacteria, turn into multicellular organisms, like sponges, which later turn into fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and ultimately humans, the pinnacle of evolution; (C) gradual process by which monkeys such as chimpanzees, turn into humans; (D) random process by which life originates, changes, and ends accidentally in complex organisms such as humans; and (E) gradual process by which organisms acquire traits during their lifetimes, such as longer necks, larger brains, resistance to parasites, and then pass on these traits to their descendants.

We asked the professors if faith in God is necessary for morality, if religion is important in their lives, and if they pray. Only 5 percent agreed with the need of a God to secure proper social behavior, but 30 percent considered religion to be very important in their daily existence, and 17 percent confessed to pray daily.

The one-third of the faculty who thought that religion is important in their lives was comparable to the 33 percent of American scientists who admit to believe in God (Pew Research Center, 2009), but differed from the 12 percent of “professional evolutionary scientists” — members of the North American, European, United Kingdom, and other countries’ National Academies of Sciences (American Scientist, 2007) — and particularly the 7 percent of members of the United States National Academy of Sciences who believe in a personal God (Nature, 1998).

Indeed, most international scientists and the elite of the United States researchers are not religious.

NewEnglandFaculty_AcceptEvolutionOpenly

Percentage of New England faculty (Fac) versus college students from public secular (Pub), private secular (Priv), and religious (Rel) institutions who believe one of the following statements describes them best: (A) I accept evolution and express it openly regardless of others’ opinions; (B) no opinion; and (C) I accept evolution but do not discuss it openly to avoid conflicts with friends and family.

Why does acceptance of evolution matter? Because public acceptance of evolution in the United States (about 40 percent) correlates with support to: (1) proper science education in public schools; (2) science and technology as essential components of development and prosperity; and (3) rationalism and freedom of thought, all indisputable ingredients for a thriving society.

And it also matters because only the highly educated university professors of New England — hopefully of the nation — have levels of acceptance of evolution (97 percent according to our study) comparable to or higher than the ordinary public in other industrialized countries of Northern and Western Europe.

Because attitudes toward evolution correlated positively with understanding of science and negatively with religiosity and political ideology, aspects examined in our study, we concluded that science education combined with vigorous public debate should suffice to increase acceptance of naturalistic rationalism and decrease the negative impact of creationism and intelligent design on collective evolution literacy. — © 2011 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

For original scientific article (New England Faculty and College Students Differ in Their Views  About Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Religiosity), published in Evolution Education & Outreach, click on [PDF]

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Recommended Book: Evolution, Creationism, And The Battle To Control America’s Classrooms, by Michael Berkman & Eric Plutzer click on book for link

EvolutionCreationism_Book_Berkman_Plutzer_2010

Cartoon: Intelligent Design as Science…

IntelligentDesignAsScience

Cartoon: Biology 101… The Lord Censored Textbooks

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TEN TIPS ABOUT: How university professors can contribute to strengthen evolution literacy

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. & Avelina Espinosa — © 2011

Excerpts from “New England Faculty and College Students Differ in Their Views  About Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Religiosity” published in Evolution Education and Outreach

(1) By being proactive rather than reactive in confronting the “anti-evolution wars.” It is imperative that the university professors reach out to the public and lead the debate over science education and evolution literacy.

(2) By persuading the education departments at their institutions to fortify science training of future educators: higher education and outreach programs in science, particularly biology, for school teachers are fundamental to integrate evolution into our society’s culture.

TheScientificMethod

(3) By changing the emphasis with which college science is taught and improving the science curriculum: it is easier and faster to change the perspectives with which a course is taught than to modify the university/college curriculum; however, both might be indispensable to improving positive attitudes toward science and evolution.

(4) By creating a new type of professorship position: “professor for the public understanding of science,” whose exclusive role shall be to explain to the public the significance of the research conducted by each discipline, and also by assigning the most reputable professors and best communicators of science to the large-lecture courses, usually attended by nonscience majors.

(5) By constantly surveying variations in attitudes toward science and evolution among faculty, students and staff, and coordinating immediate responses to emerging antievolutionism: contrary to the assumption that skepticism toward creationist views predominates in academia, U.S. university professors, even at prestigious research institutions, increasingly embrace religiosity, a factor negatively correlated with acceptance of evolution; it is conceivable to forecast a decline in acceptance of evolution by university professors.

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(6) By sponsoring in- and off-campus lecture series, workshops and debates, open to the local high school teachers and the public, where university professors of all disciplines examine the anti-evolution phenomena, learn about the limitations established by schools boards on the science school curriculum and orient the audience on how to communicate modern science to all. Workshop discussion modules on “why evolution matters” can be particularly effective when organized for school board members, school district administrators, science teachers and university professors.

(7) By actively pursuing participation in “town Evo Edu Outreach halls for scientists and public” to discuss issues related to scientific research and the controversy of evolution versus creationism versus ID.

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(8) By organizing multidisciplinary teams of professors (anthropology, biology, education, ethics, history, law, philosophy, political science, social psychology, and religious studies) committed to advice community groups on theoretical and practical aspects of civil action to counter anti-evolution campaigns, anti-intellectualism tendencies, and pro creationism and ID agendas.

(9) By never underestimating the influence of the anti-evolution movements that grow strong among misinformed citizens, vary in impact geographically, and benefit from the frequent disconnect between scientists and society. Indeed, the regional differential acceptance of evolution in the U.S. (i.e., Northeast 59%, Northwest 57%, Midwest 45%, South 38%; The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press 2005) suggests that pro-evolution campaigns shall require strategies compatible with local idiosyncrasies.

EqualWeighEvolutionCreation

 (10) By including in the “broad impact” section of research grant applications specific multidisciplinary outreach modules to educate the public in the areas of scientific literacy, “on-the-job-training” workshops for local/ regional high school teachers, online-mini courses, online assessment of local/regional attitudes toward science/evolution, laboratory internships and field work. The National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education, and private donors encourage and even require grant applicants to reach out to the public in meaningful areas of current interest and societal debate. — © 2011 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. & Avelina Espinosa all rights reserved

TeachBothSidesCartoon

For original scientific article (New England Faculty and College Students Differ in Their Views  About Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Religiosity), published in Evolution Education & Outreach, click on [PDF]

Evolution Cartoons

Evolution is a Theory…

Cartoon Evolution is a Theory

The Evolution of State School Standards…

Cartoon The Evolution of State School Standards

“Theory of Evolution” versus “Concept of Evolution”

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. & Avelina Espinosa — © 2011

Excerpt from “On the Theory of Evolution versus the Concept of Evolution” published in Evolution Education and Outreach

“…It is important to make a distinction between the theory of evolution and the concept of evolution, but without compromising logic…

As scientific theory (Greek theoria), evolution provides naturalistic explanations of empirical observations, it organizes them in a comprehensive system with central and auxiliary hypotheses.

From the epistemological perspective (Greek episteme, epistemology = theoryof knowledge), the theory of evolution encompasses the nature and scope of knowledge about the phenomenon of evolution (=what really happens), including the chronological discoveries by naturalists and scientists during the development of our cumulative understanding of how evolution works.

Scholars call the latter “theory of evolution,” whose epistemological beginning is attributed to the mid and late 1800s, and to Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Alfred R. Wallace (1823-1913) as main contributors to the conceptualization of evolution at the mechanistic level (=natural selection).

Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace

Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace co-discovered the mechanism of natural selection

But the phenomenon of evolution is ongoing, precedes Darwin and Wallace in billions of years, and it shall continue, with comparable magnitude, in time and space.

The concept of evolution, therefore, is about the occurrence of evolution (i.e., the aggregation of matter, the emergence of organic compounds from simpler molecules, the formation of self-replicating macro-molecules, the encasing of chemical reactions within the boundaries of lipid-layered membranes, the formation of cells and their reproduction and differentiation, and the diversification of uni- and multi-cellular life) and it helps us understand and represent cognitively—via mental symbolism and abstraction— the reality of evolution.

Our understanding of evolution improves with new discoveries, but the reality of evolution continues to exist regardless of our awareness and level of understanding of it…” — © 2011 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. & Avelina Espinosa all rights reserved

For original scientific article (On the Theory of Evolution versus the Concept of Evolution), published in Evolution Education & Outreach, click on [PDF]

Related article: Why the Notion that “The Theory of Evolution is Not an Explanation for the Origin of Life” is Wrong.

Recommended Book: Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne click on book for link

BookWhyEvolutionIsTrue

Acceptance of evolution by Biology Majors at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth is one the highest in the United States

What is an effective way of communicating evolutionary principles to students?

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2011

Comprehensively: (i) discuss the reality of evolution explicitly and directly, (ii) teach human evolution and place humans within the Apes, as primates, as animals, (iii) explain why the fossil record is discontinuous and incomplete, (iv) connect forensics, or the “applications of molecular techniques” to the evolutionary implications of molecular evolution, e.g. DNA connects organisms via common descent, (v) discuss how the human mind is the product of evolution.

I_Think_Darwin

 Darwin’s “I Think…” handwriting from Notebook B: Transmutation of species 1837-8

The histogram below summarizes the patterns of acceptance of evolution openly (A) or no opinion (B) among undergraduates at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (UMassD) as function of their academic level: Freshman (F), Sophomore (So), Junior (J) or Senior (Sr). Note that public acceptance of evolution in the United States of America (USA national) is about 40 percent (data The Gallup Poll 2009) and in New England 59 percent (data The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press 2005), the highest nationwide (shown as horizontal lines in Figure 1). 

UMass Dartmouth Statistics

Figure 1. Acceptance of evolution openly (A) or no opinion (B) by UMassD undergraduates as function of academic level F (Freshman), So (Sophomore), J (Junior), Sr (Senior). Data G. Paz-y-Miño C. © 2011

Biology Majors in 2008 (black bars in Figure 1) had levels of “open acceptance” of evolution between 52.0 percent (Freshman) to 65.5 percent (Seniors). No opinion decreased from 47.9 percent (Freshman) to 34.4 percent (Seniors).

In contrast, Non-biology Majors’ (orange bars) highest levels of acceptance of evolution reached 54.4 percent among Seniors (a value that most likely remained unchanged by the time of graduation), comparable to the level of the “arriving-to-college Biology Majors” (52.0 percent), similar to the USA college graduates (53 percent, The Gallup Poll 2009), and below the New England average (59 percent, The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press 2005). No opinion decreased as function of academic level but from 65.3 percent (Freshman) to only 45.6 percent (Seniors).

After re-conceptualizing the Freshman Biology Majors courses Biology of Organisms BIO-121/122 and Laboratories BIO-131/132 (re-conceptualization began in the 2007-2008 academic year – to present), which now have a comprehensive evolutionary approach, all cohorts of Biology Majors (blue bars) have increased significantly their acceptance of evolution, from 58.8 percent (Freshman) to 95.8 percent (Seniors)…

CharlesDarwinCartoonByDGranlund…These values are comparable to the 97 percent acceptance of evolution by the New England Professors and rank among the highest in the US…

Longitudinal analysis of two Freshman cohorts (2008-9 or 2009-10) revealed significant increase in acceptance of evolution in a single academic year (means: 56 percent in September, 70 percent in December, and 80 percent in May). — © 2011 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

For related topics click on Research Articles on Acceptance of Evolution

THE “JACKPROT” SIMULATION

The Jackprot is a didactic slot machine simulation that illustrates  how mutation rate coupled with natural selection  can interact to generate highly specialized proteins.

NEWConceptualized by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. (University of Massachusetts Dartmouth), Avelina Espinosa (Roger Williams University) and Chunyan Y. Bai (Roger Williams University), the Jackprot uses simplified slot-machine probability principles to demonstrate how mutation rate coupled with natural selection suffice to explain the origin and evolution of highly specialized proteins. The Jackprot also helps us understand why evolution by means of natural selection cannot be a random process.

Winning the ‘jackprot,’ or highest-fitness complete-peptide sequence, requires gradual and cumulative smaller ‘wins’ (rewarded by selection) at the first, second and third nucleotide positions in each of the codons coding for a polypeptide (= ‘jackdons’ that lead to ‘jackacids’ that lead to the ‘jackprot’).

TheJackprotSimulation

A slot-machine represents the cellular chemical apparatus, product itself of Darwinian evolution, required to generate, step by step, each of the three nucleotides coding for an amino acid. The probability of getting the correct triplet, for example, the start codon methionine or ATG, in a single attempt (or winning the ‘jackacid’), is equal to 1/64, or one divided by 4 x 4 x 4 (i.e. the total number of possible nucleotides per position multiplied by itself three times)…

…But because molecular evolution occurs gradually, a naturalistic assumption of the ‘jackprot’ model, each time any of the correct nucleotides is generated by the slot-machine, natural selection rewards it and keeps it (partial nucleotide win in a codon or ‘jackdon’)…

…Therefore, the probability of arriving, nucleotide by nucleotide, at the ATG sequence is equal to 1/12, or one divided by 4 + 4 + 4 (i.e. the summation of the individual probabilities for each nucleotide position), a much faster evolutionary process. Note that the sequential and additive arrival at the phenotypically meaningful sequence of A plus T plus G, represents, in reality, the accumulation of events fixed by natural selection during protein evolution, which entails clustered changes of multiple parts, and at diverse locations, within functional protein domains. 

NCBITeachers and students can access The Jackprot Simulation (click on illustration above) and run statistical analyses of protein evolution by simply cutting and pasting genomic (nucleotide) sequences obtained from the National Center for Biotechnology Information NCBI. The Jackprot generates statistics on nucleotide evolution under selection (both observed and expected values) and at random (expected values without selection). — © 2011 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

For detailed guidelines on how to use The Jackprot Simulation click on Guidelines Jackprot

To access original scientific article on The Jackprot Simulation, published in Evol Edu Outreach, click on PDF

Watch Demonstrational Video in YouTube (click on icon below) Jackprot_Simulation_YouTube

 

 

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Interesting Site: “Darwin’s Notebook”

“…A team of hip-hop and contemporary dancers injected life into the still artifacts at a museum… in a show called “Darwin’s Notebook” held at the University of Cambridge Museum of Zoology ” (Source Science Magazine: click on image below for details).

DarwinAsModernDarwin

Darwin’s Image Credit: Ben Swift/Nonsinthetik, from Hip-Hoppin’ Through Darwin’s Theories

Can We Forecast the Fall of Today’s Empires? – Editorial The Standard Times – Dec 13, 2010

Can We Forecast the Fall of Today’s Empires?

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2010

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth 

History reminds us that empires can supplant one another…

quipuThe Inca Empire (1430s-1530s) relied on an ingenious system of numeric recording, the quipus, or serial knots tied in colored threads made of hair from South American camelids, and used by accountants — the Quipucamayucs — to convey information on the calendar, trade, tributes and census, to other quipu-literate authorities who decoded the “talking knots” or used them in arithmetic operations (See photo from Khipu Database Project at Harvard University).

Messages encoded in ropes were carried by Chasquis, or runners, who delivered quipus from Cuzco, the capital of the Tawantinsuyu — the Inca Empire — to its four Andean provinces. The network of Inca roads impressed the conquistadores, including Francisco Pizarro, who mobilized his 168 men and a few horses through the highland trails to reach Cajamarca — nowadays Peru — and, in 1532, captured and later killed the last of the Sapa Incas, Atahualpa, whose 80,000 troops succumbed to the military superiority of the Spaniards.

Ironically, smallpox was the major executor of the Amerindians, next to the brutality of the conquest and Christianization crusade to suppress and replace with Catholicism not only the Inca god, the Sun — at least a real star venerated for nourishing maize and tuber fields — but any trace of cultural identity, including the quipu, the chasquis and the sound of their pututos — large conch shells used as horn-trumpets to announce the arrival of a message — and the Quechua language.

Condor ToroIn “Of Rage and Redemption: The Art of Oswaldo Guayasamin (1919-1999),” the Ecuadorian painter depicts an Andean condor subduing a Spanish bull, shockingly illustrating how Inca descendants still wear the scars of the European invasion to their land. The Inca civilization collapsed in the 1530s, and 500 years of misery shadowed the survival of Indian villages in the Andes of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.

Besides diseases, oppression, imposed ignorance to secure dominance, and neglect after war, what factors drive the decline of sociopolitical assemblages? What processes make civilizations emerge?

In two fascinating books, “Guns, Germs and Steel” (1997) and “Collapse” (2005), Jared Diamond, professor at the University of California Los Angeles, theorized how warfare, immunity or susceptibility to pathogens, and technology have driven the evolution of archaic societies, and how depletion of resources determined the breakdown of prosperous communities.

GunsGermsSteel_Collapse_Books

But the sequential steps of societal evolution had not been explored quantitatively.

Using evolutionary biology, researchers from the University of Tokyo, University College London and University of Auckland, New Zealand, have plotted models of societal organization onto linguistic diversification trees of 84 Austronesian (Southeast Asian and Pacific) groups (Nature, 2010).

Thomas Currie and his collaborators have demonstrated that political complexity during island colonization, from Taiwan to Western Polynesia and Southeast Asia, raised gradually — and predictably. It raised from leaderless societies to simple chiefdoms (one leader), complex chiefdoms (one leader over another) and states (hierarchical leadership), rarely skipping in-between levels of organization.

Collapses, however, did occur in jumps, from state to simple chiefdoms or leaderless levels, or from complex chiefdoms to unorganized aggregations.

Currie and co-authors think that their statistical analyses “move us beyond purely verbal arguments” about “history’s broadest pattern” of societal growth and breakdowns, and offer a model for deeper digging into the predictability of cultural change.

FranciscoDeOrellanaIf the encounter between the Tawantinsuyu and the conquistadores led inevitably to the disintegration of the Incas — due to the technological disparity between the New and Old Worlds — and if the European economies of the 15th to 17th centuries, like Spain, Portugal and France, later lost predominance when facing the emergence of England (18th to 19th centuries), can we forecast the fall of today’s empires?

(Left – Francisco De Orellana ca. 1511-1546, Spanish conquistador and explorer of the Amazon;  photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2009, Guapulo, Ecuador)

Would market rivalry alone push aside prevalent systems and replace them inescapably with competitors? Would human capital immersed in technological skillfulness suffice to substitute the wealthy illiterate societies?

Empires can indeed supplant one another. And the example of the quipu versus the European bookkeeping systems illustrates how the clashing of technologies can freeze in time a “clever-practical system of information storing,” the quipu, and replace it with a more efficient written mathematical notation.

But the vicious stamping of the Iberian bull over the Andean culture was atrocious. — © 2010 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

Condor and Bull Mural Guayasamin

Mural ‘Bull and Condor’ at Guayasamin’s “The Chapel of Manphoto © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010, Quito, Ecuador.

RESEARCH ARTICLES on Acceptance of Evolution

New England Faculty and College Students Differ in Their Views About Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design and ReligiosityNEW just published (online access) in Evolution Education and Outreach, December 18th 2010 [PDF]

Statistics NE Faculty vs Students Evolution

Figure 1. Percentage of New England faculty (Fac) versus college students from public secular (Pub), private secular (Priv) and religious (Rel) institutions who think evolution is: A = definitely true, B = probably true.

Statistics NE Faculty vs Students Religion

Figure 2. Percentage of New England faculty (Fac) versus college students from public secular (Pub) and private secular (Priv) institutions who consider the following statements about religiosity to be either true (black part of the bar) or false (color): A = faith in God is necessary for morality, B = religion is very important in my life, C = I pray at least once a day.

 

“On the Theory of Evolution versus the Concept of Evolution: Three Observations”NEW just published (online access) in Evolution Education and Outreach, December 15th 2010 [PDF]

“Integrating horizontal gene transfer and common descent to depict evolution and contrast it with common design” published in the Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 2010 [PDF]

Read comment about the article above by staff writer from the Discovery Institute Casey Luskin (click on him) and also by Intelligent Design ideolog Michael J. Behe (click on him).

Also read Introduction: Protistan Biology, Horizontal Gene Transfer, and Common Descent Uncover Faulty Logic in Intelligent Design [PDF] to Pre-ISOP meeting workshop (International Society of Protistologists), June 11-13 2009, “Horizontal Gene Transfer and Phylogenetic Evolution Debunk Intelligent Design” by Dr. Avelina Espinosa, professor at Roger Williams University.

IntelligentGeography

 

“Acceptance of evolution increases with student academic level: A comparison between a secular and a religious college”published in Evolution Education and Outreach 2009 [PDF]

“Assessment of Biology Majors versus Non-majors views on evolution, creationism and intelligent design”published in Evolution Education and Outreach 2009 [PDF]

Why editorials?

Dr Guillermo Paz-y-Mino C image four evolution literacyDr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. contributes with editorials on science, technology and the environment to periodicals, newspapers, newsletters and specialized science magazines. He conducts research on the patterns of acceptance of evolution by college students and university professors in the United States, particularly in New England. He considers it crucial to communicate science to the public and promote science and evolution literacy. He is an Assistant Professor of Biology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (UMassD).

Links: G. Paz-y-Miño C. profile and affiliation to the Department of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (UMassD)

Can Atheists Be Our Leaders? – Editorial The Standard Times – Nov 6, 2010

Can Atheists Be Our Leaders?

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2010

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth 

Aatheistsand agnostics are among the most educated citizens in the United States. They rank highest not only in knowledge about science, American history, literature, politics and the role of religion in public life, but also in awareness about world religions. 

religionUsing a 32-question survey on religious knowledge, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a non-governmental organization based in Washington D.C., interviewed 3,400 adults during May and June of 2010. A 78-page report of the significant findings was released this past Sept. 28 (Inset Logo from the Pew Report available online). 

Knowledge about religion correlated with level of education. Responders holding a post-graduate degree knew, on average, 22 out of the 32 questions in the survey; college graduates responded correctly to 20 questions; those attending college were right about 17 to 19 questions; and the high-school-educated — or less — were correct in only 10 to 12 questions

Atheists and agnostics followed by Jews and Mormons ranked consistently higher in the overall assessment of their religious literacy than evangelical Protestants and Catholics. 

US CongressIf atheists and agnostics are highly educated, would Americans elect them as their leaders? Apparently not; according to a Gallup Poll (2007), atheists rank last with only 45 percent voters to favor them in a potential presidential election, followed by homosexuals, who would theoretically receive 55 percent of support, or candidates of “72 years of age” (57 percent), or who are “married for the third time” (67 percent), or Mormon (72 percent), Hispanic (87 percent), a woman (88 percent), Jewish (92 percent), black (94 percent, it already happened), or Catholic (95 percent). (Photo inset the United States Congress in Washington DC, Photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010).

Sixty-seven percent of liberals would vote for a qualified atheist if he or she runs for president of the United States, but only 29 percent of conservatives would do it. Indeed, political ideology determines voting preferences for a “non-traditional candidate,” and atheists rank last regardless of being among the most literate Americans. Moreover, liberal, moderate and conservative voters would prefer any other type of candidate over an atheist (Gallup Poll, 2007). 

Twenty million Americans, or 7 percent, are either certain that God does not exist (atheists), or are not sure about it (agnostics), which contrasts with the high levels of religiosity among most of the general population. Seventy-three percent are convinced of the existence of a deity, 14 percent think that God probably exists and have little doubt about it, and 5 percent believe in God but have a lot of doubt about it (Gallup Poll, 2006). Religiosity, however, decreases with educational attainment; highly educated people are less religious than the least educated. 

According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project (2007), 57 percent of Americans think that God is necessary for morality, yet there is no indication that atheists and agnostics are less moral than the general or religious populations. 

OutCampaingIn fact, the list of world-prestigious American intellectuals who have admitted to be atheists or agnostics is impressive. Here are some from the 19th and 20th centuries: Ralph Waldo Emerson (author and poet), Henry David Thoreau (philosopher), Andrew Carnegie (philanthropist), Mark Twain (author), Pearl S. Buck (author), Thomas Edison (inventor), Clarence Darrow (lawyer), Carl Van Doren (English professor and biographer of Benjamin Franklin), and Ernest Hemingway (novelist). 

The list above does not include the 93 percent of the current and prominent members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (Larson and Witham, 1998), neither the 70 percent of the 630,000 faculty teaching full-time at colleges and universities in the United States who admit to be nonbelievers (Ecklund and Scheitle, 2007; Gross and Simmons, 2009). 

oedLike any highly educated citizens, atheists and agnostics are probably concerned about illiteracy trends in the United States, and not only regarding world religions knowledge — where they ranked highest above all believers — but also international trends on the ranking of our youth in mathematics, reading and science, where the United States placed 26th, 15th and 21st among 57 other nations, respectively (data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, reports 2003/9). 

And we can forecast that atheists and agnostics, who rank top in understanding the legal separation between church and state (82 percent, according to the Pew survey), would support the teaching of evolution in public schools and oppose the smuggling of intelligent-design creationism into the education curriculum. 

It is time for our modern societies to accept the open participation of atheists and agnostics in building our democracies, more so if — as demonstrated by national polls — they are among the most educated citizens. Their lack of religious affiliation and identity should not discourage them from contributing to significant public service as secular humanists, nor should it deter the public from electing them.

The human experience consists in building equality for all and, in this particular case, in hearing the voice and benefiting from the talent of the nonbelievers. — © 2010 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

On Whales and a Whaling Museum – Editorial The Standard Times – Sep 30, 2010

On Whales and a Whaling Museum

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2010

Department of Biology, Univesity of Massachusetts Dartmouth 

To be reassured that evolution is true one just needs to visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Three mounted skeletons of a 50-foot North Atlantic right whale, a 40-foot humpback, and a 70-foot juvenile blue can impress anyone curious to compare human bones to those of whales. The vertebrae are identical in shape, the rib cage is a magnified version of a human’s, and the forelimbs are shortened into appendices like “fins,” each with digits. Only vestigial hips remain. The legs have disappeared during 35 million years of “sea galloping,” thus passing on to the tail the job of thrusting the animal.

TailWhale
Humpback whale, photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. Massachusetts Bay 2010

The skulls of whales differ much from those of primates, like ours, but every component is present. The orbits and cheek bones surround tiny eyes in respect to the large head, and the rostrum or face — made of the upper maxilla and nasal bones — is conspicuously protruded to meet the jaw, which, in the baleen whales like the trio above, has no teeth, only tough skin to hold up corneous plates made of hair-protein, evidence of ancestral furred relatives. Such whales gulp water to sieve shrimp, squid or fish.

SpermWhale

The apparent lack of forehead is remarkable in cetaceans (whales and dolphins). During evolution, the frontal bone retreated toward the back of the skull and, in some species, created a boat-shaped cavity which stores wax, and the museum exhibits a fourth magnificent specimen to account for this, a toothed sperm whale (photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010, above). This 50-foot skeleton emerges over a silhouette of the whale’s flesh sketched on the floor next to a giant squid, its favorite prey.

MelvilleHerman Melville‘s 1851 edition of “Moby-Dick” rests ahead this specimen, on a glass plinth, almost challenging the beast to resume the chase, to dive into the old book and confront Ahab’s obsession again — that of “wild vindictiveness” against Moby Dick for having reaped away the captain’s leg — to bear harpoons piercing its back, to smite the Pequod and drown its crew, and to spare only Ishmael so that he drifts on a coffin — carpentered for his ill-with-sweatings friend Queequeg — and survives to narrate how the whale defeated all.

“Be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh,” is encrypted on the cenotaph of “Captain WM. Swain, Master of the Christopher Mitchell of Nantucket … [who] after fastning to a whale, was carried overboard by the line, and drowned [on] May 19th, 1844.” This dramatic epitaph on marble at the Seamen’s Bethel — built in 1832 and still upright a few steps away from the museum — is analogous to those that daunted Melville while attending services in the early 1840s.

In his romantic novel, Melville imagined the pulpit of the Seamen’s Bethel (photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010, below) as the bow of a whaler’s ship, from which Father Mapple sermonized (watch video), “Beloved shipmates “¦ what is [the] Chapellesson that the book of Jonah teaches? “¦ the sin was in his “¦ disobedience of the command of God “¦ by seeking to flee from him “¦ He [thought] that a ship “¦ will carry him into countries where God does not reign “¦ A dreadful storm [came] on, the ship [was] like to break “¦ And Jonah “¦ dropped into the sea “¦ seething into the yawning jaws awaiting him; and the whale [shot] “¦ his ivory teeth “¦ Jonah prayed unto the Lord out of the fish’s belly “¦ the whale vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”

The potential fury of whales and the obsession of whalers with killing them are historic. The Essex, which left Nantucket in 1819, was wrecked a year later by a sperm whale. The survivors ate the corps of shipmates while sailing small whaleboats 3,000 miles back to South America, ironically avoiding the Marquesas Islands, only 1,200 miles west from the Essex’s sinking waters, where “cannibals could devour them.” And the museum displays panels with estimates of whale massacres during the 18th through 20th centuries: 1 million sperm whales, 384,000 blues, 275,000 humpbacks, 92,000 bowheads, and 10,000 North Atlantic rights.

Whales were hunted for their oil, wax and baleen. Nothing was wasted. The collection of ornaments, utensils and capricious art on ivory, at the museum, accounts for that (photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010, below). Prosperity of the American colonies and the Industrial Revolution of the young republic (1820-1860) were fueled by the slaughtering of whales, and this ecocide must not be forgotten.

WhaleTeeth

Perhaps all cities should first be explored by visitors through the eyes of museums, and later be walked and valued for their details. The Whaling Museum of New Bedford is such a shepherd; it brings sight to the modern “Ishmaels” who can come to discover the shared ancestry between humans and whales or to understand the legendary madness connecting whalers to whales. — © 2010 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

WhalesAtSmithsonianMuseum

(Above: the two major groups of whales  as depicted at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Whashington DC, photo G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010; click image to access site).

Ancient Whale Evolution Literacy

Ancient whale has shown a key step in the evolution in filter-feeding whale’s enormous mouths (illustration by C. Buell, click on image to access source at BBC Nature article).

Faith Healing versus Medical Science – Editorial The Standard Times – Sep 2, 2010

Faith Healing vs. Medical Science

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2010

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth 

“If a sense of disease produces suffering, and a sense of ease antidotes it, disease is mental. Hence the fact in Christian Science that the human mind alone suffers, and the divine mind alone heals it.”

ChurchThis metaphor belongs to Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), author of “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” (1875) and founder in 1879 of the Church of Christ, Scientist, whose modern, cathedral-like headquarters — the Mother Church (photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010, left), completed in 1904 — emerged in downtown Boston rivaling in architecture the Trinity Church, the Holy Cross Cathedral, and even the Massachusetts Statehouse.

During a three-year search for the “divine laws of life” within the Bible, Eddy compiled passages about healing and envisioned a cure method based on prayer, which by the end of the 1880s propagated among the students at her Massachusetts Metaphysical College, a short-lasting enterprise (1881-1889). Her charismatic personality seeded the Christian Science Journal (1883), the Christian Science Sentinel (1898), the Herald of Christian Science (1903), and the Christian Science Monitor (1908), currently a dynamic online news survivor of historic financial struggles.

OrganLike most spiritual therapies, Eddy’s “pray healing” faded, although the enormous Mother Church of Christ Scientist she inspired still breathes in the heart of Boston through a majestic golden pipe organ (photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010, left), which gives the impression of resounding even in silence.

In fact, deity-mediated physical and mental well-being are inconsistent with modern medicine. However, the positive effects of the “relaxation response” — a mind-and-body state of calmness which is elicited during meditation and monotonous behavior like chanting or bead-praying — on the recovery from depression, anxiety, insomnia or pain seem biologically rooted and scientifically measurable.

The Institute for Mind Body Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital has sponsored the most compelling research on the relaxation response (RR). Cardiologist Herbert Benson described RR in 1974 as changes in metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain chemistry triggered during the meditative state.

RelaxationResponoseBookRR counters the fight-or-flight response, conceptualized by Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon in 1915 as an animal’s ability to cope with danger via, not surprisingly, opposite mechanisms to RR. In essence, the fight-or-flight response excites stress response, while the relaxation response calms, thus bringing the organism to homeostasis.

Benson and his collaborators ignited three decades of investigations on RR which included the physiological changes that occur during RR, the cognitive-behavioral and psychological variables associated with it, and the diversity of meditation methods. Most recently, gene expression induced by RR has been the focus of Benson’s exploration. In all scenarios, Benson and his colleagues have been cautious to insert RR as another variable into the complex equation of mind-body health.

Indeed, good research often demystifies popular certainty. In a 2006 study of the therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in 1,800 cardiac bypass patients, sponsored by the Templeton Foundation — famous for surpassing the Noble Prize by granting $1.5 million to explorers of life’s spiritual dimensions — Benson and his team reported a higher incidence of complications among patients who knew Christian devotees were praying for their recovery, in contrast to patients uncertain about receiving such prayers, who convalesced.

The data published in the American Heart Journal disappointed supporters of proximal or distant pray-mediated healing.

The Templeton Foundation, however, further committed $150,000 to study the effects of prayer on auditory and visual impairments in rural Mozambique, and religious studies professor Candy Brown, from Indiana University, embraced the task. In the September 2010 issue of the Southern Medical Journal, Brown and collaborators report 24 cases of improvement in hearing and/or vision after intercessory prayers. 

The authors themselves confess the flaws of the study: unknown source of the impairments, unconfirmed diagnosis of ear or eye malfunction, patients’ cultural habituation to healers, no control group, and a sample size 75 times smaller than that of Benson’s. In sum, much enthusiasm and poor science, but the authors go on to state that prayer “may be a useful adjunct to standard medical care … in contexts where access to conventional treatment is limited.”

Benson’s research on RR has brought into scientific scrutiny the belief of pray healing and provided a rational explanation for the sense of joy, well-being and calmness induced by meditation and its equivalents. 

Graphene

Graphene  (click picture for photo credit and information about graphene)

At times of nanotechnology medicine, where single-atom-thick sheets of carbon (graphene) can be injected into a body with the mission of cauterizing cancerous breast tissue if stimulated by laser (Nano Letters, 2010), or when vaccination can immunize an entire country and prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) from spreading among sexually active teenagers, or when evolutionary principles enlighten our understanding of disease and cure, pray healing cannot replace nor supplement, in urban or rural communities, scientific medicine. — © 2010 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

EqualTimeToEvolution

In the interest of teaching “both sides,” I thought I’d give equal time to the theory of evolution…

To Deny Evolution is To Deny History – Editorial The Standard Times – Aug 7, 2010

To Deny Evolution is To Deny History

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2010

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth 

 History is evolution and evolution is history.

DarwinGPCCharles Darwin  (photo © left G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010, British Museum of Natural History, London) felt enthralled when discovering the benefits of earthworms to archeology. In his 1881 book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms,” he dedicated a chapter to “the part which worms have played in the burial of ancient buildings.” Darwinianly, he wrote —¦ archeologists are probably not aware how much they owe to worms for the preservation of “¦ ancient objects.”

Indeed, while tunneling in the dirt, earthworms soften the substrate and hide artifacts that otherwise would remain on the surface. Iron arrowheads, probably from the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, were, according to Darwin, preserved in this fashion by the aid of worms.

Superficial archeological ruins at Abinger (130-360s AD), Chedworth (350s AD), Brading (330s AD), and other vestiges of Roman occupation to Britannia have been concealed by the burring labor of earthworms. But Darwin clarified that —¦ the enormous beds of rubbish, several yards in thickness, which underlie many cities, such as Rome, Paris, and London “¦ have not been “¦ acted on by worms.”

As much as archeological information has been trapped underground — from earlier times located close to the surface to ancient epochs hidden deep — biological history is also preserved in the geological profile, from the Holocene (today) to the Cambrian (550 million years ago), when biodiversity fossilized vastly, and to the early Archaean (3.5 billion years ago), when colonial cyanobacteria carved rocks.

And as much as erosion disfigures the archeological record, the biological testimony is fragmentary to scientists. Both archaeological and biological treasures require ideal conditions for preservation. The majestic Roman Colosseum (photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010, below), for example, has battled gravity, rain and wind for two millennia.

Roman Colosseum

Similarly, human bones from the Upper Paleolithic still remained identifiable to paleoanthropologists after 35,000 years of entombment in Abri de Cro Magnon, in Southern France. Like the Roman Colosseum, the aged fossils had lost essential features, but they existed and were (are) real.

It is here, at the point of recalling the dawn of Rome and the death of life forms in the process of leaving progeny — like the Cro-Magnons — where human logic faces the test. Denying biological evolution parallels with repudiating history. The antecedents of the Roman Empire are connected to its people, whose prosperous culture, technological pride and understanding of government were linked, historically, to simpler beginnings of the human condition, when hunter-gatherers strategized daily survival.

HumanOriginsSmithsonianMuseum

Photo above from Human Origins Gallery at Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (click on image to access site)

No rational citizen of the contemporary world would challenge the existence of ancient Rome, but 40 percent of Americans, 18 percent of the British, and 20 percent of Italians, among residents of 34 other countries where public acceptance of evolution has been polled (Science, 2006), think evolution is false. This discrepancy between wide acceptance of Roman history and selective rejection of life’s past resides in the extra scrutiny imposed on the latter by religion.

In the United States of America, negative attitudes toward evolution correlate with three variables: religious beliefs, pro-life beliefs and political ideology. Conservative Republicans accept evolution less than progressive liberals and independents (30 vs. 60 percent, respectively) and frequency of religious practices is associated negatively with acceptance of evolution (24 percent among weekly church-goers vs. 71 percent for seldom or never, Gallup Poll, 2007).

Only science education improves evolution literacy; in fact, public acceptance of evolution in the United States increases from the high-school level (21 percent), to the some-college (41 percent), college-graduate (53 percent) and post-graduate levels (74 percent), reaching the highest among university professors (97 percent) (see histogram below). Young Earth Creationists, who believe that humans were designed in the present form within the last 10,000 years, coincide with the views of the least educated population of adolescents in their teens.

Statistics Acceptance Evolution

The left part of the Figure above comes from The Gallup Poll (2009), the right part (New England Faculty Study 2010) corresponds to Paz-y-Miño C. and Espinosa (2010).

In a May 2010 assessment (click on image below to access complete study) of 35 universities and colleges in the progressive New England states, where public acceptance of evolution is the highest in the nation — only 59 percent — my laboratory documented that 97 percent of the faculty vs. 78 percent of the students accept evolution, and that 82 percent of the faculty vs. 58 percent of the students think that evolution is true. Notably, 91 percent of the professors admit to being “very concerned” or “somehow concerned” about the controversy of evolution vs. creationism and its implications for science education.

GPC study TWO

As much as accepting the reality of the Roman Empire, or Darwin’s observations of the burring effects of worms on archeological remains, or the authenticity of the 17,000-year-old paintings by Cro-Magnons in the caves of Altamira, La Pasiega or Lascaux, admitting the veracity of biological history is a civilization’s responsibility.

Otherwise, denying the legacy of evolution becomes equivalent to rejecting one’s kin or the deep DNA ancestry that connects us to worms and cyanobacteria; it is like capriciously ignoring the exquisite ruins of the Roman Colosseum which still stand, only 2,000 years young, on a 4.6 billion-year-old Earth. — © 2010 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved.

Related article: Why the Notion that “The Theory of Evolution is Not an Explanation for the Origin of Life” is Wrong

Roman Colosseum Outside View(Above: Roman Colosseum outside view, photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010)