Faith Explained, in cartoon form

(hat tip: WTF – when there is nothing)

Nuff said.

Fishoil Scam hits news eventually

Well, you almost heard it here first. In an unusual turn of events, the always educational Ben Goldacre has managed to scoop the BBC with the ridicule of the fish oil “trial” in Durham.

On the BBC news website, there is an article titled “Fish oil brain study laughable” (yeah, great headline…) that sort of breaks the story. Interestingly, in typical BBC fashion, they are very reluctant to actually say anything really negative. As a result we get things like:

Durham County Council said children who took the Omega-3 supplements during the school year performed better in exams.
It claimed out of 3,000 students who took part, almost a third showed significant improvements in GCSEs.
Dr Ben Goldacre said it was bad science because there was no separate study of pupils not taking fish oil. The council admits the trial was not definitive.

Now that is so wet as to be almost pointless. It barely qualifies for news when you see the real idiocy that has taken place in the Durham County Council offices.

Keen to show both sides of an argument, the BBC further waters down its news with:

However Dr Goldacre added that just because the study was poorly conducted, that did not mean there was no benefit to taking fish oil supplements.
“I do think it’s possible that fish oils might be helpful to improve school performance in children.”

What? Seriously? I would love to find the citation for that but in my short search now, I have failed. If you find it please let me know.

As the BBC seems so reluctant, I will give you some of Ben Goldacre’s quotes:

Dave Ford [promoter] said he knew the results would be positive before it even began. I’m not surprised: this “trial” was flawed by design from the outset.

Obviously the BBC dont want to know about this bit of bad PR for Durham. How about this even more relevant one:

This is appalling. 2,168 of their subjects dropped out [leaving 832] of the trial. They must count these people in the results. It is incompetent not to do so. This makes the rest of their claimed results even more meaningless.

Of the remaining 832, 80% are claimed to have done better than some unknown benchmark and this is heralded as a success…  Why on earth did the BBC decide to ignore that blinder?

Worse still, the BBC tries to explain the study off as if it was legitimate after all with this: [emphasis mine]

Dave Ford, from the council’s children and young people’s services department, carried out the initiative with the help of an educational psychologist.
They matched students who showed improved results to those, of similar abilities and backgrounds, who did not take the tablets.
However, the council explained that there was no controlled study of those children who were not given supplements as part of the study, which took place in the school year ending in summer 2007.
Mr Ford said: “This study has produced some interesting and possibly exciting issues that could be the basis for future scientific trials.
“There seem to be some very clear indications that pupils taking the supplement do significantly better.”

Mr Ford added that the council made no claim the results of its GCSE study could be attributed to Omega-3 supplements alone.

By Odin that is infuriating. It is complete nonsense. The BBC are not doing a service by showing both sides of an argument (sound familiar?). They are not providing the UK public with news by minimising Ben Goldacre’s quotes and emphasisng the woo.

This is a hideous combination of poor journalism and very bad science.

BBC – Shame on you.

The wages of sin

For a while, the Daily Mail has been has been casually stirring up oposition to the vaccine against the virus associated with cervical cancer. A few weeks ago, the print edition had a banner asking something like “Would you let your daughter have the sex jab?”

This vaccine has been offered to all 14 year-old girls and is being promoted on tv. It almost defies belief that anyone would object to it. However, the utterly irrational idea has been spread that it somehow promotes promiscuity.

Quick recap on the blindingly obvious point that cancer is worse than “promiscuity.” On any scale. By several orders of magnitude. You would assume that even the most extreme bigot must see that.

Quick logic check on the idea that the vaccine will somehow encourage promiscuity. Does any teenager make decisions about sex on the basis of a remote chance that they might get cancer at some unspecified time in a couple of decades? This is well nigh inconceivable. Have they even been teenagers or ever met one? Making decisions on the basis of something that could just about occur in bounds of possibility in the remote future? Does that sound very teenage? (Does that even sound human? Look at our leaders’ action on climate change, ffs) Pregnancy or STDs are much more likely and immediate bad outcomes of sex and they don’t seem to be putting off kids from following the urges of nature, do they?

Any argument against the vaccine on these grounds is basically an argument for honour killing.

I am truly staggered that there are people so evil that they would rather that their daughters died in a horrific way than have sex. Ever. There is no reason to assume that even an abstinence-till-marriage policy (hat tip, US “sex education” absurdity) would guarantee that the poor girl who observed it to the letter wouldn’t marry someone who has the virus.

Anyway, A Roman Catholic school (no surprise there) has decided that it won’t allow the vaccine to be provided on its premises. In fairness, the school governors distance themselves from the demented argument on “morality”, there being no way in which this can be seen as a “moral” stance, except possibly by the standard of the Taliban.

Although some religious groups are opposed to the vaccine because of fears it may encourage promiscuity, the governors make no moral objection to the programme. (From the BBC)

Instead, the governors claim that they are refusing on health grounds.

In it, they question the effectiveness of the injections and point out the possible side effects.
The letter says a number of the school’s pupils who took part in a pilot study were subsequently off school suffering from nausea, joint pain, headaches and high fevers.

I doubt that the governors have the scientific credentials or research backing to question the “effectiveness ” of the vaccine. I know nothing about the veracity of the side effects claim, but, even if it were true, I think most people would rather than a headache than cancer. So, I’m going to suggest that they have taken the cowardly way out, in response to the concerns raised by the likes of the Daily Mail.

Yet another good reason for not sending kids to “faith schools.”

Equal Rights – educating fundies

(hat tip: DarkfireTaimatsu on FSTDT)

Other than being a bit to soft on fundies at the end, this seems pretty reasonable to me.

Church says “Sorry,” believers furious

(I know it was a week ago, but I missed this first time round)

It seems that the Church of England has decided to apologise to Charles Darwin for heaping abuse and disbelief on him in the mid 1800’s. From the Daily Mail [Online version]:

The Church of England will tomorrow [14 Sep 08] officially apologise to Charles Darwin for misunderstanding his theory of evolution.

Wonderful. I know decisions are slow in large organisations but this is a bit weird. It has taken them almost one and a half centuries to decide to say “sorry, we were wrong.” Still, better late than never I suppose. In this instance, it is no better or worse than people apologising for the slave trade. It is just one of those things organisations need to do so they can feel better about themselves.

The Mail article continues:

In a bizarre step, the Church will address its contrition directly to the Victorian scientist himself, even though he died 126 years ago.

Now, this isn’t actually all that bizarre. Well, if you are a Christian anyway. Look at it from the truly faithful’s point of view. Darwin isn’t dead in the secular sense – he is just no longer on the Earth. He is either in Heaven or Hell so an apology to him personally is actually totally appropriate. If you really believe in an afterlife, why cant big old Charlie be reading the Church of England’s newsletter and watching their cermonies. I mean, the man was a minister after all…

As even the most dense of lifeforms could have predicted, such PR stunts dont always attact postive commentary. Take this bit of ironic waffle:

Former Conservative Minister Ann Widdecombe, who left the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic, said: ‘It’s absolutely ludicrous. Why don’t we have the Italians apologising for Pontius Pilate?‘We’ve already apologised for slavery and for the Crusades. When is it all going to stop? It’s insane and makes the Church of England look ridiculous.’

Poor old Ann, it isn’t even a good parallel but then, she is a tory minister so you cant expect too much. The thing that interested me the most, though, was why on Earth should she care? She is no longer CofE – she defected to the evil Catholicism. What makes her opinion on an organisation she spurned remotely valid? (Add to which, that is possibly the LEAST flattering photograph of a living person I have ever seen).

The only good “professional” comment comes from the National Secular Association (no suprise there, then): [Emphasis mine]

‘As well as being much too late, the message strikes me as insincere, as if there is an unspoken “but” behind the text. However, if it means that from now on the Church of England will say “No” to the teaching of creationism in school science lessons, then we would accept the apology on Darwin’s behalf.’

I couldn’t agree more. (continues below the fold) Continue reading

School values

Madeleine Bunting put forward a case for faith schools in the Guardian today. Well, I think she did, her logic pretty well escaped me.

The claim in the title “Faith schools can best generate the common purpose that pupils need” wasn’t supported by any argument that I could follow. This seems to be the crux of it:

So, with hard hat on, here goes the defence: that it is possible to justify faith schools within the state sector with important qualifications; that many of them do a remarkable job; and that it’s time the critics put prejudice aside to think more carefully about the source of their appeal to parents.

Well, I’ve thought carefully and I believe I know the source of their appeal to parents – that is, parents who don’t actually follow the faiths that they are supposedly so keen to cram into their offspring:

They have a more exclusive intake. Christian religious schools don’t have many pupils who don’t speak fluent English. They can throw troublesome kids back to the state sector. They can often get better exam results.

That’s basically it.

I find it hard to draw a connection between these facts and “faith.” The old selective grammar schools – when selection was at least based on an exam pass rather than a belief in magical entities – got better results than the schools for kids who’d failed their 11-plus.

I thought the idea of doing away with grammar schools was to heal social divisions? “Middle class” kids were certainly over-represented in grammar schools. All the evidence suggests that they are currently over-represented in the popular faith schools. And there is no evidence of a massive expansion of religious belief amongst the middle classes that might explain it in religious terms. It’s people trying to get the best for their kids, whatever it takes. Perfectly understandable in individual pragmatic terms. Whether the state should be buying votes by supporting this with our taxes is another matter…..

But supporters of faith schools prefer to pretend that religion brings some educational magic of its own. Insofar as Bunting has an argument to present, it is that faith schools are better at putting across an educational ethos.

But these are old-fashioned ideas. Walk into any secondary school and one senses how counter-cultural that ethos is. The blazers, badges, Latin mottos, the “Morning, Sir,” the emphasis on tradition, formality and obedience: it’s an institutional culture decades old. Teachers have the unenviable task of battling against a culture of self-entitlement, individualism and self-promotion to try to generate a common purpose.

Hmm. Blazers, badges, Latin mottoes… and so on? Her concept of “education” comes straight from a 1940s boarding school story.

Some schools have genuine traditions. These are usually private and cost as much as the average annual wage. Their succes sis based upon the very fact that they cost the annual wage. (Beautiful grounds, incredible teacher-pupil ratios, coy relationships with Oxbridge colleges, other rich kids to make friends with for future networking…)

To build new schools and expect them to pretend they have been going since the middle ages – in the belief they’ll bring the benefits of Eton – is so ersatz. The whole enterprise seems to be built on misleading kids. Trick them into thinking they are attending Eton in the 1930s and they will behave themselves.

It’s a Disneyworld image of education. But, if anything, this could explain the appeal of faith schools. If enough fools believe it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, at the top end of the faith school pyramid (with lavish use of our taxes, of course.)

At the bottom end….. Catholic schools vs state school battles. Kids who leave school without ever sharing a classroom with kids from different backgrounds.

Secular humanism has not found a popular ethical narrative to replace faith; parents, uncertain how to bring up their children with a sense of responsibility for others, resort to school Christianity.

She is saying that parents who are without ethical values rely on church schools to graft these on, at the same time as imparting a belief in an all-powerful magic man? She is also implying that values rely on myths.

This is bilge in so many ways that I can’t even begin to address them. It is teaching hypocrisy by example. Great “ethical” value, hey? “Do as I say, not what I do.”

It doesn’t work, given that children are not necessarily either unobservant or so dumb that they will believe what adults tell them to be true over the evidence of their senses.

More Church and Schools

Good to see that the UK government is still coming under political pressure to drop its demented encouragement of “faith schools”.

The BBC reported

Ministers are being urged to stop faith schools in England selecting pupils and staff on the basis of their religion.
Accord, a new coalition of secular and religious figures, wants the government to stop state-funded schools engaging in what they say is “discrimination”.

Faith schools getting forced into not favouring people who hold their “faith”?

Well, that would be a start.

But, they are wrong on so many levels that, if they were buildings, they’d need the world’s biggest elevators. Demolish the lot of them.

Church and school

Churchgoing is associated with teenagers getting higher grades, according to a study cited in Ecumenical News International and discussed in the Times. On first consideration, this seems a bit counter-intuitive, given the preponderance of non-believers in the higher academic world and all those flattering studies that suggest that atheists are generally more intelligent and educated than believers.

The findings suggest that it’s whether the student actually attends church rather than whether s/he has any religious belief that has an impact.

The study suggested four reasons church-going teens tend to have more success at school.
One of these is that they have regular contact with adults from various generations, who serve as role models. Another reason is that the young people’s parents are more likely to communicate with their friends’ parents. Other factors at play are that teenagers who attend church develop friendships there with peers who have similar norms and values, and they are also more likely to take part in extracurricular activities. (from the ENI site)

I haven’t seen the data, only the reports, so I’m not challenging their figures or even their suggested explanations.

But there are some alternative ways of looking at this evidence.

Most crucially, it seems to me to be confusing correlation with causation.

i.e. On average, kids who go to church get better grades. Even, if it’s true, this doesn’t imply either one causes the other.

At an individual level, isn’t it likely that teenagers with a greater tendency to conform are more willing to do what their parents want – both in terms of doing their schoolwork and church attendance? So the good grades and the willingness to go to church might both just be manifestations of a general willingness to please adults.

Like brushing their teeth at bedtime. Which may also turn out to be positively correlated with good school attendance and good grades.

The implications that church-attenders are more involved in the community would seem to apply mostly to people who live in cohesive “communities” in which – especially in countries such as the USA – church attendance is pretty much the norm. Questions I would like to ask would be about the localities that the researchers looked at. Villages, towns, cities, slums, suburbs? Incomes? Family stability?

I can think of quite a few questions about this study. But the one that really nags at me is the use of the concept of “good grades.” Good grades are not necessarily indicators of real learning, or even of an academic capacity.

The research might suggest that many schools encourage conformity, rather than independent thought, and penalise those kids who show a troublesome desire to think for themselves (by refusing to go to church, for example.) Hence, more church-non-attenders drop out or put minimal effort into their schoolwork.

Down Wiv Da Kidz Part 2

Previously I have commented on how the “youth” of today are pretty much down trodden by adults and today there has been another screaming example of it.

Today is the day school children learn their “A” level results (final school exams) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The A level exam is the culmination of 13 years schooling and decides what (if any) university education the person can begin. The exams are taken in around 3 subjects and follow two years of dedicated study. In a nutshell, they are very important for the children who sit them.

Set against this, is the news headline “A level pass and A grades up” in which the BBC leads with:

There has been another increase in the A-level pass rate and the proportion of entries awarded the top A grade.

This has set the talking heads on various news outlets raging. There is, weirdly, outrage that a higher percentage of people who have sat A levels have passed this year than last year, and this pattern has (apparently) been the case for the last two decades. If you listened to some of the radio news programmes today you would think this was the end of the world, but for context we can go back to the BBC:

Figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications show 97.2% of entries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland passed, up from 96.9%.

Yes, the increase is actually only 0.3% – not exactly head line news… Interestingly, these figures are broken down as follows: (source BBC)

  • UK: 97.2%
  • Northern Ireland: 98.2%
  • England: 97.2%
  • Wales: 97.6%

(Call me old fashioned but that appears to be an average of 97.67% but obviously Wales and Northern Ireland dont count as much. 🙂 )

In a normal world, you would think that there was much to celebrate in this numbers – our children are studying harder, our teachers are working harder, our schools are better, access to things like the internet are improving education and so on.

Oh no. In this world all this means is our exams are “too easy.” The notoriously literate tabloid press is calling for an “overhaul” of the exam system because obviously it is not testing enough if after two solid years of study, backed up by a further 11 years of general education, nearly every one passes. Ironically, I have been on a seven day professional course which had an exam (and awarded a qualification deemed to be at a higher level than an A level) and it was assumed that after SEVEN days study EVERYONE would pass the exam. Does that make the qualification “worthless?”

For some reason we live in a world where no matter what children do it is never enough. If they play outdoors they are accused of being “hoodies,” if they play indoors they are anti-social fatties, if they fail at school they are unemployable retards and if they do well then, obviously, exams are too easy.

Is it any wonder they seem to be unwilling to get involved in our society? Shame on us all.

For any one reading this who got their results today and passed – well done, the exams are hard and you have done well to pass.

(and my heart goes out doubly to the poor teachers – they work harder now than when I was at school yet any sign they are producing better standards of education and obviously it just means the exams are too easy…”)


I dont have a huge amount of online time at the moment so I cant do these two news items justice. However, I still think people should read them (both from New Scientist)

The first link is a depressing indictment of a society that has allowed itself to be tricked into thinking there is an even argument betwen Evolution and Creationism. This is madness of the highest order. The concept that “teaching both sides” is a good thing only seems to apply against evolution, but still no one notices the weirdness. Shame on the nation that allows this sort of thing.

The second is worrying. Not so much that Archaeologists seem willing to allow world heritage sites to be hit during an attack but the implicit assumption there will be an attack.

Not a good day.

Internment Returns

Well, sadly, the craven government of the United Kingdom has surrendered to terrorism and taken yet another step in dismantling the fundamental liberties we have enjoyed for centuries. A basic principle enshrined in Medieval law was that the State should not deprive a person of their liberty without a trial. In practice this amounted to about 24 hours between detention and charging. In my lifetime this has increased to four weeks and now looks set to become six weeks.

Well done Terrorists.

If you are able, please try to find a clip of the BBC News 24 interview with Tony Benn. What ever your opinions on the man as a politician may be (for example, mine aren’t great), he pretty much summarises what people should be feeling about this travesty of justice.

Sadly, people don’t seem to be feeling this. If the statistics are to be believed 65% of the UK population supports 42 days detention of innocent people (which means the pop-survey I carried out at work this morning massively fails to reflect the UK population). I can only assume they all think the detainees will be some one else so the thought of suffering is alien to them. Even more worryingly, listening to the BBC Radio 1 street interviews in the run up to the vote showed me that 65% of the population do support it – but that is because they are beyond stupid.

One person who called in said 42 wasn’t enough and people should be detained “until they can prove they are not guilty.” Oh sweet Thor. Another said “there is no smoke without fire.” Lots of it was about putting the needs of the many over the needs of the few. Yes, I did just want to cry but I was driving at the time.

It seems we are reaping the rewards of a generation of bad teaching, dishonest politicians, media dominance and uncontrolled spin. People are no longer equipped to see when they are being led down the garden path and a total lack of civic understanding means that when they do suspect it, they no longer care.

If I could find a suitable country, I’d emigrate.

I blame teh skoolz

On the Radio 1 news today there was a snippet (I am not going to look it up but it will be on the BBC website) about some truly stupid youngsters. Apparently, Police in Scotland have become the first in the UK to target people who admit to crimes on social networking sites such as Bebo and Facebook. (*)

Now, for me, I think this is a good idea. If people (mostly “yoofs” according to the news) are stupid enough to commit a crime and then boast about it online they need to be taken out of the gene pool urgently. One of the young lads interviewed had apparently put up pictures of himself in a balaclava carrying a knife. Why he went to these lengths to remain anonymous, then outed himself online is beyond me.

The most frustrating part, and a good example of how taking away the “classical” education has failed children was a young retard complaining about the police scouring social networking sites to find offenders. He actually had the gall to say it was an invasion of his privacy for the police to look over his Bebo page to find out what crimes he has committed. Flabbergasting.

For me, it weakens the real destruction of our privacy when people think things like this are an invasion of privacy. It is like putting a full page advert in a newspaper and then complaining that people reading it are invading your privacy. Idiocy reigns.

* Oddly I cant find this on the real BBC news so I may have dreamed it – but I hope not as I was driving at the time…

A wise rabbi

Rabbi Jonathon Romain wrote a piece in the Guardian against faith schools. This is an unusual view for a minister of a major religion to present. So, a big cheer from this blog.

His argument refers to the danger of isolating children from others of different backgrounds, which he sees as socially divisive:

There is a real danger that the growth in faith schools today will be blamed in 30 years’ time for the social disharmony then. It is not too late to reverse that trend, if we want a society that has diversity within unity, not at the expense of it.”

Preach the Controversy…

The nonsense, and false controversy, created by Expelled just seems to never want to go away. In this respect the Discovery Institute really hit on to a winner with what could best be described as a poor first attempt by an art student film. Atheist and science blogs have been discussing the nonsense for what seems like eternity. I cant imagine how anyone could even begin to pay for this amount of publicity but there you go. Sadly, I actually feel that all this furore around the crap film is actually required.

Gorilla's EyesOnce upon a time I was optimistic about the human race. In this mindset I would have thought to myself “everyone seeing this film will realise it is total bullshit and ignore it.” I have, sadly, learned to think differently. When nonsense is placed into the public domain it can be either challenged or ignored. By challenging it the nonsense rises to the status of “controversy” and there is (in the public mind at least) the concept of a debate taking place. By ignoring it, the unthinking public begin to think it has merit and it slowly becomes an accepted “truth.” It really is a lose:lose situation for rational science. I can not think of a way to avoid the nonsense taking over the Earth, but at least, where I can, I will try to challenge it.

With this in mind, I came across a gorgeous picture of an American church on flickr. This is a very attractive picture so please, take a moment to visit and have a look – if you have a flickr account, please let the photographer know what you think of the picture (and he has a pretty good photostream).

It all went downhill, however, when I read the description of the picture.

Freedom of thought and expression are two of the most basic tenants of any free society.
Without those two things, you do not have a free society.

Well, I pretty much agree. They may well not be the most basic tenets of society but freedom of expression is very important. On a pedantic note, I cant see how (realistically) you can take away someone’s freedom of thought until mind-reading becomes commonplace.

We went to a must see movie this weekend. In Ben Stein’s (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”) new documentary movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed Ben shows how little academic freedom exists in our universities if you want to discuss unpopular topics like the origins of life. (links removed here but intact on the original)

Ouch. And he had got off to such a good start. Notice how this brings in the Creationist stand-by of creating the false associations with “academic freedom” and “unpopular topics”? Creationism / ID relies on trickery to convince the unthinking that it is a legitimate “alternative” and some secret cabal are trying to repress it. The “freedom” word is thrown around whenever someone tries to point out is not science to the extent that the average non-scientist actually thinks it is an oppressed viewpoint. Amazing really.

Much of the academic world thinks that the conversation should be closed because Darwinian Evolution has answered all of those questions… But, is that true????

Another creationist gem. This is a great question because it is massively false. No scientist, especially evolutionary biologists, think the conversation should be closed. That is the claim made by the creationists. However, this 180 degree spin goes a long way to masking that.

If you do not think that is true as a professor, get ready to loose you job. Yes, that politically incorrect thought has been banned in the university… I thought the university was a place of open discussion and thought???? Think again…

And here is the first falsehood. No professor who thinks the question about origins of species is not closed would lose their job. A professor who is so confused about their subject area as to think Creationism is an “alternative” to evolution should lose their job in the same manner that a physics professor who thinks the luminiferous ether exists, and propagates light, should lose their job. Imagine a woodwork teacher who thought you could cut would with butter, should he remain teaching? No. But not because “politically incorrect thought has been banned.”

Further on, as part of a short debate, the photographer comments:

You are exactly what the movie was talking about… you just to creationism the moment that intelligent design is brought up…
and you assume that all tenants of darwinian evolution are true..
and you think they are well defined….
Darwinian evolition is a mess… It is not science in the least…

More weirdness. Creationism is ID. No one assumes all the tenets of “Darwinian Evolution” are true, no one even assumes all the “tenets” of Evolution are true. That is not what science is about. The odd bit is the claim that Evolution is not science… I really struggle to get my head round the idea that people can honestly think Creationism Intelligent Design is “good science” compared to evolution. Where is the falsifiability? Where are the predictions?

After a while others join in the debate with things like this (from an otherwise reasonable person):

All that said, Wayne I completely agree that the way the discussion is silenced in academia is shameful. When scientist trot out the “earth is flat” idea they forget that at one time “scientiist” accepted that idea too. In other words, the commonly accepted “facts” might be wrong.

Argh. Do people honestly think that the academic world should engage in constant debate over all possible alternatives to a scientific theory? When did scientists EVER think the world was flat?

The last point I want to make before I remind everyone to go and look at the picture themselves is based on this:

We know from the second law of thermodynamics (entropy) stuff always breaks down and degrades…. macro evoution requires more information to be added to produce more complex things…. second law of thermodynamics directly contratics that…. btw.. this is a law… meaning it always happen… not a theory like evolution…

Ouch. That good old standby the 2nd law. Obviously the Earth lives in isolation from the rest of the universe and no information (energy) can be added. Damn that Sun…

The best bit is the Law / Theory nonsense. Do people really not understand how the words work? Obviously not, because when challenged on the matter, our creationist photographer responded:

With all due respect, you are wrong about scientific law and theory.
You can read here and a million other places…

Argh. Such madness, especially as the link doesn’t really support his claim but I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to try an educate him.

Please, take a moment to visit the Flickr photo page. It is a nice picture and the more sensible, reasonable and educational comments he get, the greater the chance he (or others) will learn something. If the nonsense is ignored, then the nonsense prospers.

Tricky Stats

One of the letters in this weeks New Scientist reports the reassuring facts that, despite the antics of various school boards and the attempts of numerous kook religion sites, Creationism is in decline. This is good news, and personally I would like nothing more than to think it was true – in fact if you base your analysis on my personal experience, then hardly anyone believes the creationist nonsense.

Sadly, I am not (yet) fully convinced that this is the true description of the world.

Now, the letter in NS helpfully produces some figures to support its claim. This is nearly always a good thing but this time it seems to be a touch confusing. Look at this:

Since the 1980s in the US the fundamentalist opinion that Adam and Eve were created a few thousand years before the pyramids has held fairly steady at between 43 and 47 per cent, with the lowest value occurring in 2007.

OK, it seems reasonable to take from that sentence the idea that creationism fluctuates around 45%, give or take 2%. While it is reassuring to see creationism is at its lowest last year, that is not really a decline.

Interestingly the numbers are compared with:

The number believing in human evolution under the guidance of God has stayed between 35 and 40 per cent.

The number agreeing with the scientific consensus that evolution occurred without a god has risen from 9 or 11 per cent at the end of the 20th century to a high of 14 per cent in 2007.

Sadly, this is less reassuring. I am not sure how three effectively stable sets of numbers can be used to show creationism is in decline. Equally, (admittedly ignoring the variation with the start figure of proper evolution) the numbers all show basically the same variation. Going from 11% to 14% is not a significant change when 47% – 43% is described as “fairly steady.”

As far as I can see, from the three sets of figures here, the numbers are all basically “steady.” All have about a 5% spread which seems to fluctuate. This is, in itself, not a downward trend for creationism.

Can anyone else show more positive figures?

Equally lacking in comfort to the rational is the information that, in the worlds only superpower, a nation with the ability to destroy every living person:

Remarkably, the number taking the Bible literally has steadily sunk from about 40 per cent in the 1970s – nearly matching those who then favoured the Genesis story – to between a third and a quarter.

So, at best, 25% of people still take the Bible literally. Wow. Scary wow.