Not paying enough attention

I only registered the existence of a new UK ID promotion centre after a comment here from Grumpy Bob led me to his blog. I must start paying attention. Just when you think that the ID nonsense is dead, it pops up again, Whack-a-mole style.

Here’s the Guardian version of the story.

This organisation – which claims to represent a non-zero number of scientists – is organising a UK tour featuring Michael Behe. (or “Prof Mike Behe, Professor of Chemistry at Lehigh University, USA,” as they chummily put it.)

There are huge numbers of comments on the Guardian piece, most of which make excellent points. Yet again.

On the Guardian blog page, you can’t miss the shot of the smiling avuncular Dr Alistair Noble, who has plenty of form in this area. You may however overlook this:

The small print of the website says the centre’s activity “is organised under a charitable trust governed by the laws of Guernsey, Channel Islands.
The centre receives funding from individuals and organisations who support its aims… “. (From the Guardian)

Channel Islands. Odd choice of a banking institution for a Scottish lay preacher. Must make it quite a trek to pay in the pennies contributed by enthusiastic individuals…

…Noble denies that the centre is a British branch of Discovery: “We are friends with Discovery and we talk to them, but we are not formally linked. We would be interested in developing links with Europe. We don’t get money from America – it is funded from Britain.” (From the Guardian)

Well, we wouldn’t know about that, would we? What with the trust being set up in the Channel Islands?

Protect your data

Compulsory ID cards are instruments of evil. They will not make protect you from crime and will not make you safer, unless they end up produced out of bomb proof kevlar and big enough to wear. They serve no purpose for any member of the public but will cost you money. The only conceivable reason why the government is so keen to force the British public into paying for them is to allow the intelligence and security agencies unparalleled access to personal data and activity.

This is actually the only bones to the “make you safer” argument, in that by allowing the Police / Security services access to your ID card data (which would, one assumes, include all the locations where your ID has been checked and what purposes it was checked for) it will increase their ability to find criminals and terrorists. If you have read any of my previous posts you will be well aware that I think this is very, very, wrong. But this is an argument for another day. Today’s ironic turn of events is that even if MI5 have all your data and are watching your every move it wont help – because al-Qaida are actually working for MI5 in the first place.

From today’s Guardian:

A senior Tory MP today called for an investigation into whether MI5 mistakenly recruited al-Qaida sympathisers.

Patrick Mercer, the chairman of the counter-terrorism subcommittee, said six Muslim recruits had been thrown out of the service because of serious concerns over their pasts.

The MP said he was writing to the home secretary, Alan Johnson, to call for an investigation into the matter.

Two of the six men allegedly attended al-Qaida training camps in Pakistan while the others had unexplained gaps of up to three months in their CVs.

The irony here is really not lost on me and points to two issues.

First off, and possibly most importantly, no matter how much vetting takes place BADPEOPLE™ will get into the police or government. This has been the case since the dawn of secrecy. By their very nature spies are people who are able to infiltrate the highest levels of an organisation by appearing trustworthy. Equally, as the police and intelligence/security services well know, agents are people who are currently trusted by an organisation but are vulnerable to being expolited by hostile groups. This is done all the time against “enemies” (criminal or political), and it is even done in the “civilian” business world. I am sure this is stating the obvious but it is important background.

Knowing this, do you think that having all your identity data in one central location is a good idea? For ID cards to work, huge swathes of people need to be able to access the database – which causes errors. The data has to be entered and maintained, which causes errors. These are accidental problems which would be bad enough. Criminals and terrorists have the funding and will to deliberately corrupt the data. The concept of an ID card moves the burden of proof from the government to the “innocent until proven otherwise” citizen. Do you have the resources and will power of an organised crime gang or terrorist group?

If a criminal can compromise one aspect of your ID data that is a BADTHING©™® but you can take steps to rectify it, knowing that it shouldn’t lead to a cascade of ID failures. Stealing your National Insurance number, for example, shouldn’t lead to them getting access to your bank account details or your drivers licence. Crucially, should a criminal use your NI Number – and nothing else –  in the process of a crime (odd but possible) then it is unlikely that you would be the suspect. However, with a central ID card that is not the case.

Now back to MI5 and the other police and security agencies. Given the number of people involved, and recent large scale recruitment campaigns, it is unfathomable that some bad eggs haven’t slipped through the net. In the case of MI5 the pay is so pitiful by London terms that it is equally certain that there are some members of the organisation who would be open to financial corruption – not to mention the ones who could be co-opted in a million different ways. Do you trust them with all your data? Do you trust them to treat you fairly at all times?

Secondly: what sort of crazy world is it where an “unexplained gaps of up to three months” in your CV means you are a terrorist? I hope they never see my CV otherwise its Gitmo for me. Or is it just 3+ month gaps in the CV of people of middle-eastern descent? What is happening?

I’d say the world had gone mad but it seems an understatement. What really worries me is an old saying that keeps going round my head about when everyone else in the world seems mad its probably you…

Failure to grasp the point

Truly, the world is a pendulum. A great post on Why Evolution is True about the vestigial grasp observed in human infants was countered by a silly post on Uncommon Descent.

WEIT discussed how the instinctive grasping reflex observed in newborn babies can best be interpreted as a relic of behaviour in pre-hominids (new-born babies hanging on to their mothers)

This is not a revolutionary new idea. I am amazed that it is even contentious. This was accepted wisdom in the UK several years ago.

O’Reilly’s counter starts from the position of apparently never having heard of the idea that “anecdote is not evidence”.

When my first child was very young, she had a habit of grasping my hair while feeding. My hair was long at that time.
It seemed to please and comfort her.

(Can I be the only person who sees it as a commentary on O’Reilly’s attitude to her offspring that – believing pleasure and comfort to be the only reason for the baby’s hair-grasping – O’Reilly immediately got her hair cut? )

However, grasping has many uses for a human infant – it is the principle [sic – a pedant] way the infant contacts reality (unfortunately by attempting to put things in its mouth), that being the only sense that is even moderately well developed.

This sentence is too ambiguous to follow. She seems to have meant to put the end of the sentence in the bracket, so I’ll ignore the bit about taste.

We are left with grasping being described as the main way in which an infant contacts reality. What? Does this make any sense?

In case you can’t answer that rhetorical question, let me answer it for you. “No.”

So what? Well, this Uncommon Descent post was O’Reilly’s “answer” to:

Incidentally, what do the ID and the Evolution-is-limited-in-scope (Behe, et all) do with data like this:

“Mouth random words” is what they do, apparently.

Oh, and betray that they implicitly acknowledge the role of evolution 🙂 :

However, I also suspect that it has been a long time since any such skill as hanging on to mother was needed.

A long time? As in “the sort of time scales and species changes that evolution would predict”?

UK Liberty coalition – not before time

The forthcoming Convention on Modern Liberty gathering on 28 February will be a …. call to arms, to all parties, to resist the government’s attack on our liberties, rights and privacy. “(from Henry Porter in the Guardian)

Supported by the Guardian, Rowntree Trust,Liberty and Open democracy, a host of people, including well-known lawyers, writers and MPs from all parties, will discuss the way that

the patterns we see in the Coroners and Justice Bill, ID card laws and the Communications Data Bill (which will allow the government to seize and store every text message, email, phone call and internet connection) tell us that our democracy is under serious threat.

Woohoo. At last. Almost brings a tear to my eye to see a disparate range of people coming together to challenge the encroaching authoritarianism of our country.

There are events throughout the UK. Details on modernlibertynet It isn’t cheap to attend these but you can access news on a blog, facebook, twitter, and so on.

Stupidity and lies for Jesus

Always willing to flog a dead horse, I’ve stumbled across more mind-bending nonsense on the crazy-fest that is Yahoo! Answers. As I mentioned previously, this (*) is a haven for the weird and wonderful ideas people can come up with. Sadly, in the best of Web 2.0 traditions, idiocy, bad education and lies rise to the surface while real education gets drowned under the stupidity of the commons. I honestly think that if a good answer ever turned up it would be drowned under the idiocy (and get so many thumbs down) it would quickly flee for its life.

The most recent idiocy to draw my attention is a month old question titled “Do fossils of now extinct creatures such as dinosaurs prove evolution?” (see original)

At first site this looks like a legitimate question. It is the sort of question you would expect inquisitive school children to ask. It gives the chance for a well thought out answer about the nature of fossils, what evolutionary theory is and how scientific proofs work. You can imagine it being the sort of question a teacher would set a class to see what research they carry out. Well, Toutatis forbid they type the question into a search engine. The results are shocking. To an otherwise ignorant person seeing to improve their education, this search would be disastrous. Anyway, back to the question.

After an innocent start (obviously to trick the unwary), the question continues:

The fact that dinosaurs once lived and are now extinct is no proof of evolution. Such fossils merely show us that certain species once living were destroyed and became extinct. Theorists have been able to reach no general agreement on the cause or causes of extinction. The theories on this subject are numerous and sometimes very imaginative. Since most fossils are found in sedimentary rocks and show signs of catastrophic burial, they seem to point to a global flood as the principal cause of extinction. They must have lived on earth at the same time, just as the Bible implies.

Oh dear Belenus! It is true that the fact dinosaurs lived once and not any more is not proof of evolution. After a promising start it crashes down into a pile of blithering idiocy. So far so uneducated. Next we get:

If the flood-geology interpretation of geological strata is correct, all or most dinosaurs became extinct at the time of the flood. Until that time, then, man and dinosaurs lived on the earth at the same time.

Its good that he uses an “if” to start there. I agree that if the flood geology interpretation were correct dinosaurs died at the flood. However it isn’t. It isn’t even close. Man and Dino did not live on Earth at the same time. It really is that easy.

So far this is just standard creationist idiocy. It is the sad product of poor education, poor understanding and religious doctrine combining. As always though, the monumental lack of evidence to support creationism causes problems and the TRUE BELIEVER© is forced to lie for Jesus. It happens all the time. In all types of debate. The stronger the persons faith, the more they seem willing to lie for their deity. I find the irony very entertaining. Here we have:

Is there any EVIDENCE outside of the Bible to support this view? Yes, there is. It is well known that along the Paluxy River in Texas many dinosaur footprints have been found in limestone strata classified as Cretaceous. Not so well known is the fact that for about fifty years human footprints have been reported in the same strata.

Taranis give me strength. Don’t you just love it when some one asks a question that they answer themselves? Yes. (all puns intended). The only evidence to support humans and dinosaurs co-existing is in the minds of creationists. It isn’t even in the Bible. It is pure fiction. The Flintstones is not real. Lying for Jesus is still lying. The crazy questioner finishes off with his bit of conspiracy theory for Jesus nonsense:

Source: Footprints in Stone(color-sound film)
But since the concept that man lived with dinosaurs is incompatible with the theory of evolution, many Scientists dismiss this documentary for the persuasive evidence unfolded.

Man living with Dino is not incompatible with evolution. The “documentary” evidence cites is not dismissed for that reason and it really is not persuasive…

The screaming stupidity that is Yahoo! Answers comes out in the “best answer” chosen by the “asker.” As is so often the case, the person chooses a best answer that restates whatever idiocy they agree with. This is no different:

I do agree with you to some extent. It is impossible for humans to prove the actual “age” of the extinct dinosaur remains. When scientists try to “determine” the age of the dinosaur remains by soil composition and “carbon dating” etc, I just shake my head. Anybody can make an assumption about life that way. It is also impossible for humans to determine exactly how old the history of mankind is as well. Remember, in the early days of creation, people lived much longer then we do now. Of course they did. Adam lived for 930 years, and his son Seth lived for 912 years. Before the flood, many people lived well into their hundreds. There was a wonderful balance of nature then. No pollution or anything “man-made” existed to destroy that balance. God knew what he was doing right from the very beginning. His creation and existence is perfection in itself – he is the superb mastercraftsman! I bow to his absolute genius…

It is mind-numbing in its stupidity. What on Earth is age doing in quotes? What is the idiot trying to say? Putting determine in sneer quotes – what is that all about? The whole answer manages to be so far from the truth it is almost beyond belief. It isn’t even internally consistent. Even in Biblical terms there were lots of man-made things before the flood – the Ark for example…

The wonders of the internet (and specifically web 2.0) push this stupidity to the top of a search engine query. The miracle of Web2.0 gives the asker the chance to give prominence to the madness that the person asking the question wants to be seen as the answer. Yes, if you scroll down you can find better answers but not everyone is going to do that and, crucially, when they have had their reasoning tainted by the initial two bits, they will be more sceptical of the truth than of the idiocy.

Web 2.0 is not about empowerment and it certainly is not about the shared wisdom of the masses. The tragedy of the commons seems so much more appropriate.

* I suspose this may be a specific problem to the Religion and Spirituality part of Yahoo Answers, but the other sections seem to be riddled with nutjob answers…

Teaching “the controversy”, again

Almost a third of teachers think creationism should be taught on a par with evolution, according to the Times.

Of the 1,200 questioned, 53 per cent thought that creationism should not be taught in science lessons, while 29 per cent thought it should.

OK, a third is some serious rounding up from 29%, but the 29% figure itself is quite scary. It suggests that 29% of teachers are either stupid or batshit crazy, which isn’t encouraging. After all, these people have made their way through years of school and higher education to get to become teachers.

It’s certainly evidence for how far ID /creationism has penetrated the UK.

Hoping to find that the poll was conducted by AIG in a few church schools, I am shocked to find that this comes from Teachers TV (to which the Times added an ill-advised pedantic apostrophe, not used by the station itself.)

As you might expect from the name, Teachers TV is mainly worthy but dull (Key stage x in subject blah) but it sometimes has some fascinating content. (I’ve accidentally caught programmes on neuroscience and Turkish tiled architecture, when randomly clicking through the cable channels.) They are currently featuring “Evolution week” on their site. So these poll results don’t seem to be skewed in favour of a creationist agenda.

Which makes the 29% depressingly possible. Worse 18% of a sample of 248 science teachers (albeit a small sample, skewed by respondent bias) thought evolution and creationism should have equal status

Teachers TV interviewed Dr Adam Rutherford (podcast editor for Nature)

Dr Rutherford says that science teachers with those views need retraining or should be taken out of the classroom if they refuse to change their opinion.

That seems as uncontroversial as saying that a domestic science teacher who can’t boil an egg should be retrained or sacked.

However, it brought up quite a furious response in some comments on the Teachers TV site (among the rational ones, that said that phrenology and astrology weren’t taught in science classes either.)

For example, edinburgh4 said that his/her creation group had PHD-qualified speakers and:

the idea that unintelligent design (naturalism) can be falsified while at the same time intelligent design cannot is logically untenability [sic] and morally dubious. If a design did not come from an unintelligent source there is only one conclusion left. Excluding special creation from discussion leaves evolution as the only option this is hollow victory. More and more the public are seeing it as such.

oeditor replied, disputing the “qualifications” of these speakers:

Professor McIntosh may talk about birds but he is an engineer, not a biologist. Nor is he a geologist, as can be seen from his claim that the Grand Canyon was formed by Noah’s flood – “probably in matter of hours”. He isn’t a historian or a linguist either, despite having produced a DVD claiming that the Chinese ideographic script provides evidence of the Tower of Babel.
What he is – and he proclaims this proudly – is a committed Christian who believes that the biblical account of creation in Genesis is to be taken literally and that it happened about 6000 years ago. Everything he and his fellow creationists claim stems from that one premise and nothing else.

Nullius in Verba said

The issue is not whether Creation should be taught in science lessons. The issue is how genuine scientific thought and debate should be encouraged. Stifling the debate as Adam Rutherford suggests is a recipe for tyranny and there is a great danger of insisting that atheism is the only paradigm in which to conduct science (patently not true when one considers the greats like Faraday and Boyle of earlier centuries).

It is even more disturbing that teachers don’t seem to have a basic grasp of logic than that they think it’s reasonable to teach creationism in science classes.

This “stifling the debate” is a common but deeply flawed creationist argument. There are a million to the power of a million possible theories about the nature of life.

Indeed you could produce alternative theories about anything. I could try to get a cup of coffee by standing on one leg, putting a cat on my head, facing magnetic north and chanting “Ding McChing.” It probably wouldn’t work but who knows if they haven’t tried it? If I was undergoing barista training for a chain of coffee bars, I wouldn’t expect them to allow that as an alternative to switching on the machines, grinding the beans and so on. Or if there was really relativist manager who’d let the trainee baristas discuss their own theories, wouldn’t they have to try out the sacrifice of a young goat with a silver knife, if someone else liked that idea? of course, you might have to wait a few millenia for a double espresso.

I can’t see the difference here at all. Some theories have been proven to work through experiment. Until there are theories that work better, it would be slack not to teach people the ones with the empirical backup.

I think Terry Pratchett has at least one (science?) degree. In his Diskworld books, a flat earth is carried on the backs of giant elephants standing on the back of a turtle. What if some of his readers don’t understand the concept of “fiction”? (Not unlike the average fundy) Surely this theory should be discussed in science classes? Respectfully, as a legitimate alternative to geography, in case any of the students’ parents believe it, of course.

Read more about this on the excellent Opinion of a Minion blog

And so it begins

The good old almost forgotten UK ID nonsense creeps inexorably closer. First they came for the foreign nationals… etc.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the cards would allow people to “easily and securely prove their identity”.
Critics say the roll-out to some immigrants is a “softening up” exercise for the introduction of identity cards for everyone.
The card will also include information on holders’ immigration status. (from the BBC)

There is something especially shameless about the way the government is playing the immigrant card to soften up the UK population. Grrrrrrr.