April 1990 +quot;BASIS+quot;, newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics Bay Area Skeptics Inform
April 1990 "BASIS", newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics
Bay Area Skeptics Information Sheet
Vol. 9, No. 4
Editor: Kent Harker
SKEPTICS STING CREATIONISTS
by Ian Plimer
This article (edited for space) first appeared in Vol. 9, #3 issue
of "The Skeptic", publication of the Australian Skeptics. Dr.
Plimer is head of the department of geology at the University of
Newcastle. He is a self-confessed creationist basher.
On 6-23-88 I sent -- unsolicited and anonymously -- a rock specimen
composed of a fibrous clay mineral which looked like paper to the
Creation Science Foundation.
Without examining, testing, or soliciting mineralogical opinion,
Andrew Snelling (director of CSF) published an article about the
specimen in the October 1988 issue of "Creation Science Prayer
News" under the title "Paper in Rock." The article announced: "This
wouldn't matter much, except the rock is supposed to be more than
200 million years old. Consequently the evolutionary geologists
can't allow it to be paper because man supposedly wasn't around
then. They conveniently ignore it as an oddity."
The credibility of the Australian creationist movement was also
exposed and the results are described below.
=> July 23, 1988: A safe, anonymous source sends a specimen of
"paper in rock" to CSF.
=> October 1988: Andrew Snelling (Ph.D. in geology from the
University of Sydney) publishes the results of his "discovery" in
CSF's own broadsheet in a section titled "Getting It Right."
=> April 19, 1989: Snelling presents his [usual] creation-science
case at a creation-science conference. Plimer arranges for Patrick
Lyons, a Western Mining Co. geologist, to challenge Snelling at
question time about the paper in the rock. A vigorous exchange
results. Plimer had anticipated this exchange and arranges for
Lyons to present yet another sting on the same specimen: Lyons
tells Snelling that the rock is the mineral palygorskite [a
=> May 1989: "Creation Science Prayer News" publishes an article
under the heading "Research News." In it, there is no admission of
or apology and retraction for a gross, careless mistake. Instead
they say: "Because the sample contained what definitely looked like
thick paper or cardboard, there was always the temptation to rush
into print and sensationalise the discovery. However, information
now to hand suggests that it is highly likely the `paper' [is] the
mineral palygorskite. . . ."
The specimen . . . contains neither paper nor the clay mineral
palygorskite. It consists of attapulgite, a clay mineral very
similar to palygorskite. Attapulgite is used as cat litter. It
would be tempting to write that the creationists are up to their
necks in it.
Simple hand examination can easily demonstrate that the specimen is
not a "paper rock," but an attapulgite-palygorskite group mineral.
The technique for differentiating the two is a simple, inexpensive
($20), well-known technique: X-ray diffraction. Dr. Snelling has
presumably learned and used these procedures in his training at the
University of Sydney.
It is clear that at no time was any real research carried out on
the rock sample. A simple test would have revealed that [it] was
not paper. A slightly more complex test would have shown it was not
If we consider that the discovery of paper in a rock sample 200 MY
old would have provided astounding evidence for the fundamentalist
hypothesis of a young Earth, it is incredible that no research was
conducted. Failure to do this research support[s the] contention
that CSF is not interested in science, research, or facts. It is
merely concerned with the publication of anything that fits a
preconceived dogmatic position.
CSF has been stung twice by the same sample. It has proved that it
is unable to distinguish between cat litter and paper, which might
suggest to the more perceptive of its supporters an alternative use
for CSF's many publications.
Of itself, it is unimportant that CSF is so ignorant of scientific
procedures that it can be fooled so easily (scientific illiteracy
is not a crime -- it is just a shame). It isn't even of much
importance that CSF should choose to promulgate specious facts to
its subscribers, who always have the option of not renewing their
What is of concern to the rest of us is that CSF should publicly
proclaim itself to be a body involved in scientific research and
that it should seek, using political tactics, to have its peculiar
brand of pseudoscience included in the science curricula of [our]
(Note: Australia has no equivalent Establishment Clause in their
constitution, so the legal issues are very different from those in
the U.S. -- Ed.)
by Robert Sheaffer
The following was broadcast on ABC-TV's popular show "Entertainment
Tonight," 6 February, reaching an audience of millions:
The E.T. Insider begins today with the news that did NOT
happen, the predictions of those tabloid sages who can
see the future. According to a San Francisco publication
called the "Bay Area Skeptics Information Sheet",
psychics made the following predictions for 1989 which
did not come to pass:
Eddie Murphy did not get married. Prince Charles did not
have a nervous breakdown. Ted Kennedy didn't marry Donna
Rice. And, a UFO did not crash in Kansas.
Newspaper coverage for the "BASIS" article was picked up by the
"Oakland Tribune" of 5 February in which it ran a line "Unhappy
Mediums: Here's one prediction that came true in 1989: Bay Area
Skeptics said the nation's psychics would make fools of themselves,
and they did."
ESP AND dQ OVER T
by Harold Morowitz
ESP, "extrasensory perception," has become the most widely known
term from the general field of psychical phenomena. Of all the
borderline effects, ESP comes closest to scientific respectability
by being perceived as similar to the paradigms of normal science.
However, confusion exists because ESP has two quite different
One school of thought believes that information may be transmitted
from one individual or object to another individual or object by
means of physical signals that we have not as yet discovered. These
carriers may be electromagnetic waves in some little-studied
spectral range, or gravity waves, or some other type of
ill-characterized energy transmission. Such a postulate has the
virtue of being within the framework of contemporary physics. Other
advocates of ESP believe that transmission involves methods that
are totally outside the range of measurement of physical devices
and are not energy dependent in the thermodynamic sense.
The first concept of ESP does not fit the ordinary meaning of the
words, for if a physical signal is sent from a source with a
sending device to an individual with a receiver, there is nothing
extrasensory about the process. It is de facto sensory; we have
only failed so far to locate and characterize the sense organ. Such
phenomena may be very interesting, but nothing revolutionary is
being explored that is likely to change our philosophical concepts
or science. I would suggest that we use the term USC, "unidentified
sensory communication," to describe such phenomena. This may cause
some confusion with the University of Southern California, but
usage doubtless will make clear which USC is intended.
The second type of ESP, or true extra sensory perception, is an
entirely different kind of idea. If it is proved to exist, it will
seriously alter our ideas about physics and biology. This kind of
ESP would, as we will show, violate the Second Law of
thermodynamics and force a basic reformulation of most of science.
To examine this discrepancy between psychic phenomena and normative
science, we go back to the mid-1800s. The Second Law of
thermodynamics states that spontaneous processes always tend toward
maximum disorder. The measure of this submicroscopic chaos is
called "entropy", and changes in this quantity are computed from
the changes in the heat, dQ, divided by temperature, T.
Shortly after the original findings about entropy increase, James
Maxwell posed the following paradox. He imagined two boxes of the
same gas of equal volumes and equal pressure with a wall between
them. In the wall he assumed a tiny trap door operated by a
minuscule creature. When the being saw a molecule approaching the
door from the right and no molecules approached from the left, it
opened the door; otherwise the door was closed. As this process was
repeated, an excess of molecules was built up in the left-hand
chamber and a deficit developed in the right.
Carrying this out from sufficient time would result in all of the
molecules on the left and none on the right. The hypothetical
creature became known to science as Maxwell's demon. His
devilishness consisted of defying the Second Law of thermodynamics
by spontaneously changing the state of the gas from the disordered
uniform distribution to the more ordered state showing a
The annoying demon hung around in physics for a long time, until he
was exorcised by using the powerful methods of information theory
that had just been developed by C. E. Shannon. In order to know
when to open the door, the demon would have to make observations,
that is take measurements on its environment. The demon would
require photons or some other physical signal to see the molecules.
Such signals require the expenditure of energy. This power
expenditure leads to at least as much molecular disordering in the
measurement as can be gained by opening and closing the door at the
The crux of this scientific argument is that you cannot get
something for nothing, EVEN INFORMATION. Energy must be expended in
learning about the state of the system. This reasoning, which was
put in more detailed mathematics by information theorists, resolved
the problem that Maxwell had set over half a century.
Now assume the possibility of extrasensory perception. In the
problem set by Maxwell it would correspond to a demon who would
know the state of approaching molecules without any accessory
disordering reactions. This would of course violate that revered
Second Law. And as everybody who remembers that PV = nRT will be
quick to see, a difference in the number of molecules in the two
boxes is equivalent to a difference in pressure. Such a pressure
differential allows a force to be exerted on a piston and permits
mechanical work to be done.
After one round of such work the demon could once again engineer a
pressure difference and power could be generated. Thus if true ESP
exists, we can design a device to continuously convert the heat of
matter into work. Among other benefits to mankind the energy crisis
would immediately be solved.
By this time you are probably looking at your leg to see if some
demon author is pulling it. Not so! In plain old-fashioned physics
extrasensory perception, if it exist, could counter the laws of
thermodynamics and usher in a golden age of energy. The Maxwell
demon is not an essential part of the argument. Any knowledge of
the state of a system obtained without taking a physical
measurement lowers the entropy and opens up the previous
possibilities. All right, supporters of ESP, the ball is in your
While musing over these matters, I chanced upon an article
reporting on a number of secret CIA memos from the 1950s that had
just been released under the Freedom of Information Act. One such
document revealed the secret agency had considered using ESP to spy
on unfriendly powers. This suggests limitless possibilities, a
"mind tap" without a court order and countless other invasions of
privacy. In any case, this memo demonstrates how far psychic
thinking has crept into the establishment mentality.
Come, come, gentlemen, I thought, are we to be a nation of "Second
Law and disorder," or are we going to flirt ideologies, alien even
to the laws of physics? With ESP and the laws of thermodynamics, we
can only have it one way or the other. There is no happy medium.
(From "Mayonnaise and the Origin of Life," Bantam, courtesy J.
OH MY, OMARR
Who is the best-know astrologer in the United States? Sydney Omarr,
whose daily horoscope is syndicated nationally in more newspapers
than any other column save Ann's and sister Abigail's.
This most popular of all astrologers polished his crystal ball,
looked up the charts of the opposing Super Bowl contenders and made
a nice pile of horse puckey so soft and full of innocuous gas that
any way you smelled it was posies: "[Joe Montana] is on a high
cycle." "An upset is not outside the realm of possibility." Etc. .
However, there was one little ragweed in the pile. The entire
feature article ("San Jose Mercury", January 19, 1989), after a
numbing, mumbling, bumbling mish-mash, said only one single thing,
the second half of which could rightly be classed as a prediction:
"If San Francisco wins, IT WON'T BEAT THE POINT SPREAD" (emphasis
Oh Sid, we do so hope that all your astrology junkies who ran to
their bookies to cash in on the best advice the aspects have to
offer called you after the game. They should ask you to open your
coffers -- filled from the purchase of your books and horoscopes --
to reimburse them for the bum counsel you gave.
If you don't think you owe them anything for accepting your
stinkers, you might act more responsibly by adding a P. T. Barnum
caveat in 36-point bold print at the front of your soothsaying. Or
you might refer your worshipers to the "Mercury" comics page next
to "Robotman," where your daily horoscope appears.
Omarr is probably safe. The faithful are very long on patience and
very short on memory.
by Dan Dugan
I don't usually read the garden column in the paper, but the
headline caught my eye: "10 false beliefs damaging image of true
herbalism." Marie Hammock, writing in the "S. F. Examiner" of
August 6, 1989, reviewed a talk given by Verro Tyler of Purdue U.
to the Herb Growers and Marketers Association in late July.
Tyler really worked over the belief system of what he calls
"paraherbalism," the unscientific use of herbs. He named ten false
beliefs: 1) A conspiracy by the medical establishment discourages
the use of herbs; 2) Herbs cannot harm, only cure; 3) Whole herbs
are more effective than their isolated active constituents; 4)
Natural and organic herbs are superior to synthetic drugs; 5) The
doctrine of signatures is meaningful (significance of form and
shape); 6) Astrological influences are significant; 7) Reducing the
dose of a medicine increases therapeutic potency (homeopathy); 8)
Physiological tests in animals are not applicable to human beings;
9) Anecdotal evidence of therapeutic value is highly significant;
10) Herbs were created by God specifically to cure disease.
He concluded that "More misinformation regarding the safety and
efficacy of herbs is currently being placed before the public than
at any previous time, including the turn-of-the century heyday of
patent medicines." Tyler says that true herbalism is "the wise use
of safe and effective herbs by an interested and informed public,
the scientific study and testing of herbs and the honest reporting
of such results in the literature the public reads. It also
includes the production and ethical marketing of herbs."
It seems to me that when you take away the ten false beliefs you
don't have much left to call "true herbalism." In any case, kudos
to Marie Hammock and the "Examiner" for good reporting.
SCIENCE WON MEDIUM
Dr. Kevin Padian, a professor of biological evolution at UC
Berkeley, addressed the January meeting of BAS. His topic was the
California Science Framework, a document on which a committee of
the State Department of Education (DOE) has been working for over
a year. The committee had 16 people, only three of whom were
professional scientists. Dr. Padian was the director.
The Framework document, available from the Department of Education,
Box 944272, Sacramento 94244, is 187 pages in its final draft. It
has no legal force: its purpose is to give direction to textbook
publishers for what the DOE wants the public schools (K-9) to have
in the classroom. There is no DOE textbook adoption policy in
grades 10-12, but the influence from the lower grades cannot be
California is the leader in textbook adoption because of sheer
numbers. That, coupled with the practical economics of the system,
are such that only three or four different text books are printed
for each subject, so most of the rest of the western states will
get what California chooses. The stakes are very high.
It seems a little silly to have to say that the Science Framework
is to provide a framework for science education. Unfortunately,
fundamentalist Christians raised such a stink about the whole
process that much of the public perception has been that the
Framework is a document only about biology. Because of the
Christian right-wing interference, most of the outside debate
turned about the creation/evolution question.
Padian shocked us with the revelation that the thirteen
non-scientists on the committee reacted mostly to pressure. Sheer
volume. Letters from highly qualified specialists did not match the
quantity of the creationist's barrage, so it is perhaps remarkable
that the final document has any integrity at all.
The hard reality is that the militant fundamentalist right
politicized the whole process. The forging of a framework for the
California science curriculum should be based upon the best
prevailing evidence, presented in the classroom in the most
pedagogically sound fashion. The flood of fundamentalist lobbying
disrupted the normal process and cast a political pall over the
entire proceedings, resulting in revisions to placate creationist
There were some at the BAS meeting who thought Padian's committee
had sold out to the creationists. Skeptics suggested that, contrary
to what Kevin said -- "science won big" -- science may have won the
battle but it lost the war. Some in BAS thought that any
concession, however minute, amounted to capitulation. These
skeptics pointed out that since the creationist position is
absolute they cannot accept compromise, so what is the percentage
in offering it? The creationists would go to court and challenge
everything that contradicted their faith anyway.
Dr. Padian's energetic efforts since the committee closed the
document have been directed at changing the perception presented by
the press. Newspapers nationwide have focused on the changes made
in later revisions without saying anything about what remained in
the work. The sentence, "Evolution is a fact." was taken out, and
that brought a deluge of print about how evolution was removed from
the Framework, which is a gross distortion. The Fourth Estate
seemed to convey the idea that science lost big. Padian wants us to
see that science won big -- that the concessions to creationists
were not substantive.
Since, like it or not, the process became political, political
reality is one of compromise. The real question is if the general
thrust of the document was compromised. "Evolution" is used over
200 times in the final draft. It says that evolution is a fact as
well as a theory, and that evolution MUST be taught as an
integrative principle -- evolution cannot be avoided in the
teaching of science. Padian argued that the general thrust had not
There may even be some hidden benefit to the public perception that
evolution is played down or out of the Framework. It might serve to
mute some of the harangue against modern science education
according to the guidelines of the Framework.
NEW VS. OLD
The old Framework lacked detail. It didn't integrate the whole of
science with general themes, and even conveyed some
misunderstanding if not downright error. It emphasized fact over
theory, even suggesting that science lacks doubt about major
This new Framework emphasizes theory over fact. Theories are
robust, alive, interesting and educational. Theory is more
important than fact; the new Framework seeks to displace
memorization of facts with teaching investigation and formation of
theories. It tries to make what we know, AND HOW WE KNOW IT, the
goal of science education.
The new Framework seeks to work within the entire science
curriculum to show how theories interact and influence
interdisciplinary thinking. Good theories give themes that knit
knowledge together. The new Framework distills six themes that must
be presented in texts:
=> Scale and structure
=> Systems and interactions
=> Patterns of change
Someone raised the question of individual belief. Should the
classroom have as its goal the direction and formation of belief?
Kevin pronounced a very important point: "Education does not compel
belief -- only understanding. We don't CARE what a student
believes," he said.
Education can only have as its function to help the student
understand nature by the best available evidence. What or how the
student incorporates that understanding into his or her personal
life is of no concern or even interest to science education.
Padian took occasion to dispense with a couple of very common
misconceptions about his specialty, evolutionary biology. The first
is that evolution is goal-seeking, or progressive. Evolution in a
particular direction does not imply that there is "progress" in
that direction. The only thing that "works" from an evolutionary
point is survival.
In this sense it might be argued that insects have "progressed" the
most because they are easily the most durable form of animal life
on the planet. Modern science has failed, with all its
technological wizardry, to eradicate a single species. (Some
heretics have even suggested that man's only function is to provide
a meal ticket for bugs: they eat us and our food.)
The second one is the even more common notion that mutations are
mostly harmful. Many have suggested that more than 99.99% are
harmful. The reality is that mutations are almost all neutral,
producing no observable change whatever. For the few mutations that
do have some effect, what they might produce is a function of the
environment: the same mutation might be deleterious in one
circumstance and beneficial in another. The "value" of a mutation
is therefore subjective, undetermined of itself.
Science won at least medium.
CREATIONISTS ISSUE A PHONY SCHOOLBOOK
by William Bennetta
The Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) a fundamentalist group
in Richardson, Texas, has produced a religious book that is being
promoted to biology teachers as "a supplemental high school text."
Called "Of Pandas and People", the book is simply a reworking of
some doctrines of "creation-science" -- the pseudoscience by which
fundamentalists purport to show that the Holy Bible is an
infallible account of history, that the universe was created
supernaturally (and essentially in its present form), and that
humans do not share any ancestry or evolutionary history with other
The teaching of "creation-science" in public schools was precluded
in June 1987, when the Supreme Court decided "Edwards v.
Aguillard". At issue was a law that authorized "creation-science"
instruction in the schools of Louisiana. The Court -- affirming an
appeals-court judgment that had found "creation-science" to be a
body of anti-scientific religious beliefs -- characterized
"creation-science" as "a religious viewpoint that rejects evolution
in its entirety." Teaching it in public schools would violate the
establishment clause of the First Amendment, which forbids any law
that would establish an official religion.
In "Pandas" we see a new restatement of that "religious viewpoint."
All the material that the book presents has appeared in earlier
screeds issued by creationists, but the FTE's writers have
subjected that material to a purging. It no longer refers to
biblical passages or miracles. It disguises the biblical God as a
nameless "intelligent agent" whose only evident function is to make
organisms in a non-evolutionary way. And it is not called
It is the same old stuff, however, and quite recognizable to anyone
familiar with the writings of "creation-scientists": false
statements, doubletalk, misleading analogies and straw men, gilded
here and there with distorted quotations from legitimate scientific
literature. Here are two examples:
In denying that organic evolution has happened, the writers face
this problem: Their assertion is demonstrably false. Cases exist in
which speciation -- the evolution of a new species -- has been
directly observed, and many science teachers know this. (See
Catherine A. Callaghan's "Instances of Observed Speciation" in
"American Biology Teacher" for January 1987.)
The writers try to skirt this truth by saying, on page 19, that
speciation is not evolution: "Evolution requires the expansion of
the gene pool, the addition of new genetic information, whereas
speciation represents the loss of genetic information." That is not
even wrong. It is absurd. It has no basis or meaning in science,
and it evidently is aimed at people who think that anyone who says
obscure things must be wise.
Now look at chapter 6, which purports to refute the view that
biochemical similarities among organisms bespeak evolutionary
relationships. As the writers acknowledge, the chapter draws from
a dramatically titled book that first was published in 1985:
"Evolution: A Theory in Crisis", by Michael Denton. It was not a
scientific work but a mystical, mass-market book that included much
of "creation-science," and it soon became a favorite among
fundamentalist preachers and their followers.
Soon, too, it was discredited by scientists, because Denton had not
bothered to learn anything about evolutionary biology before he
started to write. He was preoccupied with notions that science had
abandoned long ago, such as the idea that organisms should
represent a linear progression or "ladder" of forms, and his book
was ludicrous. (For a succinct analysis, by Michael Ruse, see "New
Scientist" for 13 June 1985.)
Despite all that, "Pandas" reverently recycles Denton's stuff,
including the mistake that he made as he tried to guess what
biologists infer from biochemical evidence: He guessed that they
think that today's mammals, today's birds and other modern
organisms have evolved from still another MODERN species. Then he
did some meaningless exercises with the protein cytochrome c.
Cytochrome c is a showpiece in the study of evolution, for it
occurs -- with variations in the sequence of its amino acids -- in
a wide range of organisms. By charting the variations, biologists
chart evolutionary relationships. Denton tried it too, using data
from Dayhoff's "Atlas of Protein Sequence and Structure", but he
got it all wrong. He confused, for example, a modern bacterium with
its ancestor that lived 2 billion years ago, and he made the -
"astonishing" finding that there was no "intermediate" between the
modern bacterium and a modern horse or pigeon. The bacterium was
not the horse's or pigeon's ancestor!
The writers of "Pandas" borrow Denton's inane technique and use it
to erect and kill a series of straw men. For example: They cite
data about the cytochromes of a modern pig, a modern duck and each
of several other modern organisms, and then they announce, on page
"[T]he cytochrome c of wheat (Figure 6-11) is equally separated and
distinct from the cytochromes of other eukaryotes, whether a pig,
a duck, a turtle, a bullfrog, a carp, a silkworm moth, or a yeast.
None of the species is ancestral to any other."
Right. But no biologist thinks, in the first place, that any such
"ancestral" relationship exists. No biologist holds that a modern
carp is the ancestor of a modern duck or a modern yeast.
Similarly, and with fatal results for another straw man, the
"Pandas" writers compare the cytochrome c of a modern moth with the
cytochromes of a modern human, a modern penguin, a modern turtle,
a modern tuna and a modern lamprey. The only significant part of
their exercise is the way in which they describe it: They say that
it "compares the cytochrome c of a silkworm moth to the cytochrome
c of five vertebrates supposedly widely distributed up and down the
evolutionary ladder." Their notion that scientists credit an
"evolutionary ladder" -- a concept that science discarded some 200
years ago -- shows again how isolated these "creation-scientists"
are from science.
An advertisement for "Pandas" ran in the November 1989 issue of
"The Science Teacher", the monthly journal of the National Science
Teachers Association (NSTA). According to the advertisement, the
book had "been prepared with academic integrity," and had been
"Authored by mainstream, published science educators." Those claims
The opening pages of "Pandas" show two authors (Percival Davis and
Dean H. Kenyon), an "academic editor" (Charles B. Thaxton),
thirty-five "critical reviewers" and eight "editors and
contributors," but none of them is identified by any affiliation or
profession. They are just naked names. Let me provide some
PERCIVAL DAVIS, also known as P. William Davis, teaches biology at
Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida. I called him on
5 August 1987 (after I learned of the FTE's work on the book that
eventually would become "Pandas") to ask for a copy of his
curriculum vitae, and I then iterated my request in letters sent on
6 August and 3 September. He sent nothing. I wrote again on 30
November 1989 (when "Pandas" had been published and was being
advertised), noted that he was being billed as a "mainstream,
published science educator," and again asked for his "cv." Again,
he sent nothing.
DEAN H. KENYON is a tenured professor of biology at San Francisco
State University -- a position that he got before he got
fundamentalist religion. His conversion evidently took place in the
early 1970s. Since then, he has contributed almost nothing to the
formal scientific literature. He keeps his tenure and title,
however, and these equip him for a unique role in the creationists'
show: He belongs to a respectable department of biology, but he
publicly endorses various doctrines of "creation-science."
In 1981 he went to Little Rock to testify, in the federal court
there, for an Arkansas statute that would have authorized the
teaching of "creation-science" in that state's public schools; but
he then left town before he could be called as a witness. Later he
wrote an affidavit supporting the Louisiana statute that was
nullified by the Supreme Court in 1987.
I wrote to Kenyon in August 1987 to request his "cv", but he did
not reply. I wrote again in December 1989, and this time he
answered. But instead of sending his "cv", he asked me for mine. He
thus invoked a maneuver that is favored by his kind: When a
pseudoscientist is asked about his claims or credentials, he may
try to deflect attention from them by demanding the credentials of
the questioner -- even if the questioner is making no claims and
has nothing to support or defend.
That was the case here: *I* was not making any claim about being a
"mainstream, published science educator" or anything else; nor was
any publisher making any such claim on my behalf. I was sorry that
Kenyon had expected me to accept his trite gambit, and I did not
correspond further with him.
CHARLES B. THAXTON claims a doctorate in physical chemistry but
seems not to have done any scientific work since he left college.
He works at The Julian Center, a religious community (in Julian,
California) whose doctrinal statement says that biblical scriptures
"are the final authority when speaking on any matter: doctrinal,
historical, ethical, or scientific," and that there are "evil
spirits, called demons," that eventually will be put into a "lake
of fire" by God.
The Center's listing of faculty calls Thaxton an "outstanding
scientist" but does not mention any scientific work or interests.
When I wrote for Thaxton's "cv" in 1987, he sent two evasive
answers. When I tried again, on 30 November 1989, the reply came
from Thomas T. Anderson, a lawyer (in Indio, California) who has
been involved in various creationist causes. "Dr. Thaxton," said
Anderson, "has decided to follow my advice and not send you the
requested information. It would be appreciated if hence forth [sic]
any correspondence concerning this matter be sent to me."
Such are the "mainstream, published science educators" who have
concocted "Pandas". None of the three is listed in the "American
Men & Women of Science", but all appear on the FTE's letterhead as
members of the FTE's "Council of Academic and Educational
As for those "reviewers" listed in "Pandas": Some, as far as I can
tell, have not been conspicuously associated with "creation-
science" heretofore. Some others, such as Norman L. Geisler, surely
have been. Geisler is a creationist minister from the Dallas
Theological Seminary. He gained brief fame in 1981, when he was a
witness in the trial engendered by the Arkansas "creation-science"
statute -- the trial from which Dean H. Kenyon disappeared without
testifying. Under cross-examination, Geisler admitted that he not
only liked "creation-science" but also thought that unidentified
flying objects were "a satanic manifestation in the world for the
purpose of deception."
Three more of the "reviewers" listed in "Pandas" demand attention
here. They are J. David Price, John L. Wiester and Walter R. Hearn,
and they already have won prominence in the game that the FTE now
is playing: trying to put "creation-science" into public schools by
offering bogus publications to science teachers.
In 1986, under the aegis of the American Scientific Affiliation
(ASA) -- a religious organization with a misleading name -- Price,
Wiester and Hearn produced a handsome booklet of creationist
pseudoscience. And the ASA then mailed copies to tens of thousands
of high-school teachers.
The booklet, "Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy", sought
to convince teachers that scientific inferences about the history
of life on Earth were just flimsy fancies. The writing was
restrained, but the content was classic creationist quackery. (See
my article "A Question of Integrity," in the spring-1987 issue of
"California Science Teacher's Journal".)
Soon after I saw the advertisement for "Pandas" in the NSTA's
monthly, I spoke with the NSTA's assistant executive director,
Marily DeWall, and I summarized what I knew about the book's
content and history. She replied by saying that no more advertising
for "Pandas" would be taken by the NSTA's publications. This was a
right decision, consistent with the NSTA's concern for scientific
integrity. "Pandas" is bogus from cover to cover, and it has no
place in science classrooms.
by Yves Barbero
"Cosmic Catastrophes" by Clark R. Chapman and David Morrison, 302
pages, including a glossary and index (Plenum Press, $22.95).
Finally, a truly useful analysis concerning cataclysmic celestial
events for those of us who have little or no math and even less
formal scientific training. And imagine the pleasant surprise when
we have it in well-written English to boot.
For years I've been catching a newspaper article here and a longer
magazine piece there. Occasionally, they were excellent expositions
but more often than not, they were written by a bored reporter or
a scholar with an ax to grind or in a language only he and a dozen
or so peers could understand.
What was needed is finally provided by the Chapman/Morrison book.
"Cosmic Catastrophes" covers all the bases: impacts from space, the
death of the dinosaurs, the much-talked about nuclear winter, the
new science of chaos theory, the origin of the moon, colliding
worlds, comets, craters, climatology, the greenhouse effect, the
ozone depleation, supernovas (a particular delight was reading what
the 1987 supernova in the Southern Hemisphere meant insofar as
scientific theories were concerned) and the death of the Sun.
The book also provides an excellent thumb-nail history of the
uniformitarianism verses catastrophism debate. This is important in
the context of the scientific creationist's tactics. The
creationists use the early 20th-century view of uniformitarianism
in their debates, and modern uniformitarianism is a very differnt
concept. Few lay readers get an insight to this information except
those of us strange enough to regularly read Stephen Jay Gould in
"Natural History" magazine.
Yes, the authors do cover scientific creationist claims in some
detail, and our old friend, the late Immanuel Velikovsky, is
analyzed as an example of "catastrophism gone wild." The book even
covers other fringe catastrophism notions, including one very
popular at the time of Nazi Germany when academic (Jewish) science
was rejected. Fringe science is not always just merely silly. It's
The book is thorough, provides a useful glossary, is written for
the intelligent layman, seems biased for ecological concerns
(atmospheric warming is well covered), insists on the scientific
approach and even names names. It's an ideal book to give to a
bright kid or a discerning adult. I can find little to fault it
except that I would have liked it to have been longer.
BAS BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Chair: Larry Loebig
Vice Chair: Yves Barbero
Secretary: Rick Moen
Treasurer: Kent Harker
Kent Harker, editor; Sharon Crawford, assoc. editor;
Kate Talbot, distribution; Rick Moen, circulation
William J. Bennetta, Scientific Consultant
Dean Edell, M.D., ABC Medical Reporter
Donald Goldsmith, Ph.D., Astronomer and Attorney
Earl Hautala, Research Chemist
Alexander Jason, Investigative Consultant
Thomas H. Jukes, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
John E. McCosker, Ph.D., Director, Steinhart Aquarium
Diane Moser, Science writer
Richard J. Ofshe, Ph.D.,U. C. Berkeley
Bernard Oliver, Ph.D., NASA Ames Research Center
Kevin Padian, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
James Randi, Magician, Author, Lecturer
Francis Rigney, M.D., Pacific Presbyterian Med. Center
Wallace I. Sampson, M.D., Stanford University
Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D., Anthropologist
Robert Sheaffer, Technical Writer, UFO expert
Robert A. Steiner, CPA, Magician, Lecturer, Writer
Ray Spangenburg, Science writer
Jill C. Tarter, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
Opinions expressed in "BASIS" are those of the authors and do not
necessarily reflect those of BAS, its board or its advisors.
The above are selected articles from the April, 1990 issue of
"BASIS", the monthly publication of Bay Area Skeptics. You can
obtain a free sample copy by sending your name and address to BAY
AREA SKEPTICS, 4030 Moraga, San Francisco, CA 94122-3928 or by
leaving a message on "The Skeptic's Board" BBS (415-648-8944) or
on the 415-LA-TRUTH (voice) hotline.
Copyright (C) 1990 BAY AREA SKEPTICS. Reprints must credit "BASIS,
newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics, 4030 Moraga, San Francisco,
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank