The story goes that King Canute humiliated his obsequious courtiers by commanding the tide to reverse itself. When the tide failed to turn at his command, he remarked how worthless worldly kingship is, and (depending on which source you read) gave some sort of tribute to God.

So, as any one should realize, there is a limit to how much can be accomplished just by putting a crown on the new guy's head. There are some things that human beings can't do, regardless of title, like instructing the tide to reverse itself. And politicians tend to do the things that are politically expedient in order to maintain power, regardless of ideology. Sometimes, you have to swim with the tide, or else drown. People who have an unrealistic investment in a leader's charisma are setting themselves up for disappointment and this may have been the intended lesson Canute intended all those years ago, and it is interesting to compare his biography with the recent moves of President-elect Obama.

Canute was a Viking. He wielded considerable power throughout Europe, and was often referred to as the 'Emperor of the North' for holding dominion over England, Denmark and Norway. He was also a skillful politician, marrying a Christian (Emma of Normandy, the widow of Ethelred) to seal his control of the English throne while also maintaining ties (in neopagan custom) to his handfast wife of neopagan custom. Following his marriage to Emma, Canute was very generous in his financial support to the churches of his day, further cementing his hold on power. It's amazing what a little money and some public acts of face-saving (in Canute's case, to the Normans) can do.

Well, this Obama feller is a pretty fair politician, too. His moves in picking Democrats who are hawkish on defense plays well with conservative policy wonks on foreign policy and military affairs; his elevation of Sen. Clinton into the (gulp) chain of presidential succession and (arguably), the second-most powerful position in the executive branch is an olive branch to the feminist wing of his party and the invitation to Pastor Warren an obvious nod to evangelicals. Again, if you were expecting a radical departure from the past, you might well glumly conclude with (with apologies to Pete Townsend) that Obama is 'same as the old boss':

But in what is to me one of his more telling moves, Obama has obviously completely broken with the Bush Administration's dysfunctional approach to science. His appointments to head the Energy Department (Steven Chu), NOAA (Jane Lubchenco) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (John Holdren) are causing the global-warming denialists and opponents of stem cell research to throw up their hands in dismay. They are being called 'radicals', 'extremists' and 'anti-energy' by those on the right. I wonder why?

Submitted for your consideration.....

Here's an interesting talk by Lubchenco from October 2007 that such folk might find objectionable....apparently, Lubchenco thinks that scientists should advocate for the science in public life, rather than some sort of politically-expedient outcome.

Here's an op-ed piece by Holdren from August 2008 that really takes climate change skeptics to task. No wonder some of them describe Holdren (a former president of the AAAS, one of the most prestigious science outfits on the planet) as 'Chicken Little' or a 'crackpot.'

Finally here's a speech by Chu (currently Director of the Lawrence Berkeley Labs) at the National Energy Summit from a few days ago as to his interests in global warming:

Apparently, Chu is interested in preserving (in his words) 'a beautiful planet.' No wonder some of the not-so-left in the blogosphere view him as 'psychiatrically impaired.'

I conclude that, like King Canute before him, Obama is substantively living in reality.

Rather than telling the tide to reverse itself, the President-elect seems to be committed to bringing people into his Administration who think we should rely on the test of nature (that is, scientific findings) in evaluating policy.

No Bush-style suppression or ignoring inconvenient facts as part of a 'war on science.'

No career political stooges being placed in positions where their scientific illiteracy threatens sound policy decisions.

No more ignoring the formal findings of the National Academy of Science, or filling the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology with scientific mediocrities willing to toe the line for James Imhofe (R-Okl).

The millenium isn't upon us, the problems are serious and sobering and no amount of magical handwaving is going to solve the problems. But, if I am any judge, then the tide HAS turned on that day when we have a President who says this, and (crossing my fingers) really believes it:

Today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation. It's time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and work to restore America's place as the world leader in science and technology....ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology.



I'm a theist who happens to also teach biology for a living, and I'm pretty enthusiastic about those parts of biology which deal with evolution. It's very cool science, and needs to be better known. Now it is true that the fact of evolution makes the old doctrine of special creation superfluous, and different believers deal with that in different ways.

Ian Barbour and other scholars in the field of science-religion studies have developed a taxonomy of these approaches: conflict, independence, dialogue and integration.

In general, partisans in the 'evo-creo wars' show a marked preference for 'conflict', and since disputes sell papers, you can often witness the curious spectacle of a local media figure or politician who is really out of his or her depth attempt to bring the smackdown against evolution. These folk will profess their neutrality for evolution as science upfront, or at least attempt to strike a neutral-sounding tone, but they eventually lose their way in a cul-de-sac of intent. These wanna-be pundits will seize upon some imagined correlation with evolution as evidence for the idea contributing to this or that social problem.

An event from last week's news, that I chronicled here, has evolved further. It seems that a Times columnist, one Linda Whitlock, finds the whole matter 'ironic'. She writes, in part:

Evolution is "a thing that I think about and I believe in it," The Times quotes Creasy as saying. It's clear from Creasy's actions that not only does he think about and believe in evolution, he's also internalized its implications.

Whatever power evolution may have to explain the diversity of life on Earth, it has no power to explain why we consider it wrong for Creasy to pass off another person's work as his own. Or, for that matter, how we arrived at the moral categories we call "right" and "wrong" in the first place.

This is the truth most true believers in evolution refuse to accept. Only a few, like Cornell biology professor William Provine, are willing to acknowledge what even teenagers like Brandon Creasy intuitively grasp.

You can read her entire column here.

There are, of course, a lot of things wrong with the above passage, not the least of which is that evolutionary theory does have quite a bit to say about the (possible) natural origins of human behavior, including ethics. Altruism is not an intractable problem for theory, and it is more than a bit annoying to see people so far behind the times that they don't know this: sociobiology is increasingly mainstream, with E.O. Wilson's seminal essay On Human Nature now thirty years old. But I digress.....

Another problem is the allusion to Provine's views without explaining exactly what they are. This may be a deliberate choice on Whitlock's part, which suggests that she might be an 'intelligent design' creationist who is following the playbook of the jurist Philip Johnson, who often sparred with Provine. Johnson appears to have had a friendly relationship with Provine and vastly preferred him to foes like Ken Miller, precisely because the Cornell biologist and historian of science couches his metaphysical take on Darwin in absolutist terms.

But the ugliest part is the filthy, damnable smear on evolution itself: according to Whitlock, it's responsible, dontcha know, for the worldview of cheats like student plagiarizer Brandon Creasy! Well, that's just more than I can take lying down: the fact is, it was evolution supporters who fought for integrity, not the newspaper, and certainly not the columnist in question. Surely you would think that guys like Blake Stacey would get some credit for documenting what happened for the good of the scientific enterprise? Surely some fact-checker, somewhere might want to acknowledge that people like me (evolution supporter and theist) left notification about Creasy's plagiarism on their web site, as shown here. Apparently Ms. Whitlock didn't get the 'fair and balanced' memo.

So, keeping in mind that I'm still irritated, here's my reply, a letter to the editors of the Roanoke Times. They already printed an editorial on Monday that I strongly agree with. Let's see if they print my response to Whitlock's piece:

Dear Editor:

As reported Dec. 12th, Gereau Center Principal suppressed a student paper on evolution on grounds that it was potentially 'insensitive' to the beliefs of others. Your editorial board took the Principal to task the same day, but the waters were muddied when it became clear that the student in question had plagiarized his paper from sources available on-line. As a science teacher who cares very much about academic integrity, I left a comment on the Times blog that very evening notifying the editorial board that the student's work was plagiarized.

Now, this discovery was not made by anyone in print media, much less your columnist Linda Whitlock ("The irony of evolution", Dec. 18th). Rather, it was bloggers in the scientific community, notably those associated with the popular site 'Pharyngula', which 'smelled a rat' when they read the student's paper on-line. Imagine my consternation with Whitlock's piece, which asks us to infer that the teaching of evolutionary biology encourages unethical behavior!

Really? Would it pain Whitlock to 'fact-check' the matter a bit further? The science bloggers who reported the plagiarism, like me, are enthusiastic supporters of evolution education. At the same time, we know probably better than most how essential integrity is to all aspects of the scientific enterprise. Part of integrity is that we do not knowingly conflate different concepts. Evolution in and of itself is not a belief system, and biology texts contain biology, not metaphysics. The personal views of some as to evolution's metaphysical implications are exactly that, their personal views. But Whitlock's piece does not make this important distinction!

There are only two possibilities: either Whitlock is woefully misinformed on the topic, or else (which seems more likely) she is deliberately conflating a scientific concept with a belief system. If so, which widely-accepted pillar of modern science shall we smear in order to 'explain' her lack of ethics?



I hesitate to blog about this. While I am always outspoken in terms of education policy, I say very little about politics otherwise. Many of my colleagues differ from me on points of policy in other areas, and I think it is unwise to link education policy to other areas of public life. I also have family members with whom I respectfully differ, and I'm just not that comfortable bad-mouthing our leadership. I've always tried to respect the Executive branch of government, even if I didn't vote for those filling it and disagreed with the policies. As far as I'm concerned, President Bush is my President, too.

But I just have to say that I am still angry about the way the Bush Administration got us into the war, and Dick Cheney's recent statements (and, frankly, his self-aggrandizing attitude) brings all those dyspeptic feelings to the surface.

I trusted my President in the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq. It was very clear that the Administration was selling us on the likelihood that Saddam Hussein's band of thugs were in possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It was also clear that it was a 'hard sell' to the American people and the world at large. The Administration sent one of its most respected members, Secretary of State Colin Powell, to make that case to the U.N. Security Council based upon the intelligence available. We found little support there, and many Americans were angered by the refusal of Security Council members (notably France) to accept the Administration's interpretation. The President, acting to defend the American people based upon that interpretation, then put into action an essentially unilateral policy that led us, step by step, to invade Iraq.

I have vivid memories of agonizing about the whole mess. Three weeks prior to the war, I was still waffling: yes, Saddam is bad....no, we don't have clear evidence of his supporting Al-Qaeda....yes, there is a global war on terror.....no, we don't have clear evidence that Saddam would ever supply terrorists with WMD......yes, it would be good to not have to rely on the Saudis or the Turks in order to intervene in the strategically-important region.....no, we don't have the support of the international community.....

What finally tipped me into supporting the policy were the constant insinuations that Saddam didn't merely have a WMD program, as in the gassing of the Kurds, but a nuclear program. Much was made of the existence of aluminum tubes. Vice President Cheney alluded to mushroom clouds in a speech, a clear reference to nuclear terror. With a week running down on the clock, normally-invisible NSA analysts were getting time on C-SPAN to talk about the possibility of nuclear terror in the Mideast. I can remember going to my wife and friends and saying that this was the tipping point in me, and that I believed that the President wouldn't follow this course unless the intelligence was credible. The belief that WMD's existed was so strong that many people, including me, considered the possibility that they might be used against our troops in Iraq when the Republican Guard became desperate.

Well, we know what happened after that. We didn't find an active program for WMD, and once this became so clear that the President had to own up or else lose all credibility, there was an admission and a shift in justification. Later, Vice President Cheney claimed that WMD's or no, that invading Iraq was still the right decision. Cheney elaborated on this point in a recent ABC interview: basically, the Veep argues that while there were no WMD's, that Hussein had the means to put together a biological or chemical program and intended to do so. The justification for Cheney's conclusion? Hmm....the same intelligence operatives whose cherry-picked findings pointed to WMD in the first place.

Can there be any clearer indication that Bush plans to pardon Scooter Libby, and that the various shadow dealings of the Cheney Vice-Presidency are going to remain in shadow? Cheney is essentially taking the presumption of past failure as the high ground. The bad decisions based upon faulty intelligence are now justified by more faulty intelligence. Here's how another blogger sums up Dick's prevarications: he just can't admit that he was wrong.

I'll go further: Dick Cheney is a real piece of work, whose opinions on national security seemed to have best served his political cronies rather than the American people. He was good for oil companies, good for Halliburton, good for defense contractors----and bad for the rest of us. But he doesn't lack for confidence, does he? No matter how wrong he and the neo-cons were about the WMD, he says, they were still right about Iraq. The rest of us, who doubted and who were only persuaded to support the policy by a barrage of nuclear misinformation, we're terrorist dupes in Cheneyland, and he thinks history will vindicate him and the President.

Again, in my opinion, that's only going to happen if the truth doesn't come out about what they actually did. Since that seems unlikely, the best I can hope for at this point is that Cheney slinks back into the secretive bosom of Big Oil.



This may seem inexplicable, and it certainlyl doesn't reflect anything having to do with anuran biology. But, there's this creature, see . . . .

The other fella is my bro, the English academic, comics scholar and blogger. The lady next to yours truly in the upper right-hand corner is my cousin Angie, who helps manage the endowment of the Philadelphia Orchestra. And the lady whose portrait is underneath me is Angie's sister, my cousin Carla, who is also a blogger.

Why are we all obviously posed with odd-looking purple lump?

You can read my aunt Mae Dean's explanation here. Since this picture was taken, my mom has taken custody of the nostalgia-mongering old soul, which is apparently older than all of us. Apparently, my mother felt she just couldn't bear to decide who would get it, as we all loved it so. One of us (who shall be nameless) subsequently suggested that we draw up a joint custody agreement!




The chameleonic vulgarian Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone has apparently finalized the financial terms of her divorce with soon-to-be ex-husband Guy Ritchie.

I confess to being baffled. The fellow had a pretty decent livelihood of his own as a film director prior to his being married, and after all, he did have SEX with the biggest pop tart of the 20th century on numerous occasions. For this, he needs a $75 million consolation prize?

I'm in the wrong line of work.



When you plagiarize, your omission becomes your commission. More on that in a moment.

Blake Stacey has the latest evo/creo skirmish outlined in the following must-read post, which touches not only on the question of the First Amendment rights of students, but the rather brazen habit of plagiarism that is widely embraced by most students. At the risk of moralizing, plagiarism is not just bad manners, it's intellectual theft and typically fatal to one's scientific career.

Science has a pretty high standard in this regard compared to the popular culture. If a scientist had attempted to take credit for 'inventing the Internet' or pronounced an ongoing war 'mission accomplished', they would never be able to live it down. That Joe Biden is the Vice President-elect after being caught red-handed with someone else's life story should tell you something about the political class, which is that they are able to overcome our low expectations.

Now, in my experience most creationists have the same leaden attitude toward citation as the politicians. Many of them are hopeless plagiarists of the 'cut-and-paste' variety. There's an almost-incestuous use of the same discredited arguments from the same sources by some of these guys, and even the material that seems new to me is, as often as note, compiled from the work of others. The most pernicious examples are when real scientists are 'quote-mined' from sources that have been selectively-edited. To no one's surprise, the edited versions are the ones that are selectively requoted over and over again by creationists, who give the impression of being clueless: they are not only unaware that their sources have not only been discredited, but they have not even considered that possibility that it might be bad form to pilfer the arguments of others word-for-word and unsourced.

As the witty Kristine Harley commented recently on an earlier post, "How everlastingly exhausting it is to try to go to the conceptual grocery store with creationists who keep losing their keys between the front door and the car door."

Now, I have some first-hand experience with this sort of thing. A few months back I had to publicly correct a Young Earther who had swiped a picture of 'Francisco Ayala' from the Internet to decorate his Power Point, but (ack) had gotten the wrong Ayala! He allowed he was going to correct this, but the last I checked he's still using someone else's picture of the wrong Ayala to make his point, probably because the Spanish author looks a bit more seedy in his pictures than the slick, well-groomed evolutionary biologist.

In a more personal example, I once sent an email to an Old Earth Creationist of my acquaintance which attached a copy of a presentation that I have given to various groups on the history of the Big Bang model, including the Power Point and a PDF file of the content. It contained some text on the question of cosmological 'fine tuning'. Imagine my surprise when, at a later meeting of a group to which this fellow belonged, he quoted my work verbatim as part of a presentation to the group as if it was his work. I sat, slack-jawed, in the front row of seats during the presentation less than ten feet from the guy. I finally 'reminded' him gently in front of the entire group that he was quoting from my work. The look of puzzlement on his face haunts me, because as a high school teacher, I know that plagiarism has reached epidemic proportions in the youth culture.

For that reason, I regularly require students to submit written work in my Biology courses to the on-line integrity software 'Turnitin.com'. This becomes especially important at the end of the course, when I have students write essays based upon a rubric prompt on one of four general topics within evolution. Students are expected to cite APA style within the text as well as provide a bibliography, and they are expected to have some primary sources. I'd be willing to guess that the unfortunate Mr. Creasy's editor utterly failed to do something similar, based upon the information available to me.

By the way, the newspaper that reported it (The Roanoke Times) also forgot to fact-check before printing the text of the student's article in their Friday edition, and yours truly was one of the first (perhaps the first) to leave a note to their staff to inform them of this lapse.

Anyway, the key point is this: plagiarism of the crass wholesale 'cut-and-paste' variety shown in the student's 'essay' is inexcusable. It's not my job as a teacher to tell kids what to 'believe' where evolution is concerned. They should make up their own minds, and they should use their minds to produce their own work, not steal the work of others and represent it as their own. The moment they fail to acknowledge that work, they become thieves. Sins of omission become sins of commission.


Khrushchev, that is.

Anyway, I think this fellow is very unfair to shoes, which is almost as bad as being uncivilized, though not as bad as the current war the lame ducks got us into. This moment will live in memory as emblematic of the nadir of America's reputation abroad.