24 December 2005

A Christmas Wish

A quick Christmas Thought.

Looking over things that I am wrapping today and will be helping with tomorrow, I've reached the conclusion that the six most obscene words in the English language are, "some assembly required, batteries not included."

23 December 2005

Naturalism and Supernaturalism

Krauze, over at Telic Thoughts, takes me out to the woodshed over yesterday's post about why Intelligent Design is not scientific. Krauze rightly points out that I failed to mention the supernatural nature of intelligent design, which was identified by the judge as one of the reasons that ID is unscientific.

I hope that my failure to discuss supernaturalism was not misleading, and if you feel mislead I apologize. I actually skipped supernaturalism intentionally, for two reasons. The first is that I personally don't think that the lack of naturalism is the biggest strike against ID. The second is that under certain circumstances the question of whether or not an ID explanation is naturalistic or not could get quite confusing.

I am a scientist, and like many scientists I am pragmatic when it comes to what I am willing to accept as science. If you show me experimenal tests that provide positive support for Intelligent Design, I will be more than willing to consider them. I might initially be skeptical, and it might take a lot to convince me, but if someone manages to successfully devise and conduct a positive test of Intelligent Design, it is possible that I might be convinced that they have a point. Absent positive tests of specific hypotheses, there is no chance that they will convince me that they are working within the realm of science.

Since the ID proponents don't have any testable hypotheses at the moment, I don't really see a need to go beyond that. Testability is the sine qua non of science. To me, worrying about whether or not people will be concerned about the supernatural nature of your hypothesis before you actually construct and test it is just plain silly. If you show me some science, I'll start to worry about the philosophy. Until then, don't waste my time.

From a slightly more philosophical perspective, there is a reason that supernatural explanations are excluded from science. It's not like scientists sat down and just arbitrarily decided to take natural explanations and exclude supernatural ones. Natural explanations can be tested using empirical evidence from the world around us. Supernatural explanations are excluded from science because- wait for it- they can't be tested.

I imagine that in the unlikely event that ID proponents manage to come up with a successful positive test for ID, there will be a hellacious philosophical debate over the implications. One the one hand, there will be some who will argue that the test has demonstrated that supernatural explanations can be incorporated into science. On the other, some will argue that the test only shows that the ID proponents have managed to show that ID is actually a naturalistic explanation. It's possible that a stubborn few might argue, as Krauze fears, that ID is still supernatural and would have to still be excluded from science based on those grounds, but I rather suspect that the holdouts would be few and far between, and would be shouted down on pragmatic grounds.

Worrying about that is a bit premature just yet, though. I can't think of any ID proposal so far that comes close to being a positive test of design, and I haven't heard anything that would lead me to believe that this is likely to change in the immediate future. If I'm wrong about that, feel free to let me know.

22 December 2005

The Science Breakthrough of the Year

If I called Science's "Breakthrough of the Year" the science world's equivalent of Time Magazine's Person of the Year I'd be exaggerating just a bit. Still, it is noteworthy.

This year, the Breakthrough of the Year is, wait for it, evolution. This might seem strange, since we are approaching the 150th anniversary of the big breakthrough in the field. It really isn't, though. Scientific theories only become static when they are disproven. The initial breakthrough in a subject area is virtually never the final word on things. Darwin provided the initial push, but thousands and thousands of scientists have been working toward a better, clearer, more accurate understanding ever since.

This year, as Science noted, has been a very good one in that respect. The article is, I believe, available for free. Give it a read. It's a good one.

21 December 2005

On your mark, get set, lie (some more)

I once heard somewhere or another that the hardest thing to do in sports is to walk into the locker room at halftime during the Superbowl and change the strategy that got you there because it isn't working anymore. I think the fine folks at the Discovery Institute might be seeing the truth in that right about now. Their strategy of trying to pretend that ID is science was seen for what it is - a sham - by a Federal judge yesterday.

After a couple of initial missteps (such as being the first to meet the judge's prediction that his opponents would call him an "activist judge" because of the decision) the pro-IDers seem to be starting to settle on a talking point. This one is honest, yes, honest as the day is long. Or at least is was yesterday. In Alaska. Northern Alaska. And I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all my pagan friends a very slightly belated happy Solstice.

Sorry. I just had to get that one out of my system.

Now where was I...ah, yes. With the same commitment to the principles of truth, honesty, and forthrightness that they have displayed to date, the proponents of Intelligent Design have decided to claim that the judge ruled that ID is unscientific because many of its proponents have religious beliefs that are supported by Intelligent Design.

I'm not going to try to place these in any sort of chronological order, but here's what a number of pro-IDers have said on the topic:
From Angus Menuge:
My main concerns are that Judge Jones uses throughout an argument from motive of the form:
*(P1) Person A has a religious motive in proposing educational policy P
(C) P is a religious policy, and so allowing P in the public schools would be an establishment of religion.

David Klinghoffer at National Review Online:
Tuesday's ruling by a federal judge in Pennsylvania, disparaging intelligent design as a religion-based and therefore false science, raises an important question: If ID is bogus because many of its theorists have religious beliefs to which the controversial critique of Darwinism lends support, then what should we say about Darwinism itself?

Lawrence Selden:
Are you kidding me? You cannot treat macroevolutionary theory as a theory because that is consistent with what religious people think?

John Mark Reynolds:
Once again a court has decided that religious motivations of supporters are enough to ban an idea (that is not essentially religious) from tax payer funded schools.

Jonathan Witt:
No. Design theorists argue that an intelligent cause is the best explanation for certain features of the natural world. Jones countered this point by noting that most design theorists believe in the Christian God, untroubled by the fact that he is here committing the genetic fallacy, dismissing an argument based on its source (here Christian scientists and philosophers). Commented one legal scholar, "It is worse than horrible, if that is possible. Essentially, what the judge has concluded is that if one is a religious citizen who offers an argument for a point of view consistent with your religious worldview, you will be segregated from the public square. But not because your argument is bad, but because of your beliefs and the company you keep or may have kept. I can't believe this could happen in America."
(Witt attributes the quote to a "legal scholar" without naming names, and a Google on the passage brings up no hits, so I am unclear as to whether or not the scholar in question exists as an independent entity or is merely Witt inflating his own credentials.)

That's just a quick sampling. Others have made that argument, and there have also been some posts that have responded to this, at least in part. (For example, Timothy Sandefur and Brian Leiter both touch on the issue.)

I have to wonder whether these folks read the same decision I did. If they did, they either did not understand it or they understood it but decided to misrepresent it. I will leave it to the reader to determine whether the ID proponents are being incompetent or dishonest this time.

The court spent a great deal of time in the decision explaining the "reasonable observer" standard that would be used to evaluate the conduct in this case. This standard, according to the judge,
...consists of the reviewing court determining what message a challenged governmental policy or enactment conveys to a reasonable, objective observer who knows the policy’s language, origins, and legislative history, as well as the history of the community and the broader socialand historical context in which the policy arose. McCreary County, Ky. v. ACLU, 125 S. Ct. 2722, 2736-37, 2005 U.S. LEXIS 5211 at *41 (2005) (objective observer “presumed to be familiar with the history of the government’s actions and competent to learn what history has to show”); Santa Fe, 530 U.S. at 308 (objective observer familiar with “implementation of” governmental action); Selman, 390 F. Supp. 2d at 1306 (objective observer “familiar with the origins and context of the government-sponsored message at issue and the history of the community where the message is displayed”).

A reasonable observer in this case would know a number of things about the Intelligent Design Movement. One of the things that they would know is, of course, that the IDers claim that their position is science, not religion. However, any objective observer willing to look even slightly beyond those claims would know that the leaders of the ID Movement spend a lot more time talking to religious groups about how wonderful ID is than they do conducting scientific research. They would know that the IDers spend more time denigrating evolution than they do conducting scientific research. They would know that the leading ID proponents spend more time lobbying school boards than they do doing scientific research. In short, an objective observer would reach the same conclusion as the judge: the ID proponents don't want evolution taught well because of their religious objections to evolution, and the pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo is just a sham to try to slip by the Constitution.

Judge Jones concluded, rightly, that Intelligent Design is not science. The religious motivations of ID proponents were only one of many pieces of evidence leading to that conclusion. The most compelling evidence for this conclusion is actually totally unrelated to the motivations, religious or otherwise, of ID proponents: the ID people, according to the testimony of pro-ID defense witnesses, haven't done science. They have not been able to devise or conduct any experiment that would be a positive test of Intelligent Design. That is why ID is not science. The motivations of the ID proponents explain why they are pushing their nonscientific nonsense into public school classrooms.

20 December 2005


UPDATED: 21 December 2005, 10:30 am. I did miss a couple of articles last night, and there have been a few good articles posted since then. I've added a section at the end with both.

As most of you are undoubtedly aware, Judge Jones has handed down his anxiously-awaited decision in the Kitzmiller v. Dover lawsuit. This post is (I hope) a one-stop for those interested in commentary on the ruling. I've done my best to incorporate a wide range of blog posts and some more conventional news articles. I received a number of email submissions, and did some searching on my own. If I missed anyone, I'm sorry. It's gotten late, and it's entirely possible that I lost your email somewhere. If so, please feel free to leave the link in the comments.

General Resources:
For those who are just picking up the story now, there are a few good resources for those interested in more of the background involved in the case. There is an overview page at Panda's Thumb that links to extensive commentary. The links to events are in reverse chronological order, so scroll down and work your way back up if you want to read things as they occurred. Overviews are also available at the websites of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union (both the National Organization and Pennsylvania Chapter have sites, and the PA Chapter has a blog) and at the National Center for Science Education. Moving to resources not directly tied to the plaintiffs in the case, the District Court has a page that contains links to some of the documents in the case. There is an overview of the case available at Wikipedia, and the transcripts of the testimony in the case are available in html format at the TalkOrigins Archive (along with other documents related to the case). The two hometown papers for the Dover area both have covered the case extensively. The York Dispatch's coverage is quite good, and the York Daily Record's is truly excellent. The New York Times website has a decent section on evolution in general. For those of you who are looking for coverage unburdened by connection to reality, (or who are looking for a more pro-defense perspective) the Discovery Institute also has a set of resources on the case.

The Decision:

The full text of the decision is available online at a number of different places right now. The court, MSNBC, York Dispatch, ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Americans United are all hosting copies of the .pdf file of the decision (as are other websites). I strongly, strongly, strongly encourage you to download and read the entire decision. There are sections of legaleese to wade through in there, but the decision also contains one of the clearest, most coherent and readable descriptions of the problem that I have ever read. But don't just take my word for it - Neil Gaiman thinks you should read the whole thing, too, and he's written popular books and stuff. For those looking for a Cliff Notes version, Florida Citizens for Science has a detailed summary of the decision.

Something that is worth noting at this point is just how acutely the eloquence of the judge's decision brings into focus the deficit we have when it comes to communicating our position. The objective scientific evidence favors us, but public opinion does not. In part, this is because of the strong religious objections that so many people have to evolution, but it is also due in part, I think, to a lack of the skills needed to communicate with people from outside the scientific community. This is noted in a Washington Post article on today's decision:
When evolution's defenders find themselves tongue-tied and seemingly bested by neo-creationists -- when they believe they have the facts on their side but do not know where to find them -- this 139-page document may be the thing they turn to.
Wesley Elsberry also touches on this in some brief comments about a bit of fairly public criticism his public speaking skills recently received. I haven't met Wes, but I've seen some webcasts of presentations that he's given. Personally, I'd say that his presentation skills are above average for a scientist. And there, as the bard said, is the rub.

In the initial period of glee following the release of the decision, several bloggers posted quotes from the decision that they particularly liked. I suspect that if you read through enough of these, you'll see most of the decision - Judge Jones is definitely someone who knows how to make the most of the language. Be warned that I've made no attempt to weed out duplicates. The only blog posts I've skipped were those that were explicitly quoting from another one of the blogs listed here. If you click through all of the links, you will read a lot of duplicates.

Here's a selection from those:
Paul Myers has a couple at Pharyngula (here and here).
Carl Zimmer lists a few of his favorite moments.
Afarensis' selections are available here.
Dispatches From the Culture Wars picks a couple of favorites.
Pat Hayes at Red State Rabble has picked a few favorites as well - here, here, here, and here.
I tossed in my own 2 cents here. (By the way, I was wrong. There are even better quotes later on in the decision. That judge can write.
Orac has also pulled a few gems.
Buridan's Ass picked some too, as did Hit and Run.
So did Thoughts From Kansas.
Evolutionblog comments on a couple of passages.
John Rennie over at Scientific American also has problems picking just one. (It's such a nice ruling.)

General Commentary on the Ruling:
Darksyde has some brief commentary over at Daily Kos. Doctor FreeRide also weighs in on the issue, as does A Concerned Scientist. Cosmic Variance notes that the battle may be won this time, but the fight is far from over. John Hawkes has a couple of comments on the issue, as does Kevin Drum of The Washington Monthly. The Art of Teaching Science has a nice piece.

Nathan Schnieider has some interesting things to say about evolution and religion. Wesley Elsberry has a post that gets tossed into the general section because he covered so much ground. He discusses a number of things, including the relevance of this decision to the Teach the Controversy smokescreen that the anti-evolutionists have been trying to throw up, mentions a conversation he had with an ID proponent about the constitutionality of ID, a wager that Dembski might have to pay, and a few other things.

Ed Fitzgerald briefly commented on today's ruling. He's also had some interesting things to say during the course of the trial that I'd somehow managed to miss before now.

There's a good behind the scenes type commentary at eSkeptic written by a couple of Panda's Thumb regulars. It's a very good article, and well worth reading.

From a more traditional news perspective, there is a good overview available at the Guardian (UK) Newsblog site. MSNBC, The New York Times, and the AP all have articles available that are more or less unremarkable. Time Magazine has a rather better article, and a nice commentary piece. There's also decent WaPo coverage.

Lies and Liars:
WataugaWatch and the Bad Astronomy Blogger both comment on the judge's powers of observation in figuring out that he was being lied to, and Steven Frug discusses some of the lies in depth. The judge clearly has extrordinarily keen observational tal...OK, let's be honest. The lies were so bloody obvious that figuring out that someone was lying really didn't require much more than a pulse. But Judge Jones still gets credit for speaking truth about this in his decision.

Legal Analysis:
Some general legal analysis was presented (here and here) on Panda's Thumb earlier today by Timothy Sandefur. For those who aren't familiar with the crew of the Thumb, Tim is a lawyer specializing in Constitutional law.

Thoughts From Kansas also weighs in with some legal analysis. The analysis is relatively general, but it does view the case through the focus of the current situation in Kansas. Ann Althouse also has some comments on the decision. The American Constitution Society has also commented, as has the law blog Scrivener's Error.

Applying This Decision To Other Areas:
In addition to other posts cited earlier, Josh Rosenau of Thoughts From Kansas also weighs in with a detailed discussion of the potential effects of the Dover case on the anti-evolution science standards in Kansas.

Over at She Flies With Her Own Wings, there's some commentary on how this decision could impact the latest mutant in the anti-evolutionist strategy: teach the controversy. (A detailed post on that topic will appear here in the next couple of days.)

NPR has a commentary piece (audio) by Case Western Reserve University Professor Lawrence Krauss. Professor Krauss discusses, among othe things, the educational challenges we still must overcome. It's well-worth listening to.

Brian Ogilvie has a piece up that looks at the situation from a historical perspective. Interesting read.

Psychics and Gamblers:
There are a few people out there who attempted to predict the outcome of the trial. Both Nick Matzke and Chris Mooney seem to have done a pretty good job at it. Remind me not to play poker with either of them.

Hitting the Wrong Net:
From reading the decision, it would appear that some of the witnesses called by the defense did their own side more harm than good. The question of who gave the best performance for the wrong team is still quite open. PZ thinks that Behe deserves some credit. Matt Brauer and John Wilkins both think that Fuller is in the running. Personally, I'm just glad that neither of them was on our side.

Look, the Wingnuts Are Imploding! Somebody Get the Popcorn:
Predictably, the anti-evolution forces are going somewhat bonkers over the decision. The first reaction came from the Discovery Institute, which has been trying to flee the sinking ship in Dover for some time. I'd guess that the folks who put the press release together didn't read all (or most) of the decision before putting their response out there. Toward the end of the decision, Judge Jones predicted that people who didn't like his decision would try to brand him as an "activist judge." That was a safe bet, and the DI folks did it twice in their press release, without noting that the judge had predicted and preempted that response. This little bit of irony has been remarked on, noted, commented, and laughed at.

Jonathan Witt also weighed in with some distortions of comments about on the judge's ruling. Unlike the first attempt by the DI, it's clear that Witt read the ruling. There's no way he could have managed to misrepresent it so egregiously if he hadn't. There's a solid fisking of Witt's response over at Heaven Is Not The Sky. There's another post by Witt going after the judge's treatment of the history of the ID movement. The best rebuttal to that one is really the decision itself.

ARN has a predictably misleading response up as well. Let's be clear, shall we? Neither ID nor criticism of evolution has been outlawed in general. The judge has simply made it clear that it is constitutionally unacceptable to do these things in the classroom. Religiously motivated nonsense has no place in the public schools.

The Federalist Blog takes the opportunity of the Dover decision to rant against the use of the Fourteenth Amendment to apply the First Amendment to the states, insisting that the states have the right to regulate religion. The author apparently missed the part of the decision where Judge Jones pointed out that the Dover policy also violated the PA State Constitution.

Penraker totally misses the boat in his rant, claiming that "A scientific theory has been declared unconstitutional." Dude, like, read the decision. ID is NOT SCIENTIFIC. If it actually were a scientific theory, it wouldn't be unconstitutional.

The editors of the American Federalist Journal also manage to miss the point. That's a bit scary, actually, since the ruling was pretty clearly written and quite blunt. They say, "Whatever one thinks about the issue of teaching intelligent design in school, it clearly isn’t something for the federal government to decide for every school in the nation." I wonder what decision they read, because it pretty clearly wasn't the one that Jones wrote. This case isn't about the federal government dictating school curricula. This is about the federal judiciary taking appropriate steps to ensure that all Americans can enjoy the protection of the First Amendment.

A Lighter Note:
ScrappleFace has already gotten some satire out.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due:
The Dover case was the product of a lot of work that was done by a lot of people. Ed Brayton and I both posted some lists of people who deserve a great deal of credit for their efforts.

In closing, I'd like to give a huge tip of the hat to both Milkriverblog and Science and Politics. Both of these blogs also put up link collections about the Dover case earlier in the day, and being able to poach from them made my life much easier tonight. Paul Myers used Kitzcarnival in an email subject line when he sent me his submissions, and I liked it so much that I'm stealing it, so a hat tip to Paul as well. Thanks, all!

I'm hoping that these are all original, but things have been coming quickly and I may have already hit a couple of these.

In addition to the quotes I mentioned above, Buridan also weighed in yesterday with some more substantive comments about the decision. It's a good take on things, and well worth a read. Tara Smith over at Aetiology has a couple of things up. One is mostly an overview of the decision, with some quotes. The second is a more in-depth (and less optimistic) view of what we have left to do, and why we need to remain focused. Ontogeny has an overview of the decision, with commentary on some of the reaction from ID proponents. Christopher Heard comments on some of the commentary, including this post, which takes us a bit into the realm of decadant self-reference, but what the hell.

Carl Zimmer joins the ranks of those who have gotten over the sheer giddyness of the decision enough to jot down some more detailed comments on the case. Michael Berube weighs in with some good comments, too. The Commissar has weighed in a bit, too, as has Steve Verdon of Outside the Beltway. My Shades of Grey also has a couple of things up. Mike Argento has some comments over at his blog. Alun also had a bunch of good comments at his blog.

For a more amusing look at things, hit Pandagon.

There's also been some more nonsense from the pro-ID folks. I'll get into some of that in a different post later on.

Announcement: Dover Blog and News Carnival

A couple of times during the trial (see here and here) I posted roundups of news articles about what had been going on with the case. I will be doing the same thing tonight, and will be including blog articles. Basically, this will be a one shot blog carnival. Anyone wishing to submit links is welcome to. Please send them to mdunford@hawaii.rr.com no later than 2200H, HST (GMT -10:00) tonight.

I will be accepting and linking to pro-ID articles, but if you choose to submit a pro-ID link be warned that I will be commenting on the links I include, and I do not promise neutrality.

A bold prediction:

I haven't yet finished reading the entire Kitzmiller ruling, but I've got a strong feeling that I've found the best quote from it:
Finally, we will offer our conclusion on whether ID is science not just because it is essential to our holding that an Establishment Clause violation has occurred in this case, but also in the hope that it may prevent the obvious waste of judicial and other resources which would be occasioned by a subsequent trial involving the precise question which is before us.

Victory In Dover!

The decision in the Kitzmiller v Dover lawsuit has just been released, and is available on the court's website. The decision is 139 pages long, and appears to be a full and complete victory for the plaintiffs. Commentary will undoubtedly be forthcoming throughout the day on Panda's Thumb, Pharyngula, here, and other places as we get time to read and fully digest the decision. As might be expected, traffic is heavy on the court's website, so expect a slow download.

As I said, it will take me some time to get through the whole decision, but I've always been an impatient reader, so I skipped right to the end. I liked the ending so much that I thought I'd share it with you:
The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents. Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the
theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions. The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, we will enter an order permanently enjoining Defendants from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID. We will also issue a declaratory judgment that Plaintiffs’ rights under the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have been violated by Defendants’ actions. Defendants’ actions in violation of Plaintiffs’ civil rights as guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 subject Defendants to liability with respect to injunctive and declaratory relief, but also for nominal damages and the reasonable value of Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ services and costs incurred in vindicating Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

It is unclear what is going to happen next, given the outcome of the school board elections in Dover, and no matter what happens this decision is unlikely to mark the end of efforts to dilute the teaching of science in this country. But it sure is good to see that the federal courts are still willing to step in and protect our rights. Regardless of what happens next, thanks are due to a whole lot of people who put in a whole lot of time and effort on this case.

The expert witnesses for the plaintiffs, Barbara Forrest, Kenneth Miller, Kevin Padian, Robert Pennock, John Haught, Brian Alters, and Kevin Padian, worked as volunteers on this case. The lawyers from the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the law firm of Pepper Hamilton put in an enormous amount of time, effort, and energy. Genie Scott, Wesley Elsberry, Nick Matzke, Susan Spath, and the rest of the staff at the National Center for Science Education worked tirelessly behind the scenes.

Thanks are particularly due to Tammy Kitzmiller, Bryan Rehm, Christie Rehm, Deborah Feinmore, Joel Lieb, Steven Stough, Beth Eveland, Cynthia Sneath, Julie Smith, Barrie Callahan, and Frederick Callahan - the plaintiffs in the case. They, and the partially overlapping group of parents who took back the school board, have demonstrated once again that a small group of committed people really can change things for the better.

(Hat Tip: NCSE)

18 December 2005


I just finished watching CNN's special on the annual selection of Time Magazine's Person of the Year. This year, three people share the honor. Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, and Bono have been named in tribute to the work that they have done fighting against poverty and fighting for health care in the third world.

This is a good choice for two equally good but very different reasons. The first is that they have done extrordinarily good work. Over the past couple of years, Bono has managed to take debt relief from a concept that only a truly diehard policy wonk could love and turned it into a popular cause. This year, at least in part due to his efforts, forty billion dollars of third-world debt was forgiven. Bill and Melinda Gates have made it their mission to build health care, and save lives, in poverty-stricken nations. They have put the drive that put Microsoft in its position of dominance into trying to fight malaria and other diseases that kill few or none in the first world and many in the third - because they can't afford preventative medication.

The second reason that this is a good choice is because this has not, for most Americans, been a year that was about third-world poverty. It's been a year that is about problems in Iraq, and problems at home. Aside from a couple of awful natural disasters, the world beyond Southwest Asia hasn't really been in view for most Americans this year. The everyday disaster that is life in far too much of the world certainly hasn't been on the scope. Putting international poverty front and center on the cover of Time is a much-needed reminder that there are problems beyond the ones we have here, and the ones we have created abroad. It is a much-needed reminder that just because these problems have existed beyond human memory does not mean that they are unsolvable. It is also a reminder that nations are not the only force that can fix problems like this. Active, committed indivivuals can do good on a massive scale.


It's nice to know that I can still count on Doonesbury to make my Sunday a little brighter. I think today's goes on my office door.