Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Vindicated by the creationists

heh. PZ already took this article apart, but it had an additional twist that particularly interests me. The entire article (excerpts below) is here, but if you care at all about your brain cells, you might think twice about clicking that link.

So a little backstory first: my partner Dorothy and I are writing a textbook on research literacy--the ability to understand the scientific method and to read journal articles--for people who don't have a great deal of science education. By focusing on the important concepts, and connecting the dots in a user-friendly way, we think we can communicate the power and wonder of science to a non-traditional audience.

However, we have a challenge in our book--because we're using real medical research articles, they're all over the place in terms of jargon, and our readers can't be expected to know all the terms in the articles we quote. At the same time, a one-time use of a specific jargony term in an article that we're citing for the purpose of illustrating another scientific principle entirely doesn't seem to us to merit an entire glossary entry on its own. What to do? We can't just ignore them, because that will break the flow as the reader is distracted, so we have to address them somehow.

We actually have found a solution that we're very pleased with, but I don't know how specific I can be here. Since it's one of the features the marketing team is using as a point to promote the book with, I shouldn't mention it until I'm sure it's ok to do so. I can, however, say that I am pleased with the balance we're striking between supporting the reader, furthering the pedagogical goals of the book, and doing so without either unduly interrupting the flow of the book or dwelling too much on matters that are, in reality, only peripheral.

Here, however, is how not to solve that problem, courtesy of the *cough*scientists*cough* at the Institute for Creation *cough*Research*major hairball*cough*:

In an article titled "Squid Reflects Creation Evidence"--clearly a deliberate shot across PZ's beak--Frank Sherwin, M.A. displays a very odd view of the audience he is writing to.

The reflectins seem to be unique to squid, coded for by at least six genes (specific DNA segments). In addition, researchers have found that the Hawaiian bobtail squid efficiently uses an exclusive bilobed ("two-lobed") light organ to its advantage.

So I'm a creationist reading this--thanks for explaining that "bilobed" means "two-lobed". That was actually rather user-friendly, as far as it goes. Now, however, what's a "lobe"?

A species of bioluminescent bacteria called Vibrio fischera

Thanks again for explaining that "bi" = "two". Now what does "bioluminescent" mean?

in the light organ receives nourishment from the squid. In return, the bacteria secrete a tracheal cytotoxin designed to control the development of the light organ.

That "bi" explanation was real helpful--now, what's a "tracheal cytotoxin"?

It's a very unusual and highly specific audience that, as Mr. Sherwin seems to believe, needs "bi" explained, but is cool with "cytotoxin", etc.

This cytotoxin is a small segment of the deleterious bacteria that causes whooping cough in humans.

You mean that a Vibrio bacteria (cholera's cousin)'s toxin is somehow a small segment of a Bordatella pertussis bacteria (different genus entirely)? Woo-hoo! It's a miracle! (I'm guessing that M.A. was *not* in microbiology...)

But perhaps the toxin served a more useful function, as we see in the squid, prior to the introduction of sin into God's creation, which led to the Fall and the current curse under which creation groans (Romans 8:22).

And perhaps if my aunt had balls, she'd be my uncle.

Ok, I'll grant that was a little on the rude side--but as the non-traditional science students in my classes demonstrate, even non-scientists can learn to tell the difference between a testable hypothesis and sheer speculation. They can also learn to recognize cherry-picking (happy symbiotic bacteria and squid = evidence for a loving God; just be sure not to look over there at the parasitic wasps whose larvae eat caterpillars alive from the inside out. That might not reflect so well on a loving God as the creationists would want to have it.).

To conclude, not only is biophotonic design evidence for a clearly seen creation (Romans 1:20), but the Hawaiian bobtail squid in particular provides the creation scientist with a possible original benign function for disease-causing bacteria. Truly, God's creation declares--and reflects--His glory (Psalm 19:1).

As Mr. thalarctos predicted, in light of the Proteomics scandal where some researchers tried to sneak the soul into the mitochondria (and cover it up with a whopping dose of plagiarism in addition), and the article somehow got past peer review and into the epub of the journal, the creationists are going all micro on us these days. The next few years should be interesting as they try to push this.

As the non-traditional students are showing, however, not every non-scientist is going to fall for this tone-deaf simulacrum. A lot of students are actually coming to learn about science late in life, and--even more important--showing real mastery of the concepts. There's no reason anyone of any class, nationality, sex, religion, or so forth should have to settle for Potemkin science, and the ridiculousness of bothering to define "bi" for the audience, yet leaving all the other technical terms as is, shows both Sherwin's disconnect from and his contempt for his audience. They deserve better treatment than that from someone who claims to "teach".

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