As I was listening to it, I wondered just what the 40% of Americans who believe in the literal truth of the Bible-"young age creationists"- would make of this. They believe that the earth is about 6,000 years old.
We have teachers in Britain who believe the same. Nick Cowan is a science teacher at the Bluecoat School in Liverpool. Watch him in discussion with Richard Dawkins,
and ask yourself- would you like Mr Cowan teaching your kids science?
Back to plate tectonics.
Just how do creationists of the young age variety, like Cowen, work out how the continents turned out as they did?
They accept the continents have moved over time, but they think it happened during the 40 days and nights during which Noah, his family and all the animals, presumably including dinosaurs and monkeys, were aboard the Arc. Everything must have happened at high speed.
Richard Dawkins in his "Greatest Show on Earth" has done the sums for us. South America and Africa sped away from each other faster than a man can swim-for 40 days and nights.
This outburst from Bruce Forsyth shows just why this old duffer is well past his sell-by date. He introduces Strictly Come Dancing-SCD.
For those unfamiliar with SCD, celebrities hitch themselves to a professional dancing partner and compete against similar couples. This year, there's a professional dancer, Anton Du Beke-born Tony Beak- dancing with actress Laila Rouass. Rouass' parents are Moroccan, and a couple weeks ago after giving herself a spray tan, appeared on the programme to be referred to as a 'paki' by the thoughtful Mr Beak.
It was a mistake, but Forsyth, leading with his chin, staggered into the controversy. People should have a 'sense of humour', he told the radio station, TalkSport this morning. 'You go back 25, 30, 40 years and there has always been a bit of humour about the whole thing.'
The fact is, as the dim Brucey should know, most of are not living '25,30,40 years ago. We are living in the twenty-first century. Such words are offensive and racist and simply can't be wafted aside with such nonsense. And to defend it as he did, shows just how unsuitable he is to host the programme. He should be told to waltz off and dig out that other racist Carol Thatcher who the BBC sacked for her 'gollywog' outburst.
Update 16.30 8th October
The curse of the Rambler. Bruce has clearly been dragged kicking and screaming to clarify his comment.
Today, the Health Protection Agency announced a staggering 36% annual increase in the confirmed cases of measles. Since 1998, when the original, and now entirely discredited, work by Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues linked the triple MMR jab with autism and bowel disease, parents have failed to immunise their kids against these terrible diseases.
It is my view that in this extended broadcast Jeni exemplifies every single canard ever uttered by the antivaccination movement. “It’s a conspiracy by the pharmaceutical industry.” “Science always changes so you can believe what you like.” “It’s a debate and a controversy.” “Measles was never that bad anyway.” “Immune systems are damaged by being understimulated.” “Immune systems are damaged by being overstimulated.” And so on.
But worse was to come.
Most of us are looking forward to a new era when Barack Obama takes his oath of office on Tuesday next week. Obama claims to be a deeply religious man, though one of his mentors appears to have rather unusual ideas.
[A] Gallup poll revealed that 53 per cent of Americans are actually creationists. This means that despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of the earth, more than half the American population believes the entire cosmos was created six thousand years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue. Those with the power to elect presidents and congressmen- and many who themselves get elected-believe that dinosaurs lived two by two on Noah's arc, that light from distant galaxies was created en route to earth, and that the first members of our species, were fashioned out of dirt and divine breath, in a garden with a talking snake, by the hand of an invisible God.
But Obama's candidacy is also depressing, for it demonstrates that even a person of the greatest candor and eloquence must still claim to believe the unbelievable in order to have a political career in this country. We may be ready for the audacity of hope. Will we ever be ready for the audacity of reason?
Madeline Kara Neumann
Hundreds of thousands of Christian worshippers will be trooping into their churches this Sunday. Without exception they will acknowledge the existence of an invisible deity. A deity with absolute power over the world as we know it. A network of priests, bishops, archbishops, deacons, will be on hand to help the believers. No doubt they will emphasise the power of prayer to heal the sick, and that the "desire of the righteous to will be granted".
As this claptrap pours forth from thousands of pulpits, the worshippers should think of the an 11 year old girl,
Madeline Kara Neumann. Madeline died an horrific death....not much less painful that Christians used to inflict on non believers centuries ago. She was suffering from Diabetic ketoacidosis. The terminal symptoms include vomiting, severe abdominal pain, extreme weakness and air hunger. It is a condition that is relatively easy to treat. Madeline's parents, Dale and Leilani, held a blind belief that prayer would cure their child.
"We stayed fast in prayer.... We believed that she would recover. We saw signs that to us, it looked like she was recovering"...and of course she died.
Four cheers for James Randi here
We can easily say that Dale and Leilani Neumann were simply stupid. Perhaps so, but more importantly, they – and we – have been swindled by the priests, and society continues not only to tolerate them, but to support them by granting them exemptions from the regulations and ignoring their folly and arrogance.
An astonishingly, Madeline was not the only child to be allowed to die by god fearin' folk in the US.
A few days earlier 15 month old Ava Worthington died after her parents, with the same nonsensical belief in the power of prayer as the Neumanns, refused to administer a simple regime of antibiotics to their child. Ava was suffering from bronchial pneumonia.
Her parents have now been charged with manslaughter.
But the Wisconsin statute applicable to the Neumanns is interesting.
Wisconsin state statute 948.03(6), provides against failing to act to protect children from bodily harm. It contains an exemption for what it refers to as " Treatment through prayer." To wit: "A person is not guilty of an offense under this section solely because he or she provides a child with treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone for healing in accordance with the religious method of healing … in lieu of medical or surgical treatment."
It's difficult to see either a moral or ethical argument to support this parental behaviour. But surely the Wisconsin statute belongs to another age.......!
I normally grumble when the Today Programme interrupts its current affairs with "Thought for the Day". But I listened to Rev. Dr. Allan Billings' contribution on 31st March with increasing interest.
He adopts the same position as I do. In a short paragraph below, he demolished the idea that Cardinal O'Brien and other members of the Catholic Church were peddling over Easter . They cannot discriminate between the few cells of an embryo and a mature human life.
"The objection to creating embryos is on the grounds that an embryo is a human life and should be accorded the same rights as mature human life. I find this unconvincing. To treat a microscopic bundle of cells as if it were a mature human being seems to me to be a failure in discrimination. An acorn may be a potential oak tree, but there is a difference between the two."
This is an important issue. But it seems that the debate is being conducted with little or no knowledge of what actually is being proposed- what those scientists at Newcastle University are up to.
The best starting point is the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's (HFEA) booklet " Hybrids and Chimeras available from their website here (in pdf 880kb).
Whatever your view, the idea that human/animal embryos will create "Frankenstein"or some other kind of monster is just plain nonsense. Within eight pages of the HFEA's booklet the science is described in fairly straightforward language. As a non-scientist, I even ended up with a basic understanding of the difference between mitochondrial and nuclear DNA!
Today I read in the Daily Mail...no folks I don't buy the rag....an interview with David Cameron.
The Mail's headline is " Cameron: Cut the abortion limit to 21 weeks" The reason he gives for supporting this is:
"I would like to see a reduction in the current limit, as it is clear that, due to medical advancement, many babies are surviving at 24 weeks."
And the Mail with it's usual selective use of statistics on the issue of abortion continues by asserting
"Research at one of Britain's top neonatal units revealed the survival rate of babies born very prematurely has doubled in the past 20 years."
I suspect the research, both Cameron and the Mail are quoting, is from John Wyatt. He is the Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics at University College, London, and a member of the Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF).
He gave evidence before the House of Commons Committee on Science and Technology last Autumn. Professor Wyatt failed to tell the Committee that he was a member of the CMF with an established position, on abortion, similar to that of the Daily Mail,.
Wyatt's research does indeed show that survival in births below the present limit if 24 weeks has doubled. But when you examine the data from the Epicure study, the picture is very different indeed. That study shows an increase in survival at 24 weeks but virtually none with births between 22 and 23 weeks. The idea punted by Cameron.
The next statistical analysis has been done brilliantly by Bad Science's Dr. Ben Goldacre. You can read his piece in full here. What Wyatt does is play around with figures.
Over to Dr. Ben.
For the next bit, you need to understand one simple piece of primary school maths, which is central to medical statistics. In the sum 3/20, 3 is the numerator and 20 is the denominator: 15% survive; 3 out of 20. For Epicure, the numerator is survival to discharge from hospital, and the denominator is all births where there is a sign of life, carefully defined: 3 out of 20.
I suspect you can see where this is going?
Back to Goldacre.
There are two ways you could get a higher survival percentage. One would be a genuine increase in the number of babies surviving, an increase in the numerator: 8 out of 20 live births survive, 40%. But you could also see an increase in the survival percentage by changing the denominator. Let's say, instead of counting as your denominator "all births where there is a sign of life in the delivery room" you counted "all babies admitted to neonatal intensive care". Now that's a different kettle of fish altogether. To be admitted to neonatal ICU, the doctors have to think you've got a chance. Often you have to be transferred from another hospital, in an ambulance, and for that you really do have to be more well. Therefore, if your denominator is "neonatal ICU admissions", your survival rates will be higher, but you are not comparing like with like. That may partly explain Prof Wyatt's figure for a very high survival rate in 23-week babies. But it's not clear.
He now examines the evidence Wyatt gave to the House of Commons Committee.
First in his written evidence he said that the data was from a "prospectively defined" study (where they say in advance what they plan to collect). Then he was asked in the committee, when giving his oral evidence: "What was the denominator for that? Was that ... 42% survival at 23 weeks of all babies showing signs of life in the delivery room, or was it a proportion of those admitted to neonatal intensive care directly or by transfer?" Prof Wyatt replied: "The denominator was all babies born alive in the labour ward in the hospital at UCL [University College London]." This, as later became clear, turned out not to be true. Then he was asked to send the reference for the claim. He did so. It was merely an abstract for an academic conference presentation three years ago. It did not contain the figures he was quoting. He then says he has done the raw figures on a spreadsheet, especially for the committee, bespoke, if you will, and sent them in. They are entered into the record as a memo, on October 18. They show new, different, although broadly comparable figures: 50% survive at 22 weeks, then down to 46% at 23 weeks, then up to 82% at 24 weeks, then down again to 77% at 25 weeks. (That bouncing around is because the raw numbers are so small that there is a lot of random noise).
Are you still with this? When asked about the denominator
Prof Wyatt is clear: "I have provided the numbers and percentage of infants born alive at University College London Hospitals who survived to one year of age." The committee asked for clarification of this. Finally, October 23, another memo arrived, from Prof Wyatt, entered into the record, for all to see. For the widely quoted 42% survival rate at 23 weeks, Prof Wyatt admitted that the denominator was all babies admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit. But in his new special analysis, giving this new "46% survive at 23 weeks" figure, the figures in the previous paragraph, he claimed, the denominator was "all live births". Has he undone a prospectively designed study, and retrospectively re-designed it? Or is this now a completely different source of data to the original reference?
Like drawing teeth isn't it?
Goldacre's devastating conclusion follows
But science is about clarity and transparency, especially for public policy. You need to be very clear on things like: what do you define as a "live birth", how do you decide on what gestational age was, and so on. Even if this data stands up eventually, right now it is non-peer reviewed, non-published, utterly chaotic, personal communication of data, from 1996 to 2000, with no clear source, and with no information about how it was collected or analysed. That would be fine if it hadn't suddenly become central to the debate on abortion.
Cameron and his advisers have fallen headlong into the Daily Mail's statistical trap, Why on earth they didn't listen to the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists who have said they do not believe there is a case for changing the time limits for abortion.
This morning, the why is irrelevant, I picked from my bookshelf a rather yellowing copy of The Faber Book of Science, Edited by John Carey.
It is a wonderfully entertaining and educational anthology of scientific writing. The poem below was from "An Explanatory Statement of Elementary Particle Physics', by M.A. Rudderman and A.H. Rosenfeld, in American Scientist.
Every second, hundreds of billions of these neutrinos pass through each square inch of our bodies, coming from above during the day and from below at night, when the sun is shining on the other side of the earth
Neutrinos, they are very small.
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids down a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
Ignore the most substantial wall
Cold-shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall
And, scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me! Like tall
And painless guillotines, they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night they enter at Nepal
And pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed-you call
It's wonderful; I call it crass.