Monday, November 13, 2017

And, Apparently, The Stolen Bone is Only One Problem...

The journal Nature is reporting on a scandal of sizable proportions involving a site of early human occupation in Europe.  Ewen Callaway reports:
Serious concerns have surfaced about three research papers claiming evidence for one of the earliest human occupations of Europe.

In an extraordinary letter posted to the bioRxiv.org preprint server on 31 October1, archaeologists allege that the papers, published in 2013, 2016 and 2017, included material of questionable provenance, and that results reported in the 2016 paper were based on at least one stolen bone. Editors at the journals concerned are publishing expressions of concern about the papers.
The bioRxiv paper is available from the site and, since it is a preprint server, is accessible to anyone wishing to read the story. Here is the bombshell from the paper:
A series of recent papers on the Early Pleistocene palaeontological site of Untermassfeld (Germany) makes claims that are of great interest for studies of earliest Europe and are at odds with the described pattern: the papers suggest that Untermassfeld has yielded stone tools and humanly modified faunal remains, evidence for a one million years old hominin presence in European continental mid-latitudes, and additional evidence that hominins were well-established in Europe already around that time period. Here we evaluate these claims and demonstrate that these studies are severely flawed in terms of data on provenance of the materials studied and in the interpretation of faunal remains and lithics as testifying to a hominin presence at the site. In actual fact any reference to the Untermassfeld site as an archaeological one is unwarranted.
The site is said to have been occupied beginning around a million years ago, which was an astounding claim when it was made.  Critical, however, is that, despite the wealth of archaeological, taphonomic, faunal and floral evidence from the site, there have never been any hominin remains found. 

The article is lengthy but is a fascinating account of a palaeontological mystery and sleuthing.  If the accusations are true, it is blow for the study of early human European occupation and puts a stain on the whole proceedings. 

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Ken Ham Comes to Alberta

Young earth creationism is ubiquitous in home school curricula here in the United States.  Ken Ham is trying to make that the case in Canada, as well.  There has been pushback. Bill Kaufmann of the Calgary Herald writes:
Australian-born Ken Ham, a leading Christian fundamentalist proponent of creationism over evolution, is scheduled as a keynote speaker at the Alberta Home Education Association (AHEA) convention in Red Deer next April.

Ham spearheaded the building of a Noah’s Ark-centred creationist museum in Kentucky, and the educational books he’s authored includes Dinosaurs of Eden: Did Adam and Eve live with dinosaurs?

“Those who believe that only the uneducated reject evolution perhaps do not realize that evolution, far from fact, does not even qualify as a theory,” states an entry on his Answers in Genesis website.

“Evolution is a belief system about the past.”

It also offers a line of textbooks in areas of biology, geology and “creation apologetics.”
This is total nonsense. I would quote Todd Wood at this point, but he is probably tired of me quoting him. Suffice it to say, evolution is one of the most well-tested theories on the planet.  If you choose not to “believe” it, that is fine but to say that it is not a theory is just ignorant and foolish.  The more Ken Ham writes, the less I think he knows about how science works.   And now the pushback:
But Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan said while home schoolers have every right to invite speakers like Ham, it raises questions about what those children are being taught as science.

“None of that belongs in science curriculum, which should be mandatory for everyone regardless of whether they’re funded by Alberta Education or not,” said Khan.

“Having a bunch of kids lacking in basic science education is a problem for society writ large.”

He questioned whether Education Minister David Eggen is doing enough to ensure real science is being taught outside conventional classrooms.

While the AHEA doesn’t receive provincial funding, they’re expected to teach fact-based science, said Eggen’s spokeswoman Lindsay Harvey.

“All students, no matter what format of education they receive, are expected to learn from the current Alberta curriculum,” said Harvey.
I am generally not in favor of government oversight in home schooling. When that happens, you tend to get an agenda that seems to be tolerant of everything except “conservative” values.  Having said that, I wonder about all of these kids who wind up going to secular universities and having their faith blown apart by grounded, empirical science.  You can't mandate to homeschoolers what they should and should not teach unless you force a specific curriculum on them but stories like this shine a spotlight on home schooling that might be detrimental in the long run.

I wonder if Ken Ham is even aware of the damage that he is causing.  As Joel Edmund Anderson put it in his book The Heresy of Ham:
I believe that the paranoia, divisiveness, and frustration that the young earth creationist movement fosters wherever it goes should serve as an indication that there is something fundamentally wrong with it. This is not simply a case of Christians having a difference of opinion on a certain topic.  This is a case of a movement willing to declare war on everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, who does not capitulate to what they have unilaterally declared to be true.
I couldn't agree more.