Saturday, May 12, 2012

Better than a Japanese Monster Movie from the 1950s

Hey there,  science/evolution fans and enemies of biblical literalists who would destroy American science education.  Check out Abbie Smith vs. Steve Kern  , a debate between a bona fide scientist working daily to figure out how HIV works and how we might actually defeat it (she seems confident that we will ), and a real-life young-earth biblical creationist and pastor, who has political clout (!!!) in Oklahoma along with his wife, Sally Kern.

Abbie Smith is a graduate student at University of Oklahoma studying ERVs, or endogenous retrovirus--bits of viral RNA that got inserted accidentally into the human genome eons ago and have profound applications for modern medical science--possibly curing previously intractable diseases.   They are also a vivid marker--like the human genome retro-viral insertion error in the exact same chromosome spot in chimpanzees--of an unmistakable 6 million-year-old common ancestor we share with the chimps.  We didn't "evolve from monkeys," dummies.  We and the monkeys and apes split off  from our old relatives and went out into the big wide world to seek our fortunes.   We also have convergent lines of evidence pointing to kinship with all other organisms--gorillas, sharks, dinosaurs, mushrooms-- from fossils, physiology, behavioral models, molecular evidence, etc.  It's all "really cool" as Abbie says in her charming way.

Abbie is a pretty, dark-haired woman with huge eyes who looks surprised and pleased to be alive at this moment in history.   This serves her well when contrasted to pastor Kern, who looks alternately bored and baffled by Abbie's command of science and appears smacked in the face with a snow shovel whenever she makes a cogent point.   Abbie, hilariously, seems to be having a hard time not melting and quivering whenever Kern makes one of his earnest, stern, and utterly clueless references to biblical "kinds" and "micro" versus "macro" evolution.   Professional evolutionary biologists make no such distinction.  When they look at a horse, for example, they know they are seeing a snapshot of a creature that's had unimaginable amounts of time to become what it is and probably has lots more to become something else.   It also had a common ancient ancestor with other hoofed animals.   But a horse isn't a "kind," in the biblical sense.

Hardly a month goes by without some gob shite school board or state legislature trying to get religion into the classroom.  You'd think the Dover trial in 2005 would have ended all this.   The war between the leaden literal minded and the ironic consciousness is eternal must be fought until the death, or at least until dinner time. 

Kids deserve better, and thank somebody or something Abbie Smith is alive.   Tune in and also check out her blog ERV (much of which is too specialized for me, but still funny and informative).  Also check out ScienceBlogs, of which her blog is one of many fabulously smart and smart-alecky productions yucking it up there daily.  Go to it, and tell the smart kids--the ones not eating hot Cheetos and watching Japanese cartoons.

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