Depressing news from the US

I’ve had my odd pop or two at creationist / intelligent design in the past (and will continue to do so in the future) but the following shows something of the scale of the opposition to rational thought in the US. By way of political betting and polling report comes this depressing (for me anyway) poll result from USA Today/Gallop. Asked “if your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be [category here], would you vote for that person?

Bristol Channel 'Tsunami' 1607

Janunary 30th, saw the 400th anniversary of the Bristol Channel ‘Tsunami’ of 1607, details on the BBC News website.

I’ve a few doubts about this event despite the article – I remember the Timewatch based on this work and was not convinced then, and nothing has really changed to alter my point of view. The article states “Experts believe severe flooding on 30 January 1607 in south west England and south Wales was caused by a tsunami – and not a storm surge or high tides.” but doesn’t go on to say why a storm surge has been ruled out. I recall some comments about the weather at the time being nice but one can have a storm coming in from the Atlantic and still have sunshine in Somerset.

Roger Musson at the BGS (who states in the article that he thinks that is a storm surge) is quoted that there are earthquakes offshore south-west Ireland. The problem is the size and type of the earthquake needed to generate a tsunami. One needs at least a magnitude 7 ‘quake for a half decent tsunami (and the Indonesian Boxing Day 2004 event was 3000 times more powerful than this at 9.3). These events are only generated at subduction zones, magnitude scales with fault length and a very large thust plane is needed. As far as I know there isn’t a subduction zone off Ireland.

The source of the 1755 ‘Lisbon’ earthquake and tsunami is disputed but at least there is the remnants of the Alboran subduction system nearby.

Footnote: Is it really the 400th anniversary? When it happened, Britain had a different calendar and people at the time thought it was still 1606.

Creationist gets Palaeontology Ph.D.

Do you have to believe what you write in your Ph.D. thesis for it to be valid?

A student, Marcus R. Ross, at the University of Rhode Island has been awarded a Ph.D. for his palaeontological research into mosasaurs that became extinct that he, himself writes in his thesis, at the end of the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago. But, according to the New York Times , Dr. Ross is a ‘young earth creationist’ and as such believes literally in the Bible and that the Earth is at most 10,000 years old.

He has played by the rules, his dissertation supervisor claims that the work is ‘impeccable’, but does stating one thing in his Ph.D. thesis and believing something else make him a hypocrite?

Dr. Ross states that the theories of palaeontology are one paradigm and scripture is another and the dates given in his thesis are ‘appropriate’. He says he is just separating the different paradigms.

My personal belief is that religion is no more than superstitious ‘mumbo jumbo’ but I find myself in the realms of the ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ territory here. Where is the line drawn? There are many degree level students (particularly first year ones) who regurgitate material, not believing (or even understanding it). Are they not entitled to a degree? Some of those first year students will be studying geology or astronomy as an auxiliary subject – do they have to believe in an ‘old Earth’ to pass the module? The same thing also holds for degree level students with fundamental religious beliefs – can they have a degree if they don’t believe in what they write in their exam papers. The answer has to be no – if they satisfy the examiners and achieve the intended learning outcomes then they must pass.

Is a Ph.D. any different? Chad Orzel argues not and I have to agree. As he states, a Ph.D. is not a licence to practice like a Medical or Law qualification. It is just another degree. Dr. Ross has satisfied the examiners and is entitled to the qualification. Just what is a degree in the ‘Philosophy of Science’ anyway?

What does stick in my craw, however, is that having played the secular scientific system and gained his Ph.D., Dr. Ross is now in a position to use this qualification against this very secular scientific system. According to the New York Times, he has already appeared in a DVD arguing that ‘intelligent design’ is better than evolution in explaining the Cambrian explosion and online information about the DVD has Dr. Ross as ‘pursuing a Ph.D. in geosciences’ as part of his ‘authority’. Now he has the Ph.D. he is now clear to use this qualification to back statements on his beliefs on ‘intelligent design’ to an unsuspecting public.