Tuesday, April 26, 2016

ICC8: July 29 - Aug 1, 2018

I just got the ICC's latest call for "proposals" for the 2018 International Conference on Creationism, which you can find at the ICC website.  The proposal deadline is January 31, 2017.

A couple thoughts:

  • John Whitmore from Cedarville University is going to be handling the General Editor's duties this time.  God bless you, John.  That's a lot of work.
  • They're asking for "proposals" this time, which are a bit more elaborate than the abstracts they used to ask for.  This time, they want the keywords, author's bio, suggested reviewer, and references along with the 300-800 word abstract.
  • The most surprising development is the "submission fee:"
A non-refundable submission fee of $25 (per proposal) will be charged whether your proposal is accepted or not. The money will be used to help offset clerical expenses for editing the proceedings.
Wow.

A typical journal will finance publication of articles by a mix of page charges and subscription costs.  The page charge is based on the number of pages in the finished publication after the paper passes peer review and layout is done.  The alternative open access model charges a larger publication fee to authors and gets rid of the subscription costs.  Anyone on the internet can get an open access paper for free.  In creationist publications, the cost has been born by donations to the publishing organization and subscription fees.  Until now, there have been no author publication fees that I'm aware of for creationist journals.  (Then again, I haven't published anything in JC, ARJ, or CRSQ in quite a while, so things might have changed by now.)

So the ICC's submission fee is a big departure from pretty much any other scholarly publication that I know of.  Maybe somebody's tried this before?  Art shows maybe?  I don't know.  I can imagine what went into their deliberations on this: ICC is expensive, and they need support for professional editing/layout/proofing of papers.  But they don't want to charge a huge publication fee to the authors, which most can't afford.  So they charge a smaller fee at the abstract level, because there are more abstracts to bear the cost.

I get it.  I understand that expenses aren't free, and this is a creative way to keep costs down.  But it's also a deterrent.  Any time you charge for something that used to be free, you're going to discourage potential "customers."  Especially when people are already paying hundreds of dollars to come to the conference.  At the last ICC, I submitted three of my own papers and two others that were co-authored.  Roger Sanders also submitted a paper.  Since Core Academy is poor and heavily dependent on donations, we couldn't do that much this time.  I'd have to think very carefully about this.  Maybe we could submit one paper each.  I don't know.

I suppose you might say, "Oh come on, it's just $25."  I get it, but as a poor person, I also know that $25 could do a lot of good for Core Academy.  Submitting at the level we did last time (six papers) would cost $150, which is a heavy deterrent.  It's easy for a multi-million dollar creation ministry to pay those fees, but we're a multi-dozen dollar ministry that needs to be very careful how we use donor money.  That's just the way it is.

I also foresee a whole new way to complain.  Part of the reality of ICC editing is that there's always somebody furious that their work got rejected.  Now they have to pay a non-refundable $25 submission fee and get no appeal of their proposal rejection.  That's asking for a whole different level of trouble.  John Whitmore, bless your heart, I hope you're ready for this.

I am very interested to see how this "submission fee" experiment works out.  I can imagine a lot of people will be good sports about it, and I can imagine a bunch that will not.  As for Core Academy, our submissions to ICC (if any) will comply with the submission fee.

I would also like to say that submissions to the annual Origins conferences and the Journal of Creation Theology and Science will remain free.  Publication in those venues will also remain free.  The costs are paid by membership fees and conference registrations.  I do not foresee any change in that model.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

AAPA2016: Parting thoughts


I had some interesting feedback from my comments on the AAPA conference I attended in Atlanta.  Before that, let's admire my cool new key chain that I picked up at the exhibitor booth for the Kenya National Museum.  Yes, the very same Kenya National Museum that put the KNM in KNM-ER 1470!  They had full-sized casts available too, but I was on a budget.  Even though it's tiny, my new skull is pretty neat.

My keychain actually has relevance to one of the more curious comments I got.  One reader enjoyed reading my comments because I didn't sound like an average creationist.  I admit that stung a little (I should sound like a creationist, right?), but it was meant as a compliment.  I wasn't prattling on about evolutionary indoctrination or constantly reassuring my readers that evolution was false or something like that.  In fact, I was probably just as excited to be there as anyone else (hence, the keychain story).

Still, it seems like a creationist ought to have something to say about all this human evolution and fossil and genetics business.  A few thoughts come to mind.  First, it's a lot to take in.  Listening to the standard creationist rhetoric, you might think that "all the evidence supports creation," but the reality is a lot more complicated.  I do believe in the end that it will all make sense within the creationist paradigm, but in the here and now, it's not always obvious how to interpret this or that piece of data.  The story of human origins is much, much more challenging than just affirming a "historical Adam."

Second, a lot of what I heard didn't include much "evolutionary indoctrination."  In fact, most of the Homo naledi talks were just describing the fossils.  Whether you're a creationist or evolutionist, Homo naledi still has unusually curved finger bones and a thick kneecap.  To give a "good" evolutionary interpretation, they're still waiting for a good date on the fossils.  Creationists have already weighed in, and my own interpretation is coming soon.  Whatever the interpretation though, the fossils are still what they are.

Third, I have been doing what I do for a long time now, and I have a great deal of personal peace and confidence about my position as a creationist.  I just don't feel a need to constantly reassure my audience or even myself that I'm a creationist.  I suppose some might think that I should be more indignant because of all these evolutionists undermining the truth or some such, but I'm far more unsettled by fellow evangelical Christians promoting evolution than by non-Christians doing it.  They really should know better.

Fourth, this stuff is exciting!  I can't understand how any scientist could look at a fossil discovery like H. naledi and not get their heart beating a little faster.  Sure, maybe I don't know what to do with it right away, but I would never dream of reacting with annoyance or indifference.  For a scientist interested in human creation, new fossils are always welcome.  Will they affirm what I already thought, or will they require me to revise some interpretations?  Will new discoveries help me resolve lingering, unanswered questions?  What will these new fossils tell me about God's creation?

I can be excited about new fossils, because I have confidence in God the Creator.  At the end of the day, even if a new fossil upends my old way of thinking, God is still Creator.  That faith liberates me from the anxiety and worry that seems to plague some Christians when new fossils are announced.  My God is the God who called the universe into existence and led His people into a promised land and saved my soul.  Death itself could not keep Him in the grave, and some old, dead fossils are not going to change any of that.

At the end of the day, I'm an explorer.  I'm standing on the edge of an amazing frontier.  Every new fossil discovery is another corner of that frontier opened up.  Every new genome sequenced is a map to parts hitherto unknown.  I say we have nothing to fear.  I say let's go explore!

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Origins 2016 abstracts DUE Friday!

Don't forget that abstracts for Origins 2016 are DUE this Friday!  If you're planning to go, make sure you have your abstract in by the deadline.  I'm working on mine (cooking up a little something with Homo floresiensis), and I hope to see you there.  For more information, click below!

Origins 2016 Call for Abstracts

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

AAPA2016: Saturday


Saturday was Homo naledi day.  I began my day with the symposium on Homo naledi, with thirteen talks mostly by the research associates.  They went over just about every aspect of naledi you can imagine.  A few highlights:

  • They are working on a date and think maybe they'll have something to announce in 3-4 months.  This was brought up multiple times.  They're trying to get multiple methods to converge on the same date, and they seemed pretty optimistic about that happening soon.
  • It's a unique species.  In the talks, everybody emphasized how different naledi is from everything else we know about.  During the Q&A, the possibility that naledi is just Homo erectus was brought up, and there was emphatic disagreement from multiple folks.  It's not Homo erectus.
  • That was about as heated as it got, which is to say not really heated at all.  Judging by the sensationalism of the press reports, you might expect a fight to break our or something, but that didn't even come close to happening.  In fact, most people seemed pretty excited about the whole thing.  No one even raised their voices, although the naledi team seemed at times very slightly exasperated about some of the claims perpetuated by the press.  I already mentioned erectus, and Berger himself was quick to shoot down the idea of another entrance to the chamber (but he was really nice about it).

For lunch, I attended the banquet with Berger giving his special presentation.  Apparently, there were twice as many people as there were last year at their banquet.  Big surprise, eh?  Berger seemed just as generous and open as he appears on TV.  He immediately acknowledged the hard work of the 150 researchers who have worked on sediba and naledi.  "This is not the Lee Berger Show."

His presentation was basically a quick review of his entire career, beginning with his long excavation work in the 1990s at a site called Gladysvale.  He described his discovery of Google Earth and how he used it to find his house (like we all do).  Then he described using it to find known fossil sites, which helped him learn how to recognize hominin fossil sites from satellite images.  He used that knowledge to locate 600 potential new sites.  Malapa, where sediba was found, was just 50 m from the road he used to drive to get to Gladysvale.  That led him to conclude that we should be looking for new hominins in "the places we know best" because those are the ones that are most likely to have fossils.

That plan paid off with naledi.  After the late night discovery, he called his program officer at National Geographic at 2 in the morning.  The next day he put up the ad on Facebook to recruit excavators, and three weeks later they started excavating.  The speed is just staggering.  Berger called the decision to live-stream the excavation "controversial," but I didn't hear any objections from the audience.  I suspect the controversy is exaggerated by the press and one Berkeley paleontologist.

The big lesson of the day: Never stop exploring.  Berger then announced that the sediba fossils would be released to Morphosource and that they're working on a composite skeleton model of naledi that they also plan to release to Morphosource.  Soon you'll be able to print your own copy of an entire naledi skeleton!  (Yes, I'm giddy at the thought.)  No one could get him to even give a hint about the date of naledi ("No one's asked me this much about dating since I was 19!"), but he did spill a few beans about the next big thing.  If I understood correctly, he said that the next fossil announcement that isn't Malapa or Rising Star is coming probably during the last quarter of 2016.  "They're good!" was all he would say about these new fossils.  I can't wait.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Friday, April 15, 2016

AAPA2016: Friday


This was my first day of hardcore physical anthropology... sort of.  I actually started the day in a toolmaking symposium watching videos of monkeys cracking nuts with rocks.  Lots of videos of monkeys with rocks.  It was actually kind of cute.  There was this one young monkey who wasn't very good at it, but he kept wacking away.  Never did get the nut open.  Aw....  Check it out:


I also learned that 92% of gorilla nests have fresh fecal matter in them.  Maybe they keep it handy in case they need to fling it at somebody?  That was in a talk by Crickette Sanz.  I understand she was interested in that little factlet because gorilla nests are places where new plants grow, and she's interest in the extended synthesis, which is all about how organisms modify their own niches and thereby alter their own selection and evolution.  I just kept thinking, "Gorillas sleep in their own poop!"  That's pretty heavy for 8:45 am.  She also gave a really interesting update on her research on termite fishing in chimps, complete with video (video was definitely the order of the day).

I heard many talks today on morphology modeling and scanning and other things I'm not entirely fluent in.  Being a genomics/molecular kind of guy, I knew this conference was going to be out of my element, but some of these talks were a real stretch.  That didn't prevent me from learning a lot of cool things.

Linda Smith from Indiana University gave a fascinating talk on her research about hands and language acquisition.  She had video too, where she attached a head camera to toddlers.  So you can see the world from their perspective, which is about as crazy as you would expect.  What was so fascinating was the things they looked at.  As they get older they spend more and more time looking at their own hands.  Then she found that handling objects is correlated with naming.  So if you show a baby an item and say its name, the kid's not likely to remember.  But if you let the kid hold the item and then say its name, the kid's more likely to remember.  As I watched the video I started thinking about what it would be like to discover your own hands at that age, and realize, "Hey, those meaty things with the fingers that I keep seeing, they're attached to me, and they're my hands and I can pick stuff up and do things with them!"  No wonder they look at their hands more as they get older.  I thought it was fascinating.

Another talk I really enjoyed was by Dietrich Stout from Emory (right around the corner).  He's interested in how the brain makes it possible for us to make stone tools.  He was looking at a part of the brain called the right Inferior Frontal Gyrus (rIFG - see what I mean about being out of my league?), and he found that characteristics of the rIFG (measured by fractional anisotropy - I didn't write down what that was exactly) correlated with a person's skill in toolmaking, before and after learning.  But the rIFG didn't correlate with learning, so evidently people who were better at toolmaking before training were still better at it after training.  Training and practice improved everyone's skill but I understood that training didn't improve their skill relative to everyone else in the group.  The best toolmakers were still the best before and after the training.  So I thought I must have a terrible rIFG anisotropy, because I've got no hand-eye coordination to speak of, no matter how much I practice things.  Just ask my high school gym teacher!  Wait, on second thought, don't do that.  That's embarrassing.

In the afternoon I went to the session on paleoanthropology methods, which was more scanning and graphs and principle component analysis and very little digging up fossils.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I thought Rachael Bible's niche modeling of Neandertals was really interesting, and Bernard Wood's "Rumsfeldian" approach was spot on.  "We must work with the data we have, not the data we wish we had."

For me the real eye-opener of the afternoon was Ashley Kruger's scanning of the Rising Star Cave where Homo naledi was found.  And by "scanning the cave" I mean the whole thing.  It actually looks a lot different from the schematic diagram that's been published everywhere.  I'd been wondering what the cave was really like.  Now if there was just an Oculus walkthrough for us middle-aged, overweight professors who couldn't dream of squeezing down the "chute," that'd be awesome!

Speaking of Homo naledi, that's the first session tomorrow.  I can't wait.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.