Sunday, September 23, 2007

Absolutely spot on

I wouldn't usually create a post just to link to a cartoon, but I'll make an exception in this case:

Click the picture to make it more readable. And don't forget to Digg it here.

Favorite part: "Step five: The line between education and ignorance grows ever more indistinct." And that what's so galling about ID. It is screwing with our children's education to further a bizarre right-wing ideological cause.

~ Ste

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Library of Congress (maybe a tiny little bit)

Ok, so no - I haven't made the trip to Washington DC to sneakily run about reshelving junk science. Nor have I hacked into the Library of Congress (LoC) computer system to reclassify stuff. No. What I have been doing is talking via email with some very helpful and responsive staff of the LoC to determine why in bookstores, local libraries, and in the LoC itself, some intelligent design books are in science, while others are in religion/teleology/etc. - and how I can go about changing this.

This has the potential to get to the core of the bookstores apparent confusion...

I decided to focus my initial efforts at first on Behe's two books (LoC full records are here and here [links broken - LoC Control Numbers 96000695 and 2007298379, search at]). I asked that since there is a separate classification for creation science (BS651), why are two prominent Intelligent Design books, classified as biological science (in the 'QH's). The response was enlightening:

"The class number is based on the first subject heading, and subject cataloging/classification is subjective. We also catalog books based on what they indicate they are. They may not have presented themselves as books on creationism."

So if Darwin's Black Box was presented to the LoC as a scientific critique of evolution, and the book appears
to be science, then it is taken as such. One of the hallmarks of ID and creationism is the scientific obfuscation they engage in, trying to pass off their personal beliefs as hard science, and gain scientific credibility in the process. Has creationism been successful in sneaking into our public libraries and stores as science via this route?

I pointed out to our friendly librarian that these books are indeed creationism, and asked how I could go about getting the reclassified. This was the response:

"We catalog it as the book tends to indicate it is. We do not go back unless we are totally wrong based on the book itself. What does this book indicate? If it indicates it is a hard science, then that's how we treat it. ... Unless there is evidence in the book itself that the 1st, most important topic is creationism, what we have stands. And it must be about creationism itself, not tangentially related."

Since Behe's Darwin's Black Box was at the forefront of the resurgence of creationism, and concludes God is at work, therefore is not science - I am confident Behe's books meet these criteria. I argue my case to the librarian and he forwards our conversation upstairs to the Cataloging Policy & Support Office of the Library of Congress. I feel like I am getting somewhere!

A few weeks later I get a response:

"In 2006, the Library of Congress established a new classification number in the Library of Congress Classification (LCC) at QH367.3 for "Critical works" on evolution. The scope note says, "Class here works that argue against the theory of evolution." Behe's most recent work, "The edge of evolution : the search for the limits of Darwinism" (2007) was just classed in that number."

This makes sense as to why we find Behe's new book in science in libraries and bookstores, though I am far from happy. A special classification has been created within science:biology (the 'QH's) for works critical of evolution. One would think that books in this class would be critical of evolution from a scientific standpoint, not a religious, theological, or philosophical one. But, according to the LoC, if it's about science, it goes in Science.


"A 1996 book, "Darwin's black box : the biochemical challenge to evolution" was classed in QH325, "Origin and beginnings of life" at that time. LC's copy of that book is currently in circulation, but we intend to examine it when it is returned to see if it should be reclassed to QH367.3 or another appropriate classification."

Well, I might have done some good here afterall. Behe's Darwin's Black Box is currently classed as "Molecular Evolution" and "Evolution (biology)", with no mention at all of its real subject. The LoC CPSO is going to see if it deserves to be a part of this new class.

Creationism is sneaking in the back door to sit side-by-side with science. I feel that a new class number within science is not only wrong, but more than a little bit disingenuous. Does anyone know who was behind this new classification of ID books?

I encourage all readers to independently contact the LoC about this issue. Here is a link to "Ask a librarian" for science and technology. When you ask a question you have to sign in and your questions and conversations with librarians are all saved. It's all rather good and easy to use. I have found these people to be polite, patient, and responsive, also. Go for it!

Anyway, that's all I have for now. Happy reshelving.

~ Ste


Someone has got the same bee in their bonnet as we do it seems. Excellent:

"...we feel strongly that categorizing Intelligent Design (“ID”) as science is both inappropriate and misleading. Local bookstores and libraries unintentionally exacerbate this misleading categorization when they shelve ID books and legitimate science texts in the same section . Our goal is to convince the U.S. Library of Congress to re-classify ID books into sections other than the science section."

Sign the petition:

For the scientists among us

For the informed citizenry among us

~ Ste

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Please discuss...

Why are some creationist books found in science, while other are found in religion?

I've come across this kind of confusion before, with the books of the pseudoscientist William Dembski with No Free Lunch in science, and Intelligent Design appropriately shelved in religion. Why do some books incorrectly end up in science, while others are correctly placed in religion or philosophy? This is why these poor, confused bookstores need our help, but the underlying reasons for these inconsistencies need to be addressed also. Stay tuned for more.

~ Ste

Barnes & Noble, Tracy, CA

Ok, ok. I apologise. Before I complained about the lack of bookstores in the County of Orange. Relatively speaking, however, the citizens of The OC have it good compared to other parts of The Great State of California.

I find myself in Tracy, California. Tracy? Yeah. Go to California, find San Fransisco, then go east. Then east a bit more. East. Bingo. There is a grand total of two bookstores in the fine city of Tracy. Which should I choose? I could go to either "Libreria Cristiana Boutique Genesis" - which I think is Spanish for "Genesis Christian Bookstore", or a mysterious place of business called "Barnes & Noble". Since by definition all creationist books are religion, all intelligent design books will be correctly shelved in a bookstore called "Genesis". I also don't speak Spanish. Off I go to Barnes & Noble.

The science section:

A familiar pattern - Behe's two books are incorrectly shelved. Also eleven copies of Dawkins' The God Delusion are present. It looks like books railing against religion aren't too popular in rural California - surprise surprise. I boldly snatch the four copies of the comically bad The Edge of Evolution and the lone copy of Darwin's Black Box and helpfully moved to "Christian Inspiration", in correct alphabetical order, naturally.

A past poll on this blog determined that I should also be reshelving The God Delusion, as it is a book on God, and not science. It's not that it's pseudoscience - it's simply not science, but religion, or philosophy. I relocated two of the eleven copies to philosophy (perhaps "Theology" would have been more appropriate).

"Why just two copies?!, why not all of them?" you cry. Well, there was not enough room in the philosophy section for them all. This may sound like a lame excuse because it is. I was also a bit intimidated at wandering from on side of the store to the other with a stack of eleven very shiney silver hardback books with nowhere to put them, being eyed suspiciously by store employees. If any Tracy people want to help me out here then please go ahead and aid this bookstore.

~ Ste

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Skylight Books, Los Angeles, 8/24/2007

I decide to branch out further in my quest for common sense in science shelving by visiting Skylight Books in Los Feliz, LA. Before entering the store I notice a cat curled up sleeping in the window. This turned out to be a good omen. Cats = Good. Independent bookstores = Good. Cats + Independent bookstores = Fan-bloody-tastic.

This was a small bookstore, so I wasn't surprised to find a small science section. However, not only did I not find a single Intelligent Design nonscience book, but it was packed with great books from Darwin to Gould, Dawkins to Mayr - along with some interesting-looking physics books. The only way you'd know creationism existed in this science section was an Ayala's Darwin's Gift: to Science and Religion.

So, I liked the cosy bookstore cat. I liked the intelligently-designed science section. I especially liked the organization of the store, placing "Nature/Science" next to "Lesbian". This resulted in a little lesbian-creep into science, with a compilation called The New Fuck You: Adventures in Lesbian Reading over the divider into "Science", next to Jared Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee.

Not forgetting my mission to aid bookstores correctly shelve science, I helpfully pop this little lesbian gem into it's proper place.

Moving to the religion section, I saw another fine example of category-clashing, with "Erotica" slap-next to the "Religion/Mythology" shelves.

"Religion/Mythology" is equally well-stocked. The top two shelves are taken up with fairy tales (no comment), and all the ancient holy texts are present, as well as some fascinating tomes dealing with theology and mythology.

Only one ID book is present. The Case for Christ by our familiar friend Lee Strobel.

Since Strobel doesn't even claim to be science, and he always is present in "Religion", I have come to be fond of his non-pseudoscientific books. They are a reminder there is some sanity in this world.

Thoroughly pleased with Skylight books, I make a purchase and head up the road to a coffee shop with free wi-fi to document this successful mission. If you're in LA and want to buy a book - make a beeline to 1818 N. Vermont Avenue and support a great independent bookstore.

~ Ste

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Son Shines on BHB

Aug 16. Irvine, CA.

Having hunted down the elusive Ste (it took weeks, I wouldn't recommend trying it), I managed to convince him to mend his erring ways. Not reshelve books, you say? Hardly. I convinced him to give the clerks at B&N and Borders a well-deserved rest and try one of the other bookstores in OC. And what more natural place to start than the other end of the ID spectrum? We headed down to Sonshine Books in Irvine.

The Idea being, of course, to see how a Christian Bookstore might treat ID books. We were a tad startled by the size of the place, though they sell a good deal more than books. But a first pass through the store came up empty. Then we met Alex, a helpful clerk-cum-theologian who showed us the (small) Creation/Science section. Perhaps not surprisingly, all of the creation science books are in the Creation/Science section. Kudos! These guys are shelving stuff the right way. But far from being lazy biologists, instead of calling it a days work, we took a closer look.

Aside from the accidental but fortunate framing of the photo (which suggests that Creation/Science is a cult or false teachings), the first noticeable feature of this section is the notable lack of books on intelligent design. Where'e Behe? Dembski? Down at the bottom there there's a Strobel book Ste previously found appropriately shelved in the religion section. But none of the big guns.

Just to make sure we weren't missing something, we checked over in bestsellers, but nada. Ste, wary of relinquishing editorial control, moved that last sentence. So don't hold me responsible if it should be above the photo.

Done wrestling over editorial control, we continued to wonder what was up with the lack of ID. My first thought, conspiracy theorist that I am, was that the Discovery Institute or the government or aliens were somehow specifically avoiding selling ID books in Christian bookstores, perhaps to establish a veneer of scientific credibility. But a quick check of the internet tubes finds ID being sold online in Christian bookstores. One can find Behe at, Dembski at, and even Campbell at the ever-fundamentalist Michigan State University Press ( no not that Campbell ). OK, OK, to preempt the hate mail and legal battles, I have no idea what other drivel msupress publishes. The point is, Christian booksellers sell ID. So much for conspiracy.

Why then, does Sonshine bookstore not sell the big ID books, the bestsellers, the authors that make it onto Colbert? The short answer is that it's anybody's guess. But, coming back to our friend Alex, we think there are one of two possibilities.

Alex, bless his little cotton socks, endured 10 minutes of conversation with us. And it became clear from talking to him that he wasn't a fan of ID. Though he seemed a conservative Christian, he didn't think there was a conflict between science and religion. One can't test, he posited, whether God is constantly creating. One can't test that the world was created, exactly as we observe it today, 10 minutes ago. He didn't seem at all put off to find out that we were biologists (yes, me too!), and didn't seem to find much conflict between religion and science. In fact, he was rather hostile to the mention of ID or creation science -- anything that tries to mix the two. While he's only a clerk at the store, his attitude was suggestive of the possibility that the store has intentionally avoided ID because of it bastardization of both science and religion. If that's the case, we give Sonshine Books a big two BHB thumbs up!

There is another possibility, one Ste and I personally think the more likely explanation. After perusing the bookstore for some while, it became clear that manliness was an important theme. There were separate sections for boys, teens, and men (we checked, but Dembski wasn't in the boys section either), and gobs of literature about a man's duty to the Lord. As this idea was just occurring to us, the manliest macho evidence possible sprung into being in front of us:

Clearly, these people take machismo seriously. Is it possible, then, that Behe and Demsbki are just not man enough for Sonshine Books? I leave it to you, good reader, to debate this issue. But when considering Intelligent Design, as the mighty Chuck Norris would say "Not in our homes. Not with our kids."

Monday, August 6, 2007

Borders, A different one (promise), 8/06/2007

Now, some people say that Orange County, California is sorely lacking in diversity, and is basically a cultural vacuum. Others say that Orange County is Los Angeles' New Jersey. But I think this is unfair. Just look at the wide variety of bookstores "The OC" enjoys. There's:

Borders, Costa Mesa;
Barnes & Noble, Newport Beach;
Book Soup, Costa Mesa (CLOSED);
Borders, Newport Beach;
Borders, Mission Viejo;
Barnes & Noble, Orange;
Barnes & Noble, Irvine;
Book Baron, Anaheim (CLOSED);
Borders, Tustin;
and not forgetting Borders, Westminster.

I have trouble picking from this embarrassment of riches. So to randomly choose, I set up a map of Southern California on the wall and thrown a dart at it. I come close to obliterating Catalina Island, ending up in the Pacific somewhere. With that in mind I head for Borders in Huntington Beach.

I arrive and make a beeline for "science". In an attempt to widen my mission past the confines of biology, I check out the Astronomy section:

To my delight there is not one problem with the handful books I find. The bookstore has managed to not shelve a single astrology book amongst the science. According to how Intelligent Designista Michael Behe defines science, however, astrology should be considered a scientific theory!

I'm happy that when is comes to the cosmos, this bookstore agrees with science, and not Behe. It seems, though, that this bookstore is mightily confused:

Behe's nonscience (including a copy of Darwin's Black Box) is helpfully relocated to the "Christian Bestsellers" shelf in Religion. They should sell plenty more copies now it's in it pride of place in the correct part of the store:

Note it now shares shelf-space with other intelligent design literature already present by Strobel, and, two shelves down, Dembski's Intelligent Design.

Now, I've seen in other forums on the internets that ID proponents are sometimes labelled "IDiots". Since I believe everything I read on the web, I take this to heart. Look closely, and you'll see Darwin's Black Box next to The Idiot's Guide to The Reformation and Protestantism. I am even doing all the audience-targeting for this store.

I also find a copy of Wells' awful diatribe, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design in biology. This horrible rag doesn't even belong in a bookstore, nevermind in religion.

I remove this nasty tome and reshelve it in politics. I then go and wash my hands.

Another good day's work. Back to the lab to read, write, experiment and generally science-out. Awesome.

~ Ste

Monday, July 30, 2007

Borders, 7/30/2007

I emerge from my hardened command bunker to strike another blow against the forces of stupidity. This time my quest, nay, crusade takes me to Borders in an undisclosed location in Southern California. Shielding my eyes against the piercing glare of the California sunshine, and with gritty determination etched onto my face, I head towards the store.

Let's see how much help Borders needs from this friendly local biologist.

A lot it seems. Behe again:

It really doesn't seem to be selling very well, there's a ton of copies languishing on the shelves. Well, if they were in the correct section of the bookstore, then perhaps people would be buying them! I also try to ignore the proximity to Darwin's Origins because thinking about such scientific sacrilege would only make one angry - and what does Yoda say about anger, kids? Scoffing at Borders' lack of business-sense and lack of shame, these books are helpfully relocated to "Religion". Next!

Earlier today I was browsing the blogs that have kindly (and sometimes not so kindly) linked to this wonderful, altruistic project of mine. I was amused to find one of those links was from William Dembski's blog (a non-evolutionary, non-scientist who is just as bad as Behe, but doesn't sell as many books - link). Even funnier, in typical fashion, the minion that posted about this blog couldn't get her facts straight - what a surprise: "At a blog called “biologists helping bookstores,” a Pasadena-based woman whose handle is Shandon explains how she deliberately misshelved Mike Behe’s Edge of Evolution, and a number of other books - distributing them around the store according to her private tastes."

I remembered this humorous article, and went in search to see how badly the bookstore needed help with Dembski's science-fiction. I couldn't find anything. But, unperturbed, and armed with knowledge of the power of the modern microcomputer, I go and search the store at one of Borders' handy computer stations. Apparently, No Free Lunch was supposed to be in "science". Ah! I found it squeezed in the top corner of the science section:

It's surely not going to sell there, what with it being virtually hidden and mis-categorized. I pick it up and move down to the Theology:Church section to place it where it belongs, where I find a delightful surprise. Another Dembski book, Intelligent Design, is already there!

I place his other book snugly next to it, and Nuns by the mysterious Evangelisti. To see if a secret splinter cell of BHB hasn't already helped Borders, I recheck "Dembski" on the fantastic microcomputer device again. Yep, Borders has his Intelligent Design book in Theology, and No Free Lunch in Science. Borders are clearly a very confused company. I am honored to assist.

Almost hiding on the bottom shelf are two ID books by Jonathan Wells (of the hilarious Discovery Institute), perilously close to Watson's The Double Helix - for frak's sake, have they no shame? These seem to be particularly nasty and specious examples of the nonscience I aim to reclassify.

Before, on my way to the science section, I had a laugh to myself at the "Speculation" section of "New Age" - like they need a subsection. Not being able to stop myself, I helpfully relocate these two books to this far more correct section.

On the far-right of the bottom bookshelf, if you look closely, is also a Pokemon book. I really must train the Junior-Biologist Bookstore Aid Brigade more carefully.

~ Ste

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Irvine Barnes & Noble, 7/25/2007

Barnes & Noble in the cultural wastela-, er, heartland of Irvine. I drop by the lone bookstore in the huge outdoor mall, The Spectrum. Bracing myself, I approach the science section.

The science section is tiny, only two small aisles three shelves high, but it doesn't take long to come across a miscategorized book - and it wasn't what I expected. God is not Great by the celebrity atheist Christopher Hitchens.

Seeing as my aim is to re-shelve religion and/or philosophy books to the correct part of the store, I am duty-bound to act. This is a book on atheism from a non-scientist, and it simply does not belong in the science section. Science is a secular process and has nothing to do with the question of the existence, or the non-existence, of a God. It is thus relocated to the Philosophy shelves upstairs. "But what about Dawkins?!" I hear you cry. Dawkins is another well-known atheist, I agree, but he is best known as an evolutionary biologist and his books are strongly evolution-themed.

Let's see what else we can find.

I think I might have picked a bad week to start this quest. Behe's new book must have been just released:

Four copies of The Edge of Evolution were discovered once more in the science section.

I flip a copy and read the back. Here's the beginning of the first quote from the back cover: "Until the past decade and the genomics revolution, Darwin's theory rested on indirect evidence and reasonable speculation..." (Dr. Philip Skell, Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, at Pennsylvania State University, and member of the National Academy of Sciences). That's not true! I am emboldened by this bare-faced lie from this well-respected elderly chemist, pick up all four copies, and stroll upstairs.

Now, I aim for accuracy in my recategorization, and I was still slightly mad at the lies on the back cover (read the "Editorial Reviews" at Amazon for a sampling), so I sought out the most appropriate section of the store:

Behe's lie-covered volume now rightly resides in the Religious Fiction section (click on the image to see the label). A job well done.

Since the puny science section carried very few science books, there wasn't much other opportunity for other mistakes on behalf of Barnes & Noble. After finishing browsing science, I went to browse the expansive Religion department and got a nice suprise:

A book by Lee Strobel called The Case for a Creator. This book claims to be a scientific investigation on evidence that points to God's existence, and it is shelved correctly in Religion. As I was saying, science is secular, but that doesn't mean it cannot inform people's religion, just as science can inform people's atheism. In fact, it can do this because its a secular process.

How did Barnes & Noble do? Pathetically small science section, the usual Behe books, a non-science atheism book. Not so great. Picked up points with the Strobel book though.

~ Ste

Saturday, July 21, 2007

La Jolla Bookstar, 7/20/2007

Bookstar, La Jolla, San Diego. It happens to be Harry Potter release night (hence the big queue). I go and investigate the science section.

An egregious error on behalf of the staff at this popular local haunt has resulted in six copies of Michael Behe's new religion book, The Edge of Evolution, to be set aside books in the "science", and the "evolutionary biology" shelves. Oops! Well, this bookselling company can't be blamed for a little lack of scientific literacy. I mean, it even has the word "evolution" in the title - it must be science, right? Wrong.

I spring into action. Interestingly, their "New Age" section (which, bizarrely, is as large as "science") is in the same aisle as "science", but on the opposite side.

Six copies of Behe's new non-science book are relocated to their rightful place next to Everyday Magic, The Love Spell, and Grimoire for the Green Witch (what is "grimoire" anyway?).

[Note to self: next time place books in alphabetical order by author to further aid bookstore staff.]

I even find a copy of Behe's truly laughable pseudo-science Darwin's Black Box in the "evolutionary biology section"! After chuckling a geeky chuckle for a few seconds it is also helpfully relocated - this time next to the far more appropriate Pop! Goes the Witch - A Disinformation Guide to 21st Century Witchcraft.

After a thorough scan of the remaining science shelves for other blatant nonsense, I find it all in good order. Mission accomplished. Apart from the Behe error, Bookstar La Jolla did ok.

~ Ste

Friday, July 20, 2007

The start of something beautiful

What's all this about then?

I'm not sure if you've noticed, but some bookstores seem to have a little problem discerning science from non-science.  I'm specifically talking about biology books vs. creationist books.  Sometimes, you will find psuedo-scientific rubbish such as "intelligent design" books next to such authors as Darwin, Mayr, Gould, et al.

Now, before you get all worked-up and charge into your local bookstore demanding to see the manager, pause to realise just how successful creationism has been in blurring the lines of what science actually is in the public's eye.  So successful, in fact, that books whose main argument is that "God did it" enjoy shelf-space with some of the finest minds ever to grace humanity.

This is unacceptable, and something must be done.  Booksellers are not scientists, maybe we shouldn't expect them to be able to discern between science and books desperately trying to wrap themselves in scientific credibility.  I, however, am a scientist - and I can clearly see when an error has been made when stocking the shelves of the science section.

It is my mission to correctly re-shelve books to the appropriate section of the bookstore.  

For example, "Darwin's Black Box", the famous psuedo-science book by the non-evolutionary non-scientist Michael Behe, should not be in the "Evolutionary Biology" section, but something more appropriate, such as "New Age", "Religion", "Christianity", or even "Fiction".  You get the idea.

I call on all readers of this blog to follow my example.  Help your local bookstore correctly stock their science section.  Spread the word.

~ Ste