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Monday, March 31, 2008
Just Another Deceptive Distraction

There is an upcoming documentary movie called "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" that has been getting quite a bit of attention around the science blogosphere lately. The movie is about the supposed attempts of so-called "Big Science" to expel from academia anyone who has doubts about evolution. From what I have read, the makers of the film also manage to blame evolution for Nazism and the Holocaust.

I wish I could tell you that I'm just kidding about that last part, but they really do go there.

From my perspective as a Biology teacher, this movie is going to be just another one of those deceptive distractions with the potential to prevent students from actually learning about evolution. Despite their protestations to the contrary, this is clearly a major goal of the antievolution movement. Nearly every new strategy they employ seems to be intended to make sure that students are unable to make an honest and unbiased assessment of the scientific evidence of evolution.

For this reason, Cheryl and I have decided to add a link to the National Center for Science Education's "Expelled Exposed" website in the left sidebar. Right now, the website is merely a placeholder page that links to various critical reviews and other commentary concerning Expelled. The official website is set to go live around April 15th, just before the movie hits the theaters.

Be sure to check it out frequently and link to it freely.



posted by Jeremy Mohn



Thursday, March 27, 2008
Battle Against Teaching Evolution in Texas Begins

A long article in The Dallas Observer lays out the evidence that supporters of REAL science should be gearing up for a major conflict in Texas concerning the teaching of evolution.

An excerpt:

The decision the state board makes on the science curriculum this November will determine what every public school student in Texas learns about science for the next 10 years. And that's not all. Because Texas buys more textbooks than every other state except California and publishers would rather not create separate editions for smaller states, the books ordered here will end up in classrooms across the country.

"If Texas falls, this is the beginning of a giant move backward in science education," says Chris Comer, the former science director who resigned in November. "What really disturbs me most of all is how the average citizen doesn't really care. The entire education system is about to be subverted, because this isn't just about science. This is about a group of people who are trying to dictate what should be taught in every subject, not according to research or facts, but according to their own whims and personal beliefs."


posted by Jeremy Mohn



Monday, March 24, 2008
My Favorite Time of Year

This is my favorite part of the school year. Spring Break is now over, and do you know what that means?

No, it's not the fact that we are on the home stretch with the finish line in sight. It's not the fact that the weather is warming up and local wildlife is starting to re-awaken after a long, cold winter. It's not the promise of summer vacation around the corner. All of these things are great, but they're not the reason why I particularly like this time of year.

I particularly enjoy this time of year because we just started our instructional unit on the topic of evolution in my Biology classes today. Over the next few weeks, I plan to write some short posts that illustrate the type of learning experiences that occur in my classroom during this unit.

Today's activity was a simple simulation that is intended to serve as an introduction to the unit. I walk the students through a basic scenario where they get to see the possible effects that genetic variation (mutations) and natural selection can have on a population over time.


The major take-home points of the activity are summarized as follows:

Summary
-Genetic variation (mutation) and natural selection can, without advanced planning, eventually lead to the formation of new species.
-Adaptation and speciation are the two main events in evolution. As shown in this simulation, they seem to be the natural consequence of natural events.

If you'd like to see what the activity actually entails, feel free to download the PowerPoint.


posted by Jeremy Mohn




Layers of Understanding


Diagram from USGS

Our family fulfilled a long-held dream last week of traveling to the Grand Canyon. Camping in the area was made tolerable by the fact that the 17oF nighttime low ensured that the daytime gloppy mud was nicely frozen over in the mornings.

Although the older kids & husband hiked down into the Canyon, I stayed up top along the Rim Trail with the little ones who were (thankfully) cautious about getting close to the edge. Tourists were speaking at least 7 different languages, that I could tell. Parents were kept busy answering their kids' questions: "How deep is it?" (about a mile) "Why is it so hazy?" (smog from LA) "Where's the potty?"

And of course, "How did it get here?" I overheard several different responses on this one:


"Lots of elves digging with little toothpicks."

"The river ate away at the rock for millions of years."

"This whole area used to be at the bottom of a great big sea. The sea dried up, the land rose and the river eroded its way through the layers."

"I don't know."


Notably absent were any creationist explanations. Now sure, this is hardly a scientific sampling, and my "methodology" relied on blatant eavesdropping . . . but it's still reassuring.

We stopped in four of the five South Rim bookstores run by the Grand Canyon Association. In 2003,the National Park Service made the controversial decision to stock a creationist book in their "Science" section featuring creationist versions of the Canyon's formation.

The good news? I searched through the "Science" and "Spiritual" sections of each of those stores, and the book wasn't on the shelves of either section. Sure, this might mean that it's so popular that it's out of stock . . . and it is still available online.

The official National Park Service visitor centers featured some nicely-designed displays which weren't coy at all about the millions of years of Canyon history.

All in all, some reasons for hope.



posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Friday, March 14, 2008
Academic Freedom and Dogs


Photo from nocans.com

Here's a persuasive argument for keeping just REAL science in the classroom. Originally posted at talk.origins, the author concisely points out the hypocrisy of ignoring scientists when it comes to science curriculum:

Science protects dogs, but why should it protect kids' minds?

Your dog's foods and drugs have to be vetted by scientific methods, for your sake and for their protection.

But hey, why should science be used to vet the information taught to children in science classes? I mean, why should children's minds be protected from untested ideas using at least the same standards used for dog food? Sure, science is proper to keeping dogs' lives safe and whole, but children's minds aren't worthy of any such protections.

No, tested ideas, and ideas which have either failed the test, or carefully avoided tests altogether (as ID at least attempts to do), are all equal for teaching to children. Their minds can be filled with any kind of rot and abracadabra, but we'll sue if you put scientifically unproven ingredients in our dogs' food.

So yeah, it's all science for our dogs. Florida's kids? Get real, we'll tell them anything in science class. It's all the same to us whether those ideas have passed scientific tests or not.

A child's mind is not such a terrible thing to waste after all. What is put into it hardly merits the same scrutiny that the food put into a dog's belly does.

And you know, ID is all about the children - treating their minds as more expendable than our dogs.

The author is referring to Florida's misnamed "Academic Freedom Act." Based on a model act written by the Discovery Institute (DI), the bills (HB 1483 & SB 2692) would protect teachers who teach creationism from legal prosecution.

Additionally, from the bills (courtesy of the DI boilerplate):

The Legislature further finds that existing law does not expressly protect the right of students to hold a position on views regarding biological or chemical evolution.

Unfortunately for the DI, to "hold a position on views regarding biological or chemical evolution" is quite different from "showing mastery of the concepts of biological or chemical evolution."

The National Science Education Standards - written by scientists and experts in science curriculum - make clear distinctions between facts, theories, hypotheses, and beliefs. On the other hand, if an organization is trying to prevent true critical thinking, they'll purposely muddy those differences. In the DI's post-modernist world, all opinions have equal rights regardless of the evidence. Bills like these get passed when scientists' voices are shouted down by anti-science legislators and lobbyists.

Florida legislators need to sit up and pay attention to the experts in the field instead of rolling over for the anti-science lobby.


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Sunday, March 9, 2008
Lawrence Krauss on Scientific Literacy

Dr. Lawrence Krauss recently delivered an excellent lecture at the American Enterprise Institute about scientific literacy.

In the lecture, Krauss addressed the fact that journalism has an inherent tension built into it that makes it very difficult to cover science. Journalists are trained to look for two sides to every issue, and they can usually find a PhD who is willing to support any sort of nonsense. For the journalist, this approach leads to the appearance of controversy and a more compelling story. Unfortunately, journalists have difficulty accepting that, in most disagreements concerning science, one side is just plain wrong. Krauss identifies this difference between science and other intellectual endeavors as a crucial distinction that allows for scientific progress.

You can watch the lecture at the C-SPAN website.



posted by Jeremy Mohn



Saturday, March 8, 2008
OOPSIEs


Cover from
first issue

The newest (March 2008) issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach features the timely article, "Overcoming Obstacles to Evolution Education: The OOPSIE Compromise-A Big Mistake."

OOPSIE is the acronym coined by authors Eugenie Scott and Glenn Branch for "opt-out policies specifically including evolution." The article supports their contention that

A teacher who tries to present biology without mentioning evolution is like a director trying to produce Hamlet without casting the prince. By the same token (and to vary the play), a student who is opted out of evolution is likely to regard biology as a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Since evolution underlies all of biology, a la Dobzhanzky, then evolution will (ideally) be taught throughout the course. Scott and Branch noted that

A student opting out of evolution in such a course would have to bob in and out of the classroom several times a month, disappearing, for example, when the structure of the cell is taught (and with it the endosymbiotic origin of mitochondria), and again when taxonomy is taught (and with it phylogenetic systematics), and yet again when genetics is taught (and with it molecular homology), and so on.

All in all, an article worth reading, containing practical advice on how to resist appeasing the controversy.


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Clarifying Texas

According to the August 24, 2007 Dallas News,

Republican Pat Hardy of Weatherford was the only board member interviewed who said she was open to the idea of putting intelligent design into the curriculum. She wants to see strong support from science teachers for doing so, though, she said.

"I am open to having intelligent design in there because there is a large body of evidence unanswered by the theory of evolution. We first need to hear from science educators and experts about whether this should be done," Ms. Hardy said, adding that she does not favor putting any religious teachings into science classes.

Kathy Miller, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network had this to say:

Hardy and Berlanga "have been voting against the far right faction of the State Board of Education and have been vocal proponents for listening to the teachers that are actually in the classroom, for listening to the legislative mandate that they not be in the business of censoring textbooks."

So although Ms. Hardy's victory over Maddox is definitely a step in the right direction, Ms. Hardy has been misinformed about there being a "large body of evidence unanswered by the theory of evolution." She's asked for input from science educators and experts, and she has a track record of listening to those of us in the field.

REAL science supporters, it's time to do your stuff! You can contact Ms. Hardy at sboesupport(at)tea(dot)state(dot)tx(dot)us ; specify that the email should be directed to her.


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams




Good News from Texas?

Texas rocks! ?

Good news:

Veteran State Board of Education member Pat Hardy of Fort Worth was defeating a challenger in the GOP primary Tuesday night, holding off an effort by social conservatives to gain a working majority on the politically divided board.

That challenger, urologist Barney Maddox outspent Hardy by $60K to $4K - a 15:1 margin - in his race to lose. Maddox was the candidate who wouldn't speak with the media or appear at any candidate forums, but had left ample evidence of his creationist activities online.

But according to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, it isn't over:

Maddox's entry in the race had set the stage for debate over the scientific theory of evolution, which he has described as "fairy tales." Hardy took a better course: Teach kids about all theories, she said, from creation to evolution, and give them enough information to make up their own minds about what to believe.

Hardy's statement is troubling, and I hadn't read of that stance being attributed to her anywhere before this article.

And more good news!

. . . incumbent Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, easily defeated a challenger in the Democratic primary who also supported creation science as a better explanation of the origin of man than Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Of course, the big press in Texas last night was focused on the Democratic presidential results. A big THANK YOU to those sensible Texas Republicans who recognized that their state school board needed more attention than Obama or Clinton.


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Texas - Game On!

Election results will be updated every 5 minutes today at this site for the District 11 State Board of Education Republican primary race between creationist Barney Maddox and moderate incumbent Pat Hardy.

Here is where you can keep an eye on the District 2 State Board of Education Democratic primary contest between ID-proponent Lupe Gonzalez and the incumbent, science supporter Mary Helen Berlanga.

*******************
20:08 CST
The results of early voting show Pat Hardy with a comfortable 54.54% to Maddox' 40.45%. With 20 of 531 precincts reporting, Berlanga leads Gonzalez 59.8% to 40.2%.

Further results will be placed below the fold.


*************************
20:33 CST
District 2 TX Board of Ed:
Berlanga 60.32%
Gonzalez 39.67%

District 11 TX Board of Ed:
No change; no more precincts have reported
************************
20:48 CST
District 2 TX Board of Ed: (Good news so far!)
Berlanga 61.09%
Gonzalez 38.90%

District 11 TX Board of Ed:
No change; no more precincts have reported
************************
20:58 CST
Finally! Some updated District 11 results, 2 of 572 precincts reporting:
Hardy 59.56%
Maddox 40.43%

District 2, 152 of 531 precincts reporting:
Berlanga 59.55%
Gonzalez 40.43%
***********************
21:03 CST
District 11, 16 of 572 precincts reporting:
Hardy 58.56%
Maddox 41.43%

District 2 - unchanged
***********************
21:27 CST
District 11, 72 of 572 precincts reporting:
Hardy 59.47%
Maddox 40.52%

District 2, 176 of 531 precincts reporting:
Berlanga 59.78%
Gonzalez 40.21%
***********************
W 3/5/08 04:55 CST
District 11, 572 of 572 precincts reporting:
Hardy 59.08%
Maddox 40.91%

District 2, 531 of 532 precincts reporting:
Berlanga 58.42%
Gonzalez 41.57%
**********************

Whew. Public school kids in Texas - and by extension, in the rest of the US - now stand a much better chance of having only REAL science taught in their science classes.



posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Sunday, March 2, 2008
Evolution is REAL Science

I have created a video that explains the evidence supporting the conclusion that human chromosome 2 is the result of the fusion of two ancestral chromosomes.

I blogged about this evidence a few months ago.


If you liked this presentation, I encourage you to download it.

Video - (22.9 MB)

PowerPoint - (1.45 MB)


posted by Jeremy Mohn



Saturday, March 1, 2008
Nobel Laureate at
Kansas State Monday


Photo from about.com

Time and Einstein in the 21st Century: The coolest stuff in the universe will be presented by Dr. William D. Phillips on Monday, March 3 at 3:30 p.m. at the KSU Alumni Center.

According to KSU,

At the beginning of the 20th century Einstein published three revolutionary ideas that changed forever how we view Nature. At the beginning of the 21st century Einstein's thinking is shaping one of the key scientific and technological wonders of contemporary life: atomic clocks, the best timekeepers ever made. Such super-accurate clocks are essential to industry, commerce, and science; they are the heart of the Global Positioning System (GPS), which guides cars, airplanes, and hikers to their destinations. Today, atomic clocks are still being improved, using Einstein's ideas to cool the atoms to incredibly low temperatures. Atomic gases reach temperatures less than a billionth of a degree above Absolute Zero, without solidifying. Such atoms enable clocks accurate to better than a second in 60 million years as well as both using and testing some of Einstein's strangest predictions.

Dr. Phillips received the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.

Dr. Dean Zollman, chair of the KSU Physics Department, has assured me that Dr. Phillips has been presenting all over the country and his talk is geared to the general public. It is billed as a "lively, multimedia presentation, including experimental demonstrations and down-to-earth explanations about some of today's most exciting science."

Dr. Phillips' statement on receiving the Nobel Prize:

"I am thrilled to share in this prize along with Steven Chu and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji. The joint award emphasizes that this work was not done in isolation. My colleagues in this field have influenced me profoundly and given me an enormous amount of help and stimulation. The research honored by this prize is the result of a huge effort by many other people. The vitality of the research environment at NIST and the scientific quality of my group have been essential to what we have accomplished."

Along with an appreciation for teamwork, Dr. Phillips seems to have solid priorities:

Surely the Nobel Prize is the highest award a scientist could hope to receive, and I have received it with a sense of awe that I am in the company of those who have received it before. But no prize can compare in importance to the family and friends I count as my greatest treasures. - From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1997, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1998

Dr. Phillips will undoubtedly emphasize the importance of hard work and hard evidence in science. He'll show what it really means to "follow the evidence where it leads."


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams




Lawrence Krauss on Science Debate 2008



See more videos at the ScienceDebate2008 website.



posted by Jeremy Mohn




"The most important race you never heard of"


From today's Dallas Morning News:

There are Texas conservatives, and then there are people like Dr. Barney Maddox. The Cleburne urologist is running in the March 4 Republican primary to unseat Pat Hardy, a former Fort Worth teacher who sits on the State Board of Education. Ms. Hardy, a Southern Baptist who believes God created the universe, routinely votes to keep "creation science" out of the Texas public school curriculum. Dr. Maddox, on the other hand, calls evolution a myth and, as The News' Steve Blow reported, is putting out campaign literature claiming that textbooks are telling Texas schoolchildren that the 9/11 attacks were a U.S. conspiracy. Three cheers for Ms. Hardy for fighting the good fight, despite being badly outspent by Dr. Maddox.

That campaign flier reads, in part,

Barney Maddox believes social studies textbooks should devote more space to American presidents than Marilyn Monroe and that the vicious attack of 9-11 should be portrayed as an aggressive act by terrorists, not an American conspiracy.

Using the same scurrilous type of argument, I believe that a urologist should place his patients' well-being ahead of his gambling addiction, his alcoholism, and his multiple mistresses.

Maddox has not provided any examples of social studies textbooks which emphasize Marilyn Monroe over presidents, or that show 9-11 as an American conspiracy. For shame. He seems to be subscribing to the "if ya can't beat 'em, lie about 'em" Swift Boat style of campaigning.

A person who claims to care about kids' education should at least set a good example for them.


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams




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