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Friday, August 29, 2008
When "Yes" or "No" is too difficult . . .


. . . the answer is usually obvious.

Up to this point in his campaign for District 8 of the Kansas State Board of Education, Dennis E. Hedke has refused to answer "Yes" or "No" to simple questions about the Kansas Science Standards. In contrast, his opponent Walt Chappell has been extremely forthright and crystal clear when answering the same questions.

Should the board revise its science standards to include criticism of evolution? If so, why, and in what way? If not, why not?

Walt Chappell: NO!! I have taught evolution in Kansas middle and high school science classes plus served on the College of Medicine faculty at the University of Iowa. Each major religion and culture has its own explanation of how the universe was created. No one knows how it began. But, the millions of years of scientific evidence of evolution on Earth are well documented and must be taught in our classrooms.Dennis E. Hedke: The best science includes examination of all possible data sources and theories related to the problem at hand. Climate science, origin science, behavioral science, geological science, biological and physical sciences, etc., are all but subsets of the broad spectrum of scientific endeavor. If we act in any way to hinder the fullest access to information relevant to the study of any given problem, we are not acting in the interest of either the student or the body of science at large.

Source: 2008 Wichita Eagle Online Voter's Guide

This candidate forum video diplays a similar trend.



As seen in the video, when asked whether he supported "alternatives to teaching mainstream evolution," Hedke managed to talk for almost two minutes without uttering the words "Yes" or "No."

When the same question was posed to Chappell, he got right to the point:

"Okay, you passed the baton to the science teacher. The answer is no."


Since Hedke refuses to give clear answers to such simple questions, I would like to ask what you think.


It really is a simple question.


posted by Jeremy Mohn



Sunday, August 24, 2008
David Campbell - A Stand Up Guy

David Campbell is a high school Biology teacher in Florida who is doing his best to teach evolution as the fundamental concept underlying all Biology. His efforts were recently highlighted in an article in the New York Times.

If you ever wondered what it is like to be a high school Biology teacher trying to teach evolution, then read this article. You'll get a glimpse of what it's like to try to teach a topic that some students have been taught to regard as a threat to their faith.



posted by Jeremy Mohn




A Good Weekend Read

Former Discovery Institute Fellow Jeffrey Schloss has written an extensive review of the movie Expelled.



posted by Jeremy Mohn



Saturday, August 23, 2008
A Creationist's Final Solution for Biologists

Remember Tom Willis?

He's the head of the Creation Science Association of Mid-America who ghost-wrote the 1999 Kansas science standards, eliminating evolution, any mention of cosmology, and any reference to an earth older than 10,000 years. Steve Abrams tried to pawn himself off as the author of these standards, but the evidence showed otherwise.

Not long ago, Willis ranted that evolution supporters should be denied the right to vote and banned from contact with youth:

The facts warrent [sic] the violent expulsion of all evolutionists from civilized society. I am quite serious that their danger to society is so great that, in a sane society, they would be, at a minimum, denied a vote in the administration of the society, as well as any job where they might influence immature humans, e.g., scout, or youth, leader, teacher and, obviously, professor.


Now Willis has upped the ante. His latest broadside advocates this treatment of evolution supporters (all emphases mine):

*Labor camps. Their fellow believers were high on these. But, my position would be that most of them have lived their lives at, or near the public trough. So, after their own beliefs, their life should continue only as long as they can support themselves in the camps.


So once we science supporters can't work at hard labor, they'd kill us off. Echoes of Nordhausen, anyone?

*Require them to wear placards around their neck, or perhaps large medallions which prominently announce "Warning: Evolutionist! Mentally Incompetent - Potentially Dangerous." I consider this option too dangerous.


Wouldn't it be more economical require us to sew yellow beaker-shaped patches on our outerwear?

*Since evolutionists are liars and most do not really believe evolution we could employ truth serum or water-boarding to obtain confessions of evolution rejection. But, this should, at most, result in parole, because, like Muslims, evolutionist religion permits them to lie if there is any benefit to them.


Yep, that's right. Willis is leading the charge for torturing scientists.

*An Evolutionist Colony in Antarctica could be a promising option. Of course inspections would be required to prevent too much progress. They might invent gunpowder.


Sure. Ghetto-ize the ones who don't believe as you do. Again, it's sounding familiar.

*A colony on Mars would prevent gunpowder from harming anyone but their own kind, in the unlikely event they turned out to be intelligent enough to invent it.


Obviously Willis has never read Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," or he might think twice about this one . . .

*All options should include 24-hour sound system playing Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris reading Darwin's Origin of Species, or the preservation of Favored Races by Means of Natural Selection. Of course some will consider this cruel & unusual, especially since they will undoubtedly have that treatment for eternity.


It would be more consistent for Willis to insist that the science supporters be forced to listen to Willis' own particular interpretation of Scripture.

The documentary propaganda flick "Expelled"pummels viewers over the head with its over-the-top insistence that evolution=atheism=Holocaust. Tom Willis' own words bring to light the desire to stamp out all souls who don't agree with his own particular interpretation of Scripture.

Not all creationists are as extreme as Willis. Which makes me wonder why Steve Abrams & his cronies decided in 1999 that Willis was the ideal person to ghostwrite Kansas' science standards.

PS - for the record, Willis is not from Kansas.

edited 0455 082408 to add link


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Thursday, August 21, 2008
We haven't disappeared . . .

. . . it's just a crazy time of the year for schoolteachers. It's exciting to get to know students and it's invigorating to try out new lessons. It's also incredibly demanding right now, time-wise. Soon, though!


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Friday, August 15, 2008
Applying NCLB to other professions . . .

An interesting comment in an NCLB discussion:

It seems evident from the majority who have responded that accountability of taxpayers' dollars is of paramount importance. I too don't want my taxes wasted, so let's improvise a bit. Education deals with the human condition as opposed to industries based on the production or servicing of inanimate objects. Perhaps we could curtail tax waste by uplifting the "No Child Left Behind" education law as a model for tax dollar accountability in other societal based endeavors receiving federal money of any sort. (Please remember, NCLB call for 100% student proficiency by 2014)

Given a 10 year deadline, police will eliminate 100 percent of all crime in local communities. Officers and administrators will face termination if significant progress isn't made over three-year intervals during the decade.

Given a 10 year deadline, established organizations whose purpose is to counter drug abuse will eliminate substance abuse with 100 percent efficiency within their jurisdiciton. Agents of such organizations (counselors, DEA personnel, law enforcement officials) will be terminated if significant reduction in drug abuse is not registered over three year intervals during the decade.

Given a 10 year deadline, all medical practitioners and hospitals who accept Medicare payments will achieve a 100 percent recovery rate of their patients or be denied all future Medicare patients. (Practitioners deemed ineffective by the 100 percent criterion in publicly funded hospitals will be terminated.)

Given a 10 year deadline, all universities receiving federal funding (or accepting students with outstanding federal education loans) will achieve a 100 percent graduation rate. If the graduation rate does not make significant improvement over three-year intervals, identified professors from ineffective departments will be terminated.

In each of the preceding examples progress rates will be published on a regular basis in local newspapers keeping the public abreast on whose doing the best job with the public's (federal) money.

I am sure we can agree that "data-driven" proficiency/efficiency plans are the way to go to get maximum mileage from our tax dollars. They provide simple answers for very complex issues.


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams




Optimism and the start of the school year

Olivia Judson offers some hope:

But for me, the most important thing about studying evolution is something less tangible. It's that the endeavor contains a profound optimism. It means that when we encounter something in nature that is complicated or mysterious, such as the flagellum of a bacteria or the light made by a firefly, we don’t have to shrug our shoulders in bewilderment.

Instead, we can ask how it got to be that way. And if at first it seems so complicated that the evolutionary steps are hard to work out, we have an invitation to imagine, to play, to experiment and explore. To my mind, this only enhances the wonder.

This sense of wonder is what attracted many of us to science in the first place. Even better, when you teach science, you get to help future generations discover that wonder.

Judson also notes that

The third reason to teach evolution is more philosophical. It concerns the development of an attitude toward evidence. In his book, "The Republican War on Science," the journalist Chris Mooney argues persuasively that a contempt for scientific evidence - or indeed, evidence of any kind - has permeated the Bush administration's policies, from climate change to sex education, from drilling for oil to the war in Iraq. A dismissal of evolution is an integral part of this general attitude.

One of the most difficult parts of teaching science is to get students to base their conclusions on evidence instead of prior conceptions . . . Honors students especially are so bound and determined to get the "right answer" that they often regard evidence-based conclusions as bothersome noise.

One way to counter this trend is to present situations in which the evidence seems to contradict well-established laws. For example, have students measure out 50.0 mL of alcohol into a graduated cylinder. Use another graduated cylinder to measure out 50.0 mL of water. Add the water to the alcohol and stir. Read the volume of the combined liquids at the bottom of the meniscus. Students don't realize that when the two different liquids are combined, the smaller alcohol molecules will fit between the water molecules such that 50.0 mL + 50.0 mL ~ 96.0 mL. (A larger-scale demonstration of the phenomena is to mix together equal volumes of sand and rocks. The sand fits between the rocks so that the total volume is less than the sum of its parts.)

Encourage students to share their findings with each other. As they realize that this data is reproducible, they start to question their initial assumption that 50.0 + 50.0 always equals 100.0. This is a wonderful opportunity to reassure the students that their conclusions must be based on their evidence and to remind them that fudging the data will result in a failing grade.

Intelligent design theorists don't do REAL science. Instead of analyzing results and basing their conclusions on that evidence, they begin with the premise that "God did it" and work backwards to retrofit others' data to that premise.

They're the ones who'd insist that 50.0 mL H2O + 50.0 mL EtOH must result in 100.0 mL of the mixture.


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Monday, August 11, 2008
Gone With the Wind


Chapman High School
June 12, 2008

Chapman Kansas is just off I-70, between Abilene and Junction City. You can see the torn-up trees where the June 11 tornado plowed across the interstate. That tornado destroyed all three schools in the town.

But those Fighting Irish are fighting on! They're resolved to open school on time this year. They'll be using what are euphemistically called "temporary classrooms," better known as trailers.

The science labs are gone, completely. No equipment, no shelving, no apparatus, no consumables. Nothing. They need your help! Unlike Greensburg, the folks in Chapman don't have Leonardo diCaprio pulling for them.

If you can give, even a small amount, please contact Heather Click [hclick (at) ksde (dot) org] to coordinate your efforts so that those science classrooms can be up and running as soon as possible.

Thanks for doing unto others.



posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Friday, August 8, 2008
Large Hadron Rap

. . . yes, scientists do have a sense of humor! It's just . . . different, that's all.



The LHC is the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Colliders aren't imaginatively named: they work by accelerating small particles to close to the speed of light and smashing them into targets. The energy and particles that come out of the collision are studied to try to figure out the basic building blocks of our universe. It's been compared to shooting a cannonball into a chickenhouse, and figuring out what a chicken looks like by analyzing the pieces that come out.

Plans for construction of a lab like this in the U.S., the SuperConducting SuperCollider, started in 1983. Unfortunately, funding for the project was cut in 1993 after almost 15 miles of tunnel had already been dug in the Texas plains south of Dallas. Likewise, recent funding cuts for Fermilab near Chicago resulted in a 10% layoff of that facility's researchers.

Net result? The Europeans will take the lead in high-energy physics research. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., we're just fighting to keep REAL science in our science classrooms.


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Elections and Anachronisms

I've been lazy about blogging this week because we're on vacation.

Last evening, we all went to the Shakespeare Festival over on the University of Colorado campus to see an interesting performance of Alexandre Dumas' "The Three Musketeers." The dialogue was straight from Dumas, the costumes and set were of the period, but the music . . . was all from the 1960's and 1970's. It was rather jarring to watch a 1600's-era swordfight set to "Purple Haze" and witness D'Artangan's rejection to the Stones' "Satisfaction."

But, mostly, it worked. Anachronisms like these in the arts can be entertaining at least.

Not so amusing are anachronistic elections . . .


Incumbent creationism advocate Kathy Martin eked out a 4% victory over pro-science candidate Bill Pannbacker in yesterday's Republican primary for the District 6 seat on the Kansas State Board of Education. Martin is best known for her dogged rejection of evolution and sex education, and for her promotion of vouchers and prayer in school.

It's been noted by Fareed Zakaria in "The Post-American World" that

The world's tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood. Once quintessentially American icons have been usurped by the natives. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year. America no longer dominates even its favorite sport, shopping. The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn't make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world's ten richest people are American. These lists are arbitrary and a bit silly, but consider that only ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.

While we fight the battle to make sure REAL science gets taught in U.S. classrooms, other countries have moved on.

For our country's future, that's a dangerous anachronism.

Added in edit: Josh Rosenau has a good summary of the election outcomes.


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams




A Survey of Public Understanding of Evolution

Demonstrate your understanding of the foundational theory of modern biology by taking this survey.

Here's my answer to question 1:

Evolution means change over time. In Biology, evolution refers to populations of organisms changing over time in response to changes in their environment. At the most basic level, biological evolution refers to measurable changes in allele frequencies within a population from one generation to the next. As these changes build up over time, they have been observed to result in the formation of new species and greater biological diversity. The observed formation of new species leads to the inference that all living things share common ancestry back through time. This inference has been confirmed through repeated scientific tests to such a degree that it is considered an established scientific fact.

When biologists refer to the "theory of evolution," they are usually referring to the proposed mechanisms by which evolutionary change has occurred over time, including natural selection and genetic drift. These mechanisms are tested and refined through laboratory and field experiments.


posted by Jeremy Mohn



Monday, August 4, 2008
Up-to-the-minute election results

Right here.



posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Sunday, August 3, 2008
Upcoming excitement

First, VOTE in the primary this Tuesday!

Second, here's where you can access campaign finance reports from all state board of education candidates. Someone who knows about these things once told me that each contributor represents roughly 7 votes. That's why a bunch of small contributions are more promising than a few large ones. That logic held during the 2006 contest between Sally Cauble and Connie "evolution is impossible" Morris. Cauble had numerous small contributors from western Kansas, while Morris only had a few contributors, mostly from eastern Kansas, who donated large amounts.

In District 6, Bill Pannbacker has 40 contributors who donated $6900 as of July 31. His anti-science opponent, Kathy Martin, had 102 contributors give $5940 during that same time period.

Some of Martin's out-of-district contributors were interesting:
*John Calvert, Lake Quivira, $200 - head of Intelligent Design Network of Kansas, Inc.
*Current KRA president and Kansas homeschooling advocate Don Small of Burlington, $75
*Kirstian D Van Meteren of the Kansas Republican Assembly, Ozawkie, $100
*Ken Willard, fellow anti-scientist on the KSBE from Hutchinson, $250
*F.A.I.R. Committee State, $500 - this convoluted system of money-funneling for staunchly conservative candidates was detailed by RedStateRabble.

Pannbacker needs some help, folks; Kathy Martin's supporters are already attacking (see 06/18/2008 11:59 AM) the Democratic candidate, Chris Renner.

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." Don't be a do-nothing - VOTE!



posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams




Absolutely trivial . . .

While watching the kids at the hotel pool in Boulder, I just had to take this test. HT to Stacy S.!

NerdTests.com says I'm an Uber Cool Nerd Queen.  What are you?  Click here!


Okay, sure, this just means I'm gullible enough to fall for taking this 'test' in the first place . . .



posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams




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