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Tuesday, November 25, 2008
KAMS funding in jeopardy

Photo courtesy of

I don't know how closely readers follow Kansas budget issues, but funding for the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science is on the list to be eliminated due to our severe revenue reduction.

KAMS is to be the state's premier academic high school program for Kansas' best and brightest high school students. Based in part after successful programs in Missouri and Texas, KAMS will be a unique residential learning experience that provides exceptional high school juniors and seniors a potent blend of

* college-level instruction by PhD faculty;
* a high school diploma and 72 hours of college credit;
* the option to receive an associate's degree upon graduation;
* hands-on research supervised by PhD scientists;
* leadership development and civic engagement opportunities;
* co-curricular and extra-curricular opportunities to develop the whole student;
* a safe campus and residential environment; and trained support staff.

If you'd like to join in the fight to keep KAMS alive, there's a letter after the jump that you, your friends, and family should feel free to personalize. All you need to do is fill in your Senator's or Representative's name & office number, your information and any changes you would like to make. You can find your own Kansas legislators here.

Stay up-to-date with KAMS developments at the KAMS blog.

November 24, 2008

[position and name of legislator]
[office number]
Kansas State Capitol
300 SW 10th Street, RM
Topeka, KS 66612

Dear [position and name of legislator],
I am writing to express my support for the Kansas Academy of Mathematics & Science (KAMS) at Fort Hays State University and to strongly encourage you to prevent the elimination of KAMS.

Gov. Sebelius' budget office is recommending that funding to KAMS be eliminated for a savings of $900,000. By eliminating this funding, the state of Kansas will effectively be eliminating the program altogether. The staff currently working successfully to recruit students will have to be laid off, no students will be enrolled in fall of 2009, and when the economy eventually rebounds this program will have been forgotten.

I believe that the elimination of KAMS' funding would be extremely shortsighted. This program was created to help Kansas retain its best and brightest students. By eliminating this program, I believe that Kansas will continue to lose young, talented Kansans to other states. The elimination of KAMS is particularly disheartening when you look at states surrounding Kansas, states like Oklahoma, Colorado, Missouri, and Texas that have seen fit to develop and support similar programs. If these states can work to retain their brightest citizens, why can't Kansas?

I understand that with the downturn in the economy full support of KAMS may not be possible, but I urge you not to eliminate funding entirely. I am sure that a reduction in support could be dealt with by KAMS. While a reduction would be painful to a new program, it would enable KAMS to survive and help in the fight to create a stronger Kansas.

Thank you in advance for your support of the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science.


ed: format

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Monday, November 24, 2008
Dr. Neil Shubin: Capturing the Imagination

Another excellent lecture from the "Year of Darwin" series at Case Western Reserve University.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

REAL Academic Freedom

As readers of this blog are probably well aware, the Discovery Institute has recently launched a nationwide effort to promote "Academic Freedom" statutes in state legislatures (please note my intentional use of quotation marks).

Supporters of these statutes argue that teachers should be legally entitled to present the "full range of scientific views" regarding chemical and biological evolution.

State Legislatures in Florida, Missouri, Alabama, Michigan, and South Carolina all considered (but failed to pass) "Academic Freedom" legislation in 2008. The Louisiana Legislature adopted such a measure last summer. It is quite possible that other states will consider such statutes in 2009.

Unfortunately, like another popular concept the DI has recently seized upon, they seem to be using their own definition for "academic freedom."

In an upcoming book from Yale University Press, authors Matthew W. Finkin and Robert C. Post carefully distinguish academic freedom from the kind of individual free speech right that is created by the First Amendment.

Here is the publisher's description of the book:

Debates about academic freedom have become increasingly fierce and frequent. Legislative efforts to regulate American professors proliferate across the nation. Although most American scholars desire to protect academic freedom, they have only a vague and uncertain apprehension of its basic principles and structure. This book offers a concise explanation of the history and meaning of American academic freedom, and it attempts to intervene in contemporary debates by clarifying the fundamental functions and purposes of academic freedom in America.

Sounds like an interesting and informative book.

Maybe someone should send a copy to the DI.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Friday, November 21, 2008
Judge John E. Jones III: Keeping it REAL

From the "Year of Darwin" lecture series at Case Western Reserve University.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Who said it?

Time for a quick quiz:

Question #1: Who is credited with this opinion about the current Texas brouhaha?

[They] are trying to settle a scientific debate through politics.

a. Eugenie Scott, of the National Center for Science Education
b. Casey Luskin, of the Discovery Institute
c. George W. Bush, formerly of (and soon to be back in) Texas
d. Dr. Harold Kroto, Nobelist

If you chose (b), you're correct!

This is another Luskinesque case of pot, meet kettle. The Discovery Institute has traveled the country meddling in state and local politics, but now that pro-science forces in Texas are fighting back, Luskin is whining "it's not fair."

Which brings us to...

Question #2: Which group promoted the publication "Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook"?

a. National Center for Science Education
b. National Science Teachers Association
c. American Association for the Advancement of Science
d. Discovery Institute

Choice (d) is correct! You see, despite Luskin's complaints about polluting science with politics, the Discovery Institute specializes in just that: mandating science curriculum based on popularity instead of evidence.

You might also recall that in 2005, Luskin himself stated that

"Nonetheless, intelligent design is a bona fide scientific theory, and there is nothing unconstitutional about teaching about intelligent design in the science classroom. Most important, as a matter of academic freedom, teachers should be able to mention these scientific ideas in the classroom without fear of threats from the ACLU."

Fast forward to 2008, where we read that

Luskin said the Discovery Institute does not seek to mandate the teaching of intelligent design in schools, but instead just wants a closer look at evolution.

The "academic freedom" template so helpfully provided by the DI states that science depends on open debate and critical inquiry. The DI left out the bit about research: you know, formulating a testable hypothesis, analyzing results, subjecting those results to peer review. Nowhere in any proposed/passed "academic freedom" legislation do you find that the process of science is recognized. Rhetoric is more valuable than research to the DI and its supporters.

Question #3: Luskin complains that since just under 50% of the Texas scientists who were contacted about the issue actually completed and returned the survey, the survey results showing ~98% support for no-ID-in-the-classroom were invalid. Which of the following statistics have probably been acknowledged by Luskin?

a. Only 0.07% of the world's biologists signed the Discovery Institute's "Dissent from Darwinism" statement.
b. The >11,000 signers of the Clergy Letter Project represent 3% of the ministers in the U.S.
c. A response rate of just under 50% is a statistician's dream.
d. Creationists/ID proponents have won exactly 0% of their court cases.
e. Creationists/ID proponents have had exactly 0 peer-reviewed publications which explicitly support intelligent design.

If you chose (f), "none of the above," I predict you're right on the money. Especially since there's such a greater proportion of clergy who explicitly support evolution than there are biologists who reject it.

At any rate, Luskin and the Discovery Institute once again cover themselves in hypocritical glory, as they try to portray themselves as being above the political fray when they're the ones who started the dustup in the first place.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Monday, November 17, 2008
TFN Survey: No Controversy Detected

In a recent press release, the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) described the results of a survey of 464 biology and biological anthropology faculty members from 50 Texas colleges and universities.

The results do not look good for anti-evolutionists on the Texas Board of Education.

The TFN grouped the findings into 5 broad categories:

1. Texas Scientists Overwhelmingly Reject Intelligent Design as Valid Science

2. Texas Science Faculty Insist That Neither Intelligent Design Nor Creationism Be Taught in Science Classes

3. Scientists Reject Teaching the So-Called 'Weaknesses' of Evolution

4. Texas Science Faculty Believe that Emphasizing 'Weaknesses' of Evolution Would Substantially Harm Students' College Readiness and Prospects for 21st-Century Jobs

5. Texas Scientists Strongly Believe that Support for Evolution Is Compatible with Religious Faith

The full report (pdf) is quite informative. For me, the most striking statistic was that 94% of respondents indicated that claimed "weaknesses" are not valid scientific objections to evolution. Only 4% agreed that they were valid and 2% were not sure.

I liked the way one respondent put it:

There aren't many (or maybe no) weaknesses in the basic tenets of evolution. It happens, it is the way the world of living things works, and presenting ideas as "weaknesses" distorts the truth. To be sure, there are areas and mechanisms left to be discovered, but the basic foundation is as solid as the sunrise.

- Professor at University of North Texas

As solid as the sunrise, huh?

Kind of like the support of Texas scientists for REAL science.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Thursday, November 13, 2008
"Weaknesses" Is Not A Scientific Term

So says Texas Citizens for Science president Dr. Steven Schafersman.

Why is the current Texas science standards requirement for students to "analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses," bad for both science and education? Some people think it is obvious that all explanations, including scientific explanations, have "weaknesses" and that it's fair to teach them, even if the "weaknesses" offered by creationists are completely bogus. They think, why not just replace them with legitimate "weaknesses"? After all, there must be some.

Here's why this is wrong.

Scientific theories don't have weaknesses. If scientific theories really had weaknesses, it would be permissible and even educational to teach them. Hypotheses do have weaknesses, both hypotheses of scientists that they are testing right now and those of students who generate hypotheses as part of their lab exercises. It is permissible to analyze and critique hypotheses. Weaknesses of hypotheses are removed by testing with experiments, observations, or models.

Scientific theories don't have weaknesses because they are constructed only of corroborated hypotheses, those hypotheses that have been tested and not falsified. Corroborated hypotheses are a form of reliable knowledge, and theories are constructed of reliable knowledge. Other forms of reliable knowledge are mathematical theorems, logical conclusions, definitions, base facts, etc. Only scientific theories give us the reliable knowledge obtained from a deep, empirical understanding of nature.

You can read the rest of Dr. Schafersman's excellent analysis on his blog, Evo.Sphere.

posted by Jeremy Mohn


Credit: NASA, ESA, P. Kalas, J. Graham,
E. Chiang, and E. Kite
(University of California, Berkeley),
M. Clampin (NASA Goddard
Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.),
M. Fitzgerald (Lawrence Livermore
National Laboratory, Livermore, Calif.),
and K. Stapelfeldt and J. Krist
(NASA Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.)
Check it out - NASA's first actual picture of a planet around another star! (Larger, labeled image here.

Space is big. The Hubble Space Telescope is small. How did the folks at NASA know where to point the camera?

It all goes back to the process of science. About 300 extrasolar planets have been discovered, but we haven't ever 'seen' one of them. The existence of such a planet can be postulated when there's something off-kilter about the interactions between a star and the objects around it.

In the case of Formalhaut, the planet's existence was predicted by the particular shape of the dust ring surrounding the star:

Hubble astronomer Paul Kalas, of the University of California at Berkeley, and team members proposed in 2005 that the ring was being gravitationally modified by a planet lying between the star and the ring's inner edge.

Circumstantial evidence came from Hubble's confirmation that the ring is offset from the center of the star. The sharp inner edge of the ring is also consistent with the presence of a planet that gravitationally "shepherds" ring particles. Independent researchers have subsequently reached similar conclusions.

Now, Hubble has actually photographed a point source of light lying 1.8 billion miles inside the ring's inner edge. The results are being reported in the November 14 issue of Science magazine.

"Our Hubble observations were incredibly demanding. Fomalhaut b is 1 billion times fainter than the star. We began this program in 2001, and our persistence finally paid off," Kalas says.

"Fomalhaut is the gift that keeps on giving. Following the unexpected discovery of its dust ring, we have now found an exoplanet at a location suggested by analysis of the dust ring's shape. The lesson for exoplanet hunters is 'follow the dust,'" said team member Mark Clampin of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

(Warning: 7th-grade physics ahead)

Isaac Newton figured out that objects will be attracted to each other by the force of gravity. When two objects are close together and large, there's a stronger attraction than when they're far apart and small. Mathematically, Newton expressed it as

where m1 and m2 are the masses of the objects and r is the distance between the objects.

A slight wobble in the spin of a star often gives us a big clue that there's something large lurking nearby, but we'd had no actual pictures of any extrasolar planets.

Does this mean that we don't know that something exists until we see a picture of it? Of course not! (How many of us have seen an individual atom?) Rather, this shows that inferences based on known physical laws have strong predictive powers. We didn't have to have a visible light picture to know that these planets exist.

Still, there are some folks who will ask "Were you theeeere?" They're ones who'd refuse to acknowledge the evidence from studying the wobbly stars.

Let's say that you're on the jury for a trial in which the defendant had the means, motive, and opportunity to murder the victim, with reams of incriminating circumstantial evidence presented, but no eyewitnesses or confession . . . would you be able to find the defendant guilty?

On the other hand, if eyewitness testimony is the only incriminating evidence that exists in the murder case, could you convict the person? Most attorneys agree that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable.

Such is the power of the scientific method: direct observation isn't necessary as long as there are other means of getting consistent information. Scientists are rightly obsessed with finding these other means of figuring out how our world works.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Tuesday, November 11, 2008
From Cuervo to Carats!

Remember that old country song, "Jose Cuervo, you are a friend of mine . . . I like to drink you with a little salt and lime."?

I'm not sure why a man's best friends include dogs and tequila, but diamonds are a girl's best friend. Diamonds are just carbon, right? So what's the big deal? Would women be disappointed if their husband-to-be gave them a chunk of graphite set into a ring instead of a crystal of carbon's more expensive allotrope?

Perhaps men might take some small consolation in the latest news from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Researchers Javier Morales, Luis Miguel Apátiga, and Víctor Manuel Castaño have turned tequila into diamonds.

(No, no, no, not like that. No lime or salt in this process!)

These diamonds are just a bit smaller than those found in engagement rings. From PhysOrg:

Originally, the scientists were experimenting with creating diamonds from organic solutions such as acetone, ethanol, and methanol. They found that diluting ethanol in water resulted in high quality diamond films. The scientists then noticed that the ideal compound of 40 percent ethanol and 60 percent water was similar to the proportion used in tequila.

"To dissipate any doubts, one morning on the way to the lab I bought a pocket-size bottle of cheap white tequila and we did some tests," Apátiga said. "We were in doubt over whether the great amount of chemicals present in tequila, other than water and ethanol, would contaminate or obstruct the process, it turned out to be not so. The results were amazing, same as with the ethanol and water compound, we obtained almost spherical shaped diamonds of nanometric size. There is no doubt; tequila has the exact proportion of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms necessary to form diamonds."

In their experiments, the scientists grew the diamond films using "pulsed liquid injection chemical vapor deposition techniques." In a specially made device, they heated the liquid tequila to 280 °C (536 °F) to transform it into a gas. In a reaction chamber, they heated the gas to 800 °C (1470 °F) to break down its molecular structure, resulting in solid diamond crystals of about 100-400 nm. [note - one wave of visible light measures about 400-700 nm; a human hair is about 100,000 nm wide] The crystals fell onto silicon or stainless steel trays, accumulating in a thin, uniform film. The high temperatures removed all of the tequila's carbon impurities to result in pure diamonds.

Diamond films resulting from this process could be used in cutting tools, radiation detectors and optical-electronic devices, according to the article. If some impurities are re-introduced into the diamond matrix, the resulting films could have applications as semiconductors.

All right, yes, I know . . . the image isn't Cuervo. It's a picture of the stuff brought back from the last Mexico trip, from the distillery. And it helped ease the pain of watching "Expelled"!
Edited for clarity.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Friday, November 7, 2008
Science Cafe Hays - November

The issue of wind energy is a touchy one around Ellis County. Scandal and suspicion and accusations have flown around quite freely as Iberdrola has sought to locate a wind farm somewhere in the county.

If you're tired of the hot air blowing around this locally contentious issue, join us as wind energy specialist Dr. Ruth Douglas Miller provides a breath of fresh air at our next Science Cafe. "Wind+Alternative Energies" will be discussed after a brief presentation from Ruth.

Tuesday, November 23rd, 7 p.m.-ish, at Cafe Semolino's.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Meet the New Kansas State Board of Education

Yesterday's election resulted in a 7-3 REAL Science majority on the Kansas State Board of Education.

Here's how the Board will look for the next two years:

This 7-3 moderate-conservative majority insures that the Board can focus on their mission for the next two years and not be side-tracked by another battle over the science standards.

As a Biology teacher in this fine state, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow Kansans who stood up for REAL Science.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

In a nutshell . . .

State Board of Education:
The good news is that moderates picked up a seat on the board, giving a 7-3 moderate-conservative split. It's clear that Kansans don't want to go through Evolution Wars III, and losers Hedke and Meissner had expressed anti-evolution sentiments.

On the other hand, Kansans still fear gays, strange for folks who claim to condemn Fred Phelps. Christopher Renner lost to anti-evolution incumbent Kathy Martin by 20%. Although Christopher has been 'out' for 28 years, Martin's supporters chose not to make an issue of his orientation until just before election day. Still, most of Renner's financial support came from within his district, whereas Martin was mostly funded by right-wing groups and activists outside of her constituency.

Kansas Senate:
Incumbent Greta Goodwin(D) of Winfield lost her seat to anti-evolutionist Steven Abrams. This gives the far-right Kansas Republican Assembly dominance over the moderate Republicans in the state Senate. Expect a Louisiana-style 'academic freedom' bill in 3, 2, 1, . . .

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Up-to-the-minute Kansas election results


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Monday, November 3, 2008
Welcome Kansas Voters!

Recent hits on our StatCounter suggest that there may be a few Kansas voters looking for information about Kansas State Board of Education candidates on this evening before the election.

For a summary of our REAL science recommendations, check out our map.

For more information, see the posts below:

Candidate Questionnaire
Science, Sex, and the Kansas State Board of Education

District 4: Carolyn Campbell vs. Robert Meissner
Memo to Meissner: Eliminate Obfuscation

District 6: Christopher Renner vs. Kathy Martin
A Clear Choice for District 6
Quick Question

District 8: Walt Chappell vs. Dennis Hedke
Dr. Walt Chappell
When "Yes" or "No" is too difficult...

posted by Jeremy Mohn

One More Endorsement

The Junction City Daily Union has joined The Manhattan Mercury, The Salina Journal, and The Marysville Advocate in endorsing Christopher Renner over Kathy Martin for the 6th District seat on the Kansas State Board of Education.

Renner is in a tight race with incumbent board of education member Kathy Martin, who been a supporter of the change of science standards that has made Kansas the laughing stock of the nation. A narrow majority was able to bring accepted science standards back to our education system. Unfortunately, Martin wasn't among those supporters.

With the standards up for review again in 2010, Renner would ensure that accepted standards are maintained.

Our View: Choices for election (login required)

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Dear Mr. Renner,

Christopher Renner

Thank you for caring enough about Kansas' kids to run for the Kansas State Board of Education. As an openly gay man, you knew at the outset that you'd probably be subjected to attacks from your opponent and her supporters about your sexual orientation. Yet you decided to run anyway.

Sure enough, in these final few days before the election your opponent tacitly supported the homophobic attacks from her supporters in your district. She disavowed them only after they'd ricocheted around the media and the blogosphere for a few days.

I realize that St. Paul spoke against homosexuality in 1st Corinthians:

9Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

St. Paul puts homosexuality on par with theft, greed, drunkenness, and swindling. Note that last. Your opponent, Kathy Martin, has herself has tried to get teachers to deceive their students by portraying evolution as false and birth control as failure-ridden. By St. Paul's account, Martin's deceit is as grave as any sin folks might think you have committed.

But there's something else to keep in mind, though . . .

. . . St. Paul also prohibited women to be in authority over men. Thus, if you are a strict Paulian, and accept that homosexuality is a sin, then Martin shouldn't even be running for office and the win should go to you by default.

What? Nobody abides by that one anymore? We're not condemning women running for higher office? Why not?

Could it be that St. Paul's words were meant for a specific, long-ago audience?

Then where should a Christian look for guidance, if they understand that many of the details in St. Paul's messages were meant for a time and place where the genetic basis of homosexuality was undreamt of?

How about Christ's words?

Oh . . . that's right. When it comes to homosexuality, Christ himself was silent.

On the other hand, Christ had plenty to say about hypocrites: (see Matt 6:2; Matt 6:5; Matt 6:16; Matt 15:7; Matt 22:18; and especially Matt 23, an entire chapter devoted to Christ excoriating the hypocrites of his day).

Christopher, let's hope your opponent remembers that it's hypocritical to claim to be pro-life while opposing comprehensive sex education, the kind that actually works to prevent STDs and abortions. We can dream that she realizes it's hypocritical to excoriate science while knowing next to nothing about it. And we know that it's hypocritical to claim to be following the second greatest commandment - to love one another - while winning votes from homophobes in your district.

It would have been hypocritical for you to stay in the closet for your whole life, or to try to hide it during this campaign. Instead, you were honest about it. Your honesty, experience and education make you the best candidate for the state board of education, the best role model for our kids, and I'm proud that you're not hiding your light under a bushel.

All the best, and you remain in my prayers,
Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body." - Ephesians 4:25.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Saturday, November 1, 2008
Scary Aftermath

We had a record number of trick-or-treaters last night with lots of teenagers. Somehow we've managed to escape the egging and pumpkin smashing through the years. I know I'm lucky in my career because many of the kids I teach are honors students. These students have been raised in homes where education is valued as a precious gift, as a path to a better life.

On the other hand, some kids are raised to be dismissive of education, and in particular to despise science. It doesn't help when their minister tells them on Sunday to "close your minds to ideas that could lead you away from God" after railing against evolution. But it was a senior honors student who asked a few years ago, "Why should we bother learning about science, when it just changes?" (FWIW, this student was also convinced the moon landings were a hoax.)

Although I'm not a huge fan of Christopher Hitchens, he does a nice job of skewering the McCain-Palin anti-science attitude:

Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured.

I'd argue against the "cultured" part; Hitchens would undoubtedly consider many out here as "uncultured" because of our love of mountain oysters, green bean & dumpling soup, and line dancing. "Culture" is a product of a particular place and time. If one must love Wagnerian opera, caviar, and the latest fashions to be considered "cultured," then many of us are certainly nekulturny.

In this day and age, though, education is free and readily available in most parts of our country. There's no excuse for ignorance anymore, yet we've been subjected to an anti-science administration for the past eight years. Is it a coincidence that we're now in an economic meltdown, embroiled in the Iraqi inferno, and relying increasingly on foreign countries to provide goods and services? When evidence is suppressed instead of carefully considered, it only follows that bad policy decisions will be made. "Yee-haw is not a foreign policy."

Ignorance rarely leads to bliss, and the science-bashing McCain-Palin ticket might not be very happy in a few days.

Added in edit: Here is a must-read from evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, of the University of Chicago, emphasis mine:

As a geneticist, I've worked on fruit flies in the laboratory for three decades. I know the fruit fly. The fruit fly is a friend of mine. And believe me, Sarah Palin doesn't know anything about fruit flies.

"When Palin declares that we don't have to know what causes global warming in order to fix it, she's not only exposing herself as a scientific illiterate; she's going against two centuries of American progress in technology, medicine and science. Trying to bond with the American people by taking pride in your ignorance and making science the common enemy - now that's a bridge to nowhere.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

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