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Monday, August 31, 2009
Evolutionary Genealogy

I have recently been made aware of a very nice educational website called "evogeneao.com." The image on the right is one of many that are available on T-Shirts that can be purchased at the site.

The founder of the website, Leonard Eisenberg, describes the purpose of the website as follows:

This website seeks to promote the teaching and acceptance of the biological theory of evolution by emphasizing one of its great lessons: that life on Earth is one big extended family, and therefore we are related in an exact way to not only every other living thing, but also to every thing that ever lived.

The website goes into considerable detail describing a method for calculating a rough estimate of the cousin and removal relationship between yourself and any other living thing. I really like this approach and recommend it highly to anyone who seeks to increase understanding and acceptance of evolutionary biology.

Also available for purchase on the website is a fabulous poster illustrating the Great Tree of Life.


(click to enlarge)

My poster should be arriving any day now. Now I just need to clear up some wall space in my classroom.


posted by Jeremy Mohn



Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Evolution Conference at University of Nebraska-Kearney

Conference on Evolution in Kearney, Sept 3 and 4, 2009

From the blurb:

Join the University of Nebraska at Kearney in celebrating the sesquicentennial of Darwin's On the Origin of Species with a special symposium on evolution. The program will feature presentations by some of the foremost figures in modern biology, including dinosaur paleontologist Jack Horner, Nick Matzke, who prepared testimony for the Dover, PA trial, and environmental virologist Shannon Williamson of the J. Craig Venter Institute.

The conference will open Wednesday evening, September 2, 2009, with a welcome BBQ and mixer (see Program for full schedule of events). The closing plenary session will take place on the afternoon of Friday, September 4, 2009. On Saturday, September 5, there will be a high school/college teaching evolution workshop.
CHECK OUT THE CONFERENCE WEB SITE: www.Evolution2009.org


Sponsored by
The National Science Foundation

New England BioLabs, Inc
Sigma Xi: The Scientific Research Society

University of Nebraska at Kearney, College of Natural and Social Sciences and the College of Fine Arts and Humanities

Click on through for the schedule of events.


SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
Wednesday, September 2, 2009

12:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Arrival/Registration at Ramada Inn

6:00 - 10:00 p.m.
Welcome BBQ and Mixer

Thursday, September 3, 2009

8:30 - 9:00 a.m.
Juice and coffee

9:00 - 9:50 a.m. Plenary Session:
Michael Kanost, Kansas State Univ
Evolution of the Innate Immunity in Insects

9:50 - 10:40 a.m. Plenary Session:
Nick Matzke, Univ of California- Berkeley
Evolution of the Immune System

10:40 a.m.- 1:15 p.m.
All Posters Available for Viewing

12:15 - 1:15 p.m.
Lunch

1:30 - 2:20 p.m. Plenary Session:
Michael Purugganan, New York Univ
Evolution of Plant Development

2:20 - 3:10 p.m. Plenary Session:
Brad Davidson, Univ of Arizona
Evolution of the Heart

3:30 - 5:00 p.m.
All Posters Available for Viewing

5:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Mixer

6:00 - 7:30 p.m.
Dinner

7:30 - 8:30 p.m.
Special Guest Speaker:
Shannon Williamson, J. Craig Venter Institute
Decoding the Oceans Project

Friday, September 4, 2009
8:30 - 9:00 a.m.
Juice and coffee

9:00 - 9:50 a.m.
Plenary Session:
Rob Knight, Univ of Colorado
Evolution of the Genetic Code

9:50 - 10:40 a.m.
Plenary Session:
Scott Gilbert, Swarthmore College
Evolution of the Turtle Shell

10:40 - 12:15 p.m.
All Posters Available for Viewing

11:30 - 1:00 p.m.
Lunch

1:15 - 2:05 p.m.
Plenary Session:
Randy Moore, Univ of Minnesota
The Creationist Threat to Science Education

2:15- 3:05 p.m.
Plenary Session:
Jack Horner, Montana State Univ
Evolution of the Dinosaurs

Saturday September 5, 2009
Special Teaching of Evolution Workshop for High School and College Teachers
8:30 am until 4:00 pm


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Sunday, August 23, 2009
COLBERT Headed to Space Station

Update #2: The launch of STS-128 has been scrubbed due to an uncooperative valve:

Shuttle managers will hold a standard post-scrub meeting at 7:15p.m. EDT regarding the launch attempt of Discovery that was called off earlier today after a problem developed with a liquid hydrogen fill-and-drain valve in the aft compartment of the shuttle. A news briefing will be held after that meeting concludes and will air on NASA TV.

Regarding the valve, when launch controllers commanded it to close, they did not receive the "closed" indication. There is a concern that the valve is either open or partially open, but that needs to be evaluated for confirmation.

A new launch date and time for Discovery's STS-128 mission has not been set at this time.


Update: Due to weather concerns (lightning throughout the area and visibility just under acceptable levels) this morning's launch has been re-scheduled for 1:10 AM tomorrow (that is, tonight). I'll post some pics as soon as they're available.

Of course, the acronym refers to the "Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill," but it's also an homage to the Comedy Central satirist who successfully urged his viewers to submit his name for a new room on the International Space Station.

This isn't your run-of-the-mill treadmill, though. The vibrations from the treadmill must be damped so that its motion doesn't interfere with the operation of the ISS. And as one of the project engineers notes,

The one tradeoff? Perhaps fitting for a treadmill named after Stephen Colbert, it is loud.

"Noise and reliability are fighting against each other here," [COLBERT project manager Curt] Wiederhoeft said. "With a lot more time we could have had both quiet and reliable. We went for reliable, and did what we could with noise."


Heh. Heh. Heh.

STS-128 is scheduled to lift off at 1:38 am Tuesday, and the countdown looks good so far. You can get the latest updates the official NASA site, or follow on Twitter.

Edited to add link to eWeek article


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams



Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The State of State Science Standards

Anyone interested in a comprehensive look at the current state of state science standards?

The National Center for Science Education just announced a report entitled "Why Science Standards are Important to a
Strong Science Curriculum and How States Measure Up
" that has been published in the
journal Evolution: Education and Outreach.

So how do state science standards measure up? It was nice to read the following about the current standards in Kansas:

[The current standards] are excellent overall, easily earning an A. Given Kansas' history, we should be prepared for them to be altered again in the future. In each past episode, the combined efforts of activists, scientists', and educators' organizations at the local, state, and national levels were crucial to restoring good science standards, and doubtless, they will be again.

Rest assured that supporters of REAL science in Kansas are well aware of our State Board's see-saw tendencies. We'll be ready for the next challenge when it presents itself.

Frustratingly, the report cites previous studies that have found little correlation between good science standards and the quality of actual classroom instruction in evolution. In other words, despite the best efforts of professional science educators to craft standards that accurately portray evolution as the central organizing principle of modern biology, there is no guarantee that local science teachers will teach evolution effectively.

Given this unfortunate reality, do science standards really matter?

The authors answer that question with a clear "Yes."

Even if a good treatment of evolution in state science standards does not guarantee that evolution will be taught well, it provides a critical resource for teachers who want to teach evolution correctly. The clearest example is that a good treatment of evolution in the standards provides important support for biology teachers facing protests from creationist students, parents, and administrators who want creationism taught, or evolution not taught, in life science courses. However, it is also an important support for combating two other problems, experienced by many science teachers who contact NCSE for advice: parents who want their students to be able to "opt out" from evolution-related lessons and creationist teachers of non-science subjects who attack evolution in their own classes. Both of these phenomena have the same educational impact as attacks on or omission of evolution in science class; they leave students ignorant or misinformed about evolution. However, administrators often deal with the latter situations differently, reasoning that if science teachers are not actually being prevented from teaching as they deem appropriate, it is best to keep everybody happy by allowing creationist students to opt out and other teachers to criticize evolution if they want to. A good treatment of evolution in state science standards can help to persuade administrators that the teaching of evolution is not a matter for political negotiations between parents and teachers with different interests but a clear educational necessity. Students simply should not be allowed to opt out of material that the state considers essential (Scott and Branch 2008), and non-science teachers should not be allowed to contradict or undermine this material in their own lessons.

Overall, this report describes some promising improvements in state science standards over the last decade. At the same time, it emphasizes that for some states - most notably Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia - there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Ultimately, the supreme adaptability of the anti-evolution movement ensures that supporters of REAL science will have plenty of work to do in the years to come.


posted by Jeremy Mohn



Monday, August 10, 2009
Leaving Las Vegas

The Bellagio Fountains never had a chance to win my heart.

Seriously, all that water spraying into the desert air? When you were taught by your Dust Bowl-raised grandmother to use a dishpan of water three times before it's thrown out (rinse dishes, wash face/hands, scrub table/stove/counter) and you've lived in a thirsty area of the state for so many years, wasted water just gives you chills. And not in the fun Vegas way. Those fountains got me to wondering how a city could thrive in the middle of a desert, with all of its water and food and supplies shipped in from somewhere else.

Author Barbara Kingsolver tackles this issue in her book, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life." Unlike some books which adopt a preachy, I-know-better-than-you tone, Kingsolver humbly documents her family's struggles and triumphs in their efforts to eat only food which are produced locally. It should be noted that they moved from Tucson, AZ, to the southern Appalachian region of Virginia because they recognized that relying on foods grown within even 100 miles of Tucson wouldn't sustain their family.

We wanted to live in a place that could feed us: where rain falls, crops grow, and drinking water bubbles right up out of the ground. p.3

The locavore movement began in Italy as a reaction to the attempted McDonaldization of its eateries. It quickly gained favor in gastronomically-gifted France, where regional specialties are based on what's in season, right now. Eating locally hasn't really caught on in the US: we like being able to serve strawberries in December and kiwifruit anytime. Most of us get our produce from the grocery store instead of from a farmer's market.

Kingsolver's book might just cause you to rethink your ways. Instead of just enjoying the sights and sounds of the city, you might pay attention to the water usage and the incredibly huge electrical demands of those pretty flashing lights. You might even hesitate before you eat your next burger.

At least, for a little bit.


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams




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