Friday, October 2, 2009

Francis Collins on Colbert

Francis Collins, the head of NIH, had an appearance on the Colbert Report and I think he did a great job on what can sometimes be a tough forum. He was funny, made the case for good science and medicine, and explained to Stephen the challenges involved in using stem cells to give a person crab claws.
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Francis Collins
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMichael Moore

Mahlon Hoagland died last week

Mahlon Hoagland died last week. The name probably isn't familiar to many people. I'll admit that I wouldn't have recognized it either, unfortunately. He discovered transfer RNA and the mechanisms behind protein synthesis, laying the foundation for the modern study of genetics and molecular biology. has a very nice write up about him, so go and read it. Perhaps if he had been an actor in some cheesy action movies, or on an 80s sitcom this would have made more of a splash in the news. As it is, a man who was such a major part of establishing our modern knowledge about life and science, helping to bring about huge changes in our society through biomedical research dies and I only find out a week later from a relatively obscure (obscure by traditional media standards) online science news site. When Billy Mays died there was a week long marathon of coverage on all the cable news stations.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Summer time for science teachers

I've been extremely busily (and lazy) lately.

Enjoy a little summer science fun with these beautiful bacteria.

Via: Not Exactly Rocket Science

Monday, April 20, 2009

research-based evidence for Intelligent Design?

It would seem not. Rhiggs over at Four Dollars, Almost Five decided to contact the Discovery Institute in order to ask the simply, straight-forward question, what scientific data is there to support intelligent design. Casey Luskin replied, and rhiggs did all of us the favor of posting the extended email exchange that ensued.

Go over there and check it out.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Science Awesome

After posting a video of Kent Hovind I feel it necessary to post of bit a science awesome in order to feel a little less dirty.

Yes, Virginia, Kent Hovind is a Liar

Notice the following video of Kent Hovind in his natural environment (in front of an audience of gullible friendlies) doing what creationists do, which is to lie. Fortunately someone made the great effort to watch this video and identify each of Hovind's lies (82 in under 10 minutes, impressive). Unfortunately the people he's talking to have no such truth detection system. They will all no doubt go home and encourage their children (the ones who don't home school anyway) to go into school and spread these Hovind lies. Preferably during science class while the teacher is attempting to finish a sentence that would in fact expose one of these statements as false.

Ray of sunshine on a gloomy day

According to an article from National Geographic News: Scientists have discovered a new population of orangutans in Borneo. They believe this previously unexplored area may hold up to 2,000 orangutans.
With roughly 50,000 orangutans thought to remain in the wild, the new find could add 5 percent to the world's known orangutan numbers, said Erik Meijaard, senior ecologist for the Nature Conservancy in Indonesia.

And some more good news from the article:
But this newfound group faces few threats from humans, because the region's rocky landscape cannot be easily developed into plantations, Meijaard said.

(Image from the Orangutan Foundation website)

Polar Bear Defends Self During Home Invasion

A women climbs a face, a hedge, and jumps 20 feet down into a moat. She then swims towards a group of polar bears. Naturally this results in world-wide headlines proclaiming "Polar Bear Mauls Woman" or "Woman Attacked by Polar Bear".

Without even reading a story or seeing a video I suspected "Woman Harasses Polar Bear" would likely be a more appropriate headline. Upon seeing the video it was even more evident how misleading the headlines were, since this is hardly anything close to what could be called a "mauling" by a polar bear.


Oh, and in case you are wondering why I take issue with the term mauled, watch this and consider what the woman's condition would be right now had the polar bear actually intended to hurt her.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Graduates from Texas universities, your degrees are about to become worthless

State Rep. Leo Berman was outraged, Outraged! that The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) was not able to grant Master of Science degrees.
“I don’t believe I came from a salamander that crawled out of a swamp millions of years ago,” Berman told "I do believe in creationism. I do believe there are gaps in evolution.

So he did something about it. Meet House Bill 2800, which will allow all non-profit educational institutions to be exempt from the authority of Texas' Higher Education Coordinating Board. The board authorizes institutions of higher education the ability to grant degrees. It is how we know the young job applicant with a degree from University of Texas, or Baylor, or a small community college near Houston, actually learned something.

Even though the bill is in response to the plight of ICR it is not specific to IRC.
Which could create even bigger problems for the state than just being a laughing stock, and the state of choice for students wishing to pursue an advanced degree in creationism.
“This would open the door to other fly-by-night organizations that come in and want to award degrees in our state, because the bill is highly generalized,” said Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science.

“Right now, we don’t have this problem in Texas. Texas is not a center for degree mills, because our laws allow only the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to approve the granting of graduate degrees.”

“It would certainly open the door to all kinds of chicanery,” says Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education. “I mean, all you have to do, it looks to me from the bill, is start a non-profit organization, don’t take any federal or state money, and then offer degrees in any fool subject you want.”

Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday Night Music Break with Old Crow Medicine Show

Artist: Old Crow Medicine Show
Title: Wagon Wheel

State science advocacy organizations

Our friendly neighborhood developmental biologist over at Pharyngula is compiling a list of state level grassroots organizations working to improve science education in their states. Pennsylvania Citizens for Science is on the list, although it unfortunately does not seem all too active.

I'll also post a complete list at some point, but for now I'm going to hang back and let him do all the work.

Teaching science with science

An article in the Hunterdon Review (New Jersey) reports on some lucky third graders who during January and February
participated in a special science and astronomy program called Wonders of the Universe in which they took part in a number of unusual lessons and activities such as comet making, rocket making and launching, and observing the day and night skies through high powered telescopes.

The program is through a company called the Pearl Observatory and provides schools an opportunity to bring real science into science class. It is unfortunate, but all too often science class is far removed from actual science. Programs like this not only help students better understand what "doing science" means, but also can go a long way to getting students excited about science.
“Each morning, [my students] entered the classroom and looked at the schedule,” said third grade teacher Jaime Levy. “If ‘Visiting Scientist’ was on the schedule, I heard cheers. If it was not, I got questioned, ‘Why isn't John coming today?’ They especially loved picking his brain with all of their questions.”

Creationism in education

I recently came across a website called Education News. It seems to be, as the name would imply, a site dedicated to news and information about education. I haven't really explored it too much, but on the surface it seems pretty good. Just a big repository for news about education, both K-12 and higher ed. Unfortunately I was on the site for about 30 seconds when I noticed a column titled "No one is really talking about any weaknesses in evolution."

Even more unfortunately, it is exactly what it sounds like, creationist propaganda. It is written by a "guest columnist" named David Shormann.

Shormann begins his column with:
In March, the State Board of Education will vote on amendments to the new Texas high school biology teaching standards. Please contact your State Board of Education (SBOE) representative and encourage them to unanimously approve of teaching strengths and weaknesses regarding all scientific theories, particularly evolution.

Oh no. I should have stopped there, but I continued:

Consider for example a female sockeye salmon in Alaska's Copper River. Let's say she lays 3,000 eggs, and all of them hatch. Now, to keep the population stable, only two of those eggs need to mature to adults and return, which means 2,998 of them will probably not make the return journey and produce offspring. Some will get eaten by birds, others by bears, or maybe even a salmon shark. Some will get smashed against rocks, others may starve. Only two are likely to survive to journey from their birthplace to the sea, then venture thousands of miles, before returning to their birthplace.
Now, do you really think the two salmon that survived to adulthood did so because they were clearly the best suited for the environment? Perhaps, but in reality, there is only a 1 in 3000 chance the salmon with the best set of genes survived to adulthood. And the likelihood gets smaller when you consider redfish, which can lay over one million eggs each season.

Okay. Wow. Where to start with that? It appears Dr. Shormann does not consider the possibility that perhaps some of the 3000 young salmon that starved to death did not have the best ability to find food, or that some of the ones that survived predators may have been a little faster than some of their kin which did not, or that just maybe a few of those young salmon who met their untimely fate by getting smashed against rocks were not as strong of swimmers as those that did not.

I say it appears Dr. Shormann did not consider any of these possibilities because he finishes with
Genes mutate, resulting in differences in parents and offspring. However, the low probability of mutation and selection working together to produce fitter populations is a weakness of natural selection theory, and Texas high school biology textbooks should explain such weaknesses.

I am not going to go into a complete take down of his argument here, because the presence of this column is not my big problem here. After I read the column I of course looked at the comments. allows commenters to rate the article with 1 to 5 stars. I am assuming the visitors to this site are mostly professional educators, which is why I found it so disturbing to see so many 5 star comments singing the praises of the article. In fairness, there are many one star comments that are excellent rebuttals to the article, but on a site dedicated to education and educators there are far too many responses that sympathize with the columnist. This is a problem. Far too many professional K-12 teachers (unfortunately including science teachers) are either outright creationists or simply don't understand evolution.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Good Day for Science

President Obama signs executive order lifting ban on funding for stem cell research.

You really should listen to or read the whole statement. It is an eloquent and unapologetic defense of scientific research.

At this moment, the full promise of stem cell research remains unknown, and it should not be overstated. But scientists believe these tiny cells may have the potential to help us understand, and possibly cure, some of our most devastating diseases and conditions. To regenerate a severed spinal cord and lift someone from a wheelchair. To spur insulin production and spare a child from a lifetime of needles. To treat Parkinson’s, cancer, heart disease and others that affect millions of Americans and the people who love them.

But that potential will not reveal itself on its own. Medical miracles do not happen simply by accident. They result from painstaking and costly research – from years of lonely trial and error, much of which never bears fruit – and from a government willing to support that work. From life-saving vaccines, to pioneering cancer treatments, to the sequencing of the human genome – that is the story of scientific progress in America. When government fails to make these investments, opportunities are missed. Promising avenues go unexplored. Some of our best scientists leave for other countries that will sponsor their work. And those countries may surge ahead of ours in the advances that transform our lives.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation responds:
Today is a new day. I could not be more thrilled to see President Obama live up to his commitment to get politics out of science. We have seen, for the past eight years, how much damage the opposite approach has done to science and patients. Now that the President has taken this critical action, I am excited by the prospect of American scientists carrying human embryonic stem cell research forward toward better treatments and cures that will affect countless millions of lives.

I commend the President for recognizing the inherent value of scientific freedom, and for helping to create an environment in which it can flourish.

The ALS Association responds:
President Barack Obama’s decision today to lift restrictions that have limited federal funding for embryonic stem cell research will significantly aid the search for the causes and cure of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ... The ALS Association believes that stem cell research is a rapidly-evolving field that holds the potential to provide benefit to people with ALS in the future. The continuing pursuit of stem cell research with appropriate scientific review and ethical guidelines directly furthers the mission of The ALS Association in finding a cure for and improving living with ALS.

Nancy Reagan responds:
Countless people, suffering from many different diseases, stand to benefit from the answers stem cell research can provide. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to do everything in our power to find cures for these diseases — and soon. As I’ve said before, time is short, and life is precious.

Thank you President Obama, for once again fixing something that should not have been broken.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

More Craziness in Oklahoma

As a college undergraduate I had the opportunity to see people such as Ralph Nader, George Tenet, Colin Powell, Frank Serpico, and Henry Rollins speak on my campus. Obviously I do not agree with every view point expressed by each of these individuals, but they all offered an amazing educational experience beyond anything I could have received in the classroom. I feel privileged to have heard each of these individuals speak. I would have been enraged if a state politician had tried to prevent the university from allowing any one of these people from speaking.

So a few days ago when I found out a state legislator from Oklahoma introduced a bill denouncing Richard Dawkins and encouraging the University of Oklahoma to prevent him from speaking, I felt some sympathy for all the reasonable, rational, people in the state.

You see, University of Oklahoma managed to get Dawkins to come speak there as part of their Darwin 2009 Project. Richard Dawkins is a world renowned evolutionist and one of the great popularizers of science. Anyone should feel privileged to have the chance to hear him speak. State Representative Thomsen (R-Creationistland) feels other wise, and decided the best way to express his personal opinion would be through an official House resolution (I may have chosen to call and bitch to a friend).

HR1015 was introduced by Thomsen on March 3, 2009. You can click the link if you think you can stomach it, if not here is a highlight:
WHEREAS, the invitation for Richard Dawkins to speak on the campus of the University of Oklahoma on Friday, March 6, 2009, will only serve to present a biased philosophy on the theory of evolution to the exclusion of all other divergent considerations rather than teaching a scientific concept.


THAT the Oklahoma House of Representative strongly opposes the invitation to speak on the campus of the University of Oklahoma to Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, whose published statements on the theory of evolution and opinion about those who do not believe in the theory are contrary and offensive to the views and opinions of most citizens of Oklahoma.

It seems though, this was a compromise from his even more terrifying HR1014, introduced on March 2.

The obvious temptation was to mock and ridicule the entire state of Oklahoma. I chose to refrain, however, knowing Rep. Thomsen does not speak for all the people of Oklahoma. In fact, as I said, I felt some sympathy for all the reasonable people of the state.

Of course Dawkins did speak at the university, and much to his credit addressed the whole matter in the way those people should be dealt with, by holding them up to scorn and ridicule.

Notice all those fine, rational Oklahomans laughing at the creationist nonsense.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation has also donated $5,000 to the Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education. A truly worthy cause.

Kepler Launched

The Delta II rocket carrying the Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft lifted off on time at 10:49 p.m. EST from Launch Complex 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

More here.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Kepler to Launch Today

NASA's planet-hunting space telescope Kepler is slated to launch the night of March 6 from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a mission to find Earth-sized planets that could have liquid water at the surface and potentially harbor life.

How cool is the phrase "planet-hunting space telescope"?

More here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

American Scientists removed from endangered species list

For the past eight years, the noble American Scientist has teetered on the brink of total extinction. Over-hunted by religious groups and faced with continued encroachment upon their natural habitat from local school boards, American Scientists retreated to a last few protected ecosystems at a handful of research universities.
Personally I think it may be too soon.

The Amazing Spiderman teaches physics

YES! This is how you teach physics.

A big thumbs up to the Guardian

The Guardian has just announced a new feature. Four new columnists will be writing a weekly column (one per week, so each will have a monthly column) about science.

The starting line up:

Simon Singh - particle physicist, best selling author, TV producer, and currently being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

Chris French - Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths University of London, Co-ordinator of something called the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, and co-editor of The Skeptic.

Andy Miah - professor of ethics and emerging technologies at University of West Scotland.

PZ Myers
- professor of biology at University of Minnesota, Morris, outspoken atheist, and of course is famous (infamous?) for his blog, Pharyngula, which does an excellent job covering a wide range of topics related to biology, evolution, creationism, religion, and atheism. (Those last two get him all kinds of new friends)

Sounds like a hell of a line up to me. Good job Guardian.

President Obama still fixing things that shouldn't have been broken

From this post at the New York Times blog section comes this sentence:
President Obama today asked federal agencies to consult with wildlife biologists over decisions that may affect threatened or endangered species.

Yes, I also have trouble believing that sentence had to actually be written. Bush, in December 2008 (just killing time until retirement) issued a rule to allow federal agencies to decide if the construction projects they were overseeing put endangered species at risk without consulting with the scientists who might actually know something about the potential environmental impact of the projects.

While Obama has not officially overturned the rule, he has ordered a review
“Until such a review is completed,” Mr. Obama wrote, “I request the heads of all agencies to exercise their discretion, under the new regulation, to follow the prior longstanding consultation and concurrence practices” involving the Fish and Wildlife Services and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The Sierra Club approves:
Today's announcement marks the unequivocal return of science to the agencies that govern our fish, wildlife, and natural resources.

The Bush rules would have allowed agencies with little or no wildlife expertise to make decisions that could mean life or death for animals like the polar bear. When it comes to protecting wildlife, we should listen to the scientists who spend their lives studying these animals.

These midnight regulations represented all the disdain for science and political trumping of expertise that characterized the Bush Administration's efforts to dismantle fundamental environmental laws.

Our wildlife are clearly in much better hands now. President Obama is bringing science back into decision-making.

Right on!

A brief, but excellent, history of Intelligent Design

From "A Brief History of Moonbats" by Lou at Crowd Head, Cozy Bed
By this point my son was livid at the dishonesty of the creationists, but there was more to come. At the time of the Edwards decision, a Christian Fundamentalist group called the Foundation for Thought and Ethics had been working on a high school targeted text book, ostensibly about Biology but in reality a Creation Science fakery entitled Biology and Origins. In response to Edwards the text was search/replaced, replacing each instance of “Creationism” with the new moniker “Intelligent Design”, “Creationist” with “design proponent”, and “God” with “Intelligent Designer”. The text got a shiny new title, Of Pandas and People. Unfortunately for Dr. Behe, who wrote the chapter on blood clotting, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics is as incompetent as it is dishonest and this would come to haunt him in federal court eighteen years later.

It is an excellent read and well researched. A must read for everyone interested in evolution, education, and the ID movement.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Monday Night Music Break with Iggy Pop and the Stooges

Artist: Iggy Pop and the Stooges
Title: The Passenger

Saturday, February 28, 2009

More ID nonsense. Florida's turn at bat

Florida State Senator Stephen Wise introduced senate bill 2396. The bill "Requires that the instructional staff of a public school teach a thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution and certain governmental, legal, and civic-related principles."

That 'critical analysis' is code for intelligent design. Florida is not the only state with an anti-evolution bill on the floor right now, but if this passes and Florida gets rid of teacher tenure any teachers wishing to even try to oppose this trash might not be around long enough to challenge it.

This, by the way, is not Sen Wise's first flirtation with teaching ID in public schools.

A novel idea.....for Mississippi anyway

Mississippi state legislature is considering a bill (House Bill 234) to create a sex education program for the state's public schools.

As the state with the highest birthrate among teenagers and third highest teen pregnancy rate you might think nobody could possibly be against this. You, of course, would be wrong.

Meet State Senator Lee Yancey, a Republican from Brandon. Mr. Yancey voted against the proposal in committee. According to this article Sen. Yancey said he's aware of the need for young people to be better informed about sex and its consequences. However, he's opposed to schools teaching children how to use contraceptives.

What? Okay, try not to think about that statement too hard. It will hurt your brain. The article goes on to quote Sen. Yancey as saying:

"What everybody's afraid to say is what method would they use to demonstrate how to use a prophylactic?" Yancey said. "Is that something an eighth-grader or sixth-grader needs to see?"

Yes Sen. Yancey, that is something an eighth-grader or a sixth-grader needs to see. I am sure Sen. Yancey is basing his opinion on something, but it does not seem to be any type of experience working with middle school students or the CDC data that says Mississippi is number 1 in births to teenage mothers. So once again. Yes, Mr. Yancey, that is something sixth and eighth graders need to see.

Google Earth and Geology

I have used Google Earth in the classroom before as part of a project students were doing on biomes and climate. Appearently, though, geologists have kicked it up a notch.

Kim Hannula at a blog called All of My Faults are Stress Related (best name for a geology blog ever) has a great post about using google earth in geology research.

Teaching under the Sword of Damocles

It appears the Florida Legislature is considering ending teacher tenor. The plan is being sold as an effort to help schools get rid of ineffective or poorly performing teachers. It is a familiar argument, one often used against teacher's unions and teacher tenure. When presented well it even sounds noble. After all, who could argue against getting rid of bad teachers. Oh won't someone please think of the children.

The problem of course, is it will not get rid of bad teachers, it will get rid of teachers who do not see eye to eye with the administration.

First let's put the myth to an end. Teachers, even teachers with tenures, can be fired for legitimate reasons. Getting rid of tenure for teachers only serves to make it easier for administrators to fire teachers for other reasons.

Now, I am certainly not going to argue that all school administrators are bad. In fact I've worked with some truly great administrators. But the fact is there are many administrators out there who care more about maintaining the status quo than the quality of education the students are receiving. Often these are people with what some would call old fashioned ideas about what a school environment should look like. Straight rows of desks occupied by silent students reading or filling in bubbles on multiple choice test sheets. Classrooms as sterile environments.

The problem is that more and more we are finding this is not the most effective learning environment. Students engaged in physical activity in the classroom, inquiry learning, and true open discussions often provide the most engaging and effective classroom environments.

While students typically respond best to teachers with those types of classrooms, all too often administrators do not. As a result, the teachers both students and educational researchers would call the best or most effective teachers are often the very ones administrators would like to get rid of the most.

So while this change in law could possible result in some truly great teachers losing their jobs, a far more drastic effect could be in making teachers fearful of experimenting with these techniques. It could push all teachers to a state of mediocrity. Getting students actively engaged in learning is not always a clean, easy process. It is something that takes practice and patience on the part of the teacher. If a law is passing in which teachers feel any slip up or temperary loss of control may result in unemployment we are more likely to see self censorship on the part of the teachers as far as trying new techniques is concerned.

Denying teachers due process in firing procedures could also make more teachers at risk because of person, political, or religious views.

Of course, none of what I've written so far even addresses the question of how do we evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher. My guess would be standardized test scores. Because when talking about the life of a child, really, what matters besides standardized test scores?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Math teachers don't have to deal with this

So why is this attitude (in the form of creationism) always being pushed on science teachers.

As a professional educator, all I can say is "Wow"

Schools in Volusia County Florida are hoping to recruit volunteer substitute teachers.

The article presents this idea as an effort to save money. Facing a massive budget shortfall Volusia County plans on allowing anyone who passes the required background checks to become a volunteer substitute teacher.

No worries though, they will get a one day training session on classroom management and procedures before they are fed to the wolves.

I saw no mention in the article about a shortage of subs, just lack of money. So presumably there are enough certified, professional teachers to fill the slots, but no money to pay them.

Right now I only have two major problems with this, but I'm sure I will come up with more as this idea stews in my head.

First: This is taking jobs away from certified teachers who are currently subbing. Typically (though certainly not always) these are recently graduates looking for permanent positions. Subbing allows them to get their foot in the door, experience working in various districts, and most importantly gain valuable experience before they are charged with running their own classroom. It also helps administrators who are able to evaluate potential teachers based on dealing with them as subs instead of just a job interview.

A one day training session on classroom management and procedures? Wow. Good luck with that.

There is no mention of restricting these volunteers to day-to-day work versus long-term assignments. I would hope they wouldn't be used for any type of long term assignment, but with the current situation in Florida (state-wide budget meltdowns) I certainly won't make any assumptions.

I should note, the teacher's union is supporting the plan. No surprise there, right now when there are not enough subs, the regular teachers pick up the slack, typically by giving up their prep periods or doubling up classes. This will definitely alleviate some of the stress currently put on the union teachers.


As reported in the Dallas News

Researchers at Texas State University have found that an overwhelming majority (94%) of Texas school districts provide students with no sexual education beyond abstinence. 2% of the districts offer nothing at all, leaving a grand total of 4% of school districts in Texas teaching students about pregnancy and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. They go on to call the abstinence-only programs "shockingly poor".

Now, "shockingly poor" is not how I would describe abstinence only education only because "shockingly" implies an expectation of it not being so poor. Perhaps "obviously poor" is the phrase they where searching for.

Texas spends $18 million a year on these programs, and yes, that money is coming from your federal tax dollars. So, what do we get for all that money?

Among the key findings:

•Sex education materials regularly contain factual errors and perpetuate lies and distortions about condoms and STDs.

•Most school districts do not receive consistent local input from their school health advisory councils – including parents – about sex education.

•Shaming and fear-based instruction are standard means of teaching students about sexuality in many schools.

•Instruction on human sexuality often promotes stereotypes and biases based on gender and sexual orientation.

•Some classrooms mix religious instruction and Bible study in sex education programs. Such policies could violate the U.S. constitutional prohibition against establishment of religion in public schools.

Jonathan Saenz of the Free Market Foundation seems not to like empirical science. He questions the criticism of the program and is quoted in the article as saying "The reality is that abstinence works. If two people decide not to have sex, that is sex education that works 100 percent of the time."

Mr. Saenz, let me break it down for you. Nobody is questioning the effectiveness of abstinence itself. People are questioning (and rightly so, although some would argue the question has already been answered) the effectiveness of abstinence-only education. The reality is spending $18 million a year to teach more students than any other state abstinence-only education has resulted in (according the a 2006 report compiled by the Guttmacher Institue)Texas having the 5th highest rate of pregnancy among 15-19 year olds and the 2nd highest rate of live births by 15-19 year olds in the country.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday Night Music Break with the Ramones

Title: Spider-man
Artist: Ramones

Ahh, two of my favorite things, the Ramones and Spiderman. Enjoy.

Fun for nerds

Several other designs here, and you can buy them as shirts, buttons, and stickers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday Night Music Break featuring Zombina and the Skeletones

Artist: Zombina and the Skeletones
Title: Zombie Hop

Since last Friday was Friday the 13th, why not celebrate with a little horror rock. Enjoy.

Louisiana says science not welcome; Scientists say Okay

The president of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology recently sent a very polite letter to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal informing him they will not be holding their 2011 annual meeting (or any others) in New Orleans.

This decision was in response to the passage of Louisiana's Science Education Act. The Science Education Act is actually a direct attack on evolution that was heavily pushed by the Discovery Institute.

Louisiana Coalition for Science issued a press release with all the information, and a pdf of the letter sent to the governor.

For those who don't think this is a big threat, SCIB has more than 2300 members and its 2009 meeting that just ended in Boston brought over 1850 scientists and graduate students to that city for 5 days. A nice boost to any local economy.

In March the National Science Teacher's Association will be holding their 2009 annual conference in New Orleans, and while I understand it is too late to change the venue for that, it would be nice if in the future they followed suit and also boycotted states that attack science education.

As much as I love the city of New Orleans, and as much as it desperately needs money right now, I am in full support of the SICB decision to boycott the state. If they are going to trash science for political gain the scientific community should refuse to help subsidize their budgets.

So kudos SICB. If they spit in your face, kick 'em in the wallet.

Celebrating Darwin Day with 1000 Steves

I'm still recovering from my RoboCop marathon, but felt compelled to share some fun news. Over the weekend The National Center for Science Education announced the 1000th Steve to join their Project Steve.

For those unfamiliar with Project Steve, it is the NCSE's parady of the creationist tradition of compiling lists of "scientists" who disagree with evolution. The idea was that making an actual list of scientist who support evolution would be ridiculous, so they began compiling a list of scientists name Steve (or some variation) who support evolution.

The kilosteve was attained by adding Dr. Steven Darwin (how awesome is that), a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Tulane University to the list.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

So stupid it hurts.

Ray "Where does the banana fit?"Comfort discusses evolution with Pat Robertson. This might make you sick (or stupid).

How painful was this video to watch?

I have in the past (okay, it was today) watched all three RoboCop movies in one day. Some people have told me they think RoboCop is the darkest, most depressing movie ever. To them I say, "You obviously haven't seen RoboCop 2". I managed to make it over 3 hours through this marathon of misery without putting a 45 caliber hole in my skull when something strange happened. I began to notice the serious social commentary and strong undercurrents of humanism in this anticorporate manifesto. I saw the beauty of the RoboCop movies.

My RoboCop ecstasy came to an abrupt end when the makers of RoboCop 3 appearently decided RoboCop needed a jetpack so he could fly. It was like running a marathon only to get a sharp kick to the nuts within sight of the finish line.

I would rather go through all that again than hear Ray Comfort's "Missing female" argument one more time.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin Day

There is a fundamental principle in science that evidence is all that matters. As scientists we do not accept ideas simply because of the person proposing them, we evaluate the evidence. Among the anti-science crowd you will often hear the argument that Charles Darwin is held in almost a sacred position. That to deny his ideas is sacrilegious. This is not just false, but also offensive to scientists. And it is destructive the dialogue between the scientific community and the general population.

So when scientists celebrate "Darwin Day" (Darwin's birthday) it must seem to some as if the scientific community is in fact proving the point of the science deniers. Again, this is not the case. Darwin Day is a day to celebrate science, and the process of science. Yes, it is intended as an honor to Darwin, but not for the reasons some would claim. It is NOT to celebrate the birth of the man (as some kind of god). It is NOT to worship him.

Charles Darwin is held in high esteem among scientist for the work he did, more so than for his idea.

Charles Darwin was not the only person to propose the idea of descent with modification. He was not even the first. The reason he is given so much credit and is so well remembered is the evidence he collected and published. Darwin gathered evidence from all over the world (quite a feet in his day). He spent the better part of his life gathering and analyzing data and evidence before publishing his idea. Within the pages of Origin of Species you will find examples domestic dogs, pigeons (wild and domestic), earthworms, beetles, birds of South America, prehistoric fossils from all over the world, and most famously, the island biogeography of the Galapagos Islands.

Charles Darwin published a ground breaking idea, but more importantly he had the research and evidence to back it up. In the 150 years since the publication of Origin of Species we have discovered much about biology, medicine, geology, paleontology, anatomy, and the all the other sciences. Obvious Darwin could not have predicted these advances or used the evidence we now have. But in that time we have discovered nothing to contradict the basic premise of his hypothesis. A hypothesis that is now a valid scientific theory which ties all of biology together.

So it is right that the man's work should be respected as not only one of the most influential and important ideas in the last 200 years, but also as a stellar example of how science is supposed to work.

So today, Feb 12th, 2009. It is the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species. Take some time to read or investigate a little about how evolutionary theory influences our modern world.

Here are some good places to start:

This is and excellent editorial about evolution and the current debate from the Guardian. I would love to see American journalists saying some of these things

Seed compiled a short selection of some ideas that have arisen as a result of Darwin's work

Nature has dedicated its weekly podcast this week to a Darwin theme. Featuring poetry, science, and info about the man himself.

Here is a pdf from the magazine Nature titled "15 Evolutionary Gems". It is well worth a look.

And New Scientist put out a list this month of their top 10 evolution articles