You can check out my gig with Alan Autry here:
Hello, people who care about science education! I hope you are well and enjoying the buildup to the holiday season.
As it so happens, I will be back on the Alan Autry radio program (1300 KYNO) on between 11:00 and 12:00 on Tuesday morning, Dec. 21st. Regular readers of my blog may recall my first steps into this arena, and the considerable amount of traffic and comments it generated....so it will be interesting to see if this will be more of the same. I kind of doubt it, because just today Autry has announced that he will be stepping down from the program to pursue other interests. Here's hoping that his decision will not impact my understandable desire to spread a little science mojo!
Speaking of which . . .
I've been asked to address the exciting recent finding of bacteria in Mono Lake which are not only able to tolerate that body of water's extreme salinity, but which (evidence suggests) may be able to substitute arsenic (As) for phosphorus (P) in the building of the macromolecules of the cell.
It has been shown that these bacteria, when removed from the lake, continue to grow (at a reduced rate) on media that contains arsenic, but with virtually no phosphorus. This may mean that these bacteria have worked out the trick of making arsenolipids rather than phospholipids, AT(As) instead of ATP, and perhaps even incorporate arsenate groups into their DNA rather than phosphate groups.
If so, these remarkable bacteria may be evidence of how some sorts of bacteria flourished in extreme environments in the early Earth's oceans, or how alien lifeforms on other worlds might be able to use a different chemistry. NASA, which paid for the research, is understandably keen to emphasize that point.
Or maybe not. Notice the qualifiers? As often happens in science, media accounts tend to overstate the certainty of the finding and its implications. There are other possible explanations for the data produced by Felisa Wolfe-Simon and her team, and there has been sufficient heat generated over this that Science magazine has taken the rare step of making a current article available free to the public for a few weeks here.
Could be a lively discussion with the Mayor, and it certainly intrigues me as a high school science teacher, as this is something happening in our neck of the woods, and a topic of discussion in the popular culture. It's just the kind of thing that science teachers should be prepared to briefly discuss with students who are understandably intrigued by the fact it was found nearby, and that it might have a bearing on things like the origin of life either on Earth, or on outer space. It doesn't hurt that Wolfe-Simon sees the value of promoting her own research interests: her web site is a hoot.
And you know, it is fascinating to learn about the diversity of microbes and their adaptations to extreme environments. Wolfe-Simon's work is a logical extension of recent work that established the fact that microbes are involved in the cycling of arsenic in these soda lakes. You can read about that here.
He's certainly the most successful of late at building mailing lists and war chests, precisely because the lion's share of his public effort is addressed at young people. That's what you'd expect from a guy who has a background as a school teacher, when you think about it.
Used to be, I gave most of my attention to the ID people, rather than YEC (Young Earth Creationist) types because YEC in all of its incarnations has been throughly rejected multiple times by the court system in this country and has zero chance of ever persuading anyone that it is anything other than religious in nature. To my way of thinking, people like Michael Behe and (especially) Jonathan Wells were more troublesome, in that they conceivably could offer tidbits that could make it into public school science classes.
That's due, to, um, design. The Disco Institute and their lawyers continue to claim that their formulation ('intelligent design') is by no means religious, and should pass muster with the Establishment Clause. They also claim that their viewpoint was not actually adjudicated by Judge Jones in the Dover case. They also claim that teachers like me are violating the Establishment Clause by mentioning the fact that there are varieties of religion which do not oppose evoution. Well, none of that is true from where I sit, but ultimately it doesn't matter, because the truth is, the Disco Institute has simply not been successful at building the broad political coalition they pursued.
There are a lot of reasons for this, but one major reason is that some creationists actually hold their views in a consistent way. Such as Ken Ham, who has never made any bones about the fact that he is defending the Bible "from the very first verse", and feels no desire to be a part of some 'big tent' that won't affirm Biblical literalism. Ham has been quoted as describing 'intelligent design' as a Trojan horse for religion, ironically echoing the extremely effective talking points of Barbara Forrest---whose testimony at the Dover trial was so devastating to the defense of the ID-friendly board.
Ham also urges Christians to understand that the intelligent design movement is not against evolution. "They're not against evolutionary geology, they're not against evolutionary biology or evolutionary astronomy or evolutionary anthropology," he says.
Is the situation that I don't have anything new to say or write about? Probably not.
The problem is that my load of district-mandated coursework has entailed me writing, on average, about 3,000 words a week since late April. It's been a bear, and with two other jobs plus all the time I seem to find it necessary to spend at my school site doing various things, I just haven't been able to give the blog the kind of attention I did in the past. I haven't had a really high week of traffic (more than 300 hits) in about half a year, and I wouldn't blame anyone for not checking in anymore.
Having said that, I am just a few days from completing the coursework, and I will be having a few extra minutes a week to be overcommitted, so expect a slight increase in my offerings to the void.
But he has outdone himself here, showing a real-life grad student doing genetic research on pepper plants at New Mexico State University:
From the ridiculous to the sublime. Or the sublemon. I dunno.
My wife and I play on a team with an ever-changing name in the Fresno Pub Quiz. Recently our team beat out about 25 other gangs of six to win a share of a fat four-figure prize. Given that it costs the two of us just $10 /week to compete, it was a pretty nice win.
In fact, it was such an improbably-sizeable win (I won't bore you with the details) that they've decided to reduce the length of time a jackpot carries over from one week to the next. Seems that they were getting a bit nervous about it!
What can I say? I like winning, but having played College Bowl and been in the Jeopardy pool and all that, I can't say that I'm surprised to be on the winning side now and then, nor can I crow too much about the jackpot. After all, if you win enough games, you'll win your share of jackpots. But my wife? She has definitely found her obsession, and she loves the team we play with, because everyone who is there is definitely in it to win it. Witness, for example, our team captain's Facebook post:
It's....um.....the winning sheet from our most recent victory, with every response in all four rounds tagged with some explanatory comment. Have to admit, gets me kind of pumped up, makes me want to win again....!
The article itself is a pastiche of quotes either collected by the reporter, Ron Orozco, or edited from observations that they asked me to submit. There were some formatting problems with the Bee article that were corrected on-line, but the paper has more still shots from video taken by yours truly. Overall, I was happy with the article.
If this is your first time visiting my blog, well, I haven't been posting a lot lately but there is lots of back material. I'm interested in promoting science education, and I hope you'll take a look at any categories that interests you. My Galapagos trip has caused me to more tightly focus my blogging on ways that promote local science education, and I have another blog to support that effort, here.
It's been a while since I've posted, more than two weeks. So much has changed for me in terms of energy and outlook since my trip to the Galapagos. There is now a gallery of pictures on-line you can look at.
Anyway, read this article in the Business section of the Bee today. It seems that, curiously, that the profits of McClatchy Newspapers (of which the Bee is one) are up....but their overall revenues are down. I posted the following on-line as a challenge had to McClatchy's beancounters:
I wonder if anyone will read this, but I just had to comment. The outcome outlined in the headline was entirely predictable for anyone who has followed the Bee's evolution to a leaner, but also less filling, product. The Bee's decision to change formats to reduce printing costs doubtless helped raise the profit margin, but there was also a reduction in content, especially in local content. If you want to make your newspaper relevant, you need to invest more in local content by local writers, and (frankly) in content that will provoke people to respond. Have you considered reducing the size of text, for example, in the letters to the editor? People read those things, and they would read 40 a day instead of 10 even if the text was smaller. Another thing: more stories that tease people with links to more comprehensive coverage on-line! Create the expectation that you buy the paper to get the 'Easter eggs' !
Also, original comics, in color. Look at what USA Today did with Wednesday Comics, increasing their readership under the age of 30. You need content that others don't have if you want your market share to grow. Otherwise, you can keep slashing the cost of production all you want, but your overall revenues will drop because your share of the market will shrink. The Internet changes the equation: if McClatchy does not invest in generating more unique, local content they should get out of the newspaper business.
I returned a few days ago from the longest travels of my life. Eight plane rides, over 500 miles at sea, twelve anchorages, seven islands, dozens of landings, hikes, snorkel expeditions. I'm back, but only physically. Much of my mind and, truth to tell, my emotions are still centered on the Galapagos.
What can I say, in just a few words, about the adventures I have been having?
It's been at times jaw-droppingly beautiful, savage, puzzling. The Islands are unforgettable, even if the boat was often unspeakable.
Anyway, I have been indelibly marked by the islands. Truly, at times you are a spectator in prehistory, and everything seems pregnant with memory and meaning. And, since my video camera made it through the tumult unscathed, I have documentation of some of what I've seen, and in HD. The project of editing the nearly 11 hours and over 770 segments of video promises to occupy me for some time to come, and provide all manner of food for thought.
Soon enough. In the meantime, here is an extremely low-res, clumsy montage of five of those segments.
It's kind of frustrating, actually: even on my laptop, I'm only seeing about 85 percent of the pixels that are encoded at 1920 X 1080, and in order to make the montage, I first had to convert the HD to SD, then edit, which introduces more artifacts. The bottom line is that to really do the HD right I'm going to have to invest in software and hard disk storage. Which I will, because I want to do this right.
Posted by Scott Hatfield . . . . at 5:02 PM
To my Colleagues, Friends and Family:
As you may know, I am taking coursework in the Galapagos, a chain of volcanic islands in the South Pacific about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. It is remote, but to biologists, a celebrated location due to its association with Darwin's theory of evolution. To a high school teacher like myself this represents a major investment in my own practice, and a once-in-a-lifetime sort of experience that I hope to bring back to the classroom. Without exaggeration, it represents the greatest adventure I have ever embarked on.
It is also the longest (10 days) that I have ever been away from my family in Fresno, and the furthest that I have ever traveled in my life. For someone who spent part of his childhood in Panama and another chunk in Alaska, that's saying something.
I am aware that many people have contributed to this project in one way or another, whether by a donation, thoughtful advice or encouragement. I am deeply grateful for all the support I have received, but I especially want to thank my wife, our kids and the rest of our family for helping me out. I couldn't have done it without their encouragement.
On a practical note, I leave in about seven hours from Fresno and should arrive in Ecuador sometime on the evening of the 29th. I hope to return to Fresno no later than Friday, July 9th. During much of the trip I will be in areas in which access to the Internet does not exist and cellular phones will not work. If I get access, I will try to let people know what is going on, but the reality is that I will be incommunicado 98-99 percent of the time.
Please know, however, that you will be in my thoughts and that I hope to have many adventures worth recounting.
Well, it has come to this at last. As you may be aware, I am planning on taking coursework in the Galapagos Islands in July. This is part of a program in which I will earn units in both the Geology and Biology of the Galapagos. Beyond making what is in effect the biological equivalent of a pilgrimage, I am hoping that what I see and experience will make me a more effective instructor in Biology, particularly as regarding evolution and natural selection.
I don't intend to stop there, however. I want to be able to document my voyage of discovery and bring into the classroom---not just my own future classes, but to the Central Valley as a whole. As you may be aware, where I teach is not exactly the most progressive place in these United States, and (despite pretty fair standards and the presence of NCSE up in Oakland) evolution education in my own County is pretty woeful.
to exotic locations!
Isolating mechanisms, changing environments, patterns of selection and diversification are going on throughout the world, including the Central Valley. I want to bring an awareness of what's happening right here to my students, so that they can see evolution at work in their parks, their orchards, their forests and even their urban settings.
What , for example, could possibly be more motivating to students that to learn that real-life examples of natural selection in action are be studied just a few miles away from where I teach, in Millerton Lake?
Outstanding research by David Kingsley and his associates has documented how genetic changes in stickleback fish in different environments have led to recent speciation events in populations that became isolated when global sea levels fell during the last Ice Age. Placed in refugia that lacked the predators experienced by marine populations, the pressures to maintain the dorsal spines that give these fish their name was relaxed, and the energetic costs of maintaining these spines asserted themselves.
That's the sort of connection I want to help foster, but to make that connection especially vivid we need to relate our surroundings to the familiar example of the Galapagos, the "workshop of Nature" found in our textbooks. Doing that means creating specific content, hopefully vivid and memorable, that brings the Galapagos to the Valley---so that we can then discover the connection, in effect Finding OUR Galapagos.
That, at least, is my vision. But, I have to confess, I am going to need to some help. The expenses associated with this venture go well beyond what most individuals, including public school teachers, can easily meet out of pocket. Stepping up and making the commitment to further my education as a science teacher has been a significant investment undertaken without any institutional support, and since beginning this effort I have encountered significant unexpected expenses. To do this thing right, with the highest quality, is going to require additional support.
I am therefore asking people to contribute by clicking on the PayPal button on the sidebar of this blog, or on the blog Finding OUR Galapagos. This will allow you to make a donation to this effort. No contribution is too small to assist my colleagues and I, and you can believe me when I say that it will be well-spent, bringing high-quality science education to biology students in the Central Valley.
Thank you, in advance, for helping out as you are able.
The prolific Scientific American columnist, founder of CSICOP, and savant of a thousand interests has died.
I lack the wisdom to sum up such an interesting life, especially for someone that I only knew in print. I can only remark that I have often found Gardner's playfulness, skepticism and curious views on the possibility of religious belief to be endlessly intriguing, even inspirational in ways that I find difficult to express in words.
Skeptics will rightly emphasize Gardner's role in debunking pseudo-scientific claims and the catholicity of his pursuits. They will join Doug Hofstadter in proclaiming his passing a real loss:
"This is really a sad day. Not so much sad that Martin died, since we all knew it had to come pretty soon, but sad because his spirit was so important to so many of us, and because he had such a profound influence on so many of us. He is totally unreproducible—he was sui generis—and what's so strange is that so few people today are really aware of what a giant he was in so many fields—to name some of them: the propagation of truly deep and beautiful mathematical ideas (not just "mathematical games," far from it!); the intense battling of pseudoscience and related ideas; the invention of superb magic tricks; the love for beautiful poetry; the fascination with profound philosophical ideas (Newcomb's paradox, free will, etcetera etcetera); the elusive border between nonsense and sense; the idea of intellectual hoaxes done in order to make serious points (for example, one time, at my instigation, he wrote a scathing review of his own book The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener in The New York Review of Books, and the idea was to talk about the ideas seriously even though he was attacking the ideas that he himself believed in); and on and on and on and on. Martin Gardner was so profoundly influential on so many top-notch thinkers in so many disciplines—just a remarkable human being—and at the same time he was so unbelievably modest and unassuming. Totally. So it is a very sad day to think that such a person is gone, and that so many of us owe him so much, and that so few people—even extremely intelligent, well-informed people—realize who he was or have even ever heard of him. Very strange. But I guess that when you are a total non–self-trumpeter like Martin, that's what you want and that's what you get. And so perhaps it's all for the best that he remains sort of hidden behind the scenes, known only to a special set of people."
I wish I could say that I was one of that special set, but probably not. I'm just a high school science teacher, on the periphery of that realm occupied by truly great thinkers, engaged but ultimately lacking in deep mathematical or logical insight. In fact, my interest in Gardner is in part based simply upon his atypical views on religion, hardly the sort of thing that would endear him to the class of professional skeptics I often interact with and probably something that quite of few of them regard as an embarrassing inconsistency.
You see, the author of so many 'Mathematical Games' described himself as a philosophical theist, rejecting much conventional religion while remaining fascinated by the nature of religious belief.
It is an interesting fact that Gardner was held in high regard by many non-believers and skeptics, but remained something of a believer himself. This is...ironic. Perhaps, in the minds of those inclined to fill their gaps with God, Gardner has now become, in Doug Hofstadter's phrase, a 'Metamagical Thema' of his own.
Well, as I said, I'm hardly the sort of eminence whose opinion counts where such an individual is concerned. More consideration of Gardner's legacy is here, and well worth reading.
Want some evidence that there is something fundamentally awry in the mainstream media? Looking for something to bolster your conspiratorial mindset, prone to magical thinking? Well, look no farther. Today, Monkey Trials will indulge that guilty pleasure.
Here's a news article from the Associated Press regarding President Obama's speech to Michigan graduates, of which I watched a goodly portion of live. It contains a passage on a speech by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in the same neck of the woods, as follows:
"Not 50 miles from where Obama spoke, the GOP's 2008 vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, denounced his policies as "big government" strategies being imposed on average Americans. "The fundamental transformation of America is not what we all bargained for," she told 2,000 activists at a forum in Clarkston, sponsored by the anti-tax Americans for Prosperity Foundation."
The same passage is quoted verbatim in other sites that picked up the AP story (by Pete Yost and Mark S. Smith), such as Yahoo! News, Newser or Salon.
But what do I find, pray, when I check out the same story at FOX News? The individual author's names are not shown, and the feature is credited blandly to 'Associated Press.' Much of the article has been cleverly recast. The above paragraph mentioning Palin has been chopped into two separate paragraphs embedded in different parts of the article, and there is a subtle attempt to recast the President as acting on partisan impulse. Compare! I have taken the liberty of italicizing key points of difference in the text.
Original AP story by Yost and Smith:
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – In a blunt caution to political friend and foe, President said Saturday that partisan rants and name-calling under the guise of legitimate discourse pose a serious danger to America's democracy, and may incite "extreme elements" to violence.The comments, in a at the 's huge , were Obama's most direct take about the angry politics that have engulfed his young presidency. after long clashes over health care, taxes and the role of government.
Not 50 miles from where Obama spoke, the GOP's 2008 , , denounced his policies as "big government" strategies being imposed on average Americans.
FOX News version:
President Obama took aim Saturday at the angry rhetoric of those who denigrate government as "inherently bad" and said their off-base line of attack ignores the fact that in a democracy, "government is us."
Obama used his commencement speech at the University of Michigan to respond to foes who portray government as oppressive and tyrannical -- and to warn that overheated language can signal extremists that "perhaps violence is ... justifiable."
Just 45 miles from the immense Michigan Stadium, capacity 106,201, the GOP's 2008 vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, told an anti-tax gathering Obama's policies are "big government" recipes that are "intrusive" in the lives of average Americans.
Original AP story:
Obama drew repeated cheers in from a friendly crowd that aides called the biggest audience of his presidency since the inauguration. The venue has a capacity of 106,201, and university officials distributed 80,000 tickets — before they ran out.
(does not appear...!)
Original AP story, following comments of the President's discussing the historical debate on the role of government:
But Obama was direct in urging both sides in the political debate to tone it down. "Throwing around phrases like 'socialists' and 'Soviet-style takeover,' 'fascists' and 'right-wing nut' — that may grab headlines," he said. But it also "closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines democratic deliberation," he said.
"At its worst, it can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response."
FOX News, on the other hand, placed an edited version of the above passage following a sentence describing the views of Gov. Palin:
Obama urged both sides in the political debate to tone it down. "Throwing around phrases like 'socialists' and 'Soviet-style takeover,' 'fascists' and 'right-wing nut' -- that may grab headlines," he said. But it also "closes the door to the possibility of compromise...
(above italicized phrase omitted)
"At its worst, it can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response."
To me, when comparing the original with the edited version, the clear purpose of the latter was to remove the context of the President's remarks. They wanted to downplay the size of the President's audience, and the enthusiasm with which his remarks were received. They wanted to recast his commentary on the angry politics of our time as a largely partisan speech, aimed at Tea Party supporters and Sarah Palin.
In other words, they wanted a story that more closely melded with the narrative of FOX News, which trolls ceaselessly back-and-forth in search of controversy. Well, I actually watched the speech, and I can tell you that it was not in any meaningful sense critical of the President's foes, nor did he take any particular aim at conservatives. It was a commentary on the nature of political discourse in our country, fully aware of the rough-and-tumble nature of politics and the history of our republic. It was not in any way a shot across the bows toward conservatives, much less Sarah Palin. The cleverly-edited FOX News version would not persuade anyone who actually watched the speech that anything sinister was at work.
Sure, I'm a Democrat and tend to be liberal on social issues. Does that mean that I don't have some horror of runaway deficits, or that I don't think the TP movement has some legitimate concerns? Not at all. Many TP supporters (mostly Republicans) are basically decent people with whom I share some values, among them fiscal restraint.
But do I think the TP movement has much of a chance to really, fundamentally change the political landscape? No, I don't. There is a slim chance that in two years they may be a serious third party, and a somewhat greater chance (perhaps 1 in 5, I hazard) that by 2016 they could put forward a team committed to reducing the size of government that a plurality of Americans might embrace..which might be enough.
But I don't think either of these scenarios are terribly likely. Here's why:
The TP movement has no meaningful chance of effecting real change without actually becoming an independent political party. If they largely embrace Republicans, they will eventually be absorbed by the minority party and its preexisting agenda. Deficit spending may be reduced, but it will still continue at an unprecedented pace because the GOP leadership is wedded to preserving tax cuts, but not really committed to cutting entitlement programs or defense.
On the other hand, if the TP movement coalesces into an independent political party by November, they will split the conservatives and guarantee the Democrats retain their majorities for the next two years. Six months is not enough time to persuade the electorate to hand the keys of the economy and national defense over to a new party.
I do think that the TP movement has a chance to profoundly change the landscape given more time, but in order for that to happen the movement will have to find its Washington: a truly disinterested public figure willing to turn his or her back on partisan politics, of unimpeachable character, who is able to intelligently and calmly make the case for fiscal sanity. Politics significantly devolves into personality for many voters. A figure who is able to do this, whose life offers a story arc of inspiration and love of country, who has the patience to spend the multiple election cycles that will be necessary to build a new party, could revolutionize politics. You need some combination of Colin Powell, T. Boone Pickens and Bono.
But outside of finding such a figure, the TP movement has no long-term future. It is not a party, it is not politically mature, and it is amorphous on policy. Most of its supporters do not view it as a truly independent political movement, much less a party. They see it as a way of rebranding conservatism to elect conservative Republicans and restore the America that they think has been taken from them. That is ultimately a dead end: they will either guarantee that the Democrat's vision of America remains predominant, or they will temporarily extend the minority party's ability to build coalitions based on obstruction and foot-dragging. Neither of these outcomes is the pathway to a leaner, less intrusive and truly conservative form of governance.
Some of my fellow Christians are just dolts. Look at the slogan of this outfit, which has multiple campuses in Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Washington, D.C.
You might think that this would be an outfit that would not be afraid to consider alternate viewpoints within the Christian tradition. But, as this article from USA Today shows, there are Reformed Church leaders who would rather permanently disassociate themselves from one of their denomination's leading scholars rather than countenance any possibility of being associated with the acceptance of biological evolution.
See, this is what the face of honest doubt can look like. It turns out the offender is one of the campus's most respected scholars. Did he offend in the course of teaching impressionable young Presbyterians under his charge?
Actually, there is no evidence that he did that, either. Rather, he made some statements that were videotaped in a conference with a bunch of other theologians. In that video, he (gasp!) allowed himself to make some sympathetic noises to the notion that evangelical churches need to openly engage the facts of nature as revealed by science in order to retain their credibility. This video eventually made its way onto the Templeton Foundation-sponsored, entirely religion-friendly site BioLogos associated with evangelical Christian Frances Collins.
But I can't show you the video. It was removed in an (apparently unsuccessful) attempt to preserve Dr. Waitke's status with his employer and his denomination. There is a lengthy explanation of that here.
A few statements caught my eye. What does Waitke actually believe? He issued a clarification, as follows (this is also on the BioLogos site):
- Adam and Eve are historical figures from whom all humans are descended; they are uniquely created in the image of God and as such are not in continuum with animals.
- Adam is the federal and historical head of the fallen human race just as Jesus Christ is the federal and historical head of the Church.
- I am not a scientist, but I have familiarized myself with attempts to harmonize Genesis 1-3 with science, and I believe that creation by the process of evolution is a tenable Biblical position, and, as represented by BioLogos, the best Christian apologetic to defend Genesis 1-3 against its critics.
- I apologize for giving the impression that others who seek to harmonize the two differently are not credible. I honor all who contend for the Christian faith.
- Evolution as a process must be clearly distinguished from evolutionism as a philosophy. The latter is incompatible with orthodox Christian theology.
Well, they certainly are within their legal rights to do this, but the leadership of Reformed Theological Seminary is certainly not honoring their own motto. Their public relations skills need some serious Reformation, as how they handled this constitutes an unbelievably stupid and destructive policy. For the record, they say they accepted Dr. Waitke's resignation, which means that he cares so much for the institution that he would rather go through the pro forma exercise of pretending to bow out gracefully rather than forcing them to accept full responsibility for his dismissal.
As if this whole exercise is Waitke's fault? Shameful!
I've known some pretty decent people who happen to be creationists. They use arguments that I reject, but they treat scientists as people. I've even met a few ID supporters who, by their own lights, act with integrity. These folk don't engage in conspiracy theory, don't call us names and don't accuse evolutionary biologists of willful deceit.
Larry Faferman doesn't fall into any of these categories. He's an obsessive crank even by the standards of many a tin-foil hat, to the point that he has been banned from commenting at many well-known science blogs. His latest move, however, is the cherry on top of a large, rancid sundae of abuse and accusation.
Apparently, some of the leading lights in the world of evolutionary biology? Simply goose-steppers attempting to suppress free inquiry, sez Larry, and thus worthy of enshrinement, to wit:
FIRST RECIPIENTS OF "FRIEND OF HITLER" AWARD
Judge John E. "Jackass" Jones III, Eugenie "Evil Genie" Scott, Fatheaded Ed Brayton, Stupid Steven Schafersman, Sleazy PZ Myers, Wesley "Ding" Elsberry, Brandon "Haughty" Haught, Josh Rosenau, Kevin Padian, Jerry Coyne, Chris Mooney, Chris Comer, Carl Zimmer, Ken Miller, Francis Collins, National Center for Science Education, Florida Citizens for Science, Texas Citizens for Science, Texas Freedom Network.
So, yeah. I can't actually say anything good about the guy, except that he has the potential to (by his lights) 'honor' me as well. So I took a stab at it, leaving the following post on his blog for all to see:
Larry: my name is Scott Hatfield. I am an enthusiastic teacher of evolution and proud NCSE member.
I have a request.
Please, Please, PLEASE nominate ME for your newly-minted 'Friend of HITLER' award.
It would indeed be an unprecedented honor for me, a humble science teacher, to have my pedagogy, my field of study, yea verily my personal character attacked by the likes of you and your buddies with the Disingenuous Institute.
I cheerfully invite you to so lambaste me. Feel free to visit my blog:
I have been trolled by professional provocateurs, so you would not be the first ID maven to misrepresent the state of the scientific enterprise in my neck of the woods. Your attempt to make rhetorical hay with your version of 'Der Fuhrer's Face' is like an outtake from 'The Producers': twice as juvenile, and nowhere near as funny.
Anyway, I have to confess that I can only look forward to the day you attempt to brand me with the same sort of limply-rotating, politically impotent mock-swastika.
After all, the intellectually crippled should, as a rule, avoid goose-stepping. They are likely to slip, fall and hurt themselves. It's awkward even for the adroit, and for you it's pure vaudeville spectacle, akin to slipping on your own banana peel.
Now, that might not seem funny to YOU, but compared to the trivialization of the Holocaust your precious 'award' implies, it has the ring of high farce.
(now holding breath)
This talk should be right up my alley.
Many Cafe Scientifique talks are aimed at sharing the actual research of a scientist in our community with the general public. As such, they are fascinating but unlikely to become part of a high school science class. But Dr. Ray Hall's talk is part of the warp and woof of every science curriculum worthy of its name. I might even have something to contribute to this topic meself. After all, I have to teach some aspects of this in order to be effective.
This will take place Monday evening, at Lucy's Lair, starting at 6:30 PM. If you love science, and you will be in the Fresno County area tomorrow night, why not join us?
Sadly, this is not about Dr. Hall's talk, which was excellent, or about Cafe Scientifique, which offers free science content for laypeople and is thus aces in my book.
It's about a comment left on this blog. I've traced it to one Dennis Markuze, who also goes by the name David Mabus and is a well-known Internet troll, banned at various sites (including YouTube) and who is obviously delusional. I don't mean the ordinary garden-variety delusions of (raises guilty hand) of people of faith, or even the somewhat harder-to-defend tropes of young earth creationism or climate change denial.
No, I mean truly deluded, truly in need of medical attention. The fellow believes, for example, that reptilian space aliens inhabit the Denver Airport:
No. Not joking. So apparently I shouldn't take the comments personally. He does this to anyone and everyone he thinks needs to hear about his 'discoveries.' So, with all respect to Dr. Hall, who maintained that the demarcation problem reveals a fuzzy boundary, I don't need any particular philosophy of science to determine that Mr. Markuze is beyond the pale.
Republicans have taken comfort of late in a momentary spike in polling against HCR, and it has become one of their talking points.
It's understandable that they would seize upon ANY number in the low 60's as a mandate, given the fact that Pres. Bush's approval ratings in his last two years in office never at any time reached 40 percent and more often than not languished in the high 20's. President Bush, regardless of how I might feel about him personally, was wildly unpopular when he left office.
Contrast that with Bill Clinton, who left office with an unprecedented approval rating of 66 percent---three points ahead of Reagan!
Think about that: Clinton's two terms were marked by the same GOP conspiracy machine that seems to be energizing the 'Tea Party' movement. He was nearly impeached. Today, he is best known for his personal missteps rather than his governance, the tawdry details of various scandals more likely to be raised by the average citizen than any domestic or foreign policy initiative. But, as ABC News analyst Gary Langer put it, "You can't trust him, he's got weak morals and ethics — and he's done a heck of a good job."
Don't get me started on the Republican Congress. According to the Pew Research polls, their favorability rating hasn't touched 50 percent since 2002, and they are hovering in the low 20's to mid 30's, depending on the poll. The polls also show that since Mr. Obama took office, the approval ratings of Congressional Republicans have dipped 8-10 percent.
Can my fellow Americans who happen to be Republicans please unpack this for me? That's a losing trend you need to explain, and the overall polling numbers are a further indication of the demographic shift that is little-by-little eroding the ability of the GOP to be a truly national party, one able to form a broad coalition able to govern. They are increasingly isolated from the mainstream. Their response has not been to shift toward the center, but to move to the right...to move further away from the vast majority of Americans who are neither Republican or Democrat, but independents. The idea that they are somehow going to 'take America back' is delusional, because the 'America' they want to restore never existed. Exhibit A, from McClatchy....though hardly news to those of us who have been defending science education these last two decades.
So, from my perspective, the GOP leadership's grasping at poll numbers is predictable, but kind of sad. What will they do, I wonder, if they fail to make any gains in the mid-term elections, as the opposition parties typically do? Will they drift further into the politics of Michelle Bachman, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, appealing to a past that never was? Or will they finally start to see that their conservative ideals (which, at their best, are timeless) need to be retooled to meet the needs of a future electorate whose composition is significantly more diverse (and more interesting) than the GOP at present?
Tonight I run down south for a one-day jaunt to Long Beach, courtesy of my involvement with Bullard's School Site Council.
Truth to tell...I don't exactly relish the trek. But this actually kind of gets me in the mood:
A lot of the early punk stuff is poorly performed, poorly recorded junk. You can look at it as a historical document, but the music/performance is sort of secondary, especially the videos. This clip from what, 1977, easily rises above that. The band is great, the sound quality is really good, and a long-haired gap-toothed mouth is so confident about the whole thing that he does some cheezy gestures mid-way through to go with the lyrics. Truly, there is an Elvis, and he could be King.
Posted by Scott Hatfield . . . . at 5:19 PM
This article by Richard Hughes is devastating in its simplicity and insight.
I'm not a big admirer generally of HuffPo, its interests or its content, but this is truly worth reading.
Every American citizen who identifies as a 'Christian' needs to read this article and then ask, 'What kind of 'Christian' am I?' More than anything I have read in memory, it describes to a 'T' how much of our 'Christian' experience is an 'American' experiment, in which a Gospel of individuality and affluence eclipses the Biblical witness.
If you are not a Christian, however, reading it might help you understand why some of us who so identify ourselves can say, with such confidence, that others who claim to follow Jesus are not truly his servants. I know, it's the 'No True Scotsman' argument, which is something of a fallacy.
But I dare anyone to read this article and not appreciate the depth of the divide. Well and wisely did Gandhi unfavorably contrast this sort of 'Christianity' with the Christ we claim to call Lord. God, have mercy on us.
The ever-fulminous Vox Day generously peels off a fairly long blog post in response to a comment that I left on his blog. Here's the original comment:
I invite you to read the state science standards for high school biology in California. You'll find those on pages 51-56 of this PDF file. It's true that evolution is in there, but there is absolutely no requirement to teach 'scientific history.' I admit that I give one lecture on Mendel and his experiments when I teach genetics, and one lecture on Darwin's voyage of the Beagle and how that (and the thought of others, like Malthus) influenced his thought.
Other than that, the other 178-days of instruction are pretty much the concepts and facts that you can see on the standards, which are in fact voluminous. I can't speak for PZ and Dawkins, but I assure you that I care very much about the fact that there is less time for experiments and far too much time spent prepping for the standardized tests which, under NCLB, are used by the states and the fed to rate schools.
By the way, if your looking for a way to improve science ed, then please join me in rejecting the OBAMA administration proposal to tie teacher evaluations more closely to testing. A rare offer for you and I to unite in a criticism of the present administration!
Again, check out what we actually have to teach. There's a lot to cram in 180 days, and to do it, we typically are sacrificing labs, especially the highly-instructive but time-consuming ones that take weeks to complete.
Vox's reply is interesting and wide-ranging. I can only touch on a few points (in fact, three) that might be said to fall in my area of knowledge. Vox writes:
I'm curious to know how Scott would prefer to see teachers evaluated.
This is a thorny question, in that there are political realities at work. Most teachers are affiliated with teacher's unions which tend to resist objective measures tied to student performance on standardized tests, for reasons that Vox acknowledges. Unfortunately, many unions tend to resist objective measures in general, and many educational professionals in administration and in government are so wedded to 'standards-based reform' that considering a different approach is unlikely to occur during my teaching career. I'm not punting, you understand, just acknowledging that there are practical reasons why we have the impasse that presently exists in terms of assessing instructor performance.
Having said that....I believe in assessments that focus on content, instructional practice and classroom management skills that research shows are effective and appropriate to grade level.
What makes an effective instructor? The answer to that question would have to be somewhat different for middle school and high school science instructors than, say, an elementary teacher.
Toward that end, I am in favor of developing a class of true 'master teachers' who not only have years of teaching experience, but who have demonstrated mastery of the entire curriculum within their bailiwick. For example, I have complete confidence that someone like myself could master all of the middle school and high school science standards. Why? Oh, because I've taught them all. That should be, at a bare minimum, a requirement for any individual assessing instructional performance in a standards-based course: intimate, first-hand knowledge of the standards and how to teach them.
Without any false modesty, really, people like me don't just fall off the turnip truck. There are very few people in the state of California who can say, as I can, that they have taught all four standards-based courses (Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science and Physics) multiple times. So there wouldn't be a huge number of people, initially, who would have that sort of background that (as a first step) would be essential to evaluate other standards-based instructors.
People who do have those skills, however, should be able to directly evaluate instruction. Evaluation should employ a mixture of observations, student assessments and feedback for the instructor. Districts should decide individually what the best mix is, in concert with community leaders. The process for implementing assessment should be negotiated into their collective bargaining agreements, so that individual instructors could not automatically hide behind the blanket of their union, but would have to go through a process to justify their individual practice.
Yes, it's another layer of bureaucracy, but it's a local bureaucracy I envision, not a state or federal body. And, if implemented properly, it would be a vehicle for promoting and recognizing teacher excellence as well as identifying low-performing instructors. Because the carrot that would make the stick go would be to tie performance to salary, rather than seniority.
Notice that I'm not proposing anything that would be easy, or likely to happen any time soon. I'm just describing what I think would be a better way to do things.
Vox also writes:
But I'm sure Scott also realizes that for every good science teacher who wants to push his students and expose them to actually learning how to utilize the scientific method, there are several who would spend the entire school day haranguing their students on anything from Marxism and patriarchal oppression to Genesis and Scientology if given the opportunity.
I hear these urban legends too, but I have yet to personally encounter a science instructor who does anything like what Vox is describing. Even the creationists in the science teacher ranks (and there are many, sigh) spend virtually all of their time doing their job, which is actually teaching science. (The Freshwater case is sensational, but hardly typical of creationist science teachers in my experience.)
The thing is, the opportunity to spend significant instructional time pursuing your agenda can only come at the expense of covering the standards. And, the reality is, we don't have that much time. I have an earlier post this month that explains, in mind-numbing detail, exactly why we don't have that much time.
Finally, Vox writes, with respect to a California State Standard in Biology:
"8. Evolution is the result of genetic changes that occur in constantly changing environments. As a basis for understanding this concept: a. Students know how natural selection determines the differential survival of groups of organisms."
I should, of course, be very interested to know how they know that, given that even Richard Dawkins has now admitted that the science is still unsettled on whether Darwin was fundamentally wrong about the very core of his so-called "dangerous idea".
Vox, sorry, but you're misreading this. All the standard is saying, evolution (defined as genetic change in populations) happens, and that natural selection operates on those genetically-changing populations. These are facts. It is a trivial exercise to show that populations change genetically, and that in some environments some changes offer advantages, and others don't. Natural selection has been observed repeatedly in nature selecting for some groups, and against others, and in many cases it is possible to assess the relative contribution of selection with other forces. Consider, for example, this PNAS paper on Drosophila speciation in microclimates associated with canyons.
Keep in mind that 'evolution' and 'natural selection' are facts, whereas TENS is a proposed relationship tying such facts together in an explanatory framework to account for, among other things, the diversity of life. Please recall that, like all scientific theories, TENS is never 'proved'. Theories never become facts; instead, they are vehicles that drive scientific research, adopted because they are useful and productive, held provisionally until an improved model comes along. An improved model could be either a tweaked version of the present model, or else it could be a superior alternative that proposes an entirely different mechanism.
I am sure that you appreciate that, where biologists are concerned, we are more likely to regard the former as probable. That is what makes some of the hemming and hawing by the likes of a Richard Dawkins somewhat poignant. As an ultra-Darwinist, Dawkins has long argued that TENS is the be-all and end-all of biology, and his acknowledgment that there is a limit to the confidence we can place in such claims is certainly food for thought.
But, Vox, that has nothing to do with the standards I teach. The State of California is taking a position with the scientific consensus, that evolution occurs and that natural selection can cause evolution. These are well-established positions. The State of California takes no position on the less-established, technically interesting but not-all-that-critical question of the relative importance of natural selection in accounting for every known instance of diversification.
Richard Dawkins may be personally invested in that question, but I can honestly tell you that I am not, and I have yet to personally meet any biologist terribly invested in that point of view, or anyone who denies that processes other than natural selection can lead to speciation. I suspect, in fact, that Dawkins's caveats indicate his desire not to place himself inadvertently at odds with the emerging field of evo-devo. If so, he's being smart, because evo-devo is a happening field that is providing us clues to previously-unsuspected genetic mechanisms that certainly stand to enrich the now decades-old "modern" synthesis.
As always, Vox, I appreciate not only the traffic from your site, but the flow of ideas from your head.
OK, now I'm tired of politics, including my own.
So....here's something I could've shared at the beginning of Lent. Why wait another year to do so? Check out this awesome melding of electronics, dance culture and Third-World music:
It will make you happy if you dance to it!
But...you really do have to dance.
Why not now, in Holy Week?
(but, see Matthew 11:17)
Now here's a ridiculous thing.
Tim Tebow, like every other NFL prospect, takes the Wonderlic Test.
An anecdote (which is later denied) is put out there that the notoriously faith-headed Tebow ran an 'audible' right before the test was to be given. The original source is here.
Much blog commentary followed, mocking Tebow's score of 22 out of 50 and chortling at his below-averageness, and how of course it fits, given that he is a very public evangelical and passionate 'right-to-lifer' who was home-schooled.
Well, of course this criticism is ridiculous and misguided. It turns out that '20' would be an average score on this particular test, and that the anecdote in question is disputed. It's more than a little ironic when people who have supposedly made 'critical thinking' a cardinal value manifestly failing to think critically about claims like this.
After all, one of the things that I think I dislike the most about conventional belief systems is that they simply make it easier to rehearse one's prejudices. How is this different? In this case, the inference that '22' is a low score on an 'IQ test', and an uncritically-digested anecdote about a somewhat-fulsome Christian athlete was something of a perfect storm for the skeptic who mistakenly conflates their lack of faith with intelligence.
For the record, I took the test offered over at PZ's place and (five minutes later) had a score in the 40's. Yes, folk like us are exceptional, which is just another way of saying we are outliers. People like Tebow, who are exceptional in other ways, are pretty normal in this respect.
Such folk are understandably less interested in the question of how quick people like myself are at taking such tests, and how quickly people like me are willing to rehearse our own prejudices where athletes and people of faith are concerned.
For the record, I don't follow college footfall and I am not a Tim Tebow fan. I don't agree with his 'right-to-life' position, and I certainly am no fan of homeschooling, especially where science education is concerned. I just think that this 'story' is a case of people rehearsing their prejudices, rather than thinking critically, and thus a cautionary tale. Yes, well-educated bloggers are supposed to be better at such things, precisely because they are exceptional. But even outliers can fall prey to the seductive siren of their own beliefs. All of us, even skeptics, must recognize that the easiest person to fool is one's self!
I am departing again from my usual fare. I rarely blog about politics, as there are more political bloggers than virtually any other species and it's not really something that motivates me on a day-to-day basis. However, the last few weeks the spectacle of the health care debate and the tactics used by the Dems to ram it through have got my attention.
If it is sad that Mr. Obama and his Congressional allies had to abandon comity and bipartisanship, it is even creepier to see the sheer animus raised by the foes of health care in the 'Tea Party' movement. There's something oddly disproportionate about much of the rhetoric.
Now, I realize that a significant fraction of the American public believes, passionately so, that The New York Times is a liberal rag. That's probably true, in a lot of ways. Having said that, let me invite the reader to consider two pieces from the Times this weekend. Each makes arguments that touch on the future of the Republican Party. Do not, I repeat, do not waste any time as you read this article worrying about the conclusions of Frank Rich or Charles Blow. I realize that they may just be mindless liberals who can't think straight, like good, God-fearing conservatives.
Instead, let's just look at their premises, which are derived from demographics.
Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.
I invite anyone to explain why these premises are not true, and why they are not a concern for the GOP's future.
Blow echoes Rich's premise: there are demographic problems on the horizon for conservatives. As he puts it:
A Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday took a look at the Tea Party members and found them to be just as anachronistic to the direction of the country’s demographics as the Republican Party. For instance, they were disproportionately white, evangelical Christian and “less educated ... than the average Joe and Jane Six-Pack.” This at a time when the country is becoming more diverse (some demographers believe that 2010 could be the first year that most children born in the country will be nonwhite), less doctrinally dogmatic, and college enrollment is through the roof. The Tea Party, my friends, is not the future.
Again, I invite anyone to explain why these premises are either incorrect, or else not that big a problem for Republicans.
And, if you've been voting nearly a straight Democratic ticket for some time now, like me*, then ask yourself this: is it really in the country's best interests if one of the two parties in the two-party system has such a protracted, venomous breakdown in civility, in common sense, in effectiveness?
* Since Pat Buchanan's 'culture war' speech at the 1992 Republican presidential convention in Houston.
I've been mulling over the results of the recent Harris poll.
It's been known for some time that nearly 70 percent of registered Republicans believe, for example, that the Earth is but a few thousand years old. Keep in mind this is a viewpoint whose scientific support is about the same as belief in astrology, Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster.
That's . . . obviously demoralizing to anyone who cares about science education. But one could shrug one's shoulders, I suppose, and think it does no harm for a big chunk of the electorate to believe this as a private matter, as long as they don't put it into the schools.
Problem: depending on how the question is asked, anywhere from 40-60 percent of all people think that creation should be taught in the public schools. That includes independents and Democrats. So, if Republicans should ever gain overwhelming control of the educational establishment in any state, there is a strong tendency to push the envelope to try to get some version, any version, of creationism approved for instruction. It's a pretty sad state of affairs that the last bastion of defense is not the electorate, or the common-sense of legislators, but the courts.
Still...who cares? Just because magical thinking dominates on this issue, does it really follow that Republicans in general can't be trusted to think logically and present credible views based upon evidence?
I'm starting to think so. The GOP today is not the party of Ronald Reagan, which had solid, widely-embraced conservative ideals but was willing to work with Tip O'Neill and the House Democrats to accomplish goals. The GOP is not the post-Newt Gingrich House that was able to work with then-President Clinton on welfare reform. It is definitely not the party of my sensible, fiscally-conservative, Milton Friedman-loving parents. The GOP today is largely beholden to an aroused base, not of conservatives, but radicals prone to conspiracy theories and pseudoscience, the very essence of magical thinking.
57 percent of registered Republicans think that the President is a 'stealth Muslim' who secretly prays to Allah.
45 percent of registered Republicans think that the President is not a legal U.S. citizen.
24 percent of registered Republicans fear that Obama may be the 'Antichrist'.
Yesterday, on local talk radio, I heard the reasonable-sounding host pleasantly agree with an equally reasonable-sounding older woman. They concurred that it looks like the Democrats are faking acts of violence against those who voted for health care. Why are they faking it? Hold on to your hats: they both rather mildly agreed that it's part of a plot to discredit the Tea Party people, so that they (get this) can declare martial law before November and suspend elections. "Hello, Obama. Goodbye, Freedom."
Equally delusional: the oft-expressed view that Tea Party people represent a populist rebellion against Washington. Nuts. Depending on what part of the country you survey, the Tea Party people are 75-80 percent registered Republicans, and the vast majority of them adore Sarah Palin. In fact, one of her most popular lines when she spoke at the 'National Tea Party Convention' referenced the application of prayer in the conduct of foreign policy.
This is not so much a true populist movement based on shared values as it is an attempt to rebrand conservative politics with something other than the Republican label. This is no different from the local mega-churches that give themselves some boomer-friendly monicker ("The Well", "People's Church") and describe themselves as 'non-denominational', but in point of fact are branches of an existing denomination which, for marketing purposes, is kept in the background. Anyone who believes that the Tea Party people as a group are an independent voice are not listening to what they are saying, and who is truckling to them, and who is not.