Global warming? First, get the facts

February 28, 2009

In a move that is likely to panic climate change denialists (and others who claim not to be denialists, but oppose acting because they claim to be “skeptical”), federal agencies working under the new Obama budget might actually do some of the necessary research.  Bob Parks told the story in his weekly missive.

3.  NASA: THINGS HAVE NOT GONE WELL IN CLIMATE OBSERVATIONS.
First there was the Bush Administration’s shameful cancellation of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) launch in 2000.  The only fingerprints on the cancellation belong to Dick Cheney.  It would by now have settled the critical issue of the role of solar variation in global warming.  Then, on Tuesday, the $278 million Orbital Carbon Observatory, designed to measure greenhouse gas emissions, crashed shortly after launch.  The good news is that the Omnibus Appropriations Bill that passed on Wednesday provides $9 million for NASA to refurbish DSCOVR, which has been shut up in a Greenbelt, MD warehouse for 9 years.


Synesthesia? In every school

February 28, 2009

Do the math:  930,000 U.S. kids with synesthesia, out of 60 million students.  (Okay, “synaesthesia” for the British search programs.)

You might have one. A pyschologist in Britain did the research.

For the first time, psychologists have documented the prevalence of a form of synaesthesia – the condition that leads to a mixing of the senses – in a large sample of children. Over a twelve month period, Julia Simner and colleagues tested 615 children aged six to seven years at 21 UK schools and conservatively estimated that 1.3 per cent of them had grapheme-colour synaesthesia, in which letters and numbers involuntarily trigger the sensation of different colours.

“[This] implicates over 170,000 children age 0–17 in the UK alone, and over 930,000 in the USA,” the researchers said, “and suggests that the average primary school in England and Scotland (n = 168 pupils) contains 2.2 grapheme-colour synaesthetes at any time, while the average-sized US primary school (n = 396 pupils) contains 5.1.” Inevitably, the prevalence for synaesthesia as a whole, considering all the sub-types, would be even higher.

A hall-mark of grapheme-colour synaesthesia is that the colour triggered by a given letter or number is always the same – a fact the researchers exploited to identify the condition in school children.

Indeed, when asked to associate letters with colours, the children identified as synaesthetes showed more consistency over a 12-month-period than the other children did over a ten second period!

Researchers calculated about 5 such students in the average U.S. school, assuming a student population of about 400.

400!  In Texas that’s a tiny high school that may have difficulty fielding a football team.

In Brain, a journal of neurology (abstract available, full text with subscription).

ResearchBlogging.orgJ. Simner, J. Harrold, H. Creed, L. Monro, L. Foulkes (2008). Early detection of markers for synaesthesia in childhood populations. Brain, 132 (1), 57-64 DOI: 10.1093/brain/awn292


Tip of the old scrub brush to Research Digest Blog.

Resources:


George Bush goes to school

February 27, 2009

Well, visits, anyway.

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, visiting John J. Pershing Elementary in Dallas, February 25, 2008

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, visiting John J. Pershing Elementary in Dallas, February 25, 2008

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, visiting John J. Pershing Elementary in Dallas, February 25, 2008. Photo from Dallas ISD, via Dallas Observer

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, visiting John J. Pershing Elementary in Dallas, February 25, 2008. Photo from Dallas Independent School District, via Dallas Observer

This is from the press announcement by the Dallas Independent School District:

 

Former President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush made a surprise visit Wednesday to their neighborhood school, Dallas ISD’s John J.Pershing Elementary. Mr. Bush visited every classroom at the school and stayed for more than an hour.

“He and Mrs. Bush were very warm and inviting and they stopped and acknowledged every person in the school,” said Pershing principal Margarita Hernandez. “This is an experience that our children will never forget.  President Bush made several students pledge and commit themselves to read more instead of watching TV. He told students that reading is the key to everything, including to being president.”

Pershing Elementary has an enrollment of 482 students and is located at 5715 Meaders Lane in Dallas. This past school year, it received the Recognized ranking from the Texas Education Agency.

No interruptions this time.

 


Bobby Jindal: Dumb about rocks

February 27, 2009

I couldn’t believe it either.

Remember all the flap about a flurry of earthquakes in the Yellowstone Caldera over the Christmas holidays?  Volcano monitoring is critical to safety in California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Alaska — not to mention Hawaii’s special circumstances — and to all neighboring states or those within downwind striking distance of a volcanic event.

A volcanic field now in southern Idaho erupted a few millions of years ago, spreading ash that killed creatures as far away as Nebraska.  “Neighboring state” covers a lot of territory.

So, Bobby Jindal, in his response to the Obama budget proposal speech, said the U.S. should get out of the volcano monitoring business.  It was not clear whether there were no rocks in his head, but neither was there knowledge about rocks where it should be in his head.

Green Gabbro, a real geologist, couldn’t believe it either.

  1. DID HE SERIOUSLY JUST SAY THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD NOT BE MONITORING VOLCANOES??!?!!!????@#$@!

Ignoring for the sake of argument the value of the basic science that always results from the data collected during routine monitoring – ignoring the general function of increased spending as an economic stimulus to the nation’s earth scientists, instrument manufacturers, etc., – even ignoring all that, volcano monitoring is still a very sensible investment in national security. A $1.5 million investment in monitoring at Pinatubo (near a U.S. air force base) earned a greater than 300-fold return when the volcano erupted explosively in 1991: hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property (mostly airplanes) was saved, as were thousands of lives. That 30,000% figure comes before you attempt to put a value on human life.

But then, Sarah Palin is in one of those areas where a failure to monitor volcanoes might lead to huge disaster.  It’s an unusual way to knock out a political rival, and not certain, but were Sarah Palin to disappear into a volcanic cloud, Bobby Jindal’s path to the Republican nomination for president might be less cluttered.  He’s a Rhodes Scholar — surely he can’t be that stupid about volcanoes, so the evil alternative, that he hopes to get rid of Palin, is the only thing that makes sense, isn’t it?

Is there no one in the Republican Party who will stand up for science and reason?

Resources:


Declaration and Constitution – sources

February 26, 2009

Cross posted from Mr. Darrell’s Wayback Machine, with permission, with minor edits.

Everybody needs to have a copy of the Declaration of Independence and  U.S. Constitution close at hand.

Original rought draft of the Declaration of Independence written out in longhand by Thomas Jefferson, featuring emendations by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams - Library of Congress Manuscripts Division

Original rough draft of the Declaration of Independence written out in longhand by Thomas Jefferson, featuring “emendations” by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams – Library of Congress Manuscripts Division

Too often I’ve been in classes where textbooks didn’t have them, though in some cases the course clearly required it (especially irritating in high school texts, but not unheard of in college texts).  The two documents are covered in depth in the requirements for Texas 10th grade social studies (world history), but not in the texts.

Both documents provide a foundation for analysis of events following, through the 19th and 20th centuries.

Where is the student of world history to find them?

Here:

Declaration of Independence

Constitution of the United States of America

Rotunda of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where the Declaration and Constitution are kept on display - National Archives photo

Rotunda of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where the Declaration and Constitution are kept on display – National Archives photo


All study for the tests and no play makes Jack and Jill perform worse on standardized tests

February 26, 2009

The old classroom teachers knew it.  The new, test-the-hell-out-of-the-little-brats administrators need to learn it.

Kids need physical activity to be good students.

A study published this month in the journal Pediatrics studied the links between recess and classroom behavior among about 11,000 children age 8 and 9. Those who had more than 15 minutes of recess a day showed better behavior in class than those who had little or none. Although disadvantaged children were more likely to be denied recess, the association between better behavior and recess time held up even after researchers controlled for a number of variables, including sex, ethnicity, public or private school and class size.

The lead researcher, Dr. Romina M. Barros, a pediatrician and an assistant clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said the findings were important because many schools did not view recess as essential to education.

The article in the science section of the New York Times put it well:

The best way to improve children’s performance in the classroom may be to take them out of it.

A convicted murderer in prison gets an hour a day for exercise.  But our kids, the high-performing ones we depend on for our nation’s future?  We treat them worse than convicted felons?

Nota bene: Even just a little movement worksIt works for adults, too.

Resources:

  • PEDIATRICS Vol. 123 No. 2 February 2009, pp. 431-436 (doi:10.1542/peds.2007-2825) (subscription required for full text),  “School Recess and Group Classroom Behavior,” Romina M. Barros, MD, Ellen J. Silver, PhD and Ruth E. K. Stein, MD, Department of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Children’s Hospital at Montefiore and Rose F. Kennedy Center, Bronx, New York

    OBJECTIVES. This study examines the amount of recess that children 8 to 9 years of age receive in the United States and compares the group classroom behavior of children receiving daily recess with that of children not receiving daily recess.

  • See this year-old post at The Elementary Educator
  • Post in agreement from the venerable Trust for Public Lands, one of the best and best respected non-profits in America

Still not Bobby Jindal

February 25, 2009

Did you listen to the Republican response to President Obama’s speech last night?

Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal delivered the response — and “delivered” is a pretty good description of the style of the thing.  My wife and I had sarcastically predicted the Republicans would call for taxcuts as a cure for everything, from broken legs to global warming — and Jindal did just that.

Is Bobby Jindal running for president?  Then, just as he was not the guy the Republicans should have picked for vice president in 2008, he’s not the guy for 2012, or 2016, or any other time.  I was right the first time:  “Not Bobby Jindal:  The parable of the idiot candidate.”

It’s still not Bobby Jindal.  Nor was it, nor is it, Sarah Palin.  Will Republicans figure that out?

(Yeah, he’s a Rhodes Scholar.  He’s also a creationist.  Sometime between getting selected for Oxford and running for governor he appears to have volunteered for a lobotomy.  We don’t know yet the extent of the impairment to his judgment, but it probably isn’t limited to science, and even if it were, that’s enough to disqualify him.)


Mapping Africa

February 25, 2009

Here’s a great tool for geography study of Africa.

AfricaMap is based on the Harvard University Geospatial Infrastructure (HUG) platform, and was developed by the Center for Geographic Analysis to make spatial data on Africa easier for researchers to discover and explore.

Harvards Africa Map, sample image, via Google Maps Mania

Harvard's Africa Map, sample image, via Google Maps Mania

It’s an interactive tool.  You can capture images (another add-on might be necessary) — but look at all the different layers you can use, live, on your computer.

Good source for student projects, no?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Google Maps Mania.


Abraham Lincoln, inventor

February 24, 2009

Any visitor to Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello knows of Jefferson’s wide-ranging interests, and work in science and invention.  I was rather surprised to discover the depth of George Washington’s inventive work, in a seminar sponsorred by the Bill of Rights Institute at Mount Vernon a few years ago.

Abraham Lincoln, too?

Lincoln lived along the Sangamon River, and he saw development of the river for commercial navigation to be a boon for his district’s economic growth.  Unfortunately, the Sangamon is not deep; boats had difficult times navigating over the many logs and snags, and shallows.

So, Mr. Lincoln offered a technical solution, for which he was granted a patent in 1849.  Details below, from Google Patents:

lincoln-patent-for-buoying_vessels_over_shoals

lincoln-patent-for-boat-buoying-in-jpg


Tonight! Comet Lulin!

February 23, 2009

Earth and Sky reminds us that tonight is a good chance to see Comet Lulin, if you can see it at all from where you are.

Earth and Sky shows where to see Comet Lulin on February 23, 2009

Earth and Sky shows where to see Comet Lulin on February 23, 2009

Comet Lulin probably won’t be high enough in the east for decent viewing until 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. Later at night is even better. At mid-evening, two respectively bright starlike points of light bedeck the eastern sky. The higher of these two lights is the star Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion. Saturn is to the lower left of Regulus, its golden color contrasting to that of sparkling blue-white Regulus. If you can’t distinguish their colors with the unaided eye, try looking at Saturn and Regulus with binoculars.

Comet Lulin and Saturn will remain within each other’s vicinity all night long, until morning dawn finally washes them from the sky. Look for Comet Lulin and Saturn to swing highest up for the night around 1 a.m. on February 24, at which time they’ll be due south. If you’re up before dawn on February 24, look for Comet Lulin and Saturn in your western sky.

Astronomers believe this is Comet Lulin’s first trip into the inner solar system. There’s always an element of unpredictability associated with comets, especially a pristine comet like Comet Lulin. Comet Lulin may match, exceed or fall short of expectations, but there is no way to know for sure unless you look!

If you miss Comet Lulin by Saturn on February 23-24, try again on the night of February 27-28, when Comet Lulin will cozy up with Regulus!

I understand t The comet’s discoverer is a school boy 19-year-old university student in China, who found the comet in photos taken at Taiwan’s Lulin Observatory (usually comets are named after their discoverer, but not this time).  Way to go, amateur astronomers!  Way to go, cooperation between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China.

And, if you have really great telescope, here’s what you can see:

NASAs APOD caption:  Explanation: Sweeping through the inner solar system, Comet Lulin is easily visible in both northern and southern hemispheres with binoculars or a small telescope. Recent changes in Lulins lovely greenish coma and tails are featured in this two panel comparison of images taken on January 31st (top) and February 4th. Taken from dark New Mexico Skies, the images span over 2 degrees. In both views the comet sports an apparent antitail at the left -- the comets dust tail appearing almost edge on from an earth-based perspective as it trails behind in Lulins orbit. Extending to the right of the coma, away from the Sun, is the beautiful ion tail. Remarkably, as captured in the bottom panel, Comet Lulins ion tail became disconnected on February 4, likely buffeted and torn away by magnetic fields in the solar wind. In 2007 NASA satellites recorded a similar disconnection event for Comet Encke. Dont worry, though. Comet tails can grow back.  Photos copyright by Joseph Brimacombe

NASA's APOD caption: "Explanation: Sweeping through the inner solar system, Comet Lulin is easily visible in both northern and southern hemispheres with binoculars or a small telescope. Recent changes in Lulin's lovely greenish coma and tails are featured in this two panel comparison of images taken on January 31st (top) and February 4th. Taken from dark New Mexico Skies, the images span over 2 degrees. In both views the comet sports an apparent antitail at the left -- the comet's dust tail appearing almost edge on from an earth-based perspective as it trails behind in Lulin's orbit. Extending to the right of the coma, away from the Sun, is the beautiful ion tail. Remarkably, as captured in the bottom panel, Comet Lulin's ion tail became disconnected on February 4, likely buffeted and torn away by magnetic fields in the solar wind. In 2007 NASA satellites recorded a similar disconnection event for Comet Encke. Don't worry, though. Comet tails can grow back." Photos copyright by Joseph Brimacombe

Resources:


Tiger justice, with a hint of poetry

February 23, 2009

Wild Sumatran tiger.jpg  Face on with wild tiger in Sumatra. This animal didnt like camera traps and destroyed three over a weekend. Photo by Michael Lowe, 2006, Wikimedia Commons

Wild Sumatran tiger - "Face on with wild tiger in Sumatra. This animal didn't like camera traps and destroyed three over a weekend." Photo by Michael Lowe, 2006, Wikimedia Commons. See William Blake's poem, below.

Reuters reports from Jakarta, on six people killed by tigers in Indonesia recently:

On Sunday, a tiger attacked and killed a man carrying logs near an illegal logging camp, Wurjanto said. Two other loggers in the same area were mauled and killed on Saturday.

Preliminary findings suggested the attacks were taking place because people were disturbing the habitat of the tigers, Wurjanto said.

*   *   *   *   *

The Sumatran tiger is the most critically endangered of the world’s tiger subspecies.

Forest clearances, killings due to human-tiger conflict, and illegal hunting for the trade in their parts, have led to tiger numbers halving to an estimated 400-500 on the Indonesian island from an estimated 1,000 in the 1970s, conservationists said.

Under Texas law, a homeowner may use deadly force to  stop trespassers, especially someone who poses a threat to the homeowner and the property.  I wonder whether the tigers will even get a trial.

A tree poacher mauled to death by the endangered tigers whose habitat he destroys:  Perfect example of poetic justice.

The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire in thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art?
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand, and what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb, make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

– William Blake

Resources:


Four Stone Hearth, archaeology not quite ready for Social Security

February 23, 2009

Four Stone Hearth #60 is up, hosted by Middle Savagery.

Yes, I know, I’ve been remiss in carnivalling lately.  Heck, I’ve been remiss in posting.  The water in the Bathtub is actually too cold for bathing at the moment, as I’m away metaphorically, working on serious curriculum matters.

So, it’s a good time to take a look at something like the best archaeology blog carnival around.  It’s up to edition Number 60?  Great news, really, that there is so much material to cover.  There is some delightful morsel in every edition.

Bad Death Ritual - See the entire post at Ideophone: A bad death ritual in Ghanas Volta Region. On the village cemetery, relatives of a man who died in a hunting accident listen anxiously to a woman who is possessed by the spirit of the deceased. The hunters, who have just brought the spirit home from the place of the accident deep in the jungle, keep their distance. Red is the colour of danger, black that of death.  Photo by Mark Dingemanse

Bad Death Ritual - See the entire post at Ideophone: "A 'bad death' ritual in Ghana's Volta Region. On the village cemetery, relatives of a man who died in a hunting accident listen anxiously to a woman who is possessed by the spirit of the deceased. The hunters, who have just brought the spirit home from the place of the accident deep in the jungle, keep their distance. Red is the colour of danger, black that of death." Photo by Mark Dingemanse

FSH #60 is heavy on photos — grist for your better slide presentations, no?

Zenobia, Empress of the East looks at a project that used lasers to scan a bas relief on a rock in the 3rd century A.D. Parthian empire — er, maybe Persian — but wait!  Is that Greek influence in that carving?

This extraordinary relief is carved on a huge limestone boulder at the cliff edge of a remote, not to say ‘hidden’ valley in the rugged mountains of northeastern Khuzistan [at the southwestern edge of the Iranian plateau, sharing a border with southern Iraq (= the big red blob on the map, below right)]. In ancient times, this was the heartland of Elymais, sometimes a small empire, more often a vassal to more powerful states.

21st century technology and science applied to help solve a 700-year-old mystery.  Does archaeology get much better than that?

Especially if you’re inclined to study Neanderthals, or for a great sidebar on the value of biodiveristy, take a look at Remote Central’s post on the last stand of Neanderthal, on Gibralter.

There is much more in Four Stone Hearth #60.


Critics of evolution will damage the economy of Texas and the nation, Tyson says

February 20, 2009

I had work to do, and I missed it.

Neil deGrasse Tyson casts spells over the audience at the University of Texas at Arlington, on February 17, 2009 - UT-Arlington photo

Neil deGrasse Tyson casts spells over the audience at the University of Texas at Arlington, on February 17, 2009 - UT-Arlington photo

America’s living-room astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson came to Texas.  Last Tuesday he spent a day trying to inspire college kids to study physics,  or to stick with physics, and then he spent the evening with 3,000 close friends in an auditorium at the University of Texas-Arlington, talking about how much fun physics is, and how the use of real science and reason could improve our lives.

According to the on-line press release from the University Tyson covered a lot of topics, deftly and smartly:

The greatest scientist of all time was Isaac Newton. “Hands down. Darwin and those other guys pale by comparison. Newton is the reason we have seat belts, because he proved objects in motion stay in motion. If you ask people in cars who are not wearing seat belts if they ever took a college class in physics they say no, every single time.”

About using math illiteracy to distort truth, Tyson said he was called for jury duty and the defendant was charged with possession of 6,000 milligrams of a controlled substance.

“Why would you say that? Six thousand milligrams is 6 grams, about the weight of a dime,” he said. When a newspaper headline proclaims half of the children at a school are below average on a test, he said, no one stops to think that’s what average means.”

On the importance the media places on celebrity news, Tyson showed a newspaper cover with a near full-page cover story on entertainer Michael Jackson and two important news stories teased in small boxes above the fold. Tyson said the country suffers from a “warped sense of what is important.”

Great scientific discoveries have not come about because people are interested in science, Tyson said. Just like the voyage of Columbus, funded by Queen Isabella of Spain, discovery is spurred by wars, cold wars and economic gain, he said. The only other inspiration for counties to spend lots of money is to celebrate royalty or deities, like with the Pyramids or the great cathedrals in Italy.

“We live in a country where people are afraid of the number 13. It’s delusional,” Tyson said, pointing to a book titled, “How to Protect Yourself from Alien Invasion” and the hysteria a few years ago with the Mars Hoax, with lots of science fiction circulating because Mars came closer to Earth than it had in 60,000 years. The widely circulated reports overlooked the fact that Mars was just a few inches closer and that was completely insignificant, Tyson said.

And then, according to the blog Politex, from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (one of America’s legendary newspapers now facing the crises that seems to afflict all our better news organizations) someone asked him about creationism:

During the Q&A, an audience member asked Tyson about conservative members of the state Board of Education who want to teach the “weaknesses” of the theory of evolution in Texas high school classrooms.

“I think they should stay in the Sunday school,” Tyson said. Calling intelligent design theory a “philosophy of ignorance,” he argued that a lack of appreciation for basic scienctific principles will hurt America’s scientific output, which has been the largest economic engine in the country’s history.

“If nonscience works its way into the science classroom, it marks…the beginning of the end of the economic strength this country has known,” Tyson said.

Tyson, who spent time in Washington, D.C. after being appointed to committees by then-President George W. Bush, went on to say that he always knew a Republican judge in Pennsylvania would ultimately side with evolution backers in the high-profile Dover education case in 2005. The judge understood that respecting science is good for the US economy, Tyson said.

“What I learned from my tours of duty in Washington is no Republican wants to die poor,” Tyson said.

He’s right about Republicans ( said the former employee of Orrin Hatch/William Bennett/Lamar Alexander).  I hope it’s true for Texas Republicans, especially those on the Texas State Board of Education.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Ediacaran, on the Fort Worth side of the Metroplex.  Another tip to Physics Today from the American Institute of Physics.


Why intelligent design shouldn’t bully Texas high school kids

February 19, 2009

You can go read this at P. Z. Myers’s Pharyngula, but I’m going to pirate most of his post here to reiterate the point for Texas:  Intelligent design doesn’t belong in Texas science classrooms, and intelligent design’s attacks on evolution don’t belong there either, because they are not backed by science.

ID’s propaganda tank, the Discovery Institute, invited a biologist from the University of Vermont, Nicholas Gotelli, to debate one of their spokesmen.  The biologist declined.

Unable to perform in science venues, the Discovery Institute is working to get Texas high school students to take Dr. Gotelli’s place.  That’s why Texas scientists and educators are up in arms against the proposals from the Texas State Board of Education — Texas high school kids cannot do the work of science, and shouldn’t be called on to be the patsy for the Discovery Institute in classrooms, for grades.

Here’s the invitation; be sure to read Dr. Gotelli’s response, further below.

Dear Professor Gotelli,

I saw your op-ed in the Burlington Free Press and appreciated your support of free speech at UVM. In light of that, I wonder if you would be open to finding a way to provide a campus forum for a debate about evolutionary science and intelligent design. The Discovery Institute, where I work, has a local sponsor in Burlington who is enthusiastic to find a way to make this happen. But we need a partner on campus. If not the biology department, then perhaps you can suggest an alternative.

Ben Stein may not be the best person to single-handedly represent the ID side. As you’re aware, he’s known mainly as an entertainer. A more appropriate alternative or addition might be our senior fellows David Berlinski or Stephen Meyer, respectively a mathematician and a philosopher of science. I’ll copy links to their bios below. Wherever one comes down in the Darwin debate, I think we can all agree that it is healthy for students to be exposed to different views–in precisely the spirit of inviting controversial speakers to campus, as you write in your op-ed.

I’m hoping that you would be willing to give a critique of ID at such an event, and participate in the debate in whatever role you feel comfortable with.

A good scientific backdrop to the discussion might be Dr. Meyer’s book that comes out in June from HarperCollins, “Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design.”

On the other hand, Dr. Belinski may be a good choice since he is a critic of both ID and Darwinian theory.

Would it be possible for us to talk more about this by phone sometime soon?

With best wishes,
David Klinghoffer
Discovery Institute

Gotelli wrote back:

Dear Dr. Klinghoffer:

Thank you for this interesting and courteous invitation to set up a debate about evolution and creationism (which includes its more recent relabeling as “intelligent design”) with a speaker from the Discovery Institute. Your invitation is quite surprising, given the sneering coverage of my recent newspaper editorial that you yourself posted on the Discovery Institute’s website:  http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/02/

However, this kind of two-faced dishonesty is what the scientific community has come to expect from the creationists.

Academic debate on controversial topics is fine, but those topics need to have a basis in reality. I would not invite a creationist to a debate on campus for the same reason that I would not invite an alchemist, a flat-earther, an astrologer, a psychic, or a Holocaust revisionist. These ideas have no  scientific support, and that is why they have all been discarded by credible scholars.  Creationism is in the same category.

Instead of spending time on public debates, why aren’t members of your institute publishing their ideas in prominent peer-reviewed journals such as Science, Nature, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences? If you want to be taken seriously by scientists and scholars, this is where you need to publish.  Academic publishing is an intellectual free market, where ideas that have credible empirical support are carefully and thoroughly explored. Nothing could possibly be more exciting and electrifying to biology than scientific disproof of evolutionary theory or scientific proof of the existence of a god. That would be Nobel Prize winning work, and it would be eagerly published by any of the prominent mainstream journals.

“Conspiracy” is the predictable response by Ben Stein and the frustrated creationists. But conspiracy theories are a joke, because science places a high premium on intellectual honesty and on new empirical studies that overturn previously established principles. Creationism doesn’t live up to these standards, so its proponents are relegated to the sidelines, publishing in books, blogs, websites, and obscure journals that don’t maintain scientific standards.

Finally, isn’t it sort of pathetic that your large, well-funded
institute must scrape around, panhandling for a seminar invitation at a little university in northern New England? Practicing scientists receive frequent invitations to speak in science departments around the world, often on controversial and novel topics. If creationists actually published some legitimate science, they would receive such invitations as well.

So, I hope you understand why I am declining your offer. I will wait patiently to read about the work of creationists in the  pages of Nature and Science. But until it appears there, it isn’t science and doesn’t merit an invitation.

In closing, I do want to thank you sincerely for this invitation and for your posting on the Discovery Institute Website. As an evolutionary biologist, I can’t tell you what a badge of honor this is. My colleagues will be envious.

Sincerely yours,

Nick Gotelli

P.S. I hope you will forgive me if I do not respond to any further e-mails from you or from the Discovery Institute. This has been entertaining, but it interferes with my research and teaching.

Of course, that’s what Judge William Overton told creationists to do way back in 1982, in the Arkansas trial.  Just do the science, and it will be in the textbooks as if by magic.

If creationists won’t listen to a federal judge, why would they listen to Vermont biologist?


Chicken or egg, teacher or cynic

February 17, 2009

Do only cynics become teachers, or does teaching make one cynical?

NYC Educator writes about being astounded to discover that the nation’s current economic woes can be cured by cutting teacher pay and benefits, as some propose.

Another teacher writes to the Bathtub complaining about printing progress reports on his computer at home — his district’s computer system is notoriously weird in remote access mode.  Why is he printing the reports at home?  “It’s been 11 months since we got a delivery of toner cartridges for teachers’ in-room printers, and we’re out of paper again.”

When do you think was the last time New York Mayor Bloomberg had to run the city budget on his home computer?

Is it really cynicism if it’s dead right?


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