Education just like making toasters?

September 30, 2014

Fred Klonsky, the best under-published cartoonist on education issues:

Fred Klonsky tells the truth:

Fred Klonsky tells the truth: “Teaching your kids like making toasters?” “Not my kids. Your kids.”

Also at Klonsky’s blog.


Peppered moths, evidence for natural selection and evolution

September 20, 2014

In 2007, as part of the continuing series explaining evolution and how it should be taught in public schools, I wrote this piece on the controversy over peppered moths as part of the basic information pages for this blog.  With modest edits, I repeat it here, both to re-emphasize the importance of the examples, and to make it easier for internet search engines to index the material.

Among creationists, in the past decade or so it has become popular to claim that much of evolution is less than sound science. In order to support that claim, specific points of evolution theory are often distorted, and specific evidence that strongly supports the theory are questioned and denied.

In a famous hoax, Jonathan Wells wrote a book, Icons of Evolution, in which he claimed ten popular stories about evolution were false.

Wells spent a chapter denying the work of H. B. Kettlewell — the famous peppered moth research, in which Kettlewell discovered a classic case of natural selection at work over a 150-year period in England. When air pollution darkened the bark of trees, peppered moths in industrialized areas with the darkened trunks, also darkened. Kettlewell ran several experiments to see whether predation by birds might be a driver of this selection event, and concluded that the lighter moths stood out on darkened tree bark, and that it was likely that predation by birds or other moth predators pushed the rise of the darker moths.

Kettlewell’s conclusions were spectacularly borne out when cleaner air lightened the trunks of the trees, and lighter moths reappeared. The selective pressure ran back toward lighter moths.

The two most common variants of the peppered moth, the one on the left showing how it got is name, and the one on the right showing the variant that became more common when air pollution darkened the bark on trees where the moth rests.  BBC image

The two most common variants of the peppered moth, the one on the left showing how it got is name, and the one on the right showing the variant that became more common when air pollution darkened the bark on trees where the moth rests. BBC image

Kettlewell’s research was groundbreaking in its pioneering of new ways to study evolution in the wild. But because he was at the cutting edge, questions arose about the exact nature of his conclusions. Kettlewell tried several different methods to count moth predation, finally settling on a system of release and recapture, and counting the moths that were not recaptured as casualties to the predator. Kettlewell released moths in the presence of English titmice, who promptly found moths colored wrongly to hide, and ate them. Tits are not the chief predators of these moths, some argue, and critics wondered whether Kettlewell could accurately conclude what the predator was. Ultimately, it has become clear that Kettlewell’s conclusions are accurate regardless the predator. Scientists like Majerus and Jerry Coyne — fierce rivals now, showing the unanimity of science support for Kettlewell’s conclusions across the spectrum of science views — urge more research to refine what we know about the moths.

Critics claimed some of the steps in some of the experiments as faulty, and extrapolated that the entire conclusions are faulty. In reality, because Kettlewell got similar results with different methods, his conclusions are more robust.

When I took Wells’ chapter on moths and tracked down the citations, I discovered that each person he cited disputed Wells’ conclusions — some quite violently.  The hoax, it turns out, is Wells’s claim that the story is false.

Over the past decade, while Wells and the Discovery Institute have continued their assault on science, some of the refutations of his work have fallen by the wayside.

In this page, I hope to preserve the arguments showing Wells’ work’s problems, and preserve some of the publications that have become difficult to find.

Creationism controversy in Pratt, Kansas

In 1999 the school board in Pratt, Kansas, considered biology curriculum and book changes. In what now appears to be practice for future fights, the Discovery Institute of Seattle, Washington, descended on Pratt with Jonathan Wells and others , urging the school board to dilute evolution in the curriculum or eliminate it, and using a variety of unusual arguments on the science to buttress their claims that the science of evolution was somehow in question.

Specifically, Wells introduced his claims on Kettlewell’s work. When they heard of the incident, some researchers scrambled to present the view of science. Bruce Grant of William and Mary College, and Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, wrote letters to the local newspaper, The Pratt Tribune, defending Kettlewell’s work and questioning Wells’ tactics and conclusions. Evolution is solid science, they said, and should be taught undiluted to students.

These letters were available on the internet at the time, but have recently become difficult to find. I reproduce them here:

Dr. Jerry Coyne is professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago.

The Pratt Tribune, December 06, 2000

Original:
http://www.pratttribune.com/archives/index.inn?loc=detail&doc=/2000/December/06-663-news91.txt Accessed in 2003

Jerry A. Coyne: Criticism of moth study no challenge to evolution

I have learned that the Pratt school board, apparently responding to creationist pressure, has recently revised its tenth-grade biology curriculum to include material that encourages students to question the theory of evolution. In reading the standards, I see that one of my articles – an article constantly misrepresented by creationists – is included as a supplementary reading used to cast doubt on evolution.

Dr. Jerry Coyne's Skeptic Trump card.  He is a professor at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Jerry Coyne’s Skeptic Trump card. He is a professor at the University of Chicago.

Except for a few creationist dissenters, the community of professional biologists has long accepted evolution as an essential theory supported by innumerable pieces of evidence. To make students think otherwise is as harmful as urging them to question the value of antibiotics because there are a few people who believe in spiritual healing.

My article appended to the Pratt standards is a re-evaluation of a classic evolutionary story in which rapid changes in the proportions of color forms of peppered moths occurred in only about 100 years. This evolutionary change is thought to be a response to air pollution, changes in the colors of trees, and increased bird predation. My only problem with the peppered-moth story is that I am not certain whether scientists have identified the precise agent causing the natural selection and evolutionary change. It may well be bird predators, but the experiments leave room for doubt.

Creationists such as Jonathan Wells claim that my criticism of these experiments casts strong doubt on Darwinism. But this characterization is false. All of us in the peppered moth debate agree that the moth story is a sound example of evolution produced by natural selection. My call for additional research on the moths has been wrongly characterized by creationists as revealing some fatal flaw in the theory of evolution.

In reality, the debate over what causes natural selection on moths is absolutely normal in our field. It is not uncommon for scientists to reexamine previous work and find it incomplete, or even wrong. This is the normal self-correcting mechanism of science. Textbook examples may be altered as additional data are found. Creationists, on the other hand, neither air their disagreements in public or admit that they were wrong. This is because their goal is not to achieve scientific truth, but to expel evolution from the public schools.

It is a classic creationist tactic (as exemplified in Wells’ book, “Icons of Evolution”) to assert that healthy scientific debate is really a sign that evolutionists are either committing fraud or buttressing a crumbling theory. In reality, evolution and natural selection are alive and well, with new supporting evidence arriving daily.

I strongly object to the use of my article by the Pratt school board to cast doubt on Darwinism. And I feel sorry for the students who are being misled by creationists into doubting one of the most vigorous and well-supported theories in biology.

Jerry A. Coyne
Professor of Ecology & Evolution
The University of Chicago

Dr. Bruce Grant was professor of biology at William and Mary University, now emeritus.

The Pratt Tribune, December 13, 2000
Original:

http://www.pratttribune.com/archives/index.inn?loc=detail&doc=/2000/December/13-653-news92.txt

Accessed 2003

Bruce Grant: Charges of fraud misleading

In recent weeks your newspaper has printed letters debating revisions in high school biology curricula. Some of the correspondents have leveled charges of fraud directed at evolutionists for attributing changes in the colors of peppered moths to natural selection. As I am one of the evolutionary biologists who study peppered moths, I feel obliged to comment. Charges of fraud cannot be left unchallenged.

Some background about peppered moths is necessary. The common form of this moth species is pale gray. About 150 years ago, a black specimen was discovered near an industrial city in England. Over the years, the black (melanic) form became ever more common as the pale form became rare. By 1900 the black form exceeded 90 percent in peppered moth populations throughout the industrialized regions of England. The phenomenon was dubbed industrial melanism.

Bruce Grant, Professor of Biology, Emeritus, College of William and Mary

Bruce Grant, Professor of Biology, Emeritus, College of William and Mary

Because people knew that birds eat insects, scientists as early as 1896 suspected that birds were eating the different color forms of peppered moths selectively based on their degree of conspicuousness in habitats variously blackened by industrial soot. Extensive experimental work supports this view, although questions remain. Other scientists proposed that moths responded to the presence of pollutants by developing darker body colors. We now know from genetic analysis that the colors of adult peppered moths are determined by genes; thus, the changes in the percentages of pale to black moths over generations reflect changes in the genetic makeup of moth populations.

As industrial practices have changed in many regions, we have observed black moths plummet from 90 percent to 10 percent in the just the past few decades. Once again, we have observed significant genetic changes occur in moth populations. Evolution is defined at the operational level as genetic change over time, so this is evolution. Of the several factors known to produce evolutionary change, only natural selection is consistent with the patterns of the changes we see occurring in moth populations. Evolution examined at this level is as well established as any fact in science.

We still have work to do. We do not all agree about the relative roles of contributing factors, such as the flow of genes between moth populations in different regions, the importance of lichens on trees, where on trees moths might hide from predators, how important is differential predation, and so on. As in any branch of science, participants endlessly debate interpretations. Such wrangling is the norm, and it stimulates additional research. That is how we make progress.

Our debates have never been secret. For recent overviews of the controversies, please see http://www.wm.edu/biology/melanism.pdf [now at http://bsgran.people.wm.edu/melanism.pdf] or www.els.net/elsonline/html/A0001788.html [ now http://mrw.interscience.wiley.com/emrw/9780470015902/els/article/a0001788/current/abstract, subscription required]. Yet, unwarranted charges of fraud, fakery and cover-ups repeatedly appear in letters printed in newspapers. In your paper, Ms. Katrina Rider “asserts” the peppered moth story is a hoax. She conveys the impression that dead moths were glued to trees as part of a conspiracy of deception. She seems unaware that moths were glued to trees in an experiment to assess the effect of the density (numbers) of moths on the foraging practices of birds. Taken out of the context of the purpose of the experiment, the procedure does sound ludicrous.

But, should we blame Ms. Rider for her outrage upon learning that moths were glued to trees? No. Instead, I blame Dr. Jonathan Wells, who wrote the article she cites as her source of information. While he has done no work on industrial melanism, he has written opinion about the work. To one outside the field, he passes as a scholar, complete with Ph.D. Unfortunately, Dr. Wells is intellectually dishonest. When I first encountered his attempts at journalism, I thought he might be a woefully deficient scholar because his critiques about peppered moth research were full of errors, but soon it became clear that he was intentionally distorting the literature in my field. He lavishly dresses his essays in quotations from experts (including some from me) which are generally taken out of context, and he systematically omits relevant details to make our conclusions seem ill founded, flawed, or fraudulent. Why does he do this? Is his goal to correct science through constructive criticism, or does he a have a different agenda? He never mentions creationism in any form. To be sure, he sticks to the scientific literature, but he misrepresents it. Perhaps it might be kinder to suggest that Wells is simply incompetent, but I think his errors are by intelligent design.

Bruce Grant
Professor of Biology
College of William and Mary
Williamsburg, Virginia

_____________

Update, September 2012: Creationists appear never to learn. The hoaxed “controversy” on peppered moths continued well after these exchanges back in 2000, which I collected when creationists tried to block science in textbooks in the great Texas State Board of Education Wars of 2003. Even after losing that fight, creationists continued to carp.

Publication of Of Moths and Men, nominally a history of Kettlewell and his experiments, revived the creationist claims of error — without evidence, as the author of the book noted, but since when have creationists ever changed course because of evidence?

In the midst of the flap, Michael Majerus went back to basics. He re-ran Kettlewell’s experiments, essentially. Of course, he discovered Kettlewell was right. I blogged about it earlier, but I failed to update this post. See these other posts at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

Also, WordPress has improved since 2007; it finds relevant links, and related stories through Zemanta. I’ve added links above, and related articles below.

More, and Further Reading:


Don’t fall for the star-spangled voodoo history

September 14, 2014

Star-spangled Banner and the War of 1812 - The original Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the song that would become our national anthem, is among the most treasured artifacts in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Star-spangled Banner and the War of 1812 – The original Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the song that would become our national anthem, is among the most treasured artifacts in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Every school kid learns the story of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” or should.

During the War of 1812, Georgetown lawyer Francis Scott Key, stood aboard a British ship in Baltimore Harbor to negotiate the release of his friend, Dr. William Beanes, who had been taken prisoner while the British stormed through Bladensburg, Maryland, after burning Washington, D.C.  Key witnessed the British shelling of Fort McHenry, the guardian of Baltimore’s harbor.  Inspired when he saw the U.S. flag still waving at dawn after a night of constant shelling, Key wrote a poem.

Key published the poem, suggested it might be put to the tune of “Anachreon in Heaven” (a tavern tune popular at the time) — and the popularity of the song grew until Congress designated it the national anthem in 1931.  In telling the story of the latest restoration of that garrison flag now housed at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, Smithsonian Magazine repeated the story in the July 2000 issue:  “Our Flag Was Still There.”

It’s a wonderful history with lots of splendid, interesting details (Dolley Madison fleeing the Executive Mansion clutching the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, the guy who had introduced Dolley to James Madison and then snubbed them after they were married; the British troops eating the White House dinner the Madisons left in their haste; the gigantic, 42 by 30 foot flag sewn by Mary Pickersgill, a Baltimore widow trying to support her family; the rag-tag Baltimore militia stopping cold “Wellington’s Invicibles;” the British massing of 50 boats and gunships; and much more).

It’s a grand and glorious history that stirs the patriotic embers of the most cynical Americans.

And it’s all true.

So it doesn’t deserve the voodoo history version, the bogus history created by some person preaching in a church (I gather from the “amens”) that is making the rounds of the internet, stripped of attribution so we can hunt down the fool who is at fault.

We got this in an e-mail yesterday; patriots save us, there must be a hundred repetitions that turn up on Google, not one correcting this horrible distortion of American history.

Horrible distortion of American history

(The full version is a mind-numbing 11 minutes plus.  Some people have put it on other sites. )

Why do I complain?

  1. It was the War of 1812, not the Revolutionary War — there were 15 states, not 13 colonies.
  2. There was no ultimatum to to Baltimore, nor to the U.S., as this fellow describes it.
  3. Key negotiated for the release of one man, Dr. Beanes.  There was no brig full of U.S. prisoners.
  4. It’s Fort McHenry, not “Henry.”  The fort was named after James McHenry, a physician who was one of the foreign-born signers of the Constitution, who had assisted Generals Washington and Lafayette during the American Revolution, and who had served as Secretary of War to Presidents Washington and Adams.
  5. Fort McHenry was a military institution, a fort defending Baltimore Harbor.  It was not a refuge for women and children.
  6. The nation would not have reverted to British rule had Fort McHenry fallen.
  7. There were 50 ships, not hundreds.  Most of them were rafts with guns on them.  Baltimore Harbor is an arm of Chesapeake Bay; Fort McHenry is not on the ocean.
  8. The battle started in daylight.
  9. Bogus quote:  George Washington never said “What sets the American Christian apart from all other people in this world is he will die on his feet before he will live on his knees.”  Tough words.  Spanish Civil War.  Not George Washington.  I particularly hate it when people make up stuff to put in the mouths of great men.  Washington left his diaries and considerably more — we don’t have to make up inspiring stuff, and when we do, we get it wrong.
  10. The battle was not over the flag; the British were trying to take Baltimore, one of America’s great ports.  At this point, they rather needed to since the Baltimore militia had stunned and stopped the ground troops east of the city.  There’s enough American bravery and pluck in this part of the story to merit no exaggerations.
  11. To the best of our knowledge, the British did not specifically target the flag.
  12. There were about 25 American casualties.  Bodies of the dead were not used to hold up the flag pole — a 42 by 30 foot flag has to be on a well-anchored pole, not held up by a few dead bodies stacked around it.

You can probably find even more inaccuracies (please note them in comments if you do).

The entire enterprise is voodoo history.  The name of Key is right; the flag is right; almost everything else is wrong.

Please help:  Can you find who wrote this piece of crap?  Can you learn who the narrator is, and where it was recorded?

I keep finding troubling notes with this on the internet: ‘My school kids are going to see this to get the real story.’  ‘Why are the libs suppressing the truth?’  ‘I didn’t know this true story before, and now I wonder why my teachers wouldn’t tell it.’

It’s voodoo history, folks.  It’s a hoax.  The real story is much better.

If Peter Marshall and David Barton gave a gosh darn about American history, they would muster their mighty “ministries” to correct the inaccuracies in this piece.  But they are silent.

Clearly, it’s not the glorious history of this nation they love.

More:

Please share that voodoo, as you do so well!


Want to wave the flag while your kids go back to school? Buy union-made

August 24, 2014

Union-Made School Supplies Checklist, from the Twitter feed of AAFSCME

Union-Made School Supplies Checklist, from the Twitter feed of AFSCME

You may have to shop a little harder; my experience, from the classroom, is that these products generally work better than non-union-made, and cheap import substitutes.  Over the course of a year in class — or a year in a kid’s backpack — quality can save you a lot of money.

Having difficulty reading the board?  Check out a similar list from Mike Hall at AFL-CIO Now:

photo by Avolore/Twitter creative Commons

Back to School photo by Avolore/Twitter Creative Commons

International Paper Co.; Mead Lined Paper; Roaring Springs Wirebound Notebooks (including these sub-brands: Environotes, Imagine, Genesis, Enviroshades, Emoticon, Lifenotes and Maxim); Roaring Spring Environotes Index cards; and Roaring Spring Legal Pads (including these sub-brands: Boardroom, Enviroshades, WIDE, Enviropads and Envirogold).

Notebooks and Binders:

Acco/Mead; Day-Timer Organizers; Roaring Spring Pocket Folders; Roaring Spring Composition Books.

Pens:

Sharp; Sheaffer; and Parker.

Student and Teacher Supplies:  

Martin Weber Art Supplies; Roaring Spring Art Supplies; Scotch Tape; Master Lock; Kleenex and Puff Tissues; and Claus Scissors.

Shops Staffed by Union Employees:

Office Max; Safeway; Giant; Albertson’s; Supervalu; Ralph’s; and Vons. 

Back to School Clothes:

All USA Clothing; Ben Davis; Hugo Boss; Oshkosh B’Gosh; Russell Athletic; Union Line; and Windjammer.

Lunchbox items:

Jif peanut butter; Oroweat bread; Farmer John lunch meat; Mott’s apple sauce; Wheat Thins; Slim Jim; Minute Maid juice; and  V8-Splash.

Go, students: Make America and your parents proud.


How is your little tyke welcomed to school?

August 20, 2014

This is how it’s done right:

“You are the reason we are here.”

No Common Core Standards, no testing schedule, just a genuine welcome. Bet there's a lot more learning that goes on behind that door than many others.

No Common Core Standards, no testing schedule, just a genuine welcome. Bet there’s a lot more learning that goes on behind that door than many others.

Tip of the old scrub brush to @Kiwigirl58, Sahila ChangeBringer.

Read the rest of this entry »


No air conditioning in your classroom? Maasai school in Tanzania

August 20, 2014

Maasai school in Tanzania. Photo by Noel Feans,

Maasai school in Tanzania. Photo by Noel Feans, “We rule the school.” September 2009; Creative Commons copyright, Wikimedia image; also on Flickr

Another photo illustrating classroom technology in different cultures.


Colorado schoolhouse (1895 vintage)

August 18, 2014

A few miles from the New Mexico border, in Chromo, Colorado:

East of Durango, along U.S. Highway 160, a school building with a sign suggesting it was built in 1895.

East of Durango, along U.S. Highway 160 84, a school building with a sign suggesting it was built in 1895.  The map said it was Chromo, Colorado.  Photos by Ed Darrell; use with attribution is encouraged.

Difficult to tell how many rooms; it could have had up to four classrooms at one point, I reckon.  The belfry is still there, but the bell is long gone — a prize for some scavenger if it was not removed for re-use, or for a museum.

Bigger windows that many modern schools, windows students could use to actually look outdoors.  Modern school architects seem to want students to be unaffected by the outdoors, or light from outdoors, often.

Off in a field by itself, there was plenty of room for kids to run around, at recess.

Off in a field by itself, there was plenty of room for kids to run around, at recess.

In this photo the sign is legible:  "Colorado State Approved School, 1895."

In this photo the sign is legible: “State of Colorado 1895 Approved Standard School.”

Was this a standard design, or does “standard school” refer to the program of instruction offered?

There were a few homes and farms close by.  The community has always been small.  How many students learned to read, learned how to handle numbers, read the greats of American history and literature in these walls?  Who were they, and where did they go?

How big a mark can a school, or a teacher, actually make?

More:


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