“Yes, Virginia,” most famous editorial ever, Newseum says

December 21, 2006

Is this the man who really saved Santa Claus?

The Newseum itself doesn’t open until autumn of 2007, but some exhibits are already up, online.

Among other things already up is this explanation for the 1897 editorial in The New York Sun, with the famous line: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” It is “history’s most reprinted editorial,” the Newseum says.

While you’re there, look at other exhibits already in place. This is a good source for kids’ reports and for teachers’ lectures.

Update: Parallel Divergence is at it again (remember the “how Hubble killed God?”) Here it is: “How Google Earth Killed Santa Claus.”

Update May 2007:  Coverage of the Newseum’s pending opening.


Discussing faith and religion, not yelling

December 21, 2006

Williams College Prof. Mark Taylor has another facet to the question of whether we teach about religion in schools, in an opposite-editorial page article in the December 21 New York Times titled “The Devoted Student” (subscription required after December 28, 2006). Taylor wrote:

Today, professors invite harassment or worse by including “unacceptable” books on their syllabuses or by studying religious ideas and practices in ways deemed improper by religiously correct students.

Distinguished scholars at several major universities in the United States have been condemned, even subjected to death threats, for proposing psychological, sociological or anthropological interpretations of religious texts in their classes and published writings. In the most egregious cases, defenders of the faith insist that only true believers are qualified to teach their religious tradition.

This contrasts interestingly, and vexingly, with trends like the Texas high schools who teach the Bible as history, many of whom probably cross the line into advocacy for religion according to one study.

So, on one hand we get religious fanatics who want the Bible taught as a faith document in high schools. On the other hand, the students at whom those classes are aimed want it taught only one way, their way, when they get it. There is no thought of actually learning beyond what the fanatics want to learn.

Alan Bloom was wrong: THIS is the closing of the American mind.

Taylor ends his piece with a warning:

Until recently, many influential analysts argued that religion, a vestige of an earlier stage of human development, would wither away as people became more sophisticated and rational. Obviously, things have not turned out that way. Indeed, the 21st century will be dominated by religion in ways that were inconceivable just a few years ago. Religious conflict will be less a matter of struggles between belief and unbelief than of clashes between believers who make room for doubt and those who do not.

The warning signs are clear: unless we establish a genuine dialogue within and among all kinds of belief, ranging from religious fundamentalism to secular dogmatism, the conflicts of the future will probably be even more deadly.

Case in point:  This discussion at Pharyngula.


Another test for bogus science and bogus history

December 21, 2006

In a post I missed back then, science writer Chet Raymo sets a standard for how science can leave the “bogus” category:  He says intelligent design can start to be called “science” when the first paper is published retracting another, previous paper, that was since found to be in error.  Raymo wrote:

Here is my litmus test for science.

In the October 7 issue of Science, the weekly journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Robin Allshire, of the prestigious Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology at the University of Edinburgh, offers a retraction for a paper previously published in the journal, titled “Hairpin RNAs and retrotransponson LTRs effect RNAi and chromatin-based gene silencing.” He admits that his laboratory and others have been unable to reproduce the results reported in the paper.

When we see the first peer-reviewed experimental data supporting intelligent design or astrology that is reproducible in other laboratories by skeptics and believers alike, then these hypotheses can make a legitimate claim to being sciences.

When we see the first published retraction, we will know that intelligent design or astrology has reached maturity as a science.

Of course, the same is true for bogus history.  Corrections made when error is found suggest that there is care for accuracy, and that the author has no great stake in the story other than getting the facts right to get the correct understanding.

I’ll have to revise the list, here, and here.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Catholic Sensibility.


Carnival of Education #98, at Median Sib

December 21, 2006

Go see.  Good stuff as always.


A hard drive in 1956

December 21, 2006

What is this? What am I driving at?

1956 hard drive

Go take a look at Gaya, Ruang & Kepelbagaian.


Student project sources: Influenza in Alaska

December 21, 2006

Here’s a post with a ready-made student project in it: “Alaska and Eskimo data in 1920 British report,” at Grassroots Science (Alaska).

This would be a good AP History project, or a cross-discipline project for history and biology.

The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed millions, between 20 million and 40 million people by good estimates — it is estimated that 16 million died in India, alone. Soldiers returning from Europe and World War I carried the plague to hundreds of towns and villages where it might not have gone otherwise. The flu was a particularly deadly one for some people, striking them dead within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Public health issues are largely disregarded in most U.S. and world history texts. This story, of the 1918 flu pandemic, needs to be told and studied carefully, however, because of the danger that such a thing could occur again. Small villages and towns need to be ready to deal with the effects, to try to prevent further spread, and to handle the crisis that occurs when many people in a small community die.


David Irving out of jail – no longer denies Holocaust

December 21, 2006

Former historian David Irving was released from jail in Austria early, on December 21. Irving claims that he no longer denies the Holocaust.

Former historian David Irving, in handcuffs, released from Austrian jail.  Reuters photoDetails are in the Daily Telegraph from England.

In several European nations, including Austria, denial of the Holocaust not only is historical error, it’s also against criminal law.

He was arrested in November 2005 on charges related to two speeches and a newspaper interview he gave in Austria in 1989 in which he called the gas chambers a “fairy tale” and claimed that Hitler had no role in the Holocaust, even “offering his hand to protect the Jews”.

The charges covered statements he had made, such as questioning the accepted version of the Holocaust. He argued that “millions of people were led to believe” an “absolute absurdity”. A jury found him guilty of denying the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes.

Irving had appealed his 3-year sentence as too long. He serves the rest on probation.

Irving earlier sued U.S. historian Deborah Lipstadt for libel, in London, after she had called him a Holocaust denier. In a long and famous trial, she was found not to have libeled Irving, though under British law, truth is not a defense as it is in the U.S.

While it offends my First Amendment sensibilities to criminalize the making of such claims, one wonders about the intelligence or goals of people who deny the Holocaust.

Under California law, judicial note has been taken that the Holocaust occurred. It is a fact of history. U.S. law allows more robust, and offensive, discussion of the topic.

But in the end, the Holocaust is a fact. It’s an ugly, brutal and regrettable fact. Denying it occurred at all, or to the scope and degree it occurred, is only an odd form of denial of reality.

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