Monday, March 26, 2007

Making stuff up

Leonard Pitts has an interesting column today which begins:

"Hard to believe, but they're at it again. After 2002, when a National Cancer Institute statement reporting no link between abortion and breast cancer was changed by the Bush administration to say evidence of a link was inconclusive; after the administration cut language on global warming from a 2003 report by the Environmental Protection Agency; after a government scientist was forbidden in 2001 and 2002 from discussing health hazards posed by airborne bacteria emanating from animal waste at large factory farms; after 60 scientists, 20 of them Nobel laureates, signed a statement in 2004 accusing the White House of manipulating and distorting science for political aims.

After all that, Team Bush has once again been caught censoring science it dislikes."
Amazing, isn't it?

On the one hand, you have government officials with little or no scientific credibility censoring and distorting and outright lying about science.

On the other, there are some who insist that it's the scientists who just "make this stuff up."

Problem is . . . scientists can't just "make this stuff up" when they don't know what's going on. That's because there's always another scientist somewhere who'd just love to make a name for him/herself by showing just how wrong the "made up stuff" is.

That's why procedures and results are published and subjected to something called peer review. Peer review is just a fancy way of saying "experts in this field of study carefully analyzed this experiment." "Peer" means that if you write a paper about biochemistry, it will be critiqued by other biochemists, not mathematicians or theologians. Or clueless government officials.

However . . . those who push non-scientific ideas avoid peer review like the plague. Instead, they publish books and produce videos that bypass the scientific review process, and market them to gullible consumers who are attracted by the pretty pictures and explosive sound bites. They rely on politics and press releases instead of peer review and rigor. It's these charlatans pushing pseudoscience who are the ones "just making stuff up."

Just like the government officials who are clueless about the science.

As Pitts concludes,

"But here's what really burns my toast: These people [the officials who are cluelessly censoring science] think I'm stupid. And they think you're stupid, too. What else can we conclude of a government that treats us with such brazen disdain?

They think we're a bunch of doofuses, dimwits and dolts who will never notice that they've placed the interests of their cronies above our own.

For the record, I am not stupid and I resent being treated as if I am.

How about you?"

I know you're smart enough not to be duped by the un-scientists who are really "making up stuff."

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Cool Topic, but Dry

Or, "Why Teaching High School Science is So Much Fun."

We'd used dry ice in the morning for the Advanced Physics lab, as they measured the speed of sound through air and through the CO2 gas sublimed from the dry ice.

(Top photo by Koffi Toulaboe)

In the afternoon, the freshmen got to play investigate some properties of this substance that so easily changes from solid to gas. Students were surprised that the gas wasn't wet, like water vapor is. (Dry ice, remember?)

*This* is what makes teaching so exciting - seizing that moment. Those moments produce more learning and more excitement about science than even the prettiest PowerPoints.

Science, Out in the World

Moonrise over Homer, Alaska, August 2006

In the centuries before our electronic era, most folks had a much better understanding of how nature worked than most of us do now. Undistracted by the lure of light, we looked to the heavens to try to discern meaning in the world. We knew, without looking at Channel 8 or, what weather we'd probably be facing for the next couple of days, while animal fur and cicada songs gave longer-term forecasts.

There's a growing movement across the country to get back to these roots, and away from the more esoteric features of science.

Try it yourself. Tear yourself away from your laptop (yes, you!) and get out for a walk. It doesn't have to be in a pristine natural setting; just somewhere where you can see the sky and feel the ever-present winds of western Kansas.

Maybe you'll catch the unexpected!

Monday, March 5, 2007

Testing . . . testing . . . 1 . . 2 . . 3 . . .

Don't forget that you won't be able to visit your science or math teachers during this week's seminar/academy periods.

We're administering the state math assessment during that time. Trust me, I'd much rather be working with you; if you have questions, come in before/after school, or shoot me an email.

Next week, we'll be back to our normal academy/seminar schedule, with access as usual to the science & math teachers.

Freshmen, good luck on your test today/Tuesday!

Friday, March 2, 2007


The Dodos are coming! The Dodos are coming!

Reserve the evening of Thursday, April 12, for the award-winning documentary "Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus." Appropriately, the film will make its western Kansas debut at Sternberg Museum in Hays among the "fish within a fish" and mosasaur specimens.

Update: The film will begin at 7:00 pm.

The official synopsis:

Flock of Dodos is the first feature documentary (84 mins.) to present both sides of the Intelligent Design/Evolution clash that appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek in 2005. Filmmaker and former Evolutionary Ecologist Dr. Randy Olson tries to make sense of the issue by visiting his home state of Kansas. At first it seems the problem lies wiht intelligent design - a movement labeled recently as "breathtaking inanity" by a federal judge - but when a group of evolutionists convene for a night of poker and discussion they end up sounding themselves like . . . a flock of dodos.

According to Wikipedia,
Flock of Dodos humorously examines the debate between proponents of the concept of intelligent design and the scientific establishment that supports evolution. The evolutionary famous dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is a now-extinct bird that lived on the Island of Mauritius, which is approximately 500 miles east of Madagascar. When Portuguese sailors arrived on the island, the possible combination of over-hunting and introduction of new predators (i.e. pigs, macaques) seems to have led to its extinction by approximately 1700. Due to its lack of fear of humans and inability to fly, the dodo was easy prey, and thus became known for its apparent stupidity. It failed to change with an evolving environment, which ultimately led to the birds' demise.

The film attempts to determine who the real "dodos" are in a constantly evolving world: the scientists who are failing to promote evolution as a scientifically accepted fact, the intelligent design advocates, or the American public who get fooled by the salesmanship of the Discovery Institute. While Randy Olson ultimately sides with the scientists who accept evolution, he gives equal air time to both sides of the argument, including intelligent design proponent Michael Behe and several of his colleagues.

A panel discussion will be held after the film.

The showing will be sponsored by the FHSU Science and Math Center, FHSU's Sigma Xi chapter and other entities.

Get this on your calendar before your free time goes extinct!