Archive for the 'Science in Action' Category

Coalition says scientists and teachers need to get involved

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

The Coalition of Scientific Societies recently conducted a survey about evolution in science education and the public’s attitudes toward evolution. I’ve lamented in the past about how lousy such surveys tend to be, but this one is by far one of the better, more interesting ones to me. I always thought that it would be beneficial to ask a few questions about other science subjects other than evolution to get an idea for how much the respondents know. This survey did so.

Although 69% of survey participants had some college education (27% were college graduates, and 14% had attended graduate school), only 23% gave correct responses to all three of the following statements: the continents or land masses on which we live have been moving for millions of years and will continue to move in the future (79% correctly agreed); antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria (43% correctly disagreed); the earliest humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs (53% correctly disagreed). Respondents who answered all three questions correctly were much more likely to respond that humans and other living things evolved (78%) rather than that they were created in their present form (11%), and more favored teaching evolution (78%) than creationism (27%) or intelligent design (24%).

The survey also determined that the public would rather hear from scientists and educators on matters such as evolution rather than judges or school board members. This prompted the Coalition to advise scientists across the country to get involved in promoting and defending sound science.

There is a clear need for scientists to become involved in promoting science education. Challenges to teaching science undermine students’ understanding of the scientific method, how scientific consensus develops, and the distinction between scientific and non-scientific explanations of natural phenomena. If our nation is to continue to develop the talent necessary to advance scientific and medical research, we must ensure that high standards in science education are maintained and that efforts to introduce non-science into science classes do not succeed. Failure to reach out effectively to a public that is supportive of science and open to information from the scientific community is not just a missed opportunity, it is a disservice to the scientific enterprise.

More information is available at the ScienceDaily article. The Coalition is an impressive collection of organizations: American Association of Physics Teachers, American Astronomical Society, American Chemical Society, American Institute of Biological Sciences, American Institute of Physics, American Physical Society, American Physiological Society, American Society for Investigative Pathology, American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, American Society of Human Genetics, Biophysical Society, Consortium of Social Science Associations, Geological Society of America, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, National Academy of Sciences, National Science Teachers Association, and Society for Developmental Biology.

Evolution research in the news

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

For your reading pleasure, here are a couple of science-related news articles that specifically mention that scary word: evolution. Articles related to intelligent design discoveries and achievements? Zero. I’ll keep looking, though. 😉

In the first case we have hereditary blindness being treated by gene-transfer. How do scientists manage to get the new genes where they need to go? Well, a product of evolution leads the way

Now the gene-transfer technique is being tested for safety in people in a phase 1 clinical research study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Florida with support from the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

A young adult with a form of hereditary blindness called Leber congenital amaurosis type 2, or LCA2, received an injection of trillions of replacement genes into the retina of one eye this month, making the volunteer one of the first people in the world to undergo the procedure. Shalesh Kaushal, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of ophthalmology at UF, performed the gene transfer.

In LCA-type diseases, photoreceptor cells are unable to respond to light. NEI and NEI-supported researchers have found that LCA2 is caused by mutations in the RPE65 gene, which produces a protein with the same name that is vital for vision. This trial will evaluate the use of a modified adeno-associated virus — an apparently harmless virus that already exists in most people — to deliver RPE65 to the retina.

“Viruses have evolved a way to get into cells very efficiently, more efficiently than anything else we know to deliver a piece of genetic material to a cell,” Hauswirth said. “So all we’re doing is using evolution to our advantage — in this case, to deliver our therapeutic gene.”

Research like the following example needs more publicity. The facts underlying the theory of evolution are many and diverse, serving as a never-ending river of real research possibilities. As can be seen here, evolution is treated as just matter of fact. It just says, “here’s what we’re doing.” Period. No apologies. No euphemisms. Just another day exploring evolution.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida and University of Texas at Austin scientists have shed light on what Charles Darwin called the “abominable mystery” of early plant evolution.

In two papers set to be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists report that the two largest groups of flowering plants are more closely related to each other than any of the other major lineages. These are the monocots, which include grasses and their relatives, and the eudicots, which include sunflowers and tomatoes.

Doug and Pam Soltis, a UF professor of botany and curator at UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History, respectively, also showed that a stunning diversification of flowering plants they are referring to as the “Big Bang” took place in the comparatively short period of less than 5 million years — and resulted in all five major lineages of flowering plants that exist today.

In other news …

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

I’ve been focusing on the flurry of activity concerning the new draft science standards and its inclusion of evolution here on the FCS blog lately. But there is other interesting stuff happening out there!

— Bill Nye (the Science Guy) is scheduled to speak at the University of Florida, Nov. 6. That should be a fun time!

— “Several University of North Florida students became ill — two needing hospitalization — when fumes from a natural science lab caused a building on campus to be evacuated Tuesday afternoon, according to a Jacksonville Fire-Rescue spokesman.”

— “Discovery’s astronauts are speeding toward the International Space Station and the start of the most demanding surge of construction work since outpost assembly began a decade ago.”

— “When it was launched 17 years ago, scientists and mission engineers for the Ulysses project knew they should expect, well, the unexpected. After all, the joint NASA/European Space Agency-managed spacecraft was going where no spacecraft had gone before – above and below the sun’s poles.”

Dinosaur Month

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

Apparently, it’s Dinosaur Month! This newspaper has a good list of places in Florida participating in some way. My favorites:

The Florida Museum of Natural History: Just in time for Dinosaur Month, the museum has opened “The Hall of Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life and Land.” The exhibit will feature more than 500 fossils of which more than 90 percent are authentic and were found within 100 miles of the museum’s location.

Museum of Arts and Sciences: The museum is home to the most complete fossil record discovered in Florida, the 13-foot tall skeleton of a giant ground sloth. This vegetarian could have weighed three to five tons and eaten a daily ration of 300 pounds of plants. The museum also features drawers chock full of dinosaur bones and teeth.

Science Cafe and Flying Circus of Physics

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

The Brevard Zoo has a popular program called the Science Cafe, where an expert on a certain topic related to science gives a short talk, but then the rest of the event is devoted to a conversation with the audience. The next one is tonight at 6 p.m. Here is a short story about this evening’s subject.

On Saturday, FSU will host the Flying Circus of Physics. There’s a lot of demonstrations, hands-on stuff and a paper airplane contest. Heck, the chemical “medicince” show is supposed to feature exploding stuff … what other motivation do you need to attend?

Do candles burn in space?

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Space shuttle Endeavour astronauts hung out with some kids in Orlando recently to talk about their experiences in space. They had a lot of good, educational things to say, and they, hopefully, motivated some kids to pay attention to their school work.

Cmdr. Scott Kelly, a two-time space traveler with local ties to Volusia County, said flying in space was “cool,” especially the thrust of the liftoff and floating in space. But he also told them dreams can come true if they get an education.

Mentioned in that article is an interesting project teachers can get involved with.

When shuttle Endeavour lifted off for the international space station last month, its precious cargo included more than seven astronauts. In the payload bay were 1 million cinnamon basil seeds. A small amount of seeds were left behind for occupants of the space station to grow as part of a national challenge to teachers.

NASA is inviting teachers to order some of the seeds to grow in their classrooms as part of the STS-118 Challenge. Educators need to create their own version of a growth chamber, grow the seeds into plants and then send their findings to NASA.

The link provided in the story is wrong, though. Go here to find out about this Challenge.

One of the students asked the astronauts if a candle will burn in space. Do you know the answer? Think about it for a minute or two, then head over here for an answer.

Giving girls a little bit of encouragement

Friday, September 7th, 2007

Prompted in part by statistics showing how girls tend to lose interest in science and math, folks in the Treasure Coast are in the beginning stages of bringing a Sally Ride Science Camp for middle school girls into their area. It’s exciting to see so many people and organizations coming together to address a problem that could be easily ignored otherwise.

“The concept is really cool. I think it’s something that’s going to be unique to Florida,” said Kathryn Hensley, a St. Lucie County School Board member. “We know that girls sometimes need a little bit of encouragement in middle school to go into math and science.”

A study done in 2000 by the National Center for Education Statistics shows the number of girls and boys who like math and science in the fourth grade is about the same. But by eighth grade, twice as many boys as girls show an interest in these subjects.

More information on Sally Ride Science Camp.

Clue to bee problem revealed

Friday, September 7th, 2007

I had mentioned the problem of bees disappearing, referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder, back in April. A solution has yet to be found, but a clue is finally giving researchers a direction to go in. Apparently, bees have been imported from Australia over the years, and those bees might have introduced a virus they are resistant to into the American bee population. There is still a lot of work to do because it’s not known if this virus is actually fully responsible, partly responsible or is just a dead end.

Bee ecology expert and University of Florida professor Jamie Ellis said earlier this year that genetic weakness bred into bees over time, pathogens spread by parasites and the effects of pesticides and pollutants might be other factors.

More information here.