Archive for October, 2006

Reminder: Science Under Siege

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

I posted about this event before, but here is your friendly reminder:

Department of Biology, University of North Florida and the First Coast Freethought Society present:

The Attack on Evolution

Anthony M. Rossi, Ph.D., Biologist, UNF

Matthew R. Gilg, Ph.D., Biologist, UNF

Jay S. Huebner, Ph.D., Physicist and Astronomer, UNF

Gordon F. M. Rakita, Ph.D., Anthropologist, UNF

Ken Hurley, President, ACLU Jacksonville, Moderator
Monday, November 13, 2006, 7:00 – 9:30 p.m.


12000 Alumni Drive, Jacksonville, FL 32224
Free parking. Free and open to the public.

For further information call the FCFS – 904-288-6291

or visit

Learning something new

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

You can learn something new every day, even Halloween!

Plasmid shows us some weird biology to ponder:

Here it is, just in time for Halloween, three treats from the annals of animal oddities:

Repair Your Knee With Spider’s Silk

Can Flamingos Have Erectile Disfunction?

Jumbo and the Looking Glass

There are also bees in the news:

A scientist has found a 100 million-year-old bee trapped in amber, making it possibly the oldest bee ever found.

The bee is about 40 million years older than previously found bees. The discovery of the ancient bee may help explain the rapid expansion and diversity of flowering plants during that time.

In the competing journal Nature this week, there is an article about the unraveling of the genetic map of the honeybee. The recently completed sequencing of the honeybee genome already is giving scientists fresh insights into the social insects.

Carl Zimmer tells us a little bit about the honeybee genome at his blog, The Loom.

And for your grisly Halloween enjoyment, meet the owner of Skulls Unlimited. No, it’s not a costume shop.

“If I don’t want to talk to (other people), I tell them I manage a museum exhibit company,” said Eric Humphries, who’s worked at the company for 14 years and now is its production manager. “If I want to talk to them, I tell them I clean skulls and skeletons for a living.”

Skulls Unlimited takes skulls and skeletons — human and animal — strips them of tissue, sanitizes them and sells them. Almost all of the company’s business in human bones comes from museums and educational groups, with prices starting at $349 for a human skull to $3,700 for a full skeleton.

“We’re probably one of the few suppliers in the country that has real human skulls,” Villemarette said.

The process isn’t for the squeamish. Once a set of bones arrives at the company, workers carve off as much tissue as they can by hand. Then the dermestid beetles do the rest. Villemarette gladly removes the lid of one tank in which the bugs are feasting on tissue that remains on the skulls of two alligators, two dogs, a grizzly bear and a gazelle, picking up one of the skulls to offer an onlooker a better view of the process.

Flies can be a problem around the skulls, as a fly strip loaded down with the dead pests attests. Biohazard signs are numerous, as skulls in various states of preparation lie scattered on the floor.

Report on FAST conference

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

Florida Citizens for Science had a welcome presence at the Florida Association of Science Teachers conference Oct 14-16 in Gainesville. FlCfS board member Mary Bahr filed this report about our activities there.


We were able to hand out our brochures at four presentations at FAST and made some valuable contacts with members of Mote Marine, Scripps, and the FAST legislative liason and other attendees.

I did an all-day workshop on Thursday with 30 attendees and received an interested reception to the brochure when I handed it out and made a brief explanation of our organization.


They’re heeeeere!

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

Well, it looks like the creationists (oh, wait … I’m sorry, it’s intelligent design, not creationism. However, I hear that the ID label is quietly being swept under the rug after the Dover fiasco. I wonder what will be next.) are making themselves at home here in Florida. Two creationism intelligent design rallies are coming next month. And just in time for the elections, too. How convenient.

This conference will enable Christians and others to use simple evidence to demonstrate there is in fact a designer of life and that he is Jesus Christ.

The wonders of living cells will also be portrayed on stage by large models of the “molecules of life,” including a split-open DNA model that is simply stunning. This will be an eye-feast you’ll never forget!

Well, what these folks have forgotten is that during a certain recent court case, creationists IDers had to admit under oath that there is no actual evidence for creationism. But never mind that little technicality. Their target audience didn’t bother to actually follow the case’s blow by blow. The judge was an activist after all!

I think we need to be prepared for a wild ride when it comes time to revise the state science standards.

FlCfS Annual Meeting

Sunday, October 22nd, 2006

Florida Citizens for Science will hold its annual membership meeting Nov. 11, 2006. All members and potential members are encouraged–urged–to attend. The meeting will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m at the Eatonville branch of the Orange County public library.

This is an important meeting that will set the direction of our organization for the coming year by electing board members.

We expect to order pizza for lunch, but you are welcome to bring in a bag lunch if you want.  We, unfortunately, will need to ask everyone to chip in for your share of the pizza.

200 E. Kennedy Blvd.
Eatonville, FL 32751

Take I4 to the Lee Road exit in Winter Park.
From the exit, go East on Lee road, but not very far.

If coming from the north, make a left turn at the bottom of the exit ramp and get into the center lane heading back east under I4.

Just one half block east of the exit, Turn North (left) onto Wymore Road.

On Wymore Road you will see uninteresting buildings on the left, and vine draped
trees reminiscent of a tropical forest on the right.  Soon the view to the right opens up and you are looking at the Eatonville library.

1.    Introduction of Board members, Officers and those present (Everyone)

2.    Presidents Report (Joe Wolf)

3.    Secretary Report (Phyllis)
a.    Minutes of meetings:
i.    Original organizing meeting
ii.    Board meeting of  ?
iii.    Board meeting of  Sept. 24, 2006
iv.    Conference call of Oct. 18, 2006

4.    Treasurers Report (Pete)

5.    Amendment to the Bylaws (Joe W)
a.    Article 2; Section 8: Number of Directors
Increase the number of directors from 11 to 13

6.    Election of new Board members (Joe W)
a.    Nominating committee
b.    From the floor

7.    Adoption of Strategic plan (Joe W)

8.    Committee reports
a.    Director of communications (Brandon)
b.    Science Standards project (Phyllis)
c.    FAST meeting (Mary/Joe M)

9. Adjourn

Fishermen: you can participate in science

Friday, October 20th, 2006

The Bonefish & Tarpon Conservation Research project could use a hand.

This effort integrates the best efforts of a suite of concerned user groups (anglers and non-anglers alike), researchers, and fishery and habitat managers and the knowledge gained through this research will continue to increase the capacity to provide critical solutions to the growing dilemma of conservation and management of healthy and sustainable bonefish and tarpon fisheries.

Here’s a good article about the research.

ST. LUCIE INLET — Dr. Jerry Ault maintained a tight line on a tarpon as it tried to swim out to sea and after a 45 minute tug-of-war — with 50-pound test braided line — the scientist won.

In the long run, the tarpon will be the real winner.  

Ault and fellow researchers Dr. Jiangang Luo and Mike Larkin, from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, came here to locate willing research subjects to participate in an unique project. Fishing Monday with Capt. Bruce Ungar and aided by a number of Stuart Rod and Reel Club members, the men were able to catch and release two tarpon.

Each fish swam away fitted with a new piece of electronic jewelry — a $3,500 Pop-Up Archival Tag (PAT). Sensors on the tag will record critical information such as time, depth, water temperature and light levels once each minute.

The look, and the feel and the smell

Friday, October 20th, 2006

Here is a good article weighing the merits of virtual learning labs on the Internet. Should a student earn credit for mixing chemicals online rather than in a real lab? This article shows that there are no simple answers. It might be better to be in the lab, but what about schools that don’t offer certain classes or don’t even have adequate physical labs? With the labs available on the Internet, should a student be penalized if that is all he or she has to work with? Are virtual labs realistic enough to fully educate students?

Now, however, a dispute with potentially far-reaching consequences has flared over how far the Internet can go in displacing the brick-and-mortar laboratory.Prompted by skeptical university professors, the College Board, one of the most powerful organizations in American education, is questioning whether Internet-based laboratories are an acceptable substitute for the hands-on culturing of gels and peering through microscopes that have long been essential ingredients of American laboratory science.

As part of a broader audit of the thousands of high school courses that display its Advanced Placement trademark, the board has recruited panels of university professors and experts in Internet-based learning to scrutinize the quality of online laboratories used in Web-based A.P. science courses.

Professors are saying that simulations can be really good, that they use them to supplement their own lab work, but that theyd be concerned about giving credit to students who have never had any experience in a hands-on lab, said Trevor Packer, the boards executive director for Advanced Placement. You could have students going straight into second-year college science courses without ever having used a Bunsen burner.

Twenty-five states operate public, Internet-based schools like the Florida Virtual School, the nations largest, which has some 40,000 students.

In recent conversations with college science professors, the board has encountered considerable skepticism that virtual laboratories can replace hands-on experience, he said.

But educators at several prominent online schools pointed to their students high scores on A.P. exams.

On the 2005 administration of the A.P. biology exam, for instance, 61 percent of students nationwide earned a qualifying score of three or above on the A.P.s five-point system. Yet 71 percent of students who took A.P. biology online through the Florida Virtual School, and 80 percent of students who took it from the Virtual High School, earned a three or higher on that test.

The proof is in the pudding, said Pam Birtolo, chief learning officer at the Florida Virtual School.

Make sure we have potatoes in the house, my daughter told me before her last lab, in which students studied osmosis, said Mayuri Shah, whose daughter Sonia is taking A.P. biology from the Florida Virtual School. Sonia, 16, enrolled in the online course because her high school in Lecanto, Fla., north of Tampa, does not offer it.

That is one of the most common reasons students sign up for online classes, said Ms. Patrick, the North American Council for Online Learning president.

Thousands of schools in rural areas dont have science labs, but they have kids who want to go to college and need that science inquiry experience, she said. Virtual science labs are their only option.

Interaction of environment and evolution to be studied

Friday, October 20th, 2006

Florida State University College of Arts and Sciences Dean Joseph Travis, a distinguished professor of biological science and population biology expert, is one of a dozen researchers who will benefit from a grant allowing them to study an important aspect of evolution.

“This award will enable experimental research on evolution in nature on an unprecedented scale to help answer a complex and critical question: Does an evolving animal affect its ecosystem in real time; that is, does the system change right along with the animal,” Travis said in a statement.