Archive for January, 2007

Darwin and sexual jokes

Friday, January 19th, 2007

Darwin day is coming up next month. And serving as a precursor of sorts, a rare orchid Darwin had connections to is blooming and on display here in Florida. Darwin had made a prediction about long moth tongues that was proven true after his death: the Predicted Moth. The orchid is at Selby Gardens and the story is in the Herald Tribune.

SARASOTA — As a seductress, it’s the plant world’s equal to Marilyn Monroe or Angelina Jolie.

But the Comet Orchid, now blooming at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, is loyal to only one. And her pollinator must be well-endowed to drink her nectar.

When Charles Darwin discovered this orchid, found only on the west coast of Madagascar, he predicted one day entomologists would find a moth with an 18-inch-long tongue.

The prediction was the stuff of sexual jokes, and Darwin got the reputation for being daft.

Darwin was proved correct about 40 years after he died, when a Madagascar moth was discovered with just such a tongue. Its Latin name means the predicted moth.

Science on the FCAT; More Fs?

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

Changes to this year’s FCATs, including the importance of the science tests, are prompting dire school grade predictions.

There could be a record number of failing schools in Duval County and around Florida this year unless local school districts find a way to improve student achievement in two categories being added to the school grading formula.

Science achievement and learning gains for the lowest-performing students in math will be calculated into school grades for the first time, based on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test that begins next month. Science has been included on the FCAT for several years, but those results were not factored into school grades.

The grading change threatens to lower school scores dramatically in Duval County and across the state, according to projections compiled by the Florida Department of Education that applied the new formula to last year’s scores.

Local school officials say they are aware of the projections and are working hard to minimize any decline in school grades.

However, there have been setbacks.

This month, the School Board approved $106,000 to purchase fourth-grade science textbooks for fifth-grade classrooms after teachers complained that textbooks purchased last summer for fifth-graders did not adequately prepare them for the FCAT.

The main concern is the science test, which 11th-graders will take in roughly six weeks. To spur improvement, Brennan implemented weekly FCAT mini-lessons so students can review materials that may appear on the exam.

“It’s a lot of science but we have to get it into them before the test,” he said.

Staver vs. Ruse

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

(edited: I feel sillly. It was just pointed out to me that this story was published back in 2005. Better late than never, eh?) The Orlando Weekly has dueling interviews up in a story about intelligent design versus evolution. First up from Orlando is the Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver. Then Florida State University’s Michael Ruse steps up to the plate. It’s obvious that the article’s author, Jeffrey Billman, was standing on the side of real science, so this isn’t your typical unbiased news story. (You have to love it when an author can’t resist throwing in a mention of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.) But Billman does let Staver speak his piece. Staver uses the standard creationist playbook as he claims evolution is not good science, can’t be tested and that intelligent design deserves to be presented in the classroom. For instance:

Staver: Evolution can’t be tested either. You can’t test either intelligent design or evolution. You can’t go back and replicate either one of them. And with that in mind, in the final analysis, whether it’s evolution or intelligent design or any other theory of the origin of the universe that you conclude, I think you have to ultimately approach the final step by faith.

False. Evolution can and is constantly being tested.

Staver: Certainly evolution does not fall into the same category as the law of gravity and if it did, that would be a different story. But it doesn’t. … There are a lot of different questions by evolutionists themselves regarding missing links or the inability to explain a brand-new animal phylum in a strata that has no precursor.

Gotta love the whole missing link complaint. Oh, and be careful of that gravity thing. I hear that it’s riddled with problems that can be better explained another way.

Staver: I think more and more scientists themselves are beginning to question Darwinian evolution, and in fact you have 52 Ohio scientists, 49 of which hold doctoral degrees, that recently in 2002 signed an affirmation that says where there are alternative scientific theories in the area of intelligent design … that students should be permitted to learn the evidence for and against them, and that science curriculums should encourage critical thinking of all these different ideas.

Was Steve on that list?

Ruse has a good time hammering intelligent design.

Ruse: Well, let’s go back to intelligent design first. I think it’s religion, period. I mean, if you would judge it as science it wouldn’t be very good, but [that’s] like saying Marilyn Monroe is not a very good man. As far as I’m concerned, Marilyn Monroe isn’t a man, period. And I would want to say the same of intelligent design.

Nationwide science standards

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) recently issued a statement lauding a proposal to establish voluntary nationwide standards in math and science.

Under the SPEAK Act proposal, voluntary, nationwide U.S. content standards in science and math would be developed by the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), with public input. States choosing to adopt the new standards would then receive federal funds to implement them and to enhance data systems related to No Child Left Behind goals.

The goal of the new science-testing requirement is admirable, Roseman said. Unfortunately, she added, tests in some regions are not well-aligned to the key science concepts that students need to know at each grade level. In some regions, for example, the integrity of science education has been eroded by efforts to insert non-scientific concepts such as “intelligent design” into science curriculum.

Here is what I assume to be the actual language of the bill.

If this SPEAK Act actually moves forward, how long do you think it will be before the anti-science brigade launches the first attempt to worm intelligent design into the mix? This is worth keeping an eye on.

Here is Senator Dodd’s release about this.

Carnival time

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

The 101st Carnival of Education is open for your reading enjoyment. Two of my posts are included.

Science mentors needed

Monday, January 8th, 2007

If you have some time, why not become a science mentor?

 The science mentoring program I LOVE Science is looking for volunteers for Hellen Caro, Blue Angels, Edgewater, Myrtle Grove, and Montclair elementary schools.

I LOVE Science was launched in partnership between former State Rep. Holly Benson, Gulf Power, The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition and Cox Communications.

The program has recruited more than 200 volunteers who spend one hour per month in area fifth-grade classes doing hands-on science experiments.

For details or to help, call Nancy Stanley in Escambia County at 439-2623 or Anita Holmes in Santa Rosa County at 983-5046.

Science teacher one of only four honored

Saturday, January 6th, 2007

Congratulations to science teacher David Rodriguez for his recent honor!

Science teacher David Rodriguez is getting ready for a trip to Vienna, Austria, in April. It will be his second trip, and he’ll bring back information and lessons he’ll relay to his students.

Rodriguez, who teaches at Swift Creek Middle School, is one of four American science teachers selected by the Washington, D.C.-based American Geophysical Union, an organization for professionals involved with the earth, oceans, atmosphere, space and planets.

“Physicists and other scientists from all over the world will be there,” Rodriguez said. “They bring in scientists to talk to teachers, and they tell us things we can use in a classroom. It’s called the GIFT Conference, for Geophysical Information for Teachers.”

The Cambrian Explosion

Friday, January 5th, 2007

In today’s issue of the journal science Canfield et al. explore the oxygenation of the deep oceans during the Neoproterozoic and its relationship with the Cambrian Explosion. The scientists looked at stable isotope variations of iron in sediments near the Precambrian/Cambrian marker horizon in NewFoundland. The idea here is to examine the ratios of reactive iron (iron oxides, carbonate and sulfides) with non-reactive iron (the rest). During the Phanerozoic (the last 542 Million years) the ratio of reactive iron/total iron is 0.15 and the modern value is 0.26. In oxygen rich environments, the ratio is driven to the low side and in anoxic environments, the ratio may reach 0.38 or higher. These high ratios were seen in the record prior to the appearance of Ediacaran fauna in Newfoundland and during the Gaskiers glaciation. In contrast, the ratios following the Gaskiers showed a drop to near modern values.
The authors also looked at the amount of organic carbon in the sediments and the ratio of sulfur isotopes. These both confirmed their conclusion that the interval following the Gaskiers glaciation resulted in deep water oxygenation of sufficient magnitude to allow for the rise of organisms needing oxygen for the metabolism of larger eukaryotes.
The question, of course, is whether or not this oxygenation should be viewed as the ‘sole’ trigger for the Ediacaran and Cambrian explosions or whether it was one of many potential favorable events that lead to the arrival of complex metazoan life.
In a paper that was published yesterday in Nature, Acquista et al. showed that transmembrane proteins originally excluded oxygen in ancient organisms but this exclusion decreased as oxygen levels rose. In addition they found that oxygen affected the timing of evolution of cellular compartmentalization (a necessary requirement for complex life forms).   THis is a nice independent confirmation of the paper in Science.

Joe Meert