Archive for July, 2007

How can evolutionary cousins be so different?

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

This is a good little essay on the relationship between humans and chimps in the Naples Daily News.

It’s been known for more than 30 years that human beings and chimpanzees have more than 98 percent of their genes in common.

That’s right. As far as our genes are concerned, the difference between you (or me) and a chimpanzee is less than 2 percent. Chimps are our closest genetic relatives, our cousins, genetically. And in many other ways, physical and behavioral.

Then, how do you account for the fact that humans and chimpanzees are so different? Those who doubt Darwin’s evolution point to the obvious differences between us and our “cousins” as evidence that we are separate and apart from the chimps and all other animals.

Science for kids

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

A few ScienceBlogs writers recently highlighted science websites for kids. I’m going to link to the various blogs right now in this post so as to archive this good information before the group of blog posts fades away.

Chaotic Utopia: “In a child’s hand, the computer can be a distraction or a frustration… or it can be a source of fun and knowledge. It is up to us, as parents and teachers, to show our kids how this versatile tool can be used.”

Adventures in Ethics and Science: “I thought I’d mention one of my favorite online destinations for kid-strength chemistry. Luddite that I am, what I like best is that the site isn’t hypnotizing your child with a virtual chemistry experiment, but actually gives you activities to do with the child in the three-dimensional world.”

Thus Spake Zuska: “In my experience, young girls especially want to know the ways in which a scientist or engineer has a “normal” life in addition to the things they do that are so difficult for the girls to imagine. When they realize that the scientist also wears jeans, has a dog, and likes pizza, they start to imagine that they can be just like her – they can be a scientist, too.”

Omni Brain: Lot o links.

Once I find some time to visit all of those great links myself, I will try to list them all on the Florida Citizens for Science links page.

No book ban here

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

Bravo to the Palm Beach County School Board for denying a woman’s request to ban about 80 books from the school system libraries. Wise and, in my opinion, easy decision.

Ms. Lopez, who had not read any of the books all the way through, wanted the school district to chuck books that dealt with such topics as homosexuality, atheism and evolution. As a parent, Ms. Lopez can forbid her own children to read such books. But her right to enforce her biases doesn’t extend beyond her family circle.

Dover a win for “teach the controversy”?

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

We here in Florida are revising the state science standards, so this story about “teach the controversy” is worth reading and keeping in the back of your mind. Basically, the story claims that intelligent design’s tanking in Dover, Pa. was actually a good thing for ID. Anti-evolutionists are now supposedly wholeheartedly united behind the “teach the controversy” tactic. Taking time to point out a bunch of evolution’s so-called shortcomings in the science classroom is supposedly legally bulletproof, according to the article.

But the Dover lawsuit also highlighted the effectiveness of the Discovery Institute’s approach. State school boards in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, New Mexico, and Minnesota along with local boards in Wisconsin and Louisiana have adopted science standards that encourage critical analysis of Darwinian Theory. To date, not a single lawsuit has challenged such standards.

Let’s try to keep such nonsense out of Florida’s science standards. “Critical analysis” or “teach the controversy” is only valid if there is a legitmate controversy, and if the real controversy is something applicable to a middle school or high school introductory level course. A group of vocal anti-science advocates guided by narrow religious ideology screeching about “gaps” in the fossil record and long dead watchmaker arguments don’t qualify as having a legitimate controversy. If there is no actual research concerning ID going on, and no serious scientist working in a relevant field gives ID any notice, then where is this controversy? Every so-called “critical analysis” brought on by the anti-science folks has been refuted many times over, so why waste time on this garbage in a high school science classroom? Should students be taught the controversy concerning the Earth going around the sun? Sheesh. Time is valuable in the science classroom, as it is in any classroom, especially with FCATs looming so large over everything. There is no time for addressing crackpot ideas in an already packed schedule.

Like I said, let’s keep this out of Florida.

Deadline extended

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

Despite 23 candidates having applied for the Florida Education Commissioner position, the deadline for submitting applications has been extended for a week so as to have a “robust list of candidates.” Interesting.

Don’t be afraid of question marks

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

This opinion piece concerning faith and science makes some very good points well worth considering:

A religious body or faith community that speaks only with exclamation points but no question marks misses the complexity of creation and the beauty of evolution.

Speaking for Cheryll

Friday, July 13th, 2007

A post here back in May “Gospel fossil park vs. Cheryll” recently got some thoughtful comments from the folks who work at the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History.

I find it quite distressing that non-scientific and pseudo-scientific organizations receive donations, whilst our organization has to make do with little funding. I do wonder where this is all heading?

And this one:

I also work for the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History. “Expedition Dinosaur” is so much more than just an exhibit. The woman who Cheryll is named after wanted one thing to come out of the excavation of Cheryl, and that was that she be used to teach the public about dinosaurs. She spent all of her life as a teacher, a life that ended much to soon. She died one year after Cheryll was discovered. The exhibit is our way of fulling her wish. Peter said it better than I could. We make do with Very little funding.
But the staff of the museum are the hardest working group of young people I have ever worked with. They will keep on till we one day have the funding we need. Why? It is the look in a young child’s eyes when they see Cheryll. When that light comes on in one child’s eye and you know that someday they will stand were you are and teach the next generation of Archaeologist or Paleontologist. That makes it all worthwhile. If we lose our History we lose ourselves.

Science teacher is Florida Teacher of the Year

Friday, July 13th, 2007

Congratulations to science-lab teacher Richard Ellenberg from Camelot Elementary School in Orlando for becoming Florida’s Teacher of the Year.

Ellenburg, 54, was selected for “making science fun.” He has been known to sing and play guitar to students to get them interested in science. He has asked them to lift him off the floor using a balance and launched rockets to teach them about physics.

After the ceremony, he said he hoped the award would bring science education to the forefront.

Update: The Orlando Sentinel has a nice editorial about Ellenburg and the importance of science education.