Archive for September, 2007

Science FCAT prep soon to be just a click away

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

This news article announces that South Florida Science Museum has been awarded a grant to create science FCAT preparation materials available “anywhere, anytime.” The materials are to take advantage of the Internet and iPods. I had trouble finding any other website other than the news article that talks about this project.

The program, called “Anytime, Anywhere,” will be designed to provide videos on science topics with homework and experiments – all of which can be viewed over the Internet.

The museum’s science teachers already are writing four lessons for fourth- and fifth-graders that meld with the school district’s science curriculum, which is tied to the FCAT. The first lessons are geared to day and night, the moon, chemistry and another to be named later and will be produced by Channel 19, the school district’s television production arm.

Why, yes, I did gain some new information.

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Part III of Daniel Jarvis’ series “Consider the evidence,” which takes on evolution and supports intelligent design, is up. My take on part one here and part two here.

This article presents the “no new information” argument against evolution. Simply put, where did the information required for increasingly complex life forms come from? I have to admit to not knowing much about his argument. I had heard it before, but had yet to absorb the refutation. However, I need to note that I mentioned in the previous two installments that Jarvis has yet to present any evidence for intelligent design. None. And here we are in part three with still no drop of evidence to be found. He’s taking the typical tactic of attacking evolution, claiming he has evolution on the ropes, and then magically declaring intelligent design the winner. Even if he did manage to bloody evolution’s nose, which he has yet to do, that still doesn’t say a thing about intelligent design. He hasn’t presented any positive evidence to support it. We’re still waiting Jarvis.

As I said, I’m not knowledgeable enough about the “no new information” argument to take it on off the top of my head. So, I fired up Google and look what I found: new information!

Here are some snippets from a good explanation:

Individuals don’t evolve. Populations do. So in linking information theory to evolution, one must consider the information in the population, which creationists do not do.

It is important to realize that evolution occurs even if information is lost. It also occurs when information is gained or without any change in the amount of information at all. Thus no-new-information arguments do not actually address evolutionary theory. By focusing on individuals and not populations, no-new-information claims never even get close to disproving evolution. In fact, the actual claim, when applied to biology, is that the information capacity of an individual’s genome cannot increase. However, this claim is false because there are known types of mutations that can increase the length of the genome and thus its capacity to hold information.

Talkorigins has something to say, of course (do a search for the word “information” to find the post):

But what about the actual claim, that mutations *add* no new information? That’s questionable as well. Mutations aren’t always single changes in the bases of DNA. Duplications, transpositions and fusions are mutations that can also occur which increase the total length of DNA in the cell. Even a perfect duplication of a single gene will increase genetic information by some degree (And yes, even perfect duplications of a single gene can find an adaptive role).

Also see here about “Apolipoprotein AI Mutations and Information.” Also take a look at the index of creationist claims.

luna_the_cat does a great job explaining things (part one and part two).

Thank you, Jarvis. After my little bit of research and reading, I gained some new information. Amazing! Readers, please offer up any additional links or information you have.

“Important, but not for me”

Monday, September 24th, 2007

A student says, “Science doesn’t matter unless you want to become a doctor or something like that.”

That’s the brick wall educators are up against as they try to teach math and science. A report from Public Agenda details the results of a study that looked into how parents and students view math and science education. It’s not a happy picture. Those out there in the “real world” who are looking to possibly hire your sons and daughters in the near future are saying that math and science are incredibly important. We as a country are way behind many other countries and getting worse. And yet the attitude is, as the report title clearly states, science and math are “important, but not for me.”

More about the report here and here.

Tornado in Eustis

Friday, September 21st, 2007

It’s been a long night. I live in Eustis, Florida where a tornado blew through at about 11 p.m. Fortunately, our house was untouched. But right now there are news helicopters flying directly over my house as they shoot the damaged areas a short walk from my driveway.

Furious storms were whipping through the area late in the night when my wife and heard a change in the wind. It was a forceful howling that made us feel it in our guts. I immediately flipped on the TV where the weatherman was talking about possible tornadoes in and around Eustis. I hollered for my family to get their butts up and head to the basement. (We are one of those rare Florida houses with a basement.) Kids were grabbing pets and parents were grabbing kids as we made a mad dash downstairs.

Once there, we could hear our living room TV upstairs and so listened to it report the progress of the storm. But then the power flickered, putting the TV on the fritz. I was heading upstairs to check on it when the power simply died.

We hung out in the basement until about 11:15 or so. By then the rain had slowed to a drizzle and the lightning and thunder were fading into the distance too. Using our cell phones, we called some of our relatives and friends and were reassured they were OK.

We were restless for the remainder of the night without power. Sometime in the early morning it finally popped back on. We dozed off for a short while but were then reawakened by helicopters. All the local news stations were flying overhead to survey the damage. They were too early, though, as it was still too dark to actually see anything. Only now as dawn is breaking can anything be seen.

I took my dog out for a short walk this morning. I could see the flashing lights of emergency crews in the neighborhoods behind our house. Mini bulldozers then came down our street looking for a way back to the damaged areas. That’s the areas we take our evening walks!
I have to wrap up now. School is apparently still in session! I have to take my daughter to school.

So far there are no reports of deaths or serious injuries.

Oh no! Yecke in the top three.

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Your top three candidates for Florida Education Commissioner are: Joseph Marinelli, Eric Smith and Cheri Yecke.

Here are some good points made by the Palm Beach Post:

Pick an education leader who will break with Jeb

Cheri Pierson Yecke is the kind of candidate to avoid.

Dr. Yecke followed Mr. Warford as K-12 chancellor. Mr. Winn appointed her after she lost her job as education commissioner in Minnesota, in part because of her willingness to let schools teach creationism as an alternative to evolution. That typifies the ideological bent of Gov. Bush’s education department, which warped intended reforms. Jeb acolytes were so unwilling to question FCAT procedures and school grades that unqualified graders were hired and flawed tests approved.

More on why Yecke is a bad choice: here, here, and here to name a few. Most importantly, see What Minnesota Went Through.

Please consider getting the word out about this. Write letters to the editor, write to the governor, make some phone calls … let’s not get sucked into the same nightmare others have already dealt with. The final selection will be next month, Oct 8, I believe. There is no time to waste.

Waiting for the evidence

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Daniel Jarvis’ second installment in his series of articles about evolution and intelligent design is just as disappointing as his first. What sticks most in my mind is that he entitles this series “Consider the evidence” and yet he hasn’t presented any evidence. That’s an odd incongruity to say the least.

This article can be summed up as a long whine about the very nature of science. He doesn’t like how science sticks to the natural, observable world and leaves out anything supernatural. He says, “As long as evolutionists are able to control the definition of science to keep its curiosity tightly reigned in by the boundaries of materialistic naturalism, they win the debate every time.” Yeah? And your point is?

Jarvis, science has to be defined as materialistic, not because some cabal of scientists hate religion, but because it’s what works. It really is as simple as that. Science is about measuring and experimenting and observing. And, contrary to Jarvis’ demeaning of the scientific method, curiosity is a driving force. Tell me how to measure God, Jarvis. Provide some special creation evidence. Do a supernatural experiment. Figure any of that out and you’ll be one very famous man.

Jarvis likes to talk about scientists not being able to observe or experiment on past events. An often-used analogy to combat this silly argument is that of a crime scene. The detectives were not there to see the crime. In crimes where there are no witnesses to interview, the detectives need to examine the evidence and relate it all to what they know about the natural world. Trained investigators know about the physics of fires and bullets and blood splatter and all sorts of such things that could be related to the crime at hand. They never consider whether Bigfoot stopped by. They never consider angels pushing people out of the way or devils roasting people in midair. To bring in the supernatural would stop each and every investigation cold in its tracks.

The same could be said for investigating evolution.

Evidence isn’t limited to seeing something happen before your eyes. Evolution makes predictions about what we would expect to see in the fossil record, comparative anatomy, genetic sequences, geographical distribution of species, etc., and these predictions have been verified many times over. The number of observations supporting evolution is overwhelming.”

Jarvis makes the very common mistake of bringing in all sorts of extra claims to bolster his attack on evolution. The Big Bang? Honestly, Jarvis, I don’t think evolutionary scientists spend much time in that area of science. Flailing around like this is a big clue that the writer hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about.

The bottom line: Jarvis is wrong in supposing science is faith-based. And to use the supernatural to explain what is going on in our world requires Jarvis to come up with a way to measure and experiment with it. Good luck with that.

These articles by Jarvis are actually great examples of why we need stronger science education. There are too many people out there who don’t even know what science is or why the scientific method is our best tool for examining the world around us.

I’m looking forward to some actual evidence in this series that asks us to consider the evidence …

Education commissioner interviews

Monday, September 17th, 2007

The finalists hoping to become Florida’s next education commissioner are being interviewed today.

Story focusing on Gov. Crist’s role.

Story focusing on candidate Jim Warford.

Of 32 candidates who applied for Florida’s education commissioner, only 24 met the necessary criteria. Warford was chosen as a finalist and will appear before the education board sometime between 2 and 9 p.m. today.

The interviews, which are open to the public, will be held at the Tampa Airport Marriott in the Hillsborough ballroom. The special meeting begins at 1 p.m. and the seven 45-minute interview sessions will start an hour later.

The order of the interviews was not released.

Story focusing on what the job entails.

A list of the candidates and some comments on candidate Yecke at one of our previous blog posts.

You can log in here to see the applications and such.

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?