Archive for May, 2008

Camp, Phoenix, bikini, and squid.

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

==> UCF is offering week-long science summer camps, which sound very cool. But the camps have filled up mighty fast; there are hardly any left.

Youths will learn what causes the feeling of weightlessness during long drops on roller coasters and solve crimes using hair and fingerprint analyses during summer science camps at the University of Central Florida.

The camps are geared towards highly motivated students in grades 3 through 12 who have an interest in science, mathematics and technology. Camps will focus on topics such as Amusement Park Physics, Forensics and Severe Storm Science.

==> Florida scientists and students got to make a piece of the Phoenix Mars lander all their own. Cool stuff to be a student and know your work is helping study another planet.

UF helped improve color–calibration targets on the Phoenix to ensure the camera’s accuracy so scientists would know where to make the Phoenix dig, he said.

Abhi Lokesh, a UF integrative biology senior, worked on the project during his freshman and sophomore years.

Lokesh said he couldn’t believe there were never more than five students involved with the project.

“This project was a hidden gem,” he said. “I don’t think kids realized how cool the stuff was that we were doing.”

==> Here’s an interesting story about what happened when a biology teacher’s job collided with other aspects of her life, such as trying to make ends meet by working in a bikini on the weekends. And she has three kids. And she has a pet monkey.

==> A less controversial pursuit keeps this high school biology teacher happy. Heck, he discovered a new species of jellyfish.

==> So, what headline can you make out of today’s words? “Phoenix lander discovers camp of bikini-wearing squid on Mars.”

Clogged, itchy, cold, slugs, and lab

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

==> Someone must have left the seat up. The International Space Station occupants are in trouble now. Their toilet isn’t working! Feel free to leave the obligatory potty jokes in the comments … you know you want to.

==> It started near the science lab. Students at East Lee County High School were feeling itchy and red eyed, but the cause is unknown. Even though the kids in the science lab and nearby classroom were the first to feel weird, searches for the source turned up empty. There is speculation that a prankster squirted pepper spray in the ventilation. If so, there are plenty of students who weren’t laughing.

As a precautionary measure both days, the students were taken to private areas of the schools and stripped and washed down to decontaminate any type of substance on their bodies. Then they were given Hazmat suits to wear on buses that took them to Cape Coral where doctors checked them over and released them to their parents. Their clothes were put in sealed plastic bags.

==> Here do you buy a parka in Florida? It must be hard preparing for a trip to the Arctic when you’re a science teacher in the Sunshine State. Elizabeth Eubanks will be working with research scientists studying climate change for a month starting in June. Look for regular updates from Eubanks here next month.

==> Pssssst … hey, buddy: You in the market for sea slugs? I know where I can get you all you need.

==> Budget slicing and dicing seems to be hurting everyone. But it’s stories like this that can really bring the issue home in a way that detailing various dollar figures and stats can’t.

The university [USF] is short on lab space, and the labs it has are aging.

Biology and chemistry labs, which enroll smaller classes, have long run at capacity from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. five days a week. That often delays students from getting all the courses they need for graduation, and many say they need to be flexible with their scheduling — or creative.

Every semester, geology major Boris Radosavljevic tries talking his way into at least one science class or lab that is full on the first day of school. Entry is possible only by monitoring who stays or who drops out.

“It’s really not up to us,” he said.

To graduate this summer, Radosavljevic, 26, had to enroll in a biology lab last spring at Hillsborough Community College. His only option at USF was full.

“I didn’t think I’d have to do that,” he said. “But there’s so many students going into life sciences.”

==> Now, take all the words in my post heading and create a sensationalized headline out of them. Such as: “Cold slugs itchy for lab work clogged sinks.” I’m sure you can do better, though. Leave your submissions in the comments.

==> MaryB left a great comment in the Paging Rep. Hays thread:

I think this Fall we should plan to email Rep Hays (and his staff who actually might read the stuff) “A Transitional Fossil a Day”. That could go on for quite a while!

Anyone want to start doing the homework on this? We can make it an official Florida Citizens for Science letter/e-mail/ phone call campaign at the appropriate time.


Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Florida Citizens for Science has been nominated a couple of categories for Florida Netroots Awards. When voting, you are required to make some selections in certain categories or else your ballot won’t be accepted. Do me a favor: If you are just wanting to send some votes our way, that’s fine (and thank you), but please don’t just throw away some random votes on those mandatory categories. Take some time to look at the nominees. I discovered some interesting sites new to me that way.

And you thought we had it bad

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

It’s been a long, drawn-out fight here in Florida to get a good set of science standards written and adopted, and then to quickly switch over to fighting nefarious anti-science bills in the Florida legislature. As exhausting as that was, I would take it any day over what Texas is going through … with their English and reading standards!

AUSTIN – The State Board of Education’s debate on new English and reading standards took another rowdy turn Friday as members approved a never-before-seen version of the lengthy document which materialized less than an hour before the board was to take a final vote.

“I find it’s really wild that we can work for three years on a project and then the board is so qualified they can pull it out of their hat overnight,” said board member Pat Hardy, a Fort Worth Republican who, like other board members, received the substituted document when it was slipped under her hotel door less than an hour before their meeting was set to convene Friday morning.

Some social conservatives on the board prepared the latest version overnight.

“How am I supposed to vote on a document when I’ve had it in my hands for slightly over an hour?” asked angered board member Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat from Corpus Christi. “How are we supposed to reply to our constituents? I don’t understand that. I can’t support a document that I haven’t had a chance to read.”

After first saying he would not give board members time to go over the new document during the meeting, Chairman Don McLeroy, a Republican from College Station, eventually relented, allowing a quick run through of the new document with an explanation of the changes.

But the squabbling did not end there.

“Mr. Chair you’re going so fast … you’re moving so fast we can’t find it in the other document,” Berlanga said, shortly after the page-by-page explanation began.

After more complaints, McLeroy declared that he would continue at the fast pace.

Wow! An all out war over English and reading standards. That’s just mind-blowing. But wait, there’s more:

Science curriculum, which includes the divisive teaching of evolution, is next up for review by the board.

“It does not bode well for any of us with the science (curriculum) review coming up,” Canaday said. “Everyone I spoke to about this week’s meetings asked me why on earth would English be considered a controversial subject. If it’s this difficult to change the English curriculum, it’s just going to be a war when it comes time for them to try to agree on science standards.”

Article on that Niceville thing

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

I posted before about an event in Niceville about intelligent design, Expelled, and evolution. I’m a bit late, but here is the local paper’s writeup of the event. Sounds like a lot of wacky mumbo-jumbo to me.

NICEVILLE — Not religion pitted against science, but philosophy against philosophy.

In a truly liberal education system, that’s how academic Nancy Pearcey says educators would approach intelligent design and the theory of evolution.

Nearly 800 people attended Pearcey’s lecture Thursday at Okaloosa-Walton College on the foundation of Darwinism and its far-reaching implications in American culture.

Because strict Darwinians cannot account for morality as more than a social construct to control society, society focuses on political correctness — not right or wrong, she said.

Referring to books written in recent years from the Darwinian perspective, rape becomes a natural biological phenomenon that is a product of human evolution and sex across the species ceases to be an offense, she said.

Pearcey cited a number of renowned evolutionary scientists who are hard-pressed to live the same truths outside of the laboratory.

Many are forced to live with inconsistent beliefs, because with true Darwinism there can be no room for free will, love or human dignity, she said.

So, does anyone here live their life based on “true Darwinism”? I don’t. My simplistic view of what Pearcey is doing here is taking a scientific fact and trying to contort it into a world view philosophy, and then projecting it onto those who don’t subscribe to her own particular belief. That’s just my admittedly uninformed two cents, though. Your mileage may vary.

Paging Rep. Hays …

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

A certain Florida Representative liked to claim over and over again this past legislative session that there are no transitional fossils. Of course, I think Rep. Hays has a cartoon version of evolution in his head, but regardless, here’s the newest transitional fossil discovered should Rep. Hays care to do some educational reading.

The description of an ancient amphibian that millions of years ago swam in quiet pools and caught mayflies on the surrounding land in Texas has set to rest one of the greatest current controversies in vertebrate evolution. The discovery was made by a research team led by scientists at the University of Calgary.

The examination and detailed description of the fossil, Gerobatrachus hottoni (meaning Hotton’s elder frog), proves the previously disputed fact that some modern amphibians, frogs and salamanders evolved from one ancient amphibian group called temnospondyls.

“The dispute arose because of a lack of transitional forms. This fossil seals the gap,” says Jason Anderson, assistant professor, University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and lead scientist in the study.

New NCSE video

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

The National Center for Science Education has a new video out. From the press release:

Evolution’s opponents have taken another round of losses recently, with the failures of the creationist propaganda movie Expelled, a creationist bid to grant science education degrees in Texas, and antievolution legislation in Florida, Alabama, and Missouri. A new video from the National Center for Science Education shows how the nonprofit’s archives preserves the history of creationist attacks on science education, and how NCSE uses information from its archives to block new attacks.

Washington Post editorial

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

The Washington Post has a good editorial lambasting the deceptively-named “academic freedom” legislation infection spreading across the country. Florida gets the spotlight. Lucky us.

What’s insidious about these measures is that at first blush they appear so harmless. Isn’t everyone in favor of academic freedom? … Clearly, the strategy is to devise an end run around legal decisions — going all the way to the Supreme Court — that restrict the teaching of creationism in public classrooms.