Archive for March, 2009

Legs, flippers and fins

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Congratulations to Martin Cohn!

A University of Florida developmental biologist who has discovered the molecular building blocks that shape apendages — from feet to flippers in different species — is one of 50 researchers in the United States selected as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist.

Martin Cohn is the only scientist in Florida to be selected for the competitive program. He joins researchers from 33 other institutions, including Stanford University, Harvard and Johns Hopkins.

NCSE post

Monday, March 30th, 2009

The National Center for Science Education posts about the current situation here in Florida.

Stand up for REAL science

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Check out this site An Evolving Creation. Scroll down a little bit and look in the right column and you’ll find a information box listing all states dealing with current antievolution legislation. Visit their YouTube channel and you’ll find some great educational videos about evolution.

And in other news …

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

News dump time.

— Should public school teachers have tenure? This story in the St. Petersburg Times points out how hard it is to fire a horrible teacher. What interests me about this story? Evolution, of course.

When teachers earned workplace protections in the early 20th century, tenure was intended as a shield against overbearing parents and heavy-handed school boards.

Supporters say the need remains. Just imagine, they say, what could happen to tenure-less science teachers in stretches of Florida where evolution is ridiculed.

But critics say tenure’s shield is too often extended to teachers who don’t deserve it.

— Budget slashing is hitting everyone hard. Science class field trips are no exception.

“It’s sad,” she said. “I just had a child tell me, ‘Mrs. Franta, this is a glorious day.’ This kind of experience can affect students the rest of their lives. It makes them aware of their environment. It makes them want to care for it.”

— A 14-year-old student laments the loss of the gifted science class in a good letter to the editor.

I am an eighth-grade student at Gifford Middle School. I am currently enrolled in the gifted program and have recently been informed of the school district’s intention to discontinue the gifted subject of science.

I was very distraught when I received this news, having seen my science teacher, Jennie Flynt, cry over the emotional weight that this carried.

— A high school junior wants to know what is up with the science FCAT. Her peers just “Christmas treed” it.

When our administrators told us that the science portion of the FCAT only counted to grade our school, several students decided they weren’t going to bother showing up. Several more did show up but only because their parents required them; however, they in no way took the test seriously but instead “Christmas treed” it.

— Phil Plait does a good summary of the Texas science standards situation. And the Texas Freedom Network covers the situation from all angles. And here is a story at Salon. Feel free to add more informative links in the comments.

A bit of confusion, but all is good

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

There was a flurry of activity yesterday started by the initial confusion of a Tampa Tribune reporter, but the end result is actually good news.

First, I sent out a news release early yesterday morning announcing that the Florida Academy of Sciences issued a statement condemning Florida senate bill 2396. The proposed bill would introduce “critical analysis” of evolution into the state’s public schools.

The Orlando Sentinel briefed it on their education blog. The Tampa Tribune also put up a blurb on their website. However, the Tribune reporter was a bit confused, thinking that the antievolution bill had just recently been filed and thus put the FAS statement at the bottom of the blurb. The blurb headline said “Evolution bill quietly filed in state senate.”

PZ Myers and Phil Plait both quickly picked up on that and wrote blog posts announcing the filing of the bill. (They did this despite the fact that I notified those two knuckleheads about the filing of the bill weeks ago. Sheesh, no one ever listens to Brandon.)

I sent quick e-mails to PZ and Phil in an attempt to correct the misunderstanding on their end. Phil updated his post.

I then called the reporter who wrote the Tampa blurb. She apologized for the confusion (she said that she had misread my release through weary eyes) and said that an updated story would appear and clear everything up.

The updated story appeared and everything looks great. The antievolution bill is as good as dead. If Rep. Alan Hays (the guy who introduced and fought for a similar bill in the House last year) says the bill has no chance, then it is down for the count.

Anti-Evolution Bill Still A Fruitless Exercise

TALLAHASSEE – A bill aimed at undercutting acceptance of evolution in Florida science classes, which kicked up a fuss but didn’t pass in the Florida Legislature last year, apparently is going nowhere this year.

A Senate version of the bill has yet to receive a committee hearing and has no companion bill in the House.

That means, said one proponent of the idea, that the bill has little chance of passage in this frantic session, heavily devoted to cutting and balancing the state budget.

“With no companion in the House, it doesn’t have much likelihood,” said Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla.

This doesn’t mean that we can all forget about antievolution in the legislature this session. There is always the chance that an amendment can be slipped into an existing bill. We can breathe easier right now, but we can’t take our eyes off the lawmakers until the session is officially closed.

Evolution is a scientific fact – except, perhaps, in Texas

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Imagine that your state legislature has decided to revamp the way that health and medicine are taught in the Florida public schools system. To do this, they must tackle the “germ theory of disease“, the idea that infectious disease is caused by microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria. The legislature, noting that this idea has many vocal opponents, declares that it is “only a theory”. Many people, for instance, think that Aids has nothing to do with viruses, but is the byproduct of a dissipated life. In light of this “controversy”, the legislature sets up a school board that includes not only doctors, but also shamans, faith healers and, for good measure a few “psychic surgeons”.

You would rightly be furious if all this happened. After all, the “germ theory” of disease is more than just a theory – it’s a fact.  BUT, this is precisely what is happening in Texas with respect to another well-established theory of biology: evolution.

Read the rest of Jerry Coyne great article in the Guardian CO UK

News Release: FAS condemns antievolution bill

Friday, March 27th, 2009

The Florida Academy of Sciences issued a statement this week condemning a bill introduced in the Florida Senate this session that the Academy says, “leaves the door open for the introduction in the public school curriculum of nonscientific and covertly religious doctrines.” The legislation in question is Senate Bill 2396 (see our previous news release) sponsored by Senator Stephen Wise. This proposed bill would mandate so-called “critical analysis” of the theory of evolution in public schools.

The Academy is a strong supporter of the Florida State Science Standards for K-12 adopted in 2008, and its members were alarmed by this senate bill, which they see as a “deliberate attempt to undermine the adopted science standards.” This prompted the Academy to issue the statement urging lawmakers to reject SB 2396.

To read the statement in its entirety, please visit this link:
http://www.flascience.org/fas_statement.pdf

Ripples from Texas Continued

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: A proposed amendment adding “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories back to the science standards has failed on a 7-7 vote. This is a huge victory for sound science, but not the final word. The final vote will be taken on Friday. And board members may now offer additional amendments to the standards, so there is still room for mischief by anti-evolution board members. So Act 1 is over with a victory for science advocates. Stay tuned as Act 2 begins.

Many thanks for the “updates” from Josh Rosenau at the NCSE, who is in Texas supporting good science.