Leroy Lee, exposer of “phantom forests” hoax

February 21, 2007

For a decade of my life I was deeply involved in the fight to get compensation for downwind victims (most from Utah) of the fallout from U.S. atomic bomb tests at the Nevada Test Site. In the course of that time I saw a variety of amazing fibs told by the government — hoaxes that injured and killed people. I grew to respect those whistleblowers who had the guts and patriotism to cry foul on the hoaxes.

Leroy Lee died about a month ago in Santa, Idaho. He was a seasonal government worker, a timber stand examiner — a tree counter. As low guy on the totem pole, it was not his job to take the global view. Still, he noted that there were fewer growing trees in the forests than the U.S. Forest Service claimed, and much more cleared land, too, clearcut.

The Forest Service was lying to Congress about millions of dollars of harvests on public lands. Lee blew the whistle. Officials had hoaxed up on paper, forests that didn’t exist, in 15 of the west’s National Forests.

It wasn’t a big scandal as scandals go, but the Kootenai National Forest still works to straighten things out, mostly in litigation. Most hoaxes are exposed by honest, hard-working people like Leroy Lee. They are heroes of our republic. Many of them remain unsung, like Lee.

In his “day job,” Lee taught physics, chemistry and biology at St. Maries High School, St. Maries, Idaho.

More information:

More state flag pledges: Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Virginia

February 21, 2007

Mississippi state flag

I think these are the last five of the states to have official state pledges for their state flags. If I have missed any, please let me know.

Mississippi, from Wikipedia:

The pledge to the state flag (from Miss. Code Ann., Section 37-13-7(1972)) is:

“I salute the flag of Mississippi and the sovereign state for which it stands with pride in her history and achievements and with confidence in her future under the guidance of Almighty God.”

New Mexico Flag, image from Gov. RichardsonNew Mexico:

“I salute the flag of the State of New Mexico and the Zia symbol of perfect friendship among united cultures.”

Oklahoma flag


I salute the flag of the State of Oklahoma. Its symbols of peace unite all people.

House Concurrent Resolution No. 1034 was approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives on April 22, by the Senate on May 18, and filed with the Secretary of State on May 19, 1982.

South Dakota:

South Dakota state flag, after 1992I pledge loyalty and support to the flag and State of South Dakota, land of sunshine, land of infinite variety.



Virginia state flag

In 1954, the General Assembly adopted an official salute to the flag of Virginia which states:

“I salute the flag of Virginia, with reverence and patriotic devotion to the ‘Mother of States and Statesmen,’ which it represents—the ‘Old Dominion,’ where liberty and independence were born.”

See other related posts:

Fisking Paszkiewicz — or virtual carnage in Kearny, N.J.

February 20, 2007

That kid in New Jersey whose town turned on him, on the town’s internet bulletin board, after he ratted out the history teacher who was preaching instead of teaching? He’s still under attack.

The teacher took some time out to defend his odd views in the local paper. His letter is several weeks old, and it’s been fisked by others, but I want my licks. I fisk the letter below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

A little plagiarism, a little book

February 19, 2007

“Plagiarize! Plagiarize!//Don’t let anything evade your eyes!”Tom Lehrer, Lobachevsky

“Oh, he just stole from me. I steal from everybody.” Attributed to Woody Guthrie by Pete Seeger (Together, with Arlo Guthrie, 1974)

“Plagiarism is the root of all culture.” Pete Seeger (1974 tour)

Internet files and other databases make plagiarism amazingly easy. College faculties debate how best to police against plagiarism. Students caught and kicked out appear befuddled at the academic death penalty, when all it takes is a couple of mouse clicks over a text prepared by a willing accomplice.

Federal judge, University of Chicago law professor and blogger Richard Posner wrote a small book on plagiarism. In fact, that’s its title, The Little Book of Plagiarism (Pantheon,116 pages, $10.95).

My policy in class is to challenge students when I find they’ve stolen someone else’s work. I go over attribution, footnoting and bibliographic listings, on a spoken assumption that they don’t know how to do it. They don’t like it, but they realize it’s better than expulsion. I’ve never had a student try it a second time (that I’ve caught).

Some younger students, in junior high and high school, say they do not understand why they may not simply cut and paste material from internet sources, but I suspect that is more defense than genuine lack of understanding. More than once these same students have later complained that other student’s “stole” their work. Plagiarism sometimes appears more clear when others steal from you.

In a review of Posner’s book in the Los Angeles Times, Jonathan Kirsch wrote that Posner identified a key problem for society: What do we do when the stolen text improves the work? It’s the issue that Woody Guthrie knew and Pete Seeger stated: Borrowing good stuff is what culture is all about. In highly literate circles, the game is to make allusions to works that most people know, to relate to an already-established body of knowledge to shed light on other ideas.

Plagiarists, on the other hand, would shut off access to the broader body of the work of the originator – so the intent of the true plagiarizer is not to relate to previous works. Some plagiarizers want credit for the ideas, some student plagiarizers probably want credit only for the word count.

In the higher evil, plagiarism is not about stealing other people’s ideas. It’s about stealing the words without caring about the ideas. It is not that the plagiarizer covets the ideas too much, but rather that the plagiarizer is indifferent to the ideas, seeing only the individual trees and missing the forest.

That’s where the great danger lies as well. A forest is more than just the sum of the trees in it, as we only too late discovered with regard to ecosystems that depend on the various stages of forest growth, aging, decline, destruction and rebirth. An idea is worth more than the mere count of its words, or even the prima facie meaning of the words.

The sin of the plagiarizer is in not knowing what the plagiarizer steals.

And, with a tip of the old scrub brush to Let’s Play Math, we call your attention to a blog devoted to plagiarism issues, Plagiarism Today. Especially, you may want to take a look at the blog’s review of Posner’s book.

Happy Birthday, Chester Nimitz!

February 18, 2007

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN Oil on canvas, 46.5

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN Oil on canvas, 46.5″ x 30″, by Adrian Lamb, 1960. via Wikipedia

Chester William Nimitz was born on 24 February 1885, near a quaint hotel in Fredericksburg, Texas built by his grandfather, Charles Nimitz, a retired sea captain.” (Courtesy of the Naval Historical Center).

In honor of his birthday, the Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg reopens after a three-year renovation, on Sunday, February 25, 2007. The museum is formally known as the National Museum of the Pacific War.

The ceremony begins at 1:30, Sunday February 25 at the museum. Keynote speaker is retired General Michael Hagee, 33rd commandant of the Marine Corps. Others responsible for seeing the renovations to fruition will also be in attendance. You’re invited, too.

Nimitz was Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, during World War II. When he accepted the surrender of Japan aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay in 1945, he was the first to hold the newly-created rank of Fleet Admiral. Read the rest of this entry »

Pseudo-science and skepticism: How do we know what’s true and accurate?

February 18, 2007

Working to figure out history, one constantly asks how we can know what happened in the distant past. In our justice system, we use some of the same tools to learn what happened in the near past, or immediate past, to help dispense justice in criminal trials or establish liability in civil trials. Strong skepticism helps in discarding bad theories, and in assembling data into a cohesive story that reveals what we often call “truth.”

American skepticism runs too shallow.

Recent surveys and reports provide a wealth of data for discussion.

First, out of a conference a meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Francisco on February 15, we get a report that only 40 percent of Americans put stock in the biology theory of evolution. In contrast, in European nations there is 80 percent acceptance of the theory. The report is by Michigan State University Science and Mathematics Education Prof. Jon Miller, based on a study he published in 2006. Miller worries about implications for public policy in a republic:

“The number of public policy controversies that require some scientific or technical knowledge for effective participation has been increasing. Any number of issues… point to the need for an informed citizenry in the formulation of public policy.”

Miller ran a clinic at the meeting, urging scientists to improve their school boards by running for election.

On the whole, scientific literacy in the U.S. is improved over a decade ago. Massive pockets of ignorance still plague science and public policy, however.

Two, socialists argue that the U.S. and Britain are tough places for kids to grow up. No kidding. One key thing to watch: Can critics of the report find real information to rebut, or will the response be solely to try to brand the socialists as socialists, and therefore, somehow, inexplicably, evil.

But, as if to suggest an answer, the 54th Skeptics’ Circle is up, over at Action Skeptics.

Update, February 20, 2007:  Oh, yes, I had meant to mention this, too — see Larry Moran’s discussion on a fellow who went through the motions to get a Ph.D. in geology, but doesn’t believe in it (scrub brush tip to P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula).  In this fellow’s case, it’s not how he knows what’s true, it’s whether he knows anything at all, perhaps.

Among the more common errors I run into are errors of evidence — people who grant credence to reports that do not merit credence, people who fail to give weight to reports that should be given weight. I see this almost every time I get into a courtroom, where one lawyer team or both get into amazing discussions over minor points, elevating them to serious issues that lead justice astray (cf., the trial of O. J. Simpson and the DNA evidence derailment); I see this in public testimony before government bodies, where people confuse opinion with fact, and when they fail to adequately weight hard, conclusive data.

How do we know Abraham Lincoln lived at all? I asked one class of middle schoolers. We would know for certain if only he were mentioned in the Bible, one kid quickly said, with agreement from several others. Cecil Adams is right, the fight against ignorance is taking longer than we thought.

The Sternberg/Discovery Institute/Intelligent Design hoax on the Smithsonian

February 17, 2007

The hoax is that Richard von Sternberg is an innocent who is unfairly maligned, to the point he fears for his job as Jack Cashill writes at right-wing fluff WorldNet Daily. Ed Brayton is at his best (“WorldNut Daily Flogs Dead Sternberg Horse), and there’s very little I could add — but it’s a good read, and important to know in the world of hoax-busting and pseudo-science bashing.

Read the full Brayton piece at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Sidenote 1: Sternberg as Galileo? Dembski as Newton? IDists are nothing if not full of themselves, and hubris.

Sidenote 2: A very funny novel by Robert Klane carries the title, The Horse is Dead. For some unfathomable reason, it is out of print. I have not found a copy in the past year for less than $150 (which suggests the TrashFiction site’s opinion of the book may be incorrect). Couldn’t some enterprising publisher bring it back, to more fully, and fictionally, fill in the details for what “beating a dead horse” means?

Text of the “Fixed Earth” memorandum

February 16, 2007

Fixed Earth? I didn’t know it was broken.

Steve Schafersman, the dogged scientist at the root of Texas Citizens for Science (TCS), snagged a copy of the “evolution is religion” memorandum from Texas Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and posted it to the TCS website.  Also available from the Houston Chronicle’s SciGuy blog (transmission memorandum, the offending memorandum).

Holy mother of pearl! Voodoo science — you couldn’t make this stuff up.

History Carnival 48

February 16, 2007

Scuttle on over to Aardvarchaeology, where Dr. Martin Rundkvist is hosting the 48th running of the History Carnival.

Carnival of Education #106

February 16, 2007

Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas; Curt Teich postcard, UofArk Library

In our Valentine’s Day frenzy, we forgot to mention the 106th Carnival of Education, hosted by Eduwonks.  But now the sugar rush is sorta gone, we remembered!  Go, learn.

Greater lunacy: Georgia legislator denies writing or sending creationism support letter

February 15, 2007

First they deny science, then all of reality, then they deny that they denied. Or something like that.

Georgia State Rep. Ben Bridges denies having written or sent the memorandum that was circulated in his name to Texas state legislators earlier this week. The Atlanta Constitution provides the incredible details in this morning’s edition:

“I did not put it out nor did I know it was going out,” Bridges said. “I’m not defending it or taking up for it.”

The memo directs supporters to call Marshall Hall, president of the Fair Education Foundation Inc., a Cornelia, Ga.-based organization that seeks to show evolution is a myth. Hall said he showed Bridges the text of the memo and got his permission to distribute it.

“I gave him a copy of it months ago,” said Hall, a retired high school teacher. “I had already written this up as an idea to present to him so he could see what it was and what we were thinking.”

Hall said his wife Bonnie has served as Bridges’ campaign manager since 1996.

Bridges acknowledged that he talked to Hall about filing legislation this year that would end the teaching of evolution in Georgia’s public schools. Bridges said the views in the memo belong to Hall, though Bridges said he doesn’t necessarily disagree with them.

It’s getting so creationists no only can’t do science straight, can’t do religion straight — they can’t even tell whoppers straight. Read the rest of this entry »

Texas legislator apologizes for creationism letter, but . . .

February 15, 2007

Texas State Rep. Warren Chisum said he’s sorry if anyone took offense over his circulating a letter from a Georgia legislator, Ben Bridges, railing at science, and promoting creationism.  He’s right to apologize, but the apology stops short of where it needs to go.

This morning’s Dallas Morning News followed up on yesterday’s report of the letter (see preceding post).  The letter referred to a bizarre website that argues that the Earth is fixed in space, and other crazy things, including offensive material about Jewish kabals.  The Anti-Defamation League complained.

The stuff that causes conflicts between religious beliefs, you know, I’d never be a party to that,” Mr. Chisum said. “I’m willing to apologize if I’ve offended anyone.”

Mr. Chisum’s comments came after he learned that the Anti-Defamation League, which works against anti-Semitism and other forms of hate, was demanding “a repudiation and apology” in a letter to his office. He said he hadn’t seen the letter late Wednesday.

The wild rants against science, knowledge, civilization and bizarre twisting of Christianity?  He doesn’t apologize for that stuff.

One might think that Chisum believes stupid and mean is fine, so long as a powerful lobby group does not complain.

The greater danger in the letter is the appeal to ignorance and crank science.  Chisum needs to do a lot more apologizing, starting with several million Texas students, and tens of thousands of science teachers.

As if to answer some of Chisum’s religious questions, there is no comment from Molly Ivins.  Whoever names the successor to Molly needs to do it fast.  The Texas Lege is running wild.

Georgia legislator tries end run around evolution — in Texas legislature

February 14, 2007

Be sure to see update here, next post.  Worse, even more, here.

Don’t you just love the Texas lege?

And could you make this stuff up if you were writing a novel? Nobody would believe it.

Warren Chisum is a good ol’ boy from Pampa, Texas, and the second most powerful man in the Texas House of Representatives. So when his friend, Georgia State Rep. Ben Bridges, asked him to — well, what was it he asked? — Chisum agreed to circulate a petition that calls evolution a plot of the Pharisees, Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan members of a Kabbalistic plot, and Big Bang ancient religion.

The Associated Press report in this morning’s Dallas Morning News (free subscription required eventually):

The memo assails what it calls “the evolution monopoly in the schools.”

Mr. Bridges’ memo claims that teaching evolution amounts to indoctrinating students in an ancient Jewish sect’s beliefs.

“Indisputable evidence – long hidden but now available to everyone – demonstrates conclusively that so-called ‘secular evolution science’ is the Big Bang, 15-billion-year, alternate ‘creation scenario’ of the Pharisee Religion,” writes Mr. Bridges, a Republican from Cleveland, Ga. He has argued against teaching of evolution in Georgia schools for several years. Read the rest of this entry »

Crank science makes crank politics

February 14, 2007

I’ve never seen a pro-breast cancer post before. That post is easily as crazy as the kid I had in class who said he’d never let his “baby mama” breast feed his son, because he didn’t want his son to be “homo.” That was from a kid steaming to be a high school dropout.

Nuts. Why don’t people just stick to the facts?

Historical query: Lincoln and Darwin

February 13, 2007

Celebration was understated here for the dual birthday of Lincoln and Darwin.  While I support greater festivities, other activities filled the calendar here in the Bathtub.*

But I do have a question:  Do we know at approximately what time Lincoln, or Darwin, was born?  I’ve been fascinated for years with the fact that Lincoln and Darwin were born on the exact same day, February 12, 1809; obviously, Darwin was born in England, and Lincoln in the U.S.  But I wonder, how far apart in time were the births?  How great a coincidence is this great coincidence?

My search for birth times hasn’t been exhaustive, but I’m coming up dry on both of them.  Can anyone lend a hand with references or the actual times?

Good heavens!  I wanted to link to the little poem, “Ode to the Thing that Keeps the Wolf from the Door” here — I cannot find it on the web!  Odd what the virtual world finds worthy in literature.

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