Florida considering high academic standards: Evolution

October 31, 2007

News reports and a syndicated radio program, “Evolution Minute,” talk about the efforts to upgrade science education in Florida. Florida worries that without high science standards in education, their kids will be left behind.

High standards? That’s right: Evolution’s in, intelligent design is not. High quality education, not high feely education.

Christian nation hoaxes: Jefferson and the Geneva Academy

October 31, 2007

Chris Rodda has a bee in her bonnet about wacky claims about early U.S. government and Christianity — same bee I get on occasion (hence the famous phrase, “busy bee”).

At Talk to Action, Chris dissects one of the more odd and arcane claims of people like the late D. James Kennedy, that Thomas Jefferson tried to import a group of Calvinist seminarians to make the University of Virginia a religious institution. Kennedy’s claim is voodoo history at its most voodoo.

There are two things wrong with Kennedy’s claim. The first is the time frame. Jefferson did consider a proposal to move the Geneva Academy to the United States, but this was in 1794 and 1795, thirty years before the University of Virginia opened. The second is that, although the Geneva Academy was originally founded by John Calvin in 1559 as theological seminary, by the late 1700s it had been transformed into an academy of science. The plan considered by Jefferson was not to import a religious school. It was to import a group of Europe’s top science professors.

This one is so obscure I have heard it only a couple of times. I’m not sure if that’s because it is so far outside the world of reality that even most victims of these hoaxes recognize it, or if it just hasn’t gotten traction yet.

Jefferson’s relationship with religious instruction in higher education really never varied. When he was a member of the governing board of the College of William and Mary, the board of visitors, he successfully campaigned to rid the college of preachers in teaching positions, and with the money saved, he got lawyers hired to instruct in other topics instead. In his design for the University of Virginia, he most carefully left out religious instruction from the curriculum, and from the space of the university. Since he shared this view of religion in education with James Madison, Madison followed through on keeping the University of Virginia as an institution of learning and not religious indoctrination.

So, how could someone with the research chops claimed by the late Rev. Kennedy get this stuff so exactly wrong? He relied on an old hoaxer, Mark A. Beliles. Why could a scholar like Kennedy could be sucked in by such a clear and blatant hoax? Bogus history seemed to attract him like seagulls to and overturned hot dog cart.

Read it, and gain enlightenment on the facts, if not on the motivations of Rev. Kennedy.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Concise case against Utah voucher proposal

October 31, 2007

This site has about the most nearly complete, concise case against the Utah school voucher proposal I have found. Is there any chance the voters in Utah still need to be swayed to reason on this issue? Send them to this site, after you have them view the real story about Oreos.

Essay contest: Being an American

October 31, 2007

I get e-mail, some of it interesting, some of it useful in the classroom.

The Bill of Rights Institute’s essay contest has a deadline just over a month away. Are your students entering?

Here’s the e-mail I got:


It is not too late for you and your students to win over $63,000 in awards by entering the Being an American essay contest.

Assign the essay question to your students today!
They will explore civic values, describe American ideals, and connect with the Constitution. The top winners will attend an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. on April 4-5, 2008!

Contest ends December 3, 2007!
Visit the contest website for more information

Utah voucher referendum: Slapping the hand in the cookie jar

October 30, 2007

A Utah school teacher made his own video, in his home it appears, with a non-professional camera and crew — and it eviscerates the points Richard Eyre was trying to make in his slick, professionally-produced, commercial version.

The Truth about Cookies Utah Vouchers:

Tip of the old scrub brush to a reader and commenter named Brack.

Update, November  7, 2007:

Utah voters soundly rejected vouchers in the election November 6.  Here’s my version of the story.

“Cool Tools”: Making searches safe for students

October 29, 2007

A History Teacher, even while on hiatus, shows how you can protect your students and point them in the right direction in their research, all at the same time.

Thanks to Google, of course, and a tip of the old scrub brush to A History Teacher.

Let’s hope he stays safe from the fires.

Fighting malaria with reason

October 29, 2007

We can beat malaria without DDT; we can’t beat malaria without bednets.

Editorial from BMJ (née British Medical Journal?) points out that bednets really work, and they work better when distributed free of charge.  Nets cost about $5.00 each, but in nations where a good day’s pay is about $1.00, charging for them merely means they won’t be purchased and can’t be used.

Time for Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, and Steve Milloy, to listen to reason, stop bashing Rachel Carson, and start fighting malaria.

Update, February 2009; the original link seems irrecoverable; see also this research, BMJ 2007;335:1023 ( 17 November), doi:10.1136/bmj.39356.574641.55 (published 16 October 2007

Writing the history texts: What is history?

October 29, 2007

History textbook controversies abound, really. Just a list to pull some sources together:

Michael Crichton hysterical for DDT

October 28, 2007

Ever notice how hysteric people claim they are normal, and everyone around them is hysterical? Case in point: Michael Crichton promoting DDT to students while taking leave of his science sense, at Cleveland High School in Reseda, California, in 2005:

Crichton surely knows better.

1. DDT is a known carcinogen for animals. Denialists’ wishes to the contrary, serious cancer fighters list DDT as a suspected human carcinogen.

2. Rachel Carson’s citations are solid, and stand up well today. Nothing Crichton publishes in his novels is so carefully footnoted. Carson offered more than 50 pages of references to the scientific publications that provided the evidence for what she wrote. President Kennedy appointed a panel of top scientists to investigate her claims, the President’s Science Advisory Committee. The headline in The Christian Science Monitor for their report, in May 1963, was “Rachel Carson vindicated.” The panel recommended limiting the use of DDT, much as it is limited today. It’s completely unacceptable for Crichton to claim against all the evidence that Carson’s science was bad. Repeated studies and new studies since 1962 confirm her science firmly.  [Update for World Malaria Day 2015:  That State Department document has gone missing; see press reports of the PSAC Committee here, and the full text of the report, “Use of Pesticides,” here.  A version of MIchael J. Friedman’s article on Rachel Carson, referred to in the first link in this paragraph, can be found here.]

3. Every “ban” on DDT, since the first in 1970 in Europe, has included an out clause to allow use to fight malaria. Crichton seems to have missed out on the facts: DDT ceased to be effective due to the rise of immunity and resistance in targeted mosquito populations, and DDT was never implemented against mosquitoes in other places, due to political reasons unrelated to any environmental concern.

4. DDT was never the panacea against malaria, since it does nothing to cure the disease in humans and it does nothing to fight the parasites themselves. DDT can’t make up for poverty that prevents people from building suitable homes or putting screens in windows, or buying mosquito netting for their children. DDT can’t work if people don’t drain mosquito breeding places around their homes.

5. Eggshell thinning studies were repeated dozens hundreds of times, and DDT and its daughter products are clearly implicated as the culprits in the fatal thinning of eggshells. It is telling that eggshell thicknesses have increased as DDT levels in residual form in tissues of birds has decreased. Crichton also omits more damning evidence: Studies showed that DDT affected the viability of eggs wholly apart from the eggshell problems. DDT kills chicks in the egg.

6. Malaria did not “explode” as a result of the discontinuation of DDT. Over more than a decade, malaria rates rose because the campaign to eradicate malaria aimed for an impossible goal, and overspraying of DDT and political instability hampered efforts to fight malaria.  Moreover, DDT was never banned for use against malaria In many nations where malaria exploded, DDT was the weapon of choice to fight it.  DDT often doesn’t work.  In Mexico, for example, DDT use was never stopped — DDT use has been constant since 1946.  And yet, Mexico has been fighting an increase in malaria for over a decade.  Only when Mexico adopted Rachel Carson’s recommendations did they begin to roll back the disease.

7. Crichton gets it right when he notes that the EPA “ban” on DDT included a waiver for use against malaria. But why does he forget that in every other paragraph?

8. Crichton mischaracterizes the Persistant Organic Pollutants (POPs) Treaty, saying that it bans DDT worldwide in the face of knowledge that such a ban was wrong. The treaty specifically allows continued production and use of DDT to fight disease. (Newer links to the POPs Treaty, also known as the Stockholm Convention, here.)

9. 30 million people may have died of malaria in a period Crichton doesn’t define, but it is incorrect to say they died as a result of DDT bans. DDT was still used in the countries where many of those people died (DDT has been in constant use in Mexico since 1946, for example, and malaria has come roaring back there as in other places). DDT was never used in several African nations where governmental instability prevented the creation of programs to fight disease. DDT can’t change governments. The global effort to “eradicate” malaria smashed into the parasites’ development of immunity to several drugs used to treat it in humans. DDT has never been effective in those cases. Crichton misattributes the deaths. (It’s nice he doesn’t cite the more absurd 500 million deaths figure that some people point to.)

10. Crichton’s claim that a lot of Americans “just don’t care” about malaria in Africa, because it harms people of color, is an interesting claim, but his implication that those people are environmentalists, and not the Bush administration which held up funding for malaria fighting, makes his concerns smell hypocritical.

While indicting hysteria against DDT, Crichton invokes hysteria in favor of the chemical. One wishes his science views were not so clouded by his politics.

Turning a sphere inside out: Video in the classroom

October 28, 2007

How come the science guys get all the really cool videos?

I found this from Mollishka at a geocentric view, and I crib it entirely from there:

Ever wanted to see what it looks like when a sphere gets turned inside out, or simply know what is meant when people talk about turning closed surfaces (like a sphere) inside out? Hat tip to Scott Aaronson for this video:

As it turns out, I actually recognize several of the intermediate steps (for a few of the algorithms they show) as neat-o sculptures that often show up near math departments.

a geocentric view has several other features I found interesting.  It’s written by a graduate student in astronomy — go noodle around.

A Texas History syllabus

October 28, 2007

It’s a toe in the water of internet-using instruction.  Here’s a syllabus for a 7th grade Texas history class at Pin Oak Middle School in the Houston Independent School district.

Notice that this class, as many in Texas do, puts the geography unit up front, not quite isolated from the rest of the class.  Regardless of how well geography is covered, I think we end up shorting the subject its due.

Kudos to Pin Oak MS, to Mr. Gomez, and I hope to see more.

(Surely there is a class in Texas that is farther along in integrating the internet into the Texas history curriculum — point them to us, Dear Readers?)

Reason makes progress in malaria/DDT discussions

October 28, 2007

It’s one ray of sunshine in a sky of darkened clouds, but here’s evidence that reason occasionally overcomes bias in discussions about malaria and DDT: “More on Malaria – And Good Karma For Bill Gates,” by Scott Kirwan, at Dean’s World.

That’s good, because the nattering nabobs of negativism still pull out their long knives for Rachel Carson unjustly, unwisely, and invoking all the old junk science and hoaxes in other venues, like Collecting My Thoughts, and “DDT: Behind the Scare Stories,” at the noble-intentioned but temporarily-off-the-tracks Hawaii Reporter.

DDT is still a deadly poison, and still not a panacea against malaria. It’s nice to see reason having sway, probably due to the efforts of the Gates Foundation and its allies.

NBC video — free from HotChalk, through December

October 27, 2007

Teacher magazine reports that NBC News made available to teachers more than 5,000 chunks of news video and still photos from their news archives, for use in the classroom.

The service requires a free subscription to HotChalk through December. After that, a school subscription to HotChalk is necessary, starting in 2008.

Great resources, but I predict few teachers will have the connections to put these to work in the classroom. Comments are open, of course, for you to share your experience. Please comment on how useful you find these images, and how you use them.

Woman on cell phone, NBC News photo Historic photo of woman on early cellular telephone, NBC News photo, from HotChalk.

Global warming a piffle by comparison

October 26, 2007

Plant in drought-riven soil

Here’s the word from Bob Parks’ great e-letter, “What’s New,”October 26, 2007 edition; I’ve highlighted some stuff:

2. ENVIRONMENT: MAJOR U.N. REPORT SAYS IT’S “UNSUSTAINABLE.” According to a story in the New York Times this morning, a report issued by the United Nations yesterday in Paris is so frightening that French President Nicolas Sarkozy immediately put $1.4 billion into new energy sources and biodiversity. Unsustainable consumption of resources and population growth is taking Earth beyond the point of no return. As an example, the report says, two and a half times as many fish are being caught as the oceans can produce in a sustainable manner. No word yet from Washington on the U.S. response. No steps taken to protect the environment will help in the long run if population continues to grow.

Denialists will start whining in just a few seconds. Three . . . two . . . one . . .

Considering the weather (everywhere), fires in California, droughts in Georgia, the Nobel Peace Prize this year, you’d think this would be front page news.  Where did it run in your local paper?


NY Times backs overhaul of mining law

October 26, 2007

Congress seriously considers changes in mining laws in the U.S. — the General Mining Act of 1872 is 135 years old with no serious changes since its passage. President Ulysses S Grant signed the law.

The law affected much of the development of the U.S. west of the Mississippi River, but this issue is generally ignored. The New York Times editorial page endorses the change process in an editorial today.

Originally enacted to encourage economic development in the West, the law gives precedence above all other land uses to mining for hard-rock minerals like gold, uranium and copper. It requires no royalties from companies that mine on public lands and contains no environmental safeguards. It has left a sad legacy of abandoned mines, poisoned streams and damaged landscapes throughout the West.

Now, at last, there is real hope for reform. Representative Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat who has been trying to modernize this law for two decades, has persuaded the Natural Resources Committee to approve a major rewrite.

The law is a major study in economics, government intervention and free markets. It would make a good topic for warm-ups or government intervention lesson plans in high school economics classes.

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