Celebrate the Ides of December!*

December 10, 2007

December 15th is Bill of Rights Day, a tradition since Franklin Roosevelt first declared it in 1941.

The Bill of Rights, National Archive

It falls on Saturday this year — which means teachers can choose whether to commemorate it Friday, or next Monday, or on both days. It marks the date of the approval of the Bill of Rights, in 1790.

Texas requires social studies teachers to spend a day on the Constitution. The law isn’t well enforced, but Bill of Rights Day might be a good time to fill the legal duty in your classrooms.

The Bill of Rights Institute offers lesson plans and supporting materials (see “Instructional Materials” in the left column). Below the fold I copy a list from the Institute’s webpage on Bill of Rights Day.

More material here, and the National Archives material can be reached here.
* The ides is merely the middle of the month. Of course you thought of Shakespeare’s witch warning Julius Caesar to “beware the ides of March.” In this case, we can celebrate the ides of December — Hanukkah mostly gone, Christmas, Eid and KWANZAA on the way.
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How do we know what we know?

December 10, 2007

Especially in science — how do we know what we know?

A charitable trust in Britain called Sense About Science makes a start on explaining peer review, the process scientists use in science journals to referee what is accurate and what is not.

The site looks legitimate, though I’m no great judge of British scientists (see the board of trustees and advisors).

The site has several sets of debunking material, debunking things like “alternative” treatments for malaria, plus an 8-page pamphlet on how peer review works.

See especially these publications (available in downloadable .pdf):

The booklets are available free, but I’ll wager they were intended for British consumption — I’m not sure they’d mail them across the Atlantic.

It’s worth a look. See any problems with using that pamphlet in a classroom? I am very interested if you find a problem with any of the materials there.

Tuba Christmas, St. Louis!

December 10, 2007

I love a good tuba tune — I love all the low brass.  Tuba Christmas is one of the great joys of this season.  It may be better than the sing-along “Messiah!”

Tuba Christmas at Rockefeller Center, NYC - Voice of America photograph

Photo at left:  Tuba Christmas at Rockefeller Center, New York City, 2006; Voice of America photograph

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a good slide show on Tuba Christmas in St. Louis this year.

Not to brag, but there are 21 Tuba Christmas events set for Texas this year, equal to the total of California and New York together.  (That link shows events in all states.)

350,000 hits

December 10, 2007

The bathtub should pass 350,000 bubbles hits sometime today.  Thank you, Dear Readers.

My apologies for posting so little over these past few weeks.

Benefits offset by infant deaths? DDT no panacea

December 10, 2007

Cover of August 2008 Emerging Infectious Diseases from the CDC, featuring: Jan Steen (c. 1625–1679). Beware of Luxury (c. 1665). Oil on canvas 105 cm x 145 cm. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Cover of August 2008 Emerging Infectious Diseases from the CDC, featuring: Jan Steen (c. 1625–1679). Beware of Luxury (c. 1665). Oil on canvas 105 cm x 145 cm. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Weighing risks against benefits for DDT spraying is very difficult. Anti-environmentalists and junk science purveyors claim millions of deaths from DDT’s not being sprayed.

They never tell us about the kids DDT could kill.

When we combine data from North America on preterm delivery or duration of lactation and DDE with African data on DDT spraying and the effect of preterm birth or lactation duration on infant deaths, we estimate an increase in infant deaths that is of the same order of magnitude as that from eliminating infant malaria. Therefore, the side effects of DDT spraying might reduce or abolish its benefit from the control of malaria in infants, even if such spraying prevents all infant deaths from malaria.

*   *   *   *   *

The prohibition of DDT use for malaria control was probably not the sole cause of increasing malaria burden in sub-Saharan Africa (40), and thus DDT will probably not be the sole cure for the malaria epidemic there. Insecticide-treated bed nets, widely used in African households to prevent mosquito bites, are effective (41,42). Synthetic pyrethroid insecticides, cheaper than DDT, are available (43,44). Where DDT is used, all infant deaths, plus birth weights and the duration of lactation, should be counted. Some thought could also be given to a formal trial, since the risk and benefit calculations apply to individual dwellings, and an effective alternative, namely bed nets, is available. (Chen A, Rogan WJ. Nonmalarial infant deaths and DDT use for malaria control. Emerg Infect Dis [serial online] 2003 Aug. Available from: URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3020610/)

Go read it — the issue of spraying or not is complex, and this study talks only about infant deaths (there may be greater life saving among older children and adults that would make the infant deaths a trade off policy makers would consider, for example). It’s a study from the Centers for Disease Control, part of a continuing series of technical publications from CDC titled Emerging Infectious Diseases. This series tracks much of the work done to fight malaria world wide.

This is valuable information. It shows the issue is much more complex that just “spray or don’t spray.” It’s also information that JunkScience.com hopes you will not pursue. It’s real information, and it refutes the junk science claims from that site.

(In June 2004 the denialists at Africa Fighting Malaria had a letter published complaining about this paper’s findings, but offering no data in rebuttal.)

Wikimedia Commons image of Jan Steen's painting,

A more clear image from Wikimedia Commons of Jan Steen’s painting, “Beware of Luxury.” Click on cover of journal at top of post for a discussion of this painting and how it relates to infectious diseases.

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