A different view of the California creationism in the classroom decision

May 10, 2009

Wired takes a different view of the California case in which an AP history teacher was found to have violated a student’s rights with comments about creationists — at least, different from the view I’ve articulated here.  It’s worth a look — and it shows that this case needs to be evaluated more carefully and closely.  Alexis Madrigal wrote at Wired’s website:

The teacher got into hot water because the creationism statement came outside the context of his AP European History class. In making the statement during a discussion of another teacher’s views on evolution, the court could not find any “legitimate secular purpose in [the] statement.”

However, Judge Selna found a second statement that Corbett made about creationism did not violate the student’s First Amendment rights, although it’s an equally pointed critique.

“Contrast that with creationists,” Corbett told his class. “They never try to disprove creationism. They’re all running around trying to prove it. That’s deduction. It’s not science. Scientifically, it’s nonsense.”

That statement was OK because it came in the context of a discussion of the history of ideas and religion. Thus, its primary purpose wasn’t just to express “affirmative disapproval” of religion, but rather to make the point that “generally accepted scientific principles do not logically lead to the theory of creationism.” One might expect that if creationism came up in the context of evolutionary biology, it would be similarly OK to say, “Scientifically, it’s nonsense.”

The nuanced decision prompted the judge to append an afterword. Selna explains his thinking a basic right is at issue, namely, “to be free of a government that directly expresses approval of religion.” Just as the government shouldn’t promote religion, he writes, the government shouldn’t actively disapprove of religion either.

It seems to me, still, that the instructor was well within legal bounds.  For example, we would not ask a biology instructor to pay deference to the Christian Science view that disease is caused by falling away from God (sin), and not by germs, and consequently that prayer is effective therapy.  As a pragmatic matter, Christian Scientists don’t demand that everybody else bow to their view; but in a legal suit, the evidence of Pasteur’s work and subsequent work on how microbes cause disease would trump any claim that Pasteur was “not religiously neutral.”

We still await word on whether the district and teacher will appeal the decision.

Climate Denial Crock of the Week: Ocean levels

May 10, 2009

Blue Ollie carried a YouTube video that got me to look at Peter Sinclair’s marvelous series of amateur videos, “Climate Denial Crock of the Week.” Sinclair posts under the handle GreenMan at YouTube.

Here’s the Climate Denial Crock of the Week video on ocean levels, and the denial that they are rising — in line with my post a few hours ago about peoples in the South Pacific and in Alaska losing their homes to climate change:

Pat Frank’s work keeps reminding us that, in science, it’s often difficult to establish a clear, indisputable proximate cause.  Something is going on in Newtok, Alaska, and in the Carteret Islands, Papua New Guinea.  Those things should not be ignored, and cannot be ignored safely for long.

(Teachers:  Note most of these videos are around 5 minutes in length — more than suitable for classroom use, perhaps even as a bell ringer.  Notice also that, if you don’t know how to make these videos, as I don’t, you’re behind the curve.)

Afarensis back in the old digs

May 10, 2009

Afarensis left the Seed stable. Here’s the new (old) site.

Afarensis skull - symbol of Afarensis  blog

Afarensis skull - symbol of Afarensis blog

Some story there, maybe some drama, maybe not much.  Still worth reading.

What if we changed the climate and no one paid attention?

May 10, 2009

Rush Limbaugh, Pete DuPont, Michael Savage, the Discovery Institute and other great exponents of reality denial (generally, but not always, without drugs) will continue to rail at James Hansen’s science chops, but the universe goes on in the Real World™Global warming, climate change, takes a severe toll on inhabitants of this planet.

It’s a tribute to the propaganda value of Anthony Watts that this milestone earned so little note:  Residents of Carteret Island, Papua New Guinea, began their move to higher ground last week. The rising ocean is reclaiming their land; seasonal high tides make agriculture impossible.

Who noticed?

You can read about the refugees in The Solomon Times.  You can read about it in the Papua New Guinea Post -Courier. You can’t read it about it much of anywhere else.  The revolution is not televised, it’s not even in print.

Meanwhile, in Alaska, without serious action by the world to enact some sort of program out of the Kyoto meetings to combat climate change by nations united, indigenous peoples are meeting to figure out what they can do without government help.  The place of their meeting carries a message:

The summit is taking place about 500 miles from the Alaskan village of Newtok, where intensifying river flow and melting permafrost are forcing 320 residents to resettle on a higher site some 9 miles away in a new consequence of climate change, known as climigration.

Newtok is the first official Arctic casualty of climate change. A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study indicates 26 other Alaskan villages are in immediate danger, with an additional 60 considered under threat in the next decade, Cochran said.

Here’s how the warming denialists’ diary entries should run:

“Climate change chased the Carteret Islanders out of their homes, but I wasn’t concerned because I am not a Carteret Islander, and probably couldn’t find the place on a map.”

Further reading:


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