February 2006 Archives

It Worked.

While working on my second chapter tonight, I was trying to do some analytical theory to match the simulations that I’d already run. I had no idea whether it would work out given the assumptions that I had to make for the analytical theory to be tractible.

However, after entering the simulation parameters into the analytical model, I was happy to see that the two models were in agreement.

Huzzah!

Prayers for the Assassin

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Throught The Panda’s Thumb I got an advanced copy of Prayers for the Assassin to review. I haven’t had time to read it because I am trying to graduate, but there is a review in the NY Times.

Robert Ferrigno’s “Prayers for the Assassin” is a futuristic fantasy that puts an Orwellian nation, the Islamic Republic, where the United States of America used to be. The author does not treat this as a pleasant prospect. He imagines a 2040 in which New York and Washington are gone, Mecca is radioactive, Mount Rushmore has been eradicated and the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan has been renamed for Osama bin Laden. Super Bowl cheerleaders are men. Barbie’s got a burka. At least Starbucks prices aren’t much higher than they used to be.

Occasionally, an ID activist, usually a conservative Republican politician, will argue that federal law requires that various flavors of creationism be taught in public schools. This is usually used to defend a scientific and pedagogically bankrupt law or policy, which seeks to promote creationism. However, NCLB clearly states that ID et al. are not required by federal law.

Nothing in this section shall be construed to … require the distribution of scientifically or medically false or inaccurate materials or to prohibit the distribution of scientifically or medically true or accurate materials.

See, the NCLB act clearly distances itself from ID and other pseudo-sciences (literally “false-science”). Or it would if I hadn’t just quote-mined. In reality, the above “false-science” quote refers only to the “no-sex-ed” part of the NCLB act. (Apparantly, the Republicans who drafted NCLB were aware that some schools would use their “no-sex-ed” language to teach pseudo-science in health class. I doubt they’d actually disapprove, even though they clarified the federal government’s position.)

However, there are very clear “no-local-mandates” and “pro-local-control” themes in the NCLB act. They culminate in Section 9527 which applies the “no mandate” rule to the entire NCLB act (except Title VIII).

SEC. 9527. PROHIBITIONS ON FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AND USE OF FEDERAL FUNDS.

  • GENERAL PROHIBITION- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s curriculum, program of instruction, or allocation of State or local resources, or mandate a State or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this Act.
  • PROHIBITION ON ENDORSEMENT OF CURRICULUM- Notwithstanding any other prohibition of Federal law, no funds provided to the Department under this Act may be used by the Department to endorse, approve, or sanction any curriculum designed to be used in an elementary school or secondary school.
  • PROHIBITION ON REQUIRING FEDERAL APPROVAL OR CERTIFICATION OF STANDARDS-
    • IN GENERAL- Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal law, no State shall be required to have academic content or student academic achievement standards approved or certified by the Federal Government, in order to receive assistance under this Act.
    • RULE OF CONSTRUCTION- Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to affect requirements under title I or part A of title VI. [Note that Title I and Title VI have their own no-mandate rules, Sections 1905 and 6301 respectively.]
  • RULE OF CONSTRUCTION ON BUILDING STANDARDS- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to mandate national school building standards for a State, local educational agency, or school.

So next time you see a creationist politician promoting their creationist bill or policy on the basis that the feds are mandating curriculum, make it clear to them that the Discovery Institute or whoever else is pulling their strings has deceived them. Federal law specifically rejects mandates on curriculum content.

Confessions of a Darwinist

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To celebrate Darwin Day, The Virginia Quarterly Review has released Niles Eldredge’s essay “Confessions of a Darwinist”. It will be published as part of a special on Darwin, evolution, and ID in the spring issue.

Read “Confessions of a Darwinist” by Niles Eldredge.

More Judicial Activism

Yesterday, a federal judge in Atlanta sided with the ACLU and struck down an obscure Georgia law with his activist pen. Yes, Virginia, you now must pay sales taxes on your Bible.

A federal judge in Atlanta has struck down an old state law that lets people buy the Bible without paying sales taxes.

The sales tax exemption treats some religious and philosophical works more favorably than others, U.S. District Judge Richard Story ruled Monday.

“It is a fundamental principle of free speech jurisprudence that ‘regulations which permit the government to discriminate on the basis of the content of the message cannot be tolerated,’ “ Story wrote, citing a 1984 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The decades-old law grants the exemptions to the sale of “Holy Bibles, testaments and similar books commonly recognized as being Holy Scripture.”

(AJC)

Of course the Christian Coalition is not happy with the thought of having to render unto Caesar:

Sadie Fields, state chairman of the Christian Coalition of Georgia, denounced the decision.

“It does not reflect the will of the people in Georgia,” she said. “I think it’s an outrage.”

She also said she would oppose expanding the sales tax exemption to other spiritual philosophies. “I don’t see any comparison between Scripture and some metaphysical nonsense,” she said.

Some would say Scripture is metaphysical nonsense, but I digress. The Georgia law is clearly unconstitutional not only because it gives preference to certain religious faiths but that it also gives preference to religious books over non-religious books. The judge was presented with an easy decision.

It will be interesting if any politician reacts to the court decision.

When Students Pay Attention

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Two weeks ago, I gave my lab students their first test or “celebration of learning” as the lab manual calls them. I got a very funny response to the fourth question, which told me that the student was paying attention in class:

Q: Explain with detail why the following question is a bad scientific question. How do leprechauns manipulate rainbows?

A: Leprechauns have not been proven to exist and are therefore supernatural beings which defy the definition of science (except in Kansas!). Therefore, this question is neither testable nor researchable.

Yes, Kansas, you are being made fun of by students in Georgia.

Super Bowl

Well Pittsburg got the one for the thumb, and Hines Ward, the best all around receiver in the game, was the Super Bowl MVP. My freshman year in college (1997) I got Ward’s autograph after the come-from-four-touchdowns-behind victory over Auburn. I eventually misplaced it moving from dorm room to dorm room. I wish I never lost it. That thing is probably now worth more than the 1-dollar bill it is written on.

Human Evolution

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This semester I am teaching two sections of BIOL 1108L, which is second semester biology lab for science majors. Nearly all of my students are sophomore biology majors. About 80% of my students are female, which is why I stressed on the first day of class that women are just as good as men at science, even though they tend to have a lower opinion of themselves.

The course was redesigned this year to focus on inquiry. A large proportion of the students’ grades are determined by the questions they ask and not the answers they give. To help them get an idea about scientific research, I gave them a paper last week to read and discuss.

Because I am an evolutionary biologist and concerned with scientific literacy, I decided to give my students a paper on human evolution. I figured that something on the fusion in human chromosome 2 would be appropriate. Therefore, I settled on the following paper:

Ijdo JW et al. (1991) Origin of Human Chromosome 2: An Ancestral Telomere-Telomere Fusion. PNAS 88: 9051-9055.

We have identified two allelic genomic cosmids from human chromosome 2, c8.1 and c29B, each containing two inverted arrays of the vertebrate telomeric repeat in a head-to-head arrangement, 5’(TTAGGG)n-(CCCTAA)m3’. Sequences flanking this telomeric repeat are characteristic of present-day human pretelomeres. BAL-31 nuclease experiments with yeast artificial chromosome clones of human telomeres and fluorescence in situ hybridization reveal that sequences flanking these inverted repeats hybridize both to band 2q13 and to different, but overlapping, subsets of human chromosome ends. We conclude that the locus cloned in cosmids c8.1 and c29B is the relic of an ancient telomere-telomere fusion and marks the point at which two ancestral ape chromosomes fused to give rise to human chromosome 2.

This fusion is a wonderful example of human evolution. (In fact, Ken Miller used it in his testimony during ID’s Waterloo.) My students seemed to understand this and even mentioned it in their lab notes. However, the paper, which relies on molecular genetics, isn’t too applicable to the ecological experiments that my students will be doing in lab. Nevertheless, I’d still call it a successful class-room exercise because it exposed my students to some human evolution.

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