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Sexperts Under Fire

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Abstinence-only education is a failure. Study after study has found that teenagers who receive abstinence-only education are no less likely to have sex as other teenagers, but are less likely to use protection when they do.

Now it appears that the prudes who brought us abstinence-only education in middle and high schools are targeting universities. According to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, several Georgia politicians and religious right activists have become upset that the University System of Georgia has faculty members who are experts in human sexual behavior and diseases. These culture warriors are now making a bunch of noise to get the faculty members fired citing budget issues. As expected, these politicians are ignorant of academia, public policy, public health, history, and the law.

[Rep. Calvin Hill (R-Canton)] singled out Georgia State University, which lists in its 2009 media experts guide faculty members who are knowledgeable about male prostitution and oral sex. The guide is used by reporters and public policy organizations to find experts in various fields. Hill said he was “personally outraged” that tax money supports such professors.

His concern was echoed on the floor of the House on Friday by Rep. Charlice Byrd (R-Woodstock).

“Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you have heard me right,” she said. “In this present economy, the taxpayers’ dollars are being used by the Board of Regents to inform students about such social topics. … I believe the timing is perfect to eliminate positions of professors and staff who are paid to provide such services.”

Georgia currently lacks enough public health and medical professors to keep up with its growing population (which is why the Medical College of Georgia is expanding to Athens), and these idiots think that firing what experts the state has is going to improve things. Morons.

And it gets better; Rep. Byrd was so outraged that she used YouTube to let her constituents know:

Now a lesson in Georgia history.

In 1941, Gov. Eugene Talmadge fired several pro-integration faculty members.—Yes, the religious right is acting like a bunch of segregationists.—As a result of this political interference Georgia’s public universities lost their accreditation. In 1942, Talmadge lost reelection to Ellis Arnall, who had vowed to restore the integrity of the universities. While in office, Arnall led the passing of a constitutional amendment that completely severed control of Georgia’s universities from the politicians in Atlanta.

ARTICLE VIII SECTION IV BOARD OF REGENTS

Paragraph I. University System of Georgia; board of regents. (a) There shall be a Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia which shall consist of one member from each congressional district in the state and five additional members from the state at large, appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. The Governor shall not be a member of said board. The members in office on June 30, 1983, shall serve out the remainder of their respective terms. As each term of office expires, the Governor shall appoint a successor as herein provided. All such terms of members shall be for seven years. Members shall serve until their successors are appointed and qualified. In the event of a vacancy on the board by death, resignation, removal, or any reason other than the expiration of a member´s term, the Governor shall fill such vacancy; and the person so appointed shall serve until confirmed by the Senate and, upon confirmation, shall serve for the unexpired term of office.

(b) The board of regents shall have the exclusive authority to create new public colleges, junior colleges, and universities in the State of Georgia, subject to approval by majority vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Such vote shall not be required to change the status of a college, institution or university existing on the effective date of this Constitution. The government, control, and management of the University System of Georgia and all of the institutions in said system shall be vested in the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.

(c) All appropriations made for the use of any or all institutions in the university system shall be paid to the board of regents in a lump sum, with the power and authority in said board to allocate and distribute the same among the institutions under its control in such way and manner and in such amounts as will further an efficient and economical administration of the university system.

(d) The board of regents may hold, purchase, lease, sell, convey, or otherwise dispose of public property, execute conveyances thereon, and utilize the proceeds arising therefrom; may exercise the power of eminent domain in the manner provided by law; and shall have such other powers and duties as provided by law.

(e) The board of regents may accept bequests, donations, grants, and transfers of land, buildings, and other property for the use of the University System of Georgia.

(f) The qualifications, compensation, and removal from office of the members of the board of regents shall be as provided by law.

Notice the two things I’ve emphasized. One, all the power to govern the University System of Georgia rests with the Board of Regents. And two, the legislature has no power over the budget of the USG. Simply put, the legislators are powerless to enact their fantasy. You’d think that they would have discovered that in all their budget “research”.

By calling for the removal of faculty members, Hill and Byrd have demonstrated their ignorance of academia, public policy, public health, history, and the law. Morons through and through.

Update

It appears that other legislators, who have some familiarity with higher education, organized a smack down.

Two of those experts spoke to the House committee Tuesday. Kirk Elifson is listed as an expert in male prostitution. He said he became an expert while serving as a captain in the Army in Vietnam and later became a professor. The Centers for Disease Control, he said, sought out his expertise to help with the growing AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

“We’ve done some cutting-edge research in HIV,” he said. “I’m proud of the work I’ve done.”

Oh, snap, they were dissing a veteran.

Mindy Stombler, another Sociology instructor, is listed as an expert in oral sex. She said her research is aimed at studying attitudes of teens toward sex, who, she said, are increasingly having oral sex and see it as “casual and socially acceptable.”

Several members of the committee praised Elifson and Stombler for their work, Hill, too, spoke to the committee but given the chance, did not ask the GSU faculty any questions.

Hill is still continues to be and idiot:

He argued that in a time of budget cuts universities should not offer classes that do not help students get jobs.

The University of Georgia is not a trade school. That’s Georgia Tech.

Science Gets the Shaft

US Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are proposing to cut the stimulus/spending package by roughly 10%. Their staff have identified several “useless” programs included in the bill, and it appears that they consider science funding to be one of those useless pursuits.

Over the last 50 years, much of our economic development has been driven by science, and at a time when the US is faced with losing its scientific dominance to China and the EU, the US needs increased science funding. Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime. Fund fishing research, and your children all eat for a lifetime.

From the list of stimulus projects that are on the cutting block:

  • NSF 100% cut ($1,402,000,000)
  • NASA exploration 50% cut ($750,000,000)
  • NOAA 34.94% cut ($427,000,000)
  • NIST 37.91% cut ($218,000,000)
  • DOE energy efficiency & renewable energy 38% cut ($1,000,000,000)
  • DOE office of science 100% cut ($100,000,000)

If you have an opinion about these cuts, you should make it known to your Senators because they will soon be voting on this proposal.

List of Senators and Contact Information

Happy Darwin Day!

Today is Darwin Day. Get out and learn some biology!

(HT: PZ)

Openlab 2007 We are nearing the end of the year and and the submission deadline for The Open Laboratory: The Best Science Writing on Blogs 2007, edited by Bora and myself. Go here to submit quality science blog posts before the deadline ends, Dec 20th. Bora has a list of the current submissions, so if you seen any good posts not represented go ahead and submit them.

Now comes the hard part. I need 20-25 science bloggers and science blog readers to volunteer to judge the quality of the submissions. You won’t have to read hundreds of entries, just the ones in the categories that you are assigned. I’m planning on using the following categories (subject to change):

Life Science: Biology, Evolution, Health, Medicine, Neuroscience

Physical Science: Physics, Chemistry, Math, Astronomy

Environment: Climate change, Pollution, Sustainability, Green living, Alternative energy, Geoscience

Humanities & Social Science: Anthropology, Sociology, Archaeology, Psychology, History and Philosophy of Science, Ethics, Arts & Culture

Education & Careers: Science education, Teaching, Curricula, Lab Life, Grad School, Funding, Evolution in schools

Politics: Politics, Elections, Government, Public policy, Culture wars, Creationism, Antiscience

Medicine & Health: Public health, Epidemiology, Pharmaceuticals, Health care, Medical training

Technology: Computers, Software, Hardware, Engineering, Consumer Electronics, Fuel and energy technology

So if you are willing to judge a couple of these categories, please send me an email at [Enable javascript to see this email address.] with a short message about why you think you could be a good judge.

Reposted from The Panda’s Thumb

As reported by NCSE, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) has withdrawn his $100,000 earmark for anti-science education: Vitter earmark withdrawn. During yesterday’s session Vitter asked that the money in the earmark be directed to other projects, insisting that he never intended—yeah, right—for the money to go towards teaching creationism.

Joshua Rosenau of “TfK” has the full exchange on his blog.

Mr. VITTER Madam President, I rise today to discuss a project I sponsored in the fiscal year 2008 Labor, Health, Human Services and Education appropriations bill. The project, which would develop a plan to promote better science-based education in Ouachita Parish by the Louisiana Family Forum, has raised concerns among some that its intention was to mandate and push creationism within the public schools. That is clearly not and never was the intent of the project, nor would it have been its effect. However, to avoid more hysterics, I would like to move the $100,000 recommended for this project by the subcommittee when the bill goes to conference committee to another Louisiana priority project funded in this bill.

Mr. HARKIN Madam President, I appreciate the sentiments by the Senator from Louisiana and accept this proposal to move the funding for this project to other priority projects for the State of Louisiana in the bill when it goes to conference committee.

Mr. SPECTER Madam President, I concur with my colleague and will agree to move these funds in conference committee.

Congratulations to everyone who contacted their senators about this earmark. The students of Louisiana owe you a debt of gratitude. You not only got the earmark withdrawn, you also got the sponsor to do it.

Kudos all around.

Library Collection Policies

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readingrainbow.jpg I learned today via an email sent to EvolDir, that some graduate students at Portland State University have put together a petition for Darwin Day. They plan to present this petition on February 12, 2009 to the Library of Congress, libraries, and bookstores, formally asking that that the anti-science works of creationists and intelligent design activists no longer be classified as “science” in libraries and bookstores.

Their hearts are in the right place, but I believe that they have misunderstood the issues facing our libraries and bookstores.

This is actually a common concern among people who understand that Darwin’s Black Box, Icons of Evolution, The Edge of Evolution, the Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, etc. are not books with scientific content. (See Biologists Helping Bookstores.) We often think that books in a section called “science” should be scientific books. However, this view can be described as myopic because cataloging systems developed by librarians handle all types of books, not just science books. The main logic behind these systems is that they describe what a book is about not what they contain. So books cataloged under science are books about science, not books containing science. Like it or not, barring a more specific category, anti-science books are still about science and can be logically cataloged alongside legitimate science books.

However, what can citizens and customers to do to improve the shelves of our libraries and bookstores? Well, the intent of cataloging is to facilitate patrons’ access to books. It may be possible to convince librarians that a questionable book might belong under “religion and science” (BL239-265) instead of “science”. Other possible alternatives include “bible and science” (BS650-667), “creation” (BT695-749), or “photography” (TR45.H). But remember that categories describe what a book is about; they do not vouch for the quality of its contents.

You may have limited success with this route because most local libraries and bookstores don’t use the complex LOC category scheme. Local libraries tend to use the Dewey Decimal System, which lacks a central categorization authority. Instead, books get DDS numbers from either their publishers or local librarians, who enter their decisions in a centralized database. Of course you can try the same tactic as above and argue that a questionable book belongs in a more specific category like “creation” (213) or “science and religion” (215). Bookstores, on the other hand, tend to put together their own category systems with the intent of shelving a book where it is most likely to be found by an interested customer. If you don’t want a book in the science section, convince the retailer that they can sell more copies if you put it in the religion section (for example).—But, is selling more copies of anti-science books a good thing?

More important to libraries is not how they categorize their books but what books they have in their collections. If a library has no anti-science books, then it doesn’t matter where they would shelve them. Working with a library on their collection development policies is going to be more important than arguing with them about their shelving policies. Librarians, who are always working under tight budgets, will welcome free, informed advice about their science collections as well as donations of quality science books for their patrons.

It is much easier to drown bad information in good information than to get rid of it.

I’d like to thank Glenn Branch for insightful comments, based on his experience answering questions about creationism and libraries at NCSE.

Last week I told y’all about how AiG had corrupted Kentucky’s government. Well according to an email that I received today, the tax-funded Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau will change its inflammatory and specious description of the creation anti-museum. The Cincinnati Enquirer has the story.

The new language is “A walk through history via the pages of the Bible—exploring how scripture provides an eye-witness account of the beginning of all things.

Not a perfect description, but better than what they had before.

Sounds like our public pressure worked. Good job everyone.

If Answers in Genesis’s creation anti-museum didn’t have enough of lie already, it is beginning to corrupt Kentucky’s government. The tax-funded Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau is promoting the anti-museum as a “‘walk through history”” that “counters evolutionary natural history museums that turn countless minds against Christ and Scripture”. This inflammatory lie has rightly upset several organizations, who are fighting to improve the quality of science education in Kentucky. We expect Answers in Genesis to lie, but we hope that government wouldn’t join them in it. So far the visitors bureau has refused to change their website despite having is inflammatory lies pointed out to them. Perhaps some more public pressure can change that.

The Cincinnati Enquirer has the full story.

pss-denali.jpg

Over two years ago Tiffany and I came up with Prof. Steve Steve to be the champion of science and science education in the stead of the departed Stephen Jay Gould. He serves as the official/unofficial mascot of NCSE, citizens for science groups, the Talk Origins Foundation (including The Panda’s Thumb), and science lovers everywhere.

He has been around the world, to multiple scientific conferences, rafting down the grand canyon (twice), to the headquarters of ICISD, to North Pole to meet Santa Claus, an expert in the Dover Trial, a voice of reason at the Kansas Kangaroo Kourt, fossil-hunting in New Mexico, fought pirates in Minnesota, and dinosaurs in Berkeley.

Recently he popped up at AIG’s spanking new museum to ignorance, and the BBC has the story: “Creationist museum challenges evolution.”

As we prepare to leave [AIG’s museum], Eugenie Scott quietly slips a panda glove puppet from her handbag and photographs it among the dinosaurs.

It is introduced to me as Professor Steve Steve. Creationists are fond of lists of “scientists who doubt Darwin”.

Many thousands more support evolution, but rather than play the same game, Eugenie has parodied the lists by concentrating on scientists named Steve (Stephanies are also eligible).

So far, more than 700 have signed up. Their mascot is a panda because of a notorious creationist text entitled “Of Pandas and People”.

Steve was picked in honour of the late evolutionary biologist Stephen J Gould. Steve Steve because—well, all pandas have double names.

Actually, Prof. Steve Steve is a panda because of the title for our group blog: The Panda’s Thumb, which is the title of a SJG book. Of Pandas and People was involved with the decision, but not as directly as PT.

More Prof. Steve Steve Links:

P.S. I need to note that Ed Brayton deserves credit for suggesting that we use a double name, which is considered cute in China, and thus most zoo pandas have one.

I decided to join Youtube and post some animations I made during my dissertation research. These animations were made in the early stages of my third-chapter research. The model eventually changed and no longer produced simple, pretty animations. However, I’ll post two videos and explain what is going on.

This is an animation of a continuous “plant” population evolving with local dispersal. Each square is an individual. Blue squares have marker genotype AA, green Aa, and yellow aa. The point to take home is how local dispersal decreases the genetic variation locally, producing patches of homozygotes. If I still had my longer movies, then you would be able to see much larger patches evolving in later generations. Note that there is no selection on this marker. However, things are different in the next animation.

This animation is similar to the previous one, except that the marker locus is now linked to a gametophytic self-incompatibility locus, 20 centimorgans away. Whereas, local dispersal promotes localized inbreeding and patchiness, a self-incompatibility system facilitates outbreeding and decreases patchiness. By comparing the first movie to the second, you can see the difference, and don’t have to bother with understanding the statistics that I used in my third chapter to measure patchiness. Unlike the previous model, this model involves selection because self-incompatibility loci are under balancing selection, and the marker locus experiences a bit of that selection because it is linked to the self-incompatibility locus. We in the business call that hitchhiking.

Note: I’m sorry for the slow loading of these movies. I’m not sure why Youtube doesn’t like them.

My mom has sent more pictures from tornado-devastated Americus.

Tonight Prof. Steve Steve and I went to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science so that we could finally see Flock of Dodos, Dr. Randy Olson’s documentary about intelligent design’s culture war with evolution. If you missed it, the museum will be showing it several more times in the coming weeks, including on Darwin Day. Many other locations will be showing the documentary on Darwin Day (2/12). Check your local museums and universities. If you can’t get to a screening, Showtime will carry Dodos in May, and stores should have DVDs next fall.

We left work early tonight, around 6:30, so we could brave the bad weather and make it downtown for the 7:00 showing. We got there fine enough, but when we arrived, we discovered that a Dodo was picketing the showing and urging us to repent. Prof. Steve Steve got into an argument with him trying to explain why cell theory and the second law of thermodynamics do not challenge modern biology, but the dodo appeared to have foam in his ears. Eventually, Dr. Olson joined us outside and told us that his movie was about to start. At Dr. Olson’s urging, Prof. Steve Steve and I hurried inside to find some seats and left the Dodo outside arguing with a lamp post.

The museum showed Flock of Dodos on its first floor, in the auditorium, which filled up with some 300 pandas and people . The museum itself is pretty cool, even when not throwing a flock party. It has exhibits demonstrating North Carolina’s natural treasures from the mountains to the sea, with plenty of stuffed animals and shiny rocks. The best part is the third floor’s replica of the Paluxy “man” tracks. Prof. Steve Steve swears that he can totally see where the fossils prove how Adam and Eve and Fred and Wilma chased dinosaurs across the ancient Texas wilderness some 6,000 years ago.

The movie started on time, which was unfortunate since Dr. Olson was trying to say a few words to the crowd beforehand but got cut off by the lights going down and the beginning playing. This was very funny since the first frame of Flock of Dodos is the phrase “Res ipsa loquitur—the thing speaks for itself.”

Throughout the movie, interviews with intelligent design activists were contrasted with interviews with evolutionary scientists, while the shenanigans in Kansas serving as the focal point. The documentary journeys among Boston, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Seattle. Flock of Dodos provides us with two important points

Dr. Olson answers questions after the talk.

First that the intelligent design movement consists of nothing but lies invented for a public relations campaign and seeks nothing less than the overthrow of the cultural legacies of the enlightenment.

And second that scientists are utterly unable to communicate their profession to normal people, which only helps the crusade of anti-intellectualism.

The later point proves especially provocative in academic settings because scientists don’t like to be told they the lack the tact and social skills needed to reach the people. Not surprisingly, most of the questions that Dr. Olson answered after the showing centered around this issue. It became rather clear that the room agreed with him that scientists need to work on their people skills and learn to actually communicate with people, who may know nothing about science.

I wish he would have gone one step forward and have pointed out that for science to flourish in a democracy, the electorate needs to have a positive understanding of the discipline. Ignorant voters elect ignorant politicians, and science and education suffer as a result. We should educate the masses, not condemn them.

After the official question and answer session, Dr. Olson hung around and took a few more questions from people that walked up to him. Prof. Steve Steve managed to make his way up to the front and took his picture with the filmmaker.—That silly Dodo was nowhere in sight.

And finally, I want to revisit Dr. Olson’s two important points with a question about framing the issue in our favor.

The documentary points out what an effective sound byte “Teach the Controversy” really is. Sure it lacks complete substance, but it is a short rallying cry that easily satisfies the modern requirements of marketing to a populace with a low attention span. We need something similar, not only similar but better, since the scientists in Flock of Dodos were unable to give us one.

So I think this is a good chance to use comments to brainstorm for sound bytes that favor our side of the issue. I’ll start by tossing out two bytes: “What Controversy?” and “Dover Trap”. Go ahead tell me what you think.

Intelligent Design is a Joke

On tonight’s Robot Chicken, during a sketch called “Lil Hitler”, an elementary school teacher can be seen writing “intelligent design” on the blackboard. However, the joke doesn’t go beyond that.

Flock of Dodos

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The film Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus (http://flockofdodos.com/) now has a distributor, Documentary Educational Resources. Institutions, like libraries and universities, can now buy a copy for $345. It includes the public performance rights that educational institutions need.

I suggest that if you get enough people together, you can buy a copy, watch it, and then donate it to your local library.

Check with your library first to make sure that they will accept the DVDs. Libraries can’t accept home consumer DVDs because libraries need to purchase public performance rights, which home DVDs don’t have.—Too bad for all those evangelicals that bought The Passion to donate to public schools.—However, this DVD comes with the public performance rights; although, they may not transfer.

To all triangle-area bloggers: let’s try to get one or more of the local libraries to get a copy so we can have a screening. I’ve already sent a request to NCSU, but more could help.

Brian Rohrbough is an idiot. He got up on CBS news tonight and blamed school violence on evolution:

This country is in a moral free-fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value.

Only a crazy man, divorced from reality can say such things.

The public school system is not a moral vacuum. Teachers, administrators, and students all have their own morals which they freely share with their peers. God is still well in schools, and will be as long as religious people are in public schools. Only a person who does not spend enough time working with their children’s public school, would think that school is a God free zone. Between bible clubs, fellowships, and prayer circles students have a wide range of opportunities to be pious in school. And that is only in schools that behave constitutionally. If the rate of reported violations of the establishment clause is any guide, a large proportion of public schools have no trouble forcing religion on pupils.

Because of the bible-thumping politics of idiots like Brian Rohrbough, very few schools actually teach evolution in the US. Even when evolution is in state standards, teachers and administrators often find ways to ignore it. Some do it because they actively oppose evolution, others because they don’t want to lose their jobs. For the most part, the public school system teaches in an evolution vacuum. Its like teaching chemistry without atomic theory, but schools do it because that is the way thugs like Brian Rohrbough want it.

Evolution is not about the strong killing the weak. It is about the fertile out breeding the infertile. A seventeen year-old in a murder/suicide is not going to get lucky at the senior prom, despite what Weekend at Bernie’s says. In that sense, I would argue that evolution gives a wonderful value to life: children and grandchildren.

Pundits love to complain about evolutionary theory being godless and lacking morals, but they never seem to have issues with the godlessness of atomic theory. The explanation for the diversity of life no more devalues life than the explanation for the diversity of chemical reactions.

Science explains the world; it doesn’t provide a guide for living your life.—Parents do that.

But I guess if you are the type of parent who expects biology class to be the moral guide to your children, then you are too stupid to realize who is actually to blame for them being so screwed up.

Bible Stories as Fact

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Ed has already mentioned that the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) has released its report on teaching the Bible in Texas’s public schools: Reading, Writing, and Religion. The author of the report is a Biblical Studies professor at Southern Methodist University, and he finds—surprise, surprise—that the bible courses offer Sunday school lessons more than they offer actual academic bible study. The teachers (and school districts) are simply not trained in bible scholarship and thus teach their classes from what they’ve learned in Sunday School.

That has always been one of my criticisms of Bible courses. Most districts do not have a teacher trained to know the difference between devotional study of the Bible and academic study of the Bible. Of course, that is exactly the point. Some districts picked teachers because they taught sunday school, while other districts went as far as having preachers come from outside the school system to teach their bible course.

Most of the citizens who push for Bible courses in public schools would probably be horrified to learn what an academic study of the Bible entails. Some people simply don’t like to give equal treatment to different faith traditions of the Bible. And more people don’t like scholarship that doesn’t treat the KJV bible as the completely accurate word of God. These are the types of people that go into fits over the Documentary Hypothesis, which is a must for any serious academic class on the Bible.

I think that students can benefit for an academic study of the bible, but it is nearly impossible to accomplish. Because of the lack of teacher training and the large ratio of bad materials to good materials, it is difficult for a school district to pull it off in a manner that satisfies constitutional and pedagogical concerns. And of course, if a school district happens to pull it off, many of the citizens who want their children in the class will be angered that the children would learns stuff about the Bible in school that contradicts what they learn about it in Church.

As a biologist, a specific worry for me about these courses is that they are often used to push creationism in public schools, which has a long legal history of being unconstitutional. In Finding 11, the TFN’s report states that “Bible courses are used to promote so-called ‘creation science’ and other forms of pseudo-science”. Some courses presented material from Carl Baugh and Kent Hovind as fact, while using their fake credentials to make them sound like authorities.

Brady High School, for example, has followed the suggestions of the NC BCPS and shown a creation science video on Noah’s flood produced by the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Texas, an organization that advocates belief in a six-day creation, a 6000-year-old earth, and the coexistence of dinosaurs and humans. It has accepted donations to construct a biosphere intended to replicate the atmospheric conditions prevalent before Noah’s flood. Not content just to show students the Creation Evidence Museum’s video, Brady High School has also hosted Carl Baugh, the founder of the museum, as a guest lecturer. … Brady High School has also apparently followed the NC BCPS recommendation of presenting the well-known and completely discredited urban legend about NASA’ s supposed discovery of a missing day in time as factually accurate. …

In a recent school year, the Forsan High School Bible class spent two days watching the video Dinosaurs and the Bible, produced by Creation Science Evangelism. The course objective for those days is to “show agreement with Biblical record and paleontological discoveries.” An additional day is devoted to a video identified as “Eden and 800-year old men,” which is probably The Garden of Eden, produced by the same company. That day’s objective is characterized as: “Are there possible scientific explanations for long-lived humans in biblical times?” … Approximately half of the questions on a test over “Creation and Genesis Chronology” are devoted to the “young earth” theories of Kent Hovind, founder of Creation Science Evangelism. These include:

According to Dr. Hovind’s thoery an [blank] struck the earth, causing a global flood.

According to Dr. Hovind, fossilization can take place very slowly/quickly. (circle the correct answer)

Give two example of rapid fossilization.

ATDH (according to Dr. Hovind) which of the following can explain fossil stratification (layers) in a flood situation? (circle 4 correct answers) Age/Mobility/tv ads/Body density/Hair color/Intelligence/Habitat

Which of the following is not a proof that dinosaurs live after the Flood?

a. cave paintings by early native Americans

b. dinosaur engravings around Bishop Bell’s tomb at Carlisle cathedral in Britain

c. Barney

d. Bible desription of Leviathan and Behemoth

e. Fossil footprints.

Some districts even taught that Africans, Europeans, and Asians are descended from different sons of Noah, without realizing that such Bible stories presented as fact were used to support racism, slavery, and Jim Crow in the past.

I just hope this report makes districts think hard about what is required to teach an academic bible class in public schools.

I am in the process of leaving Georgia, but Georgia will never leave me. I feel that my time working on science activism with Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education (GCISE) has benefited my state. It was through our efforts that the press learned what was being done to our science standards by the Georgia Department of Education (GADOE), and that the GADOE was lying about it. (My op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was the first to bring it to light.) Because of GCISE’s vigilance, public outcry forced the GADOE to pass standards with descent support for evolution.

Over a year or so ago, a teacher came to us at GCISE, asking for help. Her administrators were trying to force her to compromise her teaching, and she was standing up to them. We provided what support we could, but in the end her best support came from the state standards. Now that she has retired, the NY Times is telling her story: Evolution’s Lonely Battle in a Georgia Classroom.

Ms. New was summoned to a meeting with the superintendent, Dewey Moye, as well as the principal and two parents upset about her teaching evolution. “We have to let parents ask questions,” Mr. Moye told her. “It’s a public school. In a democracy people can ask questions.”

Ms. New said the parents, “badgered, got loud and sarcastic and there was no support from administrators.”

Babs Greene, another administrator, “asked if I was almost finished teaching evolution,” Ms. New recalled. “I explained to her again that it is a unifying concept in life science. It is in every unit I teach. There was a big sigh.”

“I thought I was going crazy,” said Ms. New, who has won several outstanding teacher awards and is one of only two teachers at her school with national board certification. The other is her husband, Ward.

“It takes a lot to stand up and be willing to have people angry at you,” she said. But Ms. New did. She repeatedly urged her supervisors to read Georgia’s science standards, particularly S7L5, which calls for teaching evolution. …

Suddenly the superintendent was focused on standards. Mr. Moye called the state department’s middle school science supervisor and asked about evolution. “Obviously the State Department of Education supports evolution,” Mr. Moye said in an interview. …

Ms. New said that from then on, including the entire 2005-06 school year, she had no problem teaching evolution. “What saved me, was I didn’t have to argue evolution with these people. All I had to say was, ‘I’m following state standards.’ “

This is why strong science standards are so important for overwhelmed teachers. They give teachers an easy way to resolve curriculum issues in their favor. Of course, in an ideal world all teachers would have the time and patience to teach their parents and administrators about evolution. However, teachers will be the first to tell you that the world is not ideal.

I am glad that I was a part of the campaign to improve Georgia’s standards. And I hope that you will get involved in your state.

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.

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.

Georgia Earns a B

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Well the grades for the state science standards have been released and our state has improved its score from an F to a B. Our new standards are now 12th in the nation.

Our standards were going to be much worse when the state superintendent, Kathy Cox, decided to gut evolution education in the standards. (See previous post.) She not only wanted the word “evolution” removed from the standards but also removed roughly 70% of the material pertaining to evolution. Other controversial subjects like the age of the earth were also redacted from the standards by her. (Unlike Minnesota’s (now Florida’s) Yecke, I don’t think Cox was intentionally trying to promote creationism but rather was honestly trying to avoid classroom controversy. Woops.)

Public outrage over her move, especially comments by Jimmy Carter (a nuclear engineer, former President, and Nobel laureate) forced her to add the material back in. However, these shenanigans left little room to improve the standards further, which is why we didn’t manage an A.

One interesting thing to note is that Georgia scored well on its treatment of biology. It’s the other science that made us loose points.

By far the best feature of these standards is their handling of life sciences. Introduction of the important ideas of modern biology begins early, and their development is steady and carefully sequenced. High school work is a real advance over what has preceded it in the primary grades, yet it is solidly based on the acquired background. The treatment of biological diversity and evolution is straightforward and comprehensive; but for unnecessary parsimony on molecular biology, it would be outstanding. (We understand that the intelligent design creationists are very active in Georgia, too, but so far it appears that they haven’t succeeded in mutilating the state standards.) Grade: “B.”

None of this would have been possible without the diligence of Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education.

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