The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘history’

Help Get Charles Darwin on an E-Book

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 27, 2014

One of the most memorable science and skeptical experiences I had was to organize a Darwin Day event a few years back wherein my local group – Darwin’s Bulldogs – hosted Charles Darwin impersonator and historian Brian “Fox” Ellis.  Brian is an amazing performer, and we packed the room with people who were mesmerized by his work.

Now I’d like to help Brian out with his campaign to create an e-book (that incorporates both audio and video) through a campaign called “History… In Person!” that features Charles Darwin and many other figures of historical and scientific note.  Read on for more information, and please consider donating to his cause…

Darwin impersonator and excellence in science educational policy advocate, Brian “Fox” Ellis is working with a great team of educators, artists and techies to help produce a series of living books, HISTORY… In Person! They are using crowd sourced funding, which means that if you want to support this project you purchase books before-hand to help them move forward. You can be part of this team and produce a living book that you can Print on Demand, read on your tablet, listen to as a podcast and download as video, giving you an intimate encounter with historical characters as portrayed by Brian “Fox” EllisYou get to help decide which characters get produced. Join this crowd sourced funding campaign and win cool perks including a chance to be a costumed character in the film! Share this link on social media and invite your friends to vote! If we get enough folks to support Darwin, he has agreed to offer a free program in the Chicago area for Darwin’s Bulldogs and donate Biography Cards to the Clergy Project! Follow the link and choose your perk for supporting HISTORY… In Person!


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“The Revisionaries” PBS Documentary on Texas Textbooks

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 30, 2013

If you’ve been following the ongoing saga over the years that is the Texas Board of Education and their textbook adoption process, then you no doubt understand that there has been a far-right conservative faction of people who have attempted to push their ideology (including creationism) into Texas public schools.  Now the recent history of this saga has been chronicled in a PBS documentary titled “The Revisionaries”.  I encourage you to take the time to share and watch this important documentary, which you can do online here until February 27th:

The Revisionaries

“Somebody has got to stand up to experts!” — Don McLeRoy, former Texas BoEd member

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Good News From Louisiana: New Orleans Bans Creationism

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 21, 2012

If you’ve followed the creationism issue at all, you know that Louisiana is a hotbed of this fringe pseudoscience.  However, in a more than welcome move, the city of New Orleans sent a clear message that they would not tolerate such nonsense being taught in their public schools.  Here’s more on the good news from the National Center for Science Education :)

The Orleans Parish School Board “OK’d policies that prohibit the teaching of creationism or so-called ‘intelligent design’ in its half-dozen direct-run schools, or the purchasing of textbooks that promulgate those perspectives,” according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune (December 18, 2012). As specified in the documents for the board’s December 18, 2012, meeting, the new policies provide (PDF, pp. 100 and 101), in part, that no “science textbook [shall] be approved which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories” and that “[no] teacher of any discipline of science shall teach creationism or intelligent design in classes designated as science classes.” [emphasis added]

Ouch.  There you have it, in no uncertain terms: creationists and their pseudoscience need not apply for New Orleans public school science classes.

One more positive thing about this development is that student activist Zack Kopplin, who has been fighting the creationists in Louisiana, appears to have had some influence in these developments:

… the only speaker on the textbook policy at the meeting was Zack Kopplin: “‘Creationism certainly is not science,’ he said, warning that students not only will not meet higher education standards, but they ‘won’t find New Orleans jobs in the Bio District.’”

Kopplin, the young activist who organized the effort to repeal the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act (and who received NCSE’s Friend of Darwin award in 2011), told NCSE, “Between this and the New Orleans City Council’s rejection of the creationist Louisiana Science Education Act, the city of New Orleans has fully rejected creationism.” (The New Orleans City Council adopted a resolution in May 2011 endorsing the repeal effort.) Kopplin added, “It might also be enough to prompt the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology to lift their boycott of New Orleans,” which began in 2009, owing to what SICB’s president described (PDF) as “the official position of the state in weakening science education and specifically attacking evolution in science curricula.”

I would like to encourage supporters of science and reason to contact the Orleans Parish School Board and thank them for promoting good science education, and please pass this news along so that we can reinforce this good governance!

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Happy Birthday to Robert Green Ingersoll, “The Great Agnostic”

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 11, 2012

I just wanted to pass along this announcement from the fine folks at the Center For Inquiry regarding one of the most valuable orators and activists for freethought, science, and rationality: Robert Green Ingersoll.  This past Saturday (August 11th) was his birthday, and I think it is worth letting you know more about him:

Happy Birthday to “The Great Agnostic!”

Back before blogs, opinion-based news programs, talk radio, and even amplified sound, the American public gathered by the thousands to listen to professional orators calling out their opinions from train platforms, outdoor stages, and the steps of city hall. Oratory was wildly popular in the 1800s, and there was no lecturer more popular than Robert Green Ingersoll, a.k.a., “The Great Agnostic.”

Ingersoll continually championed science, reason, and secular values in the public square. He was an early popularizer of Charles Darwin and a tireless advocate for women’s rights, racial equality, and birth control decades before others would pick up the cause. He often poked fun at religious belief, and he defied the religious conservatives of his day by championing secular humanist values.

Ingersoll’s work and his words are highly relevant to our day, too, so the Center for Inquiry and its sister organization, the Council for Secular Humanism, work to bring his wisdom and insights to a broader audience.

— Learn more about Robert Green Ingersoll —

Happy Birthday, Colonel Bob!

Posted in free inquiry, philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A Brief History of The “History” Channel

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 3, 2012

I have long lamented the slow, downward spiral into an abyss of stupidity taken by networks such as The “History” Channel in recent years.  It started when a student of mine expressed his shock at seeing a show about “ancient aliens” building the pyramids on THC; fortunately my student knew it was a steaming pile of woo.  As a way of giving you some idea of how THC has gone all the way down the rabbit hole of pseudoscience and complete nonsense in its quest for ratings, I would like to pass along to you this humorous graphic I stole from my skeptical colleague Kylie Sturgess.  It sums the whole thing up nicely… :)

Posted in aliens & UFOs, media woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Bill Filed to Repeal Louisiana’s Creationism Law

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 19, 2011

[**Update (4-21-11): 41 Nobel laureates are backing Zack's effort! :) The laureates today sent a letter to Governor Jindal and members of the Louisiana legislature urging them to repeal the LSEA. The AP has the story: ]

You may recall some time ago that I wrote a blog post about a grassroots campaign to repeal the “academic freedom” law in Louisiana which would give creationists cover to push their pseudoscientific nonsense in public schools.  The driving force behind the repeal effort is a high school senior – Zack Kopplin – who has gotten so much attention that a bill has been introduced in the Louisiana state legislature to repeal the law!

We need more kids like Zack Kopplin – this kid is all kinds of awesome!

**Aside: read my previous post on this to learn why it is that this “academic freedom” language is quite troublesome for science & fact-based education.

Please take some time to get involved in this effort…

Check out Zack’s “Repeal Creationism” website

Look up the movement on Facebook and become a member

Here are more details on the latest developments of the repeal effort from the National Center for Science Education:

Senate Bill 70 (PDF), prefiled in the Louisiana Senate on April 15, 2011, and provisionally referred to the Senate Committee on Education, would, if enacted, repeal Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1, which implemented the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, passed and enacted in 2008. SB 70 was introduced by Karen Carter Peterson (D-District 5), but the driving force behind the repeal effort is Baton Rouge high school senior Zack Kopplin, working with the Louisiana Coalition for Science. The repeal effort is endorsed by the National Association of Biology Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Biology Educators.

“Louisiana’s ‘job killing’ creationism law undermines our education system and drives science and technology based companies away from Louisiana,” Peterson said in a press release dated April 17, 2011, with Kopplin adding, “Louisiana public school students deserve to be taught accurate and evidence based science which will prepare them to take competitive jobs.” The press release pointedly asked further, “How many businesses will locate elsewhere because they want well trained scientists? How many researchers will take their talents elsewhere or never come to Louisiana because of this anti-science law?” …

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Campaign to Repeal the Creationist “Academic Freedom” Law in Louisiana

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 21, 2011

I found out just this weekend that there is a grassroots movement in the state of Louisiana to repeal its so-called “academic freedom” law. Now why would anyone want to be against academic freedom?  Because, plain and simple, these kinds of laws are nothing more than a front for pushing nonsense pseudoscience (specifically creationism) in public science classes.

**Aside: For reference, Louisiana is currently the only state in the United States which has a so-called “academic freedom” law, but you can be sure that creationists have their eye on moving things in the same direction in other states (such as in Oklahoma, where a similar bill is under consideration).

The big problem with the “academic freedom” language, which sounds good on the surface, is that it is intended solely as a vehicle to get non-science & pseudoscientific ideas into the public science classroom.  In this sense, it is the latest variation on the old, debunked “teach both (all) theories” or “teach the controversy” tactics employed by creationists in years past.  The intent behind the term “academic freedom” suffers from the same errors as these previous versions: it elevates blatant non-science (or pseudoscience) to the same level as established science, and this leads to all manner of confusion in students.  Would we consider doing this in, say, a history class whereby we allow teachers the “academic freedom” to teach Holocaust denialism on an equal level with the well-established history of the Nazis & World War II?

In my opinion, the “academic freedom” laws are even worse than their progenitors, because since they are so broadly worded (and not limited explicitly to science) they could be applied to any subject.  Hence, my made-up scenario about Holocaust denial above could conceivably be protected under such a law, even though Holocaust denial is utter rubbish & nothing more than racist historical revisionism.  Taken to the logical conclusion, such laws basically take the notion of objective reality and toss it right out the proverbial window.

On the up side, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there is a grassroots effort to repeal the law in Louisiana.  Check it out, and please consider lending whatever support you are able (even if it is only to spread the word)…

High School Student Launches Campaign to Repeal Louisiana’s Creationism Law

Building upon a grassroots effort last winter that was successful in fighting off efforts to insert creationism into Louisiana science textbooks, Baton Rouge Magnet High School Senior Zack Kopplin is helping lead an effort to have the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) repealed during the Louisiana Legislature’s 2011 Regular Session. State Senator Karen Carter Peterson (New Orleans) has announced that she will sponsor the repeal legislation.

The misnamed and misguided Louisiana Science Education Act, which was passed and signed into law in 2008, is stealth legislation to encourage Louisiana public school science teachers to include creationist materials in their curriculum. In Livingston Parish Louisiana, school board members explicitly cited this law last summer in their push to mandate that creationism be made part of the science curriculum for the 2011-12 school year.

“State of Belief,” a radio program sponsored by Interfaith Alliance, recently featured a dialogue about the repeal effort between Kopplin and Welton Gaddy who is the President of Interfaith Alliance and a Baptist minister from Monroe, Louisiana. Dr. Barbara Forrest, co-founder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science also was featured on the show. The interview aired Feb, 13, and can be listened to here.   Gaddy said of Kopplin’s repeal effort,

It represents the the best thinking in American science, the best thinking in American religion, and it also reflects the United States constitution.

Kopplin’s role in this campaign was recently featured in an Op-Ed titled “Student takes role of David to creationists’ legislative Goliath” in The Lens, which wrote

Kopplin rightly views the legislation as costumed creationism – ridiculous Trojan horse legislation that lets instructors teach scientific “controversies” where none exist. He understands that when pseudo-scientific “supplemental” materials are used to critique scientific theories (such as evolution or gravity), a false balance results: ungrounded speculations are placed on par with the overwhelming scientific consensus.

For more information, please visit and see our fact sheet.

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Oppose Texas Theocratic Threats to Nationwide Education

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 11, 2010

I just wanted to pass along a very well-worded action alert from the folks over at the Secular Coalition for America


Don’t Let a Few Theocrats Have a National Effect on Public School Curricula

A few theocratic members of the Texas State Board of Education—already infamous for their moves to indoctrinate Texas students with creationism in science classes—are falsely asserting a theocratic basis to America’s founding and removing, of all people, Thomas Jefferson from a list of influential thinkers. [Read more about this situation at the Texas Freedom Network's website]

A handful of religious extremists can affect schools across America. Because other big states like California and New York do not impose statewide standards in the same way, Texas is one of the largest statewide textbook markets. Texas uses some of its $22 billion education fund to buy or distribute a staggering 48 million textbooks annually—which strongly inclines educational publishers to tailor products to fit Texas standards.

The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association have developed (and the Obama administration has embraced) common core educational standards, but they apply only to math and English language arts. As the New York Times recently noted, some basic, factual subjects, such as evolution may be deemed “controversial” in the 21st Century’s educational environment. If standards are to exist, federal financial incentives must apply with equal force to science and history just as they do for math and English. To do otherwise is to succumb to the pressure of religious extremists.

Let’s make sure our community’s voice is heard.

Write your Member of Congress now! Tell them that if they support national education standards and incentives for math and English, they should support standards that are just as strong for science and history, regardless of pressure from religious extremists.

Secular Americans believe that every student deserves to learn science and our nation’s history as they actually are, with no bias for or against any ideology or religion. Religious creation myths have no place in science classes, and religiously-based revisions and indoctrinations should be equally unwelcome in history classes. We should not be afraid to set standards because of religious extremists.


Amen to that :)

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Noah’s Ark Found… Again?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 30, 2010

Recently a story getting a lot of press is yet another claim by yet another Christian-oriented organization that they’ve discovered the mythical Noah’s Ark. For many Christians of the more fundamentalist stripe, the myth of Noah’s Ark is kind of like the Holy Grail – many of them believe that if it can be found that it somehow proves the validity of their particular interpretation of the Bible.

noahs ark mt ararat

However, some deeper investigation past the headline shows that this story is likely just another exaggerated claim, because – as skeptic Ben Radford points out – we’ve been here before… numerous times.  Yes, apparently, the mythical Noah’s Ark has been discovered (and re-discovered) a number of times “with definitive proof” that it is authentic.

Noah’s Ark Re-Rediscovered

A Chinese Christian filmmaker claims to have found the final resting place of Noah’s Ark on Turkey’s Mount Ararat.

Yeung Wing-Cheung says he and a team from Noah’s Ark Ministries found the remains of the Ark at an elevation of about 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). They filmed inside the structure and took wood samples that were later analyzed in Iran. He claims the wood was carbon-dated to around the reputed time of Noah’s flood, which would be remarkable since organic material should have long since disintegrated in the last 5,000 years.

Yeung said that he is “99 percent certain that it is Noah’s Ark based on historical accounts, including the Bible and local beliefs of the people in the area, as well as carbon dating.”

While news of the find is making headlines around the world, there’s one part of the story that Yeung is conspicuously silent about: He is only the latest in a long line of people who claim to have found Noah’s Ark. In fact, there have been at least half a dozen others – all of them funded by Christian organizations – who have claimed final, definitive proof of Noah’s Ark. So far none of the claims have proven true.

Noah’s Ark is routinely re-discovered, because there are many who fervently want it to be found. Biblical literalists – those who believe that proof of the Bible’s events remains to be found – have spent their lives and fortunes trying to scientifically validate their religious beliefs.

There are several reasons why the new claims should be treated with skepticism. For example, Yeung refuses to disclose the location of the find and is instead keeping it a secret. This of course is inherently unscientific; for the claims to be proven, the evidence must be presented to other scientists for peer-review. Nor has the alleged 5,000-year-old wood been made available for independent testing.

… There is a long and rich history of Ark finds. Nearly 40 years ago, Violet M. Cummings, author of “Noah’s Ark: Fable or Fact?” (Creation-Science Research Center, 1973) claimed – without evidence – that Noah’s Ark had been found on Mount Ararat. According to the 1976 book and film “In Search of Noah’s Ark,” (Scholastic Book Services) “there is now actual photographic evidence that Noah’s Ark really does exist…. Scientists have used satellites, computers, and powerful cameras to pinpoint the Ark’s exact location on Mt. Ararat.” Yet again, no real evidence was offered.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in creationism, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Progress in the Texas Social Studies Curriculum Fight

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 27, 2009

Not too long ago, I posted about how the Texas Board of Education, which is run by religious zealots, has been attempting to infuse fundamentalist Christianity into social studies classes. As that article states, various groups have lined up to oppose this move, and it seems that – slowly but surely – the campaign to hold the Texas BoEd accountable is bearing fruit.

Here is an update from the American Humanist Association on the issue…

The Texas State Board of Education recently made public the first draft of their new curriculum—and it looks like your hard work has paid off! Bob Bhaerman, education coordinator of the Kochhar Humanist Education Center, has carefully reviewed the draft recommendations and overall has found them to be satisfactory. The curriculum does not appear to paint the United States as a “Christian nation” in any way, nor does it include other historically inaccurate or misleading standards.

Thank you for your support on this important issue.

Despite this welcome development, however, there are still a few sections of the curriculum that could call into question its ideological impartiality. We need to keep the pressure on the Texas State Board of Education to make sure the final version gets it just right. One particularly troubling area includes directives to teach about the influence of religious conservatives and the Moral Majority—without paying equal attention to progressive figures or movements.

Please click here to send a letter to the Texas State Board of Education, commending the first draft but urging them to maintain an impartial balance when it comes to covering ideologies in the final curriculum.

Posted in education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »


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