The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for August 27th, 2009

Project Steve Tops 1100 Signatures!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 27, 2009

Our friends at the National Center for Science Education have topped 1100 signatures to their Steve-O-Meter! For those who don’t know, Project Steve is an effort by the NCSE to show how bankrupt are the claims of creationists that a significant number of scientists “dissent from Darwinism”.

Creationist groups such as the Discovery Institute have engaged in a long-running campaign to fool the public into believing that there is a significant section of the scientific community that disagrees with evolutionary theory.  In their “dissent from Darwinism” campaign, they’ve claimed that as many as 400-500 prominent scientists believe that evolutionary science is defunct.

In response, the NCSE started Project Steve, named in honor of the late evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould, which allowed scientists to sign the following statement:

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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 »

Superstition & Computer Technology

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 27, 2009

Today I saw a great post over at the Tech Republic blog about the “10 habits of superstitious users” of computers.  I wanted to pass this along to you, partially because it is an excellent contemporary example of loose & magical thinking.  I am also sharing it partially out of deference to my wife, who has to deal with the computer illiterate all-too-often who view the computer as either some kind of malevolent entity or a magical box.

Here is the main text of the article [note that I’ve added relevant links to the text]…

Superstition: A belief, not based on human reason or scientific knowledge, that future events may be influenced by one’s behavior in some magical or mystical way (Wiktionary).

In 1947, the psychologist B. F. Skinner reported a series of experiments in which pigeons could push a lever that would randomly either give them a food pellet, or nothing. Think of it as a sort of one-armed bandit that the pigeons played for free. Skinner found, after a while, that some of the pigeons started acting oddly before pushing the lever. One moved in counterclockwise circles, one repeatedly stuck its head into the upper corner of the cage, and two others would swing their heads back and forth in a sort of pendulum motion. He suggested that the birds had developed “superstitious behaviors” by associating getting the food with something they happened to be doing when they actually got it — and they had wrongly concluded that if they did it again, they were more likely to get the pellet. Essentially, they were doing a sort of food-pellet dance to better their odds.

Although computer users are undoubtedly smarter than pigeons, users who really don’t understand how a computer works may also wrongly connect some action of theirs with success (and repeat it), or associate it with failure (and avoid it like the plague). Here are some of the user superstitions I’ve encountered.

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