Archive for February, 2011
Posted by mattusmaximus on February 27, 2011
Often you will hear scientists, skeptics, and cheerleaders for science lamenting the sad state of scientific knowledge among the population at large, at least in the United States. We continually get the message that our children are not being properly educated in science as compared to other countries, and this leads to all manner of hand-wringing. However, as some recent research suggests, it may not be true. In fact, the state of science education and scientific literacy in the United States may actually be better than almost all other nations and – dare I say it? – getting better!
… according to a Michigan State University researcher, while Americans are holding their own, they are not even close to where they should be.
Participating at 3:45 p.m. PST today in an American Association for the Advancement of Science symposium, titled “Science Literacy and Pseudoscience,” MSU’s Jon Miller said that Americans, while slightly ahead of their European counterparts when it comes to scientific knowledge, still have a long way to go.
“A slightly higher proportion of American adults qualify as scientifically literate than European or Japanese adults, but the truth is that no major industrial nation in the world today has a sufficient number of scientifically literate adults,” he said. “We should take no pride in a finding that 70 percent of Americans cannot read and understand the science section of the New York Times.”
Approximately 28 percent of American adults currently qualify as scientifically literate, an increase from around 10 percent in the late 1980s and early 1990s, according to Miller’s research. … [emphasis added]
Now, I have to agree that an adult scientific literacy rate of 28% is unacceptable, especially at the beginning of the 21st century. However, the fact that we started out at around 10% in the late 80s (yikes!) and have almost tripled the scientific literacy rate gives me some real hope for the future of our species.
Also, to put things into perspective, I’d like to show you one of the charts from the research paper (the original paper is available in PDF format here)…
So what has led to this almost three-fold increase in scientific literacy in the United States? There could be a variety of factors at play here: better secondary and post-secondary education in science and related fields, the rise of the Internet, the increasing visibility of pro-science groups such as the National Center for Science Education and the James Randi Educational Foundation, etc. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if all of the above had some influence on these results, and while it isn’t enough progress for my liking, at least we’re moving in the right direction :)
Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: adults, China, college, education, high school, Jon Miller, literacy, poll, post secondary, public, research, school, science, scientific community, secondary, students, survey, United States, university | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on February 26, 2011
As a follow-up to the successful 10:23 Campaign: “Homeopathy: There’s Nothing In It!”, I wanted to share with you all an excellent video challenge from skeptic James Randi, who is laying down the gauntlet to homeopathy manufacturers and pharmacies that sell this scam “medicine”…
In addition, please consider taking a few minutes to go over to Change.org and sign the petition which encourages these manufacturers & pharmacies to come clean to the public about these bogus products…
Posted in medical woo | Tagged: 10 23 Campaign, 10:23, 2011, alternative medicine, CAM, challenge, complementary medicine, dilution, homeopathy, Homeopathy There's Nothing in it, James Randi, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, law of infinitesimals, law of similars, Little Sugar Pills, magic, manufacturers, medicine, pharmacies, pharmacy, potency, quackery, Randi, remedies, remedy, sCAM, skeptical activism, sleeping pills, solution, suicide, treatment, woo, Ziztur | Leave a Comment »
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 www.repealcreationism.com and see our fact sheet.
Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: academic freedom, Bible, Christ, Christianity, clouds, creationism, creationist, Discovery Institute, evolution, God, history, Holocaust denail, ID, intelligent design, Jesus, Louisiana, Nazis, pseudohistory, pseudoscience, repeal, science, teach all views, teach the controversy, World War II, WWII, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | 5 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on February 21, 2011
Some of you may recall that I wrote a scathing post a couple of years ago, when The Skeptical Teacher was still young (in Internet time), about the progressive online newspaper called The Huffington Post (or, the HuffPo, as I call it). In it, I essentially accused the HuffPo of becoming a front for left-leaning woo, such as various forms of New Age nonsense, “alternative” medical quackery, and vaccine denial. Well, the good news is it seems that the number of science-oriented bloggers criticizing the HuffPo is growing, as evidenced by this post over at the Red State Progressive blog…
Many progressives get their news, at least in part, from The Huffington Post. I think this is unfortunate, and I side with a growing number of bloggers who will not promote them with links or retweets. As I have explained previously, they promote a dangerous sort of quackery, including creationism, homeopathy, antivaccination propaganda, and pseudoscience. It seems that Ms. Huffington has a soft spot for this sort of drivel, and HuffPo has become notorious for it.
If you are still not convinced, you might consider examining the growing body of evidence:
In keeping with this trend, I encourage you all to NOT promote the HuffPo with links and retweets. The more people who hold them to account for the dangerous pseudoscience they are spreading, the better.
Posted in media woo, medical woo, politics | Tagged: alternative medicine, anti-vaccination, anti-vax, antibiotics, Big Pharma, blog, bloggers, CAM, cancer, conspiracy, conspiracy theory, health, Huff Po, Huffington Post, HuffPo, liberal, medical community, medical intuitives, medicine, New Age, pharmaceuticals, politics, progressive, psychic, quackery, sCAM, science-based medicine, scientific community, vaccines | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on February 20, 2011
A hilarious photo is making the rounds on the Internet, and I thought it was worth a bit of analysis. It is a photograph of a man’s arm, tattooed with the Biblical verse from Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as one does with a woman. It is an abomination.” Here it is…
No doubt, this guy was expressing his disapproval of homosexuality – in fact, it seems he may have been involved in a hate crime, hence the photograph and media coverage. I’m also guessing, given the emphasis on the Bible, that this fellow’s also a fundamentalist Christian, someone who claims that they get their morality from a “literal” reading of the Bible.
Here’s the funny part: in the very same book of the Bible quoted by this guy, there is a verse which expressly forbids tattooing. It’s in Leviticus 19:28: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.”
Wow, you can’t make this stuff up :)
While hilarious, I think this points out something crucial in the mindset of most people who refer to themselves as Biblical “literalists”: they are, essentially, hypocrites. You see, most Christians who claim that mantle for themselves are just posturing, though they may sincerely believe it, because what they want is to have their particular interpretation of the Bible to take precidence above all others (including those of many other Christians). They are interpreting the Bible, just like anyone else, yet they refuse to accept that’s what they are doing.
In closing, as a way of sticking my thumb into the collective eye of these so-called Biblical “literalists”, I would like to reference the now-infamous “Letter to Dr. Laura” on the issue of homosexuality and the Bible…
Dear Dr. Laura:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination… End of debate.
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.
1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is, my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath.Exodus 35:2. clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?
7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle- room here?
8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?
9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16.
Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)
I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.
Posted in humor, religion | Tagged: abomination, Bible, bisexual, Christ, Christian, conservative, Doctor Laura, Dr Laura, fag, faggot, fundamentalist, gay, GLBT, God, hate crime, homo, homosexual, homosexuality, Jesus, lesbian, Leviticus, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 19:28, literalist, morality, morals, religion, skeptic, Skeptic's Annotated Bible, tattoo | 4 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on February 19, 2011
Think that your school district is immune from the pressures of pseudoscientific nonsense such as creationism? Think again…
This image is edited from the hilarious original :)
It can happen anywhere, and I say that with all sincerity because it looks like creationism could very well be creeping very near to my own backyard. Specifically, there is a school board election coming up soon in a nearby district, and I was tipped off to this fact by an online pro-science group I’m part of called Darwin’s Bulldogs.
In this article in a local paper, it is outlined quite clearly that the intentions of two candidates for the school board (one of whom is the current president!) are to have their religious beliefs taught as science…
Two candidates for the Fremont School District 79 board — including the panel’s current president — believe creationism should be taught alongside evolution in science classes.
The revelations were made Monday morning during candidate interviews at the Daily Herald’s Lake County office.
“I think from a scientific standpoint it can be given as a viewpoint,” board President Sandra Bickley said in the interview. “(It’s) another theory to consider.” …
Well, I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow that to happen. I’ve already written a letter to the paper which published this article. Here it is…
Creationism should not be taught as science
As a physics teacher/professor and taxpayer, I was appalled to read your Feb. 14 article “Candidates: Teach creationism in science classes” about the Fremont school board election.
According to your article, candidates Sandra Bickley and Kim Hansen said that creationism is “another theory to consider” and that it “should be presented in a very broad type of curriculum or structure”. They also said that “there is no right or wrong” regarding people’s beliefs.
Well, I don’t know about the right or wrong of one’s beliefs, but I can tell you that there most certainly are right and wrong answers in science. And the evidence overwhelmingly shows that creationism, as science, is dead wrong. If there were anything substantial, in a scientific sense, to creationism, why is it that we don’t use creationism to make modern vaccines & antibiotics, as we do with evolutionary biology? We don’t because creationism doesn’t work as science, period.
As for the “teach all views” argument, which version of creationism should we teach? Should it be young-Earth (the Earth is 6000 years old) or old-Earth (the Earth is billions of years old) creationism? What about teaching non-Christian versions, such as Raelianism (they believe we were created by aliens, not God)? Perhaps after we get done “teaching all views”, the students might have a couple of weeks left in the school year to learn real science.
They don’t waste time with this nonsense in science classes in China & India, whose populations are becoming better educated & more competitive with the United States every year. I suggest the taxpayers consider that fact when casting their votes in the upcoming school board election.
I’m not sure if my letter will get published, but I’ll fight this thing tooth & toenail if I have to, and I have allies in that fight. That includes regular readers of this blog, whom I encourage to contact me, most especially if you live in the area, for advice on dealing with issues such as these. This is important because one things creationists do is track each others’ success with things like this; if they have even mild success in an area, they will make a concerted push in that area (and others). If you don’t beat them back quickly, they’ll multiply and try to take over the school board; then, the next thing you know, you’ve got another Dover trial on your hands.
This should serve as a cautionary tale, folks: it CAN happen anywhere, and it WILL happen if those of us on the side of science & skepticism let our guard down. So be on the lookout & watch your local school board.
Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: Bible, Christian, Christianity, creationism, D79, Darwin's Bulldogs, Dist 79, District 79, Dover, Dover vs Kitzmiller, education, election, Fremont, God, ID, Illinois, intelligent design, Jesus, Kitzmiller, politics, public school, school, school board, science, taxes, taxpayer | 4 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on February 15, 2011
Last night, Monday Feb. 14th, I was invited as the special guest for the weekly broadcast of Warning Radio with Brian & Baxter. During the interview, we discussed “fun talk about asteroids, funny statistics, and Bill Nye’s strange water ideas.” It was a real hoot.
The show is archived here. Enjoy! :)
Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: Active Ion, ActiveIon, Apophis, asteroid, Baxter, Bill Nye, Brian, Brian and Baxter, broadcast, doomsday, interview, magic water, paranormal, podcast, radio, show, skeptic, skepticism, space, Warning Radio | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on February 12, 2011
A recent conversation on the comments section of this blog has caused me to write about a question that often plagues me when discussing the whole issue of creationism: namely, if creationism were a true & accurate account of the universe, which version of creationism is true & accurate?
One of the biggest fallacies made by creationists seems to be that, in their apparent zeal to tear down the well-established science of evolution, they fail to realize that there are many different kinds of creationism out there. Not only that, but many of these differing creationist views are not compatible with one another, a fact which makes certain creationist claims to be “the truth” rather embarrassing seeing as how they conflict not only with modern science but other kinds of “truthful” creationism. And the fact that most of these people come to these conclusions through a supposedly “literal, inerrant and truthful” reading of the Bible opens up even more questions.
First, it should be noted that I am assuming, for the sake of this post, that we are discussing the version of creationism most dealt with in the United States: creationism from a Christian perspective. There are, in fact, a lot of different non-Christian versions of creationism in the world. But, as you shall see, even within Christianity there’s creationism and then there’s creationism, depending upon whom you ask. Let me reference the list of the variations on creationism as outlined by the Talk Origins website (quotes are taken from that site), starting with those views which are the most extreme and gradually progressing from there:
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in creationism | Tagged: atheism, Bible, Christian, Christianity, creationism, day age creationism, deism, evolution, evolutionary creationism, Flat Earth, gap creationism, geocentrism, God, ID, intelligent design, Jesus, materialism, methodological materialistic evolution, National Center for Science Education, NCSE, OEC, old earth creationism, progressive creationism, science, Talk Origins, theistic evolution, watchmaker, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | 4 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on February 9, 2011
In recent days, one of the more popular news stories flying around the Internet has to do with a supposed “doomsday” asteroid called Apophis. And, according to some idiotic journalists who seem to want to push a sensationalistic “news” story, this asteroid is going to hit the Earth in 2036 with devastating consequences – in short, they say this is going to happen…
Well, I’m here to tell you that this is, to use the scientifically-accurate phrase, a complete load of crap. That’s because the original story, which came via a Russian “news” outlet, has been completely and thoroughly refuted by NASA and scientists worldwide…
In 2004, NASA scientists announced that there was a chance that Apophis, an asteroid larger than two football fields, could smash into Earth in 2029. A few additional observations and some number-crunching later, astronomers noted that the chance of the planet-killer hitting Earth in 2029 was nearly zilch.
Now, reports out of Russia say that scientists there estimate Apophis will collide with Earth on April 13, 2036. These reports conflict on the probability of such a doomsday event, but the question remains: How scared should we be? …
In answer to that question, I think we shouldn’t really be scared at all. When you crunch the latest numbers, the probability that Apophis will actually impact the Earth in 2036 is about 1-in-250,000. If you work that out to a percentage, it comes out to a 0.0004% chance the asteroid will hit Earth. That’s a pretty slim chance, and certainly nothing to get all upset about, in my opinion.
Let’s think of it this way: compare the probability that Apophis will hit Earth in 2036 with the chances of other unfortunate events (as reported by Popular Science magazine)…
Lifetime odds of dying from:
Any accident: 1 in 36
A motor vehicle accident: 1 in 81
A firearm: 1 in 202
Poisoning: 1 in 344
A falling object (terrestrial): 1 in 4,873
Drowning in a bathtub: 1 in 10,455
Being caught in or between objects: 1 in 29,860
Suffocation by a plastic bag: 1 in 130,498
So that means that you are about twice as likely to die by being suffocated in a plastic bag as compared to the chances that this “killer” asteroid Apophis will wipe out planet Earth. Stop and think about that for a moment… now, are you suddenly going to start demanding the recall of all plastic bags from society in order to protect humanity? No? Good.
Now, please don’t get me wrong – I think the issue of tracking & cataloging near-Earth objects (NEOs) is a very important one, precisely because we have solid evidence that NEOs such as asteroids & comet fragments can and do hit the Earth. In fact, this happens all the time, but the regular impacts are from smaller objects; the big, “planet-killer” type objects are fewer in number so the chances of one coming our way is comparatively small. But it could happen, and with the implications being what they are (i.e., the destruction of human civilization on Earth being among the worst-case scenarios) it would be prudent for us to invest at least some resources into these questions. And we have invested such resources into NASA’s NEO Program.
So, in conclusion, is the sky falling with regards to Apophis? No.
Should you go buying your own “asteroid apocalypse” bunker? No.
Should we then turn a blind eye to the potential threat of NEOs? No.
Should we invest a reasonable amount of money into researching this issue? Yes.
Interestingly enough, one thing we really can do when Apophis makes its closest approach to Earth in 2036 is use the opportunity to learn more about asteroids and the early solar system. In fact, some scientists already have plans to use Apophis as an amazing research opportunity!
If you’d like to know more about Apophis, and the related physics & astronomy behind it, I suggest taking a look at this entry over at Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog.
Posted in doomsday, media woo, space | Tagged: 2012, 2036, 99942, Apophis, armaggedon, asteroid, astronomy, celestial, collision, comet, doomsday, Earth, end of the world, gravitation, gravity, impact, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, JPL, keyhole, killer, mechanics, NASA, near Earth object, NEO, orbit, physics, planet, rock, Russia, Russian, space | 9 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on February 7, 2011
Sometimes science supporters lament some very stubborn statistics, specifically those regarding the public acceptance of evolutionary science in the United States. Rather consistently, for many decades, the number of people in the U.S. who are outright ignorant or mistrustful of evolutionary science hovers at around the 40-45% mark, with most of those identifying as Young-Earth creationists (i.e. those who believe the Earth is ~10,000 years old as espoused by certain Biblical interpretations). Fortunately, recent research has shown this number slowly declining, but it is a really slow decline.
And many times, those of us in the pro-science crowd have wondered why it is that, despite amazing advances in evolutionary science and defeat after defeat for creationism in the federal courts, this blatant ignorance of (or outright animosity towards) evolution still exists to such a large degree? Well, some recent survey research may provide some clue as to an answer, and it – sadly – involves the nation’s teachers…
The majority of high-school biology teachers don’t take a solid stance on evolution with their students, mostly to avoid conflicts, and fewer than 30 percent of teachers take an adamant pro-evolutionary stance on the topic, a new study finds. Also, 13 percent of these teachers advocate creationism in their classrooms.
“The survey left space for [the teachers] to share their experiences. That’s where we picked up a lot of a sense about how they play to the test and tell students they can figure it out for themselves,” Michael Berkman, co-author of the study with Penn State University colleague Eric Plutzer, told Livescience. “Our general sense is they lack the knowledge and confidence to go in there and teach evolution, which makes them risk-averse.” …
So it seems that part of the problem is that many biology teachers themselves are not adequately prepared to teach about evolution. However, this is a problem which can (and should) be corrected by making adjustments to the university curriculum & training for prospective biology teachers, giving them (well, the 87% who are NOT creationist) the appropriate skills & training in the subject matter. Unfortunately, there seems to be a deeper problem: that of intimidation, either explicit or implicit, of biology teachers who actually want to teach evolution…
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: administration, atheism, atheist, biology, board, Christianity, court, creationism, Dover, Dover vs Kitzmiller, editor, evolution, federal, God, ID, IDM, intelligent design, intelligent design movement, Judge Jones, Kitzmiller, letter, National Center for Science Education, NCSE, newspaper, poll, public, religion, school, science, survey, teachers, teaching | 5 Comments »