The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘donations’

SkepchickCon 2016

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 18, 2016

Coming up this Fourth of July weekend (June 30-July 3) in Minneapolis, MN is that annual gathering of sci-fi and geek fun: CONvergence.  And where there’s CONvergence, there’s also SkepchickCon!

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My skeptical pals Ashley and Ryan have some advice for you: “Don’t blink!” 😉 — Image source

I’m happy to announce that the usual fun science and skeptical endeavors will be on full display at this year’s SkepchickCon events.  This includes a number of panels and discussions related to all things science, skepticism, and feminism; and yes, yours truly will be participating on some of these panels!

In addition, the Skepchicks are planning a variety of interesting “skeptical salons” and other activities related to learning some fun skepticism and science while also partying like you’re at CONvergence.

But putting on all of these activities requires some cash, so we’re asking for donations. However, donating some money to the skeptical and scientific cause will earn you something in return (besides good feels). My colleague Olivia James elaborates:

Please Donate to SkepchickCon 2016

We know it’s hard to part with your hard earned cash, even for something as awesome as SkepchickCon, so we’ve got some amazing incentives to make things a little more fun.

  • $25 donation: receive a pair of Star Wars cross stiches (one dark side, one light side) by Mindy.
  • $50 donation: receive a lasercut coaster with your choice of molecule (from a selection of 6 available designs) by Ryan and Jim.
  • $75 donation: CHOOSE a custom doll with lab coat by Niki OR a custom cross stitch from the fandom of your choice by Olivia.
  • $100 donation: you are invited to join the Skepchicks for a private party at SkepchickCon, or a Google Hangout if you are unable to attend.
  • $125 donation: receive a blog post or round table from the Grounded Parents contributors on a topic of your choice.
  • $150 donation: receive a full set of 6 molecule coasters by Ryan and Jim with a bonus Skepchick logo coaster AND an invitation to the Skepchick private party.
  • $175 donation: CHOOSE either a private physics lesson with Dan or Matt OR a private astronomy lesson with Nicole AND an invitation to the Skepchick private party.
  • $200 donation: receive a cosplay photoshoot at CONvergence with Jamie AND an invitation to the Skepchick private party.
  • $500 donation: ALL OF THE ABOVE

You all make this geekiness possible! Thank you!

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Creation Museum’s Faith-Based Investment in “Ark Encounter” Appears to be Sinking

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 11, 2014

The saga of uber-creationist Ken Ham’s Creation Museum continues, and it isn’t looking good for him or his followers.  If you recall, Ham and his creationist organization Answers In Genesis (AiG) have, in recent years, gone all-in on an investment scheme to fund what they call a life sized replica of Noah’s Ark named Ark Encounter.  For years, I and others have reported on the continuing financial troubles and ethically questionable revenue sources for Ken Ham’s enterprise, and now things seem to only be getting worse for Ham, AiG, and the Creation Museum.

Ken Ham Ark Encounter

Ken Ham looking over his model of Ark Encounter… the irony is that, according to myth, Noah didn’t need lots of investment capital, the backing of the government, and huge construction teams to build his Ark. (image source)

Back in February, there was a big debate between Ham and Billy Nye the Science Guy at the Creation Museum; after the debate, Ham reported that this debate had brought in a huge amount of much-needed financial support for Ark Encounter and that construction would begin on the much publicized project in May of this year (after repeated delays due to insufficient funds).  At the time, I and others were skeptical, speculating that perhaps Ham wasn’t being completely truthful because while he said money was coming in, he didn’t provide any specifics.  This led me to believe that Ham was continuing his habit of not only bending (or breaking) the truth on issues of science but those of economics and finance as well.

Well, now it appears that the other shoe has dropped… as reported in June by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, it seems that Ham is resorting to all sorts of shenanigans and obfuscation to give the impression that his enterprise isn’t sinking:

1) First, there’s the issue of the time-table on Ark Encounter continually being pushed back, at taxpayer expense

The main problem with Ham’s overtly religious pet project is it seems to be a magnet for taxpayer dollars. First, Kentucky officials committed more than $40 million in tax incentives to the Ark Park. Sadly that was just the beginning. Later, the Kentucky legislature planned to spend $2 million on a road project in a rural area, seemingly for the sole benefit of the proposed Ark Park.

But even those generous incentives weren’t enough for misguided lawmakers. The city of Williamstown, which had already granted a 75 percent property tax break for the park, decided last year that it would sell $62 million in municipal bonds on behalf of AiG affiliates.

All told, various government entities in Kentucky have planned to give the Ark Park, which was originally supposed to cost about $175 million, an astounding $100 million (or more) in various types of public support. Recent reports, however, cast serious doubt on just how much of that money, if any, will reach the project.

It seems Ham’s ever-changing timeline has finally caught up with him. He said in January 2011 that work would begin on the Ark Park that spring; then in May of that year, AiG said groundbreaking would be over the summer; in June, AiG said construction would begin in August; and by early August 2011, AiG still had not broken ground but promised that it would happen “in the next few months.”

Then in late August 2011, AiG bumped the timetable way back, saying groundbreaking would begin in the spring of 2012. That did not happen, either.

2) Then there’s the problem of the expiration date attached to the public funding (the one smart thing the KY lawmakers did in this whole fiasco)…

Louisville’s LEO Weekly reported last week that the large tax incentive package promised to the Ark Park back in May 2011 by Kentucky’s Tourism Cabinet came with one little catch: an expiration date. The agreement says that AiG can receive a 25 percent tax rebate on the cost of construction once the park opens, provided construction began by May 2014. The discount would be capped at $43 million.

Gil Lawson, a spokesman for the Tourism Cabinet, told LEO Weekly that Ark Encounter quietly withdrew its old application for a $172 million project on March 28 and instead submitted a $73 million proposal. If that application is approved, and if it is built within the allotted timeframe, that would mean AiG is eligible for $18.25 million in tax incentives, LEO Weekly said.

But the shrinking tax package doesn’t appear to be Ham’s only problem. In April, the Cincinnati Enquirerreported that the local road improvements needed to handle all the traffic that will supposedly rush to Ark Encounter (if it ever opens) will be pushed back to 2017. That’s a bit of a problem for Ham, who last claimed that the park would open in the summer of 2016. Perhaps he wants park visitors to have an authentic Bible experience by walking or riding camels to see the ark.

There is also some mystery surrounding the $62 million in municipal bonds that supposedly rescued Ham’s project. The Louisville Courier-Journal reported in January that while $26.5 million in bonds had been sold, the city needed to sell an additional $29 million by Feb. 6 or else those who already bought bonds would be able to collect on their investment immediately.

The city would not say exactly how much money was raised, the Courier-Journal reported in late February, but AiG’s website claims the bonds actually yielded $73 million. AiG also claims it has raised $15 million on its own.

Hmm… when “there is some mystery” about how public funds are allocated and being used, especially on a legally and ethically questionable project such as this, then that’s kind of a problem.  KY lawmakers and politicians would be wise to distance themselves from this slow-motion train wreck.  But there’s more!

3) Ham has claimed that ground breaking and construction did indeed begin this past May, except that it didn’t actually happen…

Despite these setbacks, Ham presses on. His latest ploy appears to be keeping up the hoax that the Ark Park is under construction. In February, he said groundbreaking would begin in May. On May 1, AiG hosted a “groundbreaking ceremony” at the site where the park is supposed to be built, but the “groundbreaking” consisted of a handful of men in suits using wooden mallets to hammer wooden pegs into wooden boards. This all took place inside an auditorium, which doesn’t look much like a theme park. (You can watch this exciting video here, but be warned – it’s over 40 minutes long.)

It is now June, and it remains unclear whether or not construction has actually started on Ark Encounter. AiG’s website says its “construction management team” is still soliciting bids from contractors, suggesting that no real progress will be made anytime soon.

Whoops!  I thought that “construction” meant that earth-moving machines were actually, I don’t know, moving earth and digging holes and that carpenters were actually nailing pieces of wood together and so on.  Apparently, in Ken Ham’s universe, “construction” means… something else.

Well, one thing is for sure: this story won’t end here.  I think Ken Ham is going to try to string both investors and politicians alike along for as long as possible on his sinking Ark Encounter, despite the fact that it should be obvious by now to any reasonable observer that his grasp of finances is about as trustworthy as his grasp of science.

Too bad for the folks who invested in this debacle that they didn’t use a little evidence-based thinking. That’s what you get for faith-based investing, I suppose.

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

Help Donate to Fund LogiCon in Arkansas

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 29, 2014

In my most recent post, I mentioned the biggest and most famous of skeptical conferences, The Amaz!ng Meeting 2014; however, we in the skeptical community should also be aware there is much being done at the local and regional level that deserves our support.  And sometimes this is happening in places you’d not normally expect… like in Arkansas.

Logicon2014

There is a free skeptical/atheist conference called LogiCon taking place at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, AR over the weekend of April 19-20th, and they need our help.  Their funding fell through and they need only $3000 to keep this conference running.  And if you are wondering what will take place at this event, just take a look at their page and you’ll see why I’m advertising this request for donations on my blog.

Whether it’s hosting Dorian Sagan (yes, that’s Carl Sagan’s son) or premiering a new documentary about atheism called “A Scarlet Letter”, I think you can agree with me that this is a worthwhile endeavor… all the more so since it is taking place right in the middle of the Bible Belt, where critical thinking can often go by the wayside.

If you can help with a cash donation, please contribute here.  Otherwise, please spread the word – thanks! 🙂

 

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Continued Financial Trouble for KY Creation Museum?

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 25, 2013

Ken Ham’s Creation Museum is back in the news, and – surprise – it has to do with a questionable funding proposal to finance his floundering theme park, where people can pay to be told that the Flintstones is the real thing.

Flintstones

Yup, they actually teach that humans and dinosaurs coexisted… just like in the Flintstones cartoon.  Looks like a good investment to me – Yabba-dabba-doo! (Image source)

I’ve posted before (here and here) about the troubles the Creation Museum has had in securing funding for its Ark Encounter attraction (not to mention its dwindling profits – or should that be “prophets”?), and the following article indicates that Ken Ham is pursuing a constitutionally questionable strategy which could land him and the municipality in question into some dicey legal waters…

Kentucky City May Offer $62 Million in Securities to Help Noah’s Ark Replica Park

A city in Kentucky is working with Crosswater Canyon, an owned subsidiary of Answers in Genesis, Inc., to offer $62 million in securities for prospective investors to help aid the completion of a Creationist theme park and replica of Noah’s Ark.  While the city of Williamstown is issuing the bond, Crosswalk Canyon is solely responsible for the bonds, not the city.

Beginning next month, Williamstown may oversee the amount of taxable securities for investors to the project overseen by Answers in Genesis, reported Brian Chappatta and Priya Anand of Business Week.

“Proceeds will help build a 510-foot (155.4-meter) wooden ship, the centerpiece of a planned biblical theme park called ‘Ark Encounter.’ Bond documents project the venue will attract at least 1.2 million people in its first year,” wrote Chappatta and Anand. …

But if things are going so well for Ken Ham and his cartoon attraction, then why the need for these so-called “securities” to fund the project?  Let’s read on…

… Unlike the Creation Museum, the Ark Encounter project has had its share of financial issues regarding funding and donations.

The official ground-breaking for the project has been delayed multiple times since 2011, with private donations not matching the necessary monetary benchmarks.

Mike Zovath, head of the Ark Encounter project, told The Christian Post about the current status of the park’s construction, namely that it is “under design.” …

Wow, that’s got to make potential investors nervous.  So what’s the big deal about going through these “securities” issued by the town of Williamstown, KY?…

… Answers in Genesis’ efforts in Kentucky have garnered their share of criticism, including from the Washington, D.C.-based group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In the past Americans United has criticized the alleged First Amendment issues with regards to the state support for projects that benefit the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter.

Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director at Americans United, told The Christian Post that the bond offering is one of many examples of government aid proposed for the Ark Encounter project.

“The imminent bond offering is only one of several different kinds of aid being given to the Ark Park by the State of Kentucky, Grant County, and the City of Williamstown,” said Luchenitser.

“The array of government aid to the Ark Park raises very serious issues under the religion clauses of the U.S. Constitution and the even stricter church-state prohibitions of the Kentucky Constitution.” …

Well, there’s that!  And then there are other questions regarding the legality/wisdom of these securities from the standpoint of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  But don’t take it from me; take it from from people who actually know business and investment, like the folks at Bloomberg Businessweek.  Here’s an excerpt from an excellent blog post on this particular point:

Bloomberg Reports on Ken Ham’s Ark Bonds

This is about an article at the website of Bloomberg BusinessweekBusiness Week was formerly an independent magazine, now it’s part of the Bloomberg international news agency, headquartered in New York. Their article is Noah’s Ark Depends on Faith in Default-Plagued Debt: Muni Credit.

From our recent post, Ken Ham’s “Ark Encounter” Bonds, you already know about the bonds being issued to finance the proposed Ark Encounter project, which is owned by a company controlled by Answers in Genesis (AIG). AIG is the on-line ministry of Ken Ham (ol’ Hambo), the ayatollah of Appalachia. It also owns and operates the infamous, mind-boggling Creation Museum.

It appears that Bloomberg has seen all the documents, and they routinely report on the bond market. Their analysis is far more sophisticated than ours. They say, with bold font added by us:

“Given the default history of unrated municipal debt, investors may have to pray for the success of bonds being sold to build a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark.

The northern Kentucky city of Williamstown plans to offer $62 million of securities next month for affiliates of Answers in Genesis, a Christian nonprofit that operates the Creation Museum upstate. Proceeds will help build a 510-foot (155.4-meter) wooden ship, the centerpiece of a planned biblical theme park called “Ark Encounter.” Bond documents project the venue will attract at least 1.2 million people in its first year.”

Ouch… but what the heck does Bloomberg Businessweek know?  Sure they may have oodles of financial and investment expertise, but if creationists have shown us anything it’s that they don’t need no stinkin’ experts who spout off about pesky things like evidence and facts!

So head on over and buy some of Ken Ham’s bonds.  You just have to have faith that you won’t be flushing your money down the toilet 🙂

Posted in creationism, economics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

More Evidence of Bad Financial News for Ken Ham’s Creation Museum

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 9, 2013

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post about how it appears that creationist Ken Ham’s Creation Museum is starting to run into some financial trouble.  This earned a public response from Ken Ham on his Facebook page, wherein he assured readers that all is well.  I’ve also had some response to that post on the comment section, where a reader shared with me Ken Ham’s latest response on this issue:

Crowds Continue to Flock to the Creation Museum

speakerportrait_kham

Image Source

On Memorial Day weekend this year, the Creation Museum celebrated its sixth year of operation.

Entering our seventh year, crowds have been continuing to flock to the Creation Museum. This past Friday and Saturday, we saw over 3,500 people visit the Creation Museum! Thus far, attendance is ahead of projections for this year and ahead of last year.

I’ve included a few photographs of some of the people who visited this past Friday. At a few times on Friday, lines were out the door—but our very capable staff was able to get visitors into the museum quickly. The new zip lines have also proved to be extremely popular—and in the near future, two super zip lines around 1700 feet long, plus an obstacle course and a special children’s course, will also open.

I’ve also heard so many people rave about the new world-class insect exhibit and theDragon Legends exhibit—both opened on Memorial Day. …

Ham goes on to list a lot of things which he claims are new displays and “research” to his museum, presumably to bolster his argument that things at the Creation Museum are going just fine.  However, a more thorough analysis of the Creation Museum’s publicly available finance reports for the last few years – which you can find at http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2012/12/pts-year-end-re.html – seem to disagree with the overly rosy picture that Ken Ham insists upon painting. When you go from a surplus of $2.1 million to a deficit of $540,000 in three years time, it’s not good financial news.

Here’s a quick summary of what the folks over at Panda’s Thumb dug up on this question:

Reporter James McNair recently reported in a Cincinnati newspaper that the attendance at the Creation Museum has dropped for four consecutive years and that Answers in Genesis lost over $500,000. These tidbits inspired my colleague Dan Phelps and me to look at AIG’s Forms 990. These are tax forms that must be submitted by nonprofit organizations to the US Internal Revenue Service and may be found if you have a (free) account on GuideStar.

According to various Forms 990 through the tax year ending June 30, 2011, in four consecutive years, AIG has run surpluses of approximately $2.1 million, $716,000, and $940,000, and a loss of $540,000. Not exactly a monotonic decline, but certainly a steep drop from a surplus of $2.1 million to a loss of $540,000 in three years. Can we expect similar losses due to the Ark Park? Maybe: Joe Sonka in the Louisville newspaper LeoWeekly reports that “… correspondence between Ark Encounter and the Tourism Cabinet reveal an application process that proceeded with remarkable speed, little scrutiny, and standards that appear different from that of [another applicant].”

The 2010 Form 990 (for fiscal year ending June 30, 2011) has some interesting information.

1. The president of AIG, Ken Ham, earned an annual salary of approximately $150,000 and a total package of around $200,000, which I think is not out of line for the president of a company with approximately $20 million of revenue (Schedule J, Part II). Four of Ham’s children, his son-in-law, his brother, and his sister-in-law are listed as staff members, with annual salaries between approximately $1300 and nearly $80,000 (Schedule L, Part IV).

2. AIG says that Crosswater Canyon, a nonprofit, will operate AIG’s Ark Park but that a limited-liability company will own it. Crosswater Canyon is identified in Schedule R as being wholly controlled by AIG; we assume that means it is a subsidiary. According to Whois, crosswatercanyon.org is one of approximately 1300 domain names owned by AIG, but crosswatercanyon.org, .com, and .net yield nothing useful.

Crosswater Canyon reimbursed AIG a bit over $1 million for expenses. The Ark Park was formally announced in December, 2010. The payment was made some time between then and June 30, 2011. AIG was thus reimbursed $1 million for expenses within six or seven months of the announcement.

3. Schedule R, Part III, lists Takenbac Enterprises, LLC, PO Box 384, Hebron, KY 41048 as a “related organization taxable as a partnership.” Two of the officers of Takenbac Enterprises are “key employees” of AIG and draw annual salaries of approximately $90,000 from AIG. We speculate that Takenbac is the mysterious “private Limited Liability Company (LLC) [that] will own the Ark Encounter,” according to AIG’s FAQ’s.

4. Geo-Research Pty., Ltd. [proprietary company], 27 Rising St., Shailer Park, Queensland, Australia, received $128,000 for consulting (Part VII). Geo-Research is or was the employer of Andrew Snelling, a former geologist who joined the staff of AIG in 2007. The address of Geo-Research appears to be a private home that has been for sale but is now off the market.

Yet despite all of this evidence, Ham and his followers – many of whom, ironically, challenged me to examine the publicly available financial reports – keep on saying that all is well.

Of course, none of this surprises me.  That’s because if you make it part of your worldview, as many creationists do, to deny evidence and reality, is it any wonder that the true believers among creationists are not willing to acknowledge the troublesome finances which are plain to see for any who care to look?

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

Creation Museum Running Out of Cash and Going Extinct?

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 23, 2013

[**Update (6-25-13): It seems this blog post has come to the attention of none other than Ken Ham himself, who runs the Creation Museum.  If you are interested, you can read his response on his Facebook page.]

In an interesting, though not very surprising, development, it seems the Creation Museum in Kentucky is running out of money.  And it seems the problem is that, like creationism itself, there is nothing new or different about the exhibits at this “museum”. The irony is that Ken Ham and other creationists claim the Creation Museum is doing scientific work which proves creationism to be true, yet since the place opened 5 years ago nothing has changed and no new “creation science” research has appeared.

Creation_museum_triceratops_saddleNo actual scientific research, but your kids can “ride a dinosaur” just like Fred Flintstone did!  No wonder these morons are going out of business. Image source

My skeptical colleague Donald Prothero over at Skepticblog.com breaks this down into more interesting and revealing detail…

… In an earlier post, I discussed the decline in attendance and loss of money from Ken Ham’s “creation museum” in Kentucky. Now eventhey must pay attention to the problem, since the declining attendance has put a crimp in their budget and brought the fundraising for their “Ark encounter” to a standstill. Their problem, as I outlined before, is that their exhibit is 5 years old now and has not changed, so most of the local yokels who might want to visit it have done so. There’s no point to making the long trip and seeing the expensive “museum” again if there’s nothing new to see. (Unlike real science museums, which must change exhibits constantly not only to boost repeat attendance, but to reflect the changes in scientific thinking). As Mark Joseph Stern wrote on Slate.com:

“There could be another explanation, though. A spectacle like the Creation Museum has a pretty limited audience. Sure, 46 percent of Americans profess to believe in creationism, but how many are enthusiastic enough to venture to Kentucky to spend nearly $30 per person to see a diorama of a little boy palling around with a vegetarian dinosaur? The museum’s target demographic might not be eager to lay down that much money: Belief in creationism correlates to less education, and less education correlates to lower income. Plus, there’s the possibility of just getting bored: After two pilgrimages to the museum, a family of four would have spent $260 to see the same human-made exhibits and Bible quote placards. Surely even the most devoted creationists would consider switching attractions for their next vacation. A visit to the Grand Canyon could potentially be much cheaper—even though it is tens of millions of years old.”

So how did they deal with the attendance dilemma? Did they open some new galleries with “latest breakthroughs in creation research”? (No, that’s not possible because they don’t do research or learn anything new). No, they opted for the cheap and silly: make it into an amusement park with zip lines. Apparently, flying through the air for a few seconds suspended from a cable is the latest fad in amusements, so the Creation “Museum” has to have one to draw the crowds—and hope they can suck in a few visitors to blow $30 a head or more to see their stale old exhibits as well. Expect that by next year they’ll be a full-fledged amusement park with roller coasters and Tilt-a-whirls, just like so many other “Biblelands” do across the Deep South. [emphasis added]

And what do ziplines have to do with creationism? As usual, they have a glib and non-responsive answer:

Zovath’s response to the museums critics who wonder how zip lining fits with their message?

“No matter what exhibit we add, the message stays the same,” Zovath said. “It’s all about God’s word and the authority of God’s word and showing that all of these things, whether it’s bugs, dinosaurs or dragons – it all fits with God’s word.”

I was hoping for something more imaginative and relevant, like “zip lines make you feel like an angel flying down from heaven.”

Wow… so the Creation Museum, once-heralded as the bane of modern evolutionary science and other wickedness, is starting down the road of turning into a Bible version of Disneyland.  I just have to chuckle at this turn of events, because it seems as if, by failing to change and – dare I say – evolve thereby adapting to its economic situation, the Creation Museum may very well go extinct.

Good riddance.

Posted in creationism, economics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Kickstarter Project: Portable Planetarium

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 8, 2013

I love astronomy… so much so that it motivated me to major in physics (it’s the closest I could get to astronomy as an undergraduate).  I’ve taught astronomy at the college level, too, and I have to say that one of the most engaging things you can do is show students the night sky.  For this, going outside is best, but sometimes the weather and light pollution conspire to make night-time skygazing an impossibility.  And that’s where planetariums come in!

Enter Lauren Ard, a teacher who has a really great idea to take her portable planetarium on the road for teaching not just her students but also others (such as attendees at science fiction and fantasy cons) about astronomy and the night sky.  Lauren is attempting to raise some money for her effort, and I thought it was worth advertising her Kickstarter campaign in this blog post.

For more information, read on…

Portable Planetarium = Astronomy for All!

by Lauren Ard

Planetarium Kickstarter

A sun-inspired inflatable planetarium that will bring astronomical theater to local schools, youth groups, and geek gatherings.

The Cause

Kids just love inflatable planetariums; they get to crawl inside a space built just for them, one that has popped up right in their classroom or meeting place to show them the wonders of the sky. Regular classroom disruptions fall away as students become engaged in learning about astronomy in a new and exhilarating way. Kids relate to the fun and interactive medium of a portable planetarium in a manner that no other astronomy instruction can match.

According to the Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT), students retain learning longer when that learning comes from an engaging, hands-on activity. When they are captivated by a unique opportunity such as an inflatable planetarium, they are more likely to share what they’ve learned with family members and friends, deepening their understanding with each repitition. These activities also transcend language barriers with their visual appeal.

We need more exciting educational activities in order to fight the intellectual apathy so common in our students today (what RAFT calls “the engagement gap”)! As the pace of scientific research advances, the average person is faced increasingly with science and technology in his or her daily life. Yet, a study done by the University of Sciences in Philadelphia indicates that American students’ interest in science is drastically waning.

My inflatable planetarium offers kinesthetic and visual learning to students who are hungry for stimulation. The wonders of the night sky can be brought right into the classroom! Right here, you have the opportunity to help bring science to life.

The Story

Five years ago I was a middle school science teacher working at a Title I school. The school (and its students) had little money for field trips or fancy science equipment, but I longed to find a way to bring Astronomy to life for my seventh graders. Through much trial and error with my crappy sewing machine, I created the magnificent monstrosity you see on my cover photo.

Using a box fan (for inflating) and a $150 “toy” projector from Japan, I’ve given planetarium shows to thousands of students over the last several years. Even when I left teaching to become a mom and foster parent, I continued to give presentations to schools, youth organizations, and clubs.

The Goal

To build a bigger, better planetarium! Planetarium 2.0 will be able to fit 30 students instead of 15. It will be made out of more durable fabric. And it will be a golden yellow to represent our Sun! This way, the half-sphere shape of the planetarium serves a second purpose – to be part of a scale model of our Solar System (with the planets being represented by sports balls).

If I were to purchase a boring, black inflatable planetarium from a commercial company in the United States, it would cost at least THREE TIMES as much as my Kickstarter goal! By creating a planetarium myself, I am able to make the planetarium more fun AND more economical.

Click here to read more

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

Creationist Financing

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 4, 2010

I wanted to share with you a recent post I saw over at The Panda’s Thumb, a pro-evolution blog which keeps tabs on creationists. The nature of this post has to do with the finances behind various creationist organizations & how we need to provide more support to pro-science groups like the National Center for Science Education (NCSE)…

Creationist Financing

Todd Wood, a young earth creationist at Bryan College, provides summary data on YEC organizations’ finances over the 2003-2008 period. There are several interesting things about those data.

First, as Wood points out, AIG’s share of the creationist dollar grew over that period, from 61.6% ($9M) of the market in 2003 to 68.2% ($22.7M) in 2008. AIG’s growth in market share came at the expense of all the other YEC organizations, with the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and and the Creation Research Society (CRS), the two elder U.S. creationist organizations, contributing most of the change. While ICR’s revenues also increased over those years, from $4,5M to $8.7M, as a percentage of the total creationist dollar it decreased from 30.6% to 26.2% and CRS’s percentage declined from 1.7% to 1.0% as its dollar revenues declined from $250K to $230K. The smaller YEC organizations also lost share.

Second, Eric Hovind, offspring of jailed tax evader Kent Hovind, entered the list in third place in 2008 with his “GodQuest” (DBA Creation Science Evangelism) at $930K for 2.8% of the creationism market, far behind ICR’s $8.7M but well ahead of CRS’s $230K.

Third (and pretty depressing to see), NCSE’s gross revenue as a percentage of AIG’s gross revenue has steadily declined over those years, dropping from 7.8% in 2003 to just 5.7% in 2008. In 2008, 85% of NCSE’s revenues ($1.1M of $1.3M) came from direct public support–memberships and donations from you and me. While the amount has increased in absolute terms over those years, as a proportion of creationist revenues it has dropped significantly. C’mon, people. Let’s put our money where our mouths are.

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Secular & Skeptic Help for Haiti

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 21, 2010

**Note: This is essentially a repost of Phil Plait’s recent entry at Skeptiblog, but it is worth spreading the message far and wide; so please take a moment to read it and pass it on…

The James Randi Educational Foundation has teamed up with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and a dozen other secular groups to set up a way to donate money to help out the people of Haiti after the huge earthquake last week.

As Randi says,

We at the JREF are very proud to be part of the concerted effort to aid Haiti to recover from this catastrophic event. To my mind, there is nothing more disturbing than hearing the distressed cries of children who are subjected to grief and/or injury, and my personal contribution has already been added to the encouraging total that mounts hour by hour. Please be generous and help us to reach out to Haitians of all ages, of any and all philosophical orientations.

Richard Dawkins will cover $10,000 of PayPal fees, so if you use that method 100% of your donation will go to help.

You can donate here. Please help.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Last Call!!! Skepchicamp FUNdraiser!

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 21, 2010

**Note: Though I am helping to organize Skepchicamp, the first Chicago Skepticamp, I totally stole this announcement from Elyse Anders at Skepchick 🙂

Today the Skepchicks have their hats out. All we’re asking for is money, and all we’re promising is booze and Skepchicks and amazing fun and great skeptical topics and great skeptical women/role models and some chances to actually learn some things.

So, on top of our fundraising campaign for SkepchickCon2010 in Minneapolis, we’re also raising funds to Skepchicamp 2010 in Chicago.

This weekend is the first ever FUNdraiser for the first ever Skepchicamp, and time is running out to buy your tickets. We only have about 20 left!

What you get for $30:

  • Food
  • Booze
  • Fun
  • The chance to enter a cashitty cash cash raffle.
  • The chance to bid on a date with the Friendliest (and quite handsome) Atheist, Hemant Mehta
  • The address to the location

Skepchicamp is turning out to be far more popular than we ever imagined it would be… which means we’re going to need money to pull it off. Not only do we need funds for this year’s camp, but to help us form a stronger organization with bigger plans and events in the future. We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves, but we need your help. Please?

All you have to do is free up your Saturday night and $30 for a great cause.

So all you have to do is register at our Eventbrite site, or click the kick ass widget on the Skepchicamp blog!

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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