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I am a former middle and high school science teacher pursuing a doctorate in Science Ed. at George Mason University, with a concentration in cognitive science and the evolution of cognition and learning. Postings on this blog represent my own views, not those of my employer or school. All writing displayed on this page is original work unless otherwise noted, and thus copyrighted.

25 March 2009

Ironic quote of the day...


Yeah, not even getting into why a suuposedly reputable newspaper bothered to cover this story in the first place... Obviously it must have been a slow news day.

Rosemary McArthur, the Colorado-based founder of the American Association of Psychics, said many of her members are reporting an increased interest in their services. But, she said, the hard times have also buoyed the popularity of psychic hot lines that don't compare in quality to the psychics who register with her group.
"People are vulnerable, and they're easily taken in by people who tell them what they want to hear," said McArthur, whose moniker is "The Celtic Lady."

Wait... wtf? She's the founder of the American Association of of Psychics, and she's warning people against being taken in? Wow... apparently she'd like to cut down on business.

For clarity's sake... psychics aren't real. They're making it up as they go along, and telling you what they think you want to hear. Give it a moment's rational thought, if you haven't: what is the difference between a vague prediction that can't be applied to anything until after the event that was predicted (and then only by stretching and interpreting the idea) and not seeing the future? Nothing.

24 March 2009


It seems our illustrious tech department has decided to block Pat Condell's website on school computers, citing "hate speech" and "profanity". The second I can understand, if they're that squeamish, but calling his videos "hate speech" is a load of horseshit, or bowing to the pressures of some theist who's skin is too thin to handle a bit of criticism. I'm betting on the second... well done Wake County.


Natural arms race...


This is a pretty cool article, although I'd like to see the actual paper.

Competition among males is often expressed in the form of elaborate weapons made of bone, horn or chitin. The weapons often start off small and then, under the pressure of competition, may evolve to attain gigantic proportions.

The underlying message being that bigger weapons are more intimidating, and therefor require less use. If, as a male, you spend less energy on defending your territory, you have more available for procreation. That, and injuries in the animal kingdom are often fatal, either directly or indirectly. It's best to avoid the fight in the first place.

Sexual selection was Darwin’s solution to a problem posed by the cumbersome weapons sported by many species, and the baroque ornaments developed by others. They seemed positive handicaps in the struggle for survival, and therefore contrary to his theory of natural selection. To account for these extravagances, Darwin proposed that both armaments and ornaments must have been shaped by competition for mates.

Darwin's concepts of sexual selection have been expanded upon, of course, but the basic idea holds true. Nothing with an energy cost fails to have a purpose... and realistically, that purpose should end up in a net energetic savings (active biological use of energy, not an entropic sense).

The article goes on to discuss the process of turning harmful weapons into display weapons, and the gradual adjustment from one to another. Many organisms (crabs are cited) have weapons that are used for both purposes. Humans, who's weapons are manufactured rather than genetically inbuilt (memetically coded weapons?)have only recently developed them for display rather than potential use. With the exception of their initial use at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this is a solid explanation for the existence and lack of use of atomic arms. Humans would prefer to explain this by rationalising that "we knew what the outcome would be", which is understandable... if you fail to account for all the other horrible weapons we have developed for which we also know the outcomes (VX and Tabun Gas, anyone?). Once we're able to demonstrate that we have the ability to use such a display weapon, it is no longer necessary to put it to use... the people/organism with the best ritualised bluster wins (see Cuban Missle Crisis).

23 March 2009

How is this harming you? Seriously.

N.C. mirrors national poll results
Submitted by ryanteaguebeckwith on March 23, 2009 - 11:44am.
Tags: constitution Elon University Poll gay marriage polling Under the Dome

North Carolina mirrors national sentiment on gay marriage.

A survey by the Elon University Poll roughly matches up to the results of a December poll by Newsweek that asked about state constitutional bans.

"Suppose your state held an election where you could vote for or against an amendment to the state constitution that would ban gay marriage," that poll asked.

In that poll, 49 percent of respondents were against a ban, 45 percent in favor and six percent unsure.

A recent Elon poll with similar wording found 50 percent opposed a North Carolina ban, 43 percent supported, five percent were unsure and one percent refused.

Both polls were of all households, not just registered or likely voters.

The Newsweek poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from Dec. 3-4 of 1,006 adults. Its margin of error was plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

A Recent phone survey conducted by Elon University matches the nationwide results... 49% of the US population would not support a constitutional ban on gay marriages. Great... I understand those people. The 44% who would support such an amendment confuse me though. Honestly, how does the idea of two people, regardless of gender, getting married insult anyone? How is it anyone else's business what goes on behind the closed doors of someone's bedroom? (Within reason of course... no children or anything like that).

18 March 2009

My Irony meter just broke, again...


Venessa Mills, the Wake County mother whose home-schooled children were ordered to attend public schools, grew alienated from her husband and parents after joining a religious group that some former members call a cult, the judge in the case said Tuesday in a written order.

That's funny, some former members of the Catholic Church call it a cult... can we extend this ruling?

"It is in the best interest of these minor children based on all of the evidence presented that Mr. Mills, a father with equal rights, should be allowed to expose the children to more than just the experiences that Venessa Mills desires," Mangum wrote.

Magnum's ruling quotes people named as former members of Sound Doctrine who describe the institution as abusive. They say Sound Doctrine practiced brainwashing and was run by fear and manipulation.

See, here's where we run into issues: the judge claims that the 'cult'
is abusive because it's run on manipulation and fear, whereas I would argue that pretty much any religion is run on those same two concepts. Fear of death, darkness, sex, and the unknown are the starting point for all religion. The ability to manipulate those fears is all that keeps the clergy in control. In terms of abuse, what inflicts more damage than fostering the fear of eternal torment by fire, and torture in children? This lasts a lifetime in many people...

Humanity has grown out of its awkward childhood, it is high time to put away the imaginary friends.

16 March 2009

"Everyone said I was daft to build a castle in the swamp"


Mayors from Brunswick and Pender Counties are upset... because their beachfront communities are in danger from erosion. Hmm... people put millions into houses that are mere yards from the ocean, and then whine when there's a chance that the ocean will swallow their house during a storm? This seems like a logical conclusion to me. I'm sorry, but I really lack sympathy for anyone who builds on a barrier island and expects anything less than the eventual destruction of that property, because they clearly didn't investigate what barrier islands are.
For you edification, a barrier island is (oversimplifying here) a large sand bar. As sea level rises, they roll landward, over themselves, moving back into the marsh and abandoning what was once beach to the offshore system. Likewise, inlets on those islands migrate in the direction of the longshore current (North to south on east facing beaches along the US coast, generally), moving through whatever happens to be in their way. These natural processes can be slowed by hardened manmade structures, but eventually those too fall into the ocean unless replaced with larger ones. Seabright, NJ is the classic example of that happens to towns that try things like groins and seawalls: you get a beach only at low tide, with a big concrete wall on the landward side of it. Beautiful.
Conveniently, the people on the Coastal Resources Commission are pretty reasonable people, who are going to squash this nonsense without the legislature being able to override.

Shooting Fish in a Barrel

Just a note, this is a repost from my myspace blog, so it isn't the most current thing on Earth. feel free to sharpen your teeth on their arguments (or my responses, if you wish).

Evolution indoctrination at OU
by The Tulsa Beacon

Reposted from: http://www.tulsabeacon.com/?p=1358

What is the difference between education and indoctrination?
Education involves allowing people to see evidence and indoctrination involves beating them about the head with an idea that most likely lacks that evidence. Which have you received?

The line between conveying information with an open mind and a mindset that parallels religion is being crossed this year at The University of Oklahoma with a 12-month celebration of the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. While devoting huge resources to a campaign to “prove” that evolution is not a theory, the scientific brain trust at OU will virtually ignore parallel theories of the origin of man - including Creation Science and Intelligent Design.

Let the fallacies begin. 1) “Evolution” is definitely a theory: an explanation of natural events that fits all the evidence and holds predictive power. It is not a theory in the pop culture sense of the word, wherein a theory is someone’s unsupported crackpot idea.
2) Creationism and ID aren’t parallel theories of anything, they are bald assertions that everything was caused by a supernatural entity. They lack explanatory power and, more importantly, evidence. The writings of misogynistic, Bronze Age goat herders aren’t sufficient evidence of anything, and that lies at the root of ID.

OU will trot out Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, to try to convince students and the public that there is no God and science has all the answers.

Good for OU! Dawkins is a wonderful speaker, who also happens to be one of the world’s premier experts on evolutionary biology. The fact that he’s an atheist has no bearing on the topic other than the fact that you’re completely biased against atheists. Science doesn’t have or claim to have all the answers, but it is a better way to get the answers than consulting a book written before people had discovered medicine.

Darwin became infamous 150 years ago when he wrote The Origin of Species. He speculated that all life evolved from lower forms and that men were derived from the apes. His unproven theories were all that the humanist movement needed to attack the Bible and any belief system that hints at the existence of a supreme being.

The word you’re looking for is famous, not infamous, other than that your historical statement isn’t too bad. Theories are by their very nature unproven, just tested a great deal. Parts of Natural Selection have been shown to be complete bunk, and discarded, yet the whole works better than anything else we have. The reasonable assertion that your Supreme Being has as much corroborating evidence for his existence as an invisible pink unicorn, and that the Bible is clearly full of self-contradictory piffle, made plenty of case for humanists to attack them in the first place. Ever heard of Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Paine? How about Voltaire? I rest my case.

OU has a website devoted to this worship of Darwin and evolution. It’s clear from the content of that website that organizers believe that evolution is a fact and that if other theories are mentioned; they will be discounted or ridiculed.

Projecting much? No one is worshipping Darwin, or evolution. You worship... we happen to be celebrating the anniversary of a man’s birth. You know, kind of like Christmas without all the praying? No, I can see that's not going to be a good analogy for you.

Do things change? Certainly, But species don’t evolve into other species. Dogs don’t turn into cats. Monkeys don’t turn into men.

Species do evolve into other species, there’s an entire fossil record of that happening. On the other hand, Dogs don’t turn into cats, and monkeys don’t turn into men, you’re right. Unfortunately you’re also caricaturing the entire process. Perhaps you’re not intelligent enough to grasp that, but I suspect you’re just being intellectually dishonest. Lying for Jesus, indeed.

In fact, even secular scientists are doubting [sic] the viability of evolution concerning the origin of life. The laws of thermodynamics and common sense tell us that things don’t get better - they deteriorate.

Really, Which ones? The members of the Discovery Institute not only aren’t secular, but most of them aren’t scientists. The laws of common sense tell us all kinds of things that also happen no to be true, so those are right out. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that in a closed system things run from more organized states into less organized states with a subsequent loss of energy. Not only are organisms not closed systems, but neither is the Earth. The incoming solar energy over the period of a year balances the entropic differences in all of biological evolution, ever. (Mathematical and Computer ModellingVolume 19, Issues 6-8, March-April 1994, Pages 25-48 , for starters).

The biggest case against Darwin’s evolution is the fossil record. There are no viable transition fossils when there should be millions if you buy into his theory.

What do you consider to be a viable transition fossil? A half monkey-half frog isn’t going to exist, but I can trace the ancestry of modern whales back to something that looks like a hoofed wolf. This is one of a great number of examples.

Where is the missing link? There isn’t one in the fossil record.

To what missing link are you referring? I’d suggest you actually read the research then. Your ignorance does not constitute a lack of evidence. We have an entire line of hominid evolution that can be examined if you choose to take the time. This entire line of reasoning is about as honest as Behe claiming that there was no work on the evolution of the immune system when in fact he simply hadn’t bothered to read any of what there was.

Evolution science is not really science but a religion. That is why it cannot stand honest scrutiny or tolerate other views. It takes more faith to believe that men came from monkeys or a primal soup struck by lightning than it does to believe that God created the Earth and mankind in seven days.

Oh great point, except that it’s wrong in every aspect. Proponents of evolutionary theory (read: any credible scientist) will examine the evidence available to see if it fits the current models and theories. If it doesn’t, the models and theories are chucked out. You on the other hand, acting purely on faith, would throw the evidence out instead. Besides, you really think that being made out of mud by an invisible man in the sky is plausible? Again, you’re projecting, either because it makes the position easier to attack or because you simply can’t fathom that someone doesn’t think in the same manner as you do.

Both are religious beliefs. Oklahoma students should be exposed to both theories (including Intelligent Design). Instead, the public school system in Oklahoma has bowed to the pressure of secular humanists and insisted that there is only one theory to explain the origin of man - evolution.

OK has bowed to the pressure of reality and decided to teach science, rather than teach religious twaddle. Bravo for them. Religious beliefs should be kept out of the science classroom, period. Therefore if you can establish that evolution is a religion rather than science, it should be removed from class, not supplemented with more religion. Incidentally, does including Creationism in the classroom have to be limited to Christian creation? If you allow it, then we should also teach Muslim creation, Hindu creation, the story of Odin making the world out of his dead father, and the rest.

Incidentally, the origin of life cannot be proven by the scientific method, which requires observation and testing. No one was around when life began and no scientist - no matter how many degrees he or she has - has been able to recreate life in the laboratory.

Firstly, evolutionary theory and abiogenesis are two different things. Secondly, no, scientists aren’t able to produce viable life in a laboratory, but they can make self-replicating proteins, proto-cells, and nucleic acids among other things. Awfully close. However, I suspect that if scientists are ever able to create life in a lab, you’ll gleefully exclaim that it’s because life requires and intelligent creator to come into existence.

Here’s the worst aspect of this story. State tax dollars are going to support the celebration of a mad scientist who infected the world with a new religion that teaches that God cannot exist.

This is such dishonest nonsense that it doesn’t even merit a response. See above for refutations of everything you’ve said here, excepting the attack on Darwin’s character, which is completely irrelevant.

OU has stacked the deck for humanism and against other religions. Creationism and Intelligent Design should get equal time in this huge “celebration” of Charles Darwin.

No, they shouldn’t, the reason being that Charles Darwin didn’t invent either of them. If you’d like to celebrate Creationism, have a Moses day, since (if he was real) he wrote the Pentateuch from whence comes your creation story; Perhaps a William Paley day, in order to celebrate the ever so silly Blind Watchmaker fallacy.

There is a God and that belief is held by the vast majority of Oklahoma taxpayers. Withholding that truth from our students does them a disservice and damages our society.

Now you’ve made a strong assertion which you cannot back. Prove the existence of said God, without the use of your holy book. The vast majority of people believe all sorts of things, that doesn’t make any of them necessarily true. Science, and information in general, is not a democratic process. Your students are exposed to what you consider the truth every Sunday, of their own free will. There is simply no need to insert it into a science classroom, or the celebration of the life of a man who had nothing to do with it.

When we tell our college students that they are nothing more than animals, why do we act surprised when they act like animals?

Ah, the slippery slope argument. You tell them that they are more than animals, and they still act like animals, because they are. I’m assuming you aren’t referring to any of the favorable behaviors of animals that we frequently observe, so it might be better termed that they act like barbarians. Humans are by far the worst behaved of the species on Earth. Since you are most likely referring to drinking, partying, and sexual debauchery, you should consider the alternative. Teens and students who are raised in fundamentalist Christian households, where your “truth” is presumably taught, are far more likely to become pregnant outside marriage or contract STD’s than those raised in secular homes and exposed to a comprehensive sex education programme. What’s more, is that many of the teens who take virginity pledges are more promiscuous orally and anally, usually unprotected, than the teens that do not. This also lends to the spread of STD’s. (Saddlebacking, anyone?) So much for animals, eh?
That, and your premise fails because people are capable of reason and don’t have to behave in any given way simply because they’ve been told something. Just because you’re a brain-washed sheep doesn’t mean everyone is.

The Tulsa Beacon does not appear to have an email address for letters to the editor, but surely they would love to hear your opinion. You can contact them at:
Phone: (918) 523-4425
Fax: (918) 523-4408
The Tulsa Beacon
PO BOX 35099
Tulsa, OK 74153

15 March 2009

Comment Rules...

Not that anyone is following , and therefore commenting, but I'd like to post my guidelines for posting comments in anticipation of that happy event.

1. Agree, or disagree, with me at your own behest.

2. Please refrain from spamming, god-botting (posting verses from your own particular holy book as evidence of anything, I don't care, I don't believe it. Period), and continually derailing comment threads to suit your own agenda.

3. Feel free to use whatever language you wish... I'm not looking to censor based upon vulgarity or offensiveness. That being said, postings that are intended to incite violence against any group may be removed at my whim. If I judge you to be jesting, I'll leave it up.

06 March 2009


We have numerous meetings about a concept called PLC, or Professional Learning Communities, which sound like a great idea until you examine the outcomes. PLC's are supposedly a way to improve student performance by teaming, collecting and analysing student data, and adjusting teaching methods to those that are best suited to your students based on that analysis. So far, so good... except for the fact there is no conclusive data demonstrating its efficacy. ( Go on, look at the site the DuFours put together... see any trends in their data, with statistical significance? Nor did I).
This isn't all of what irritates me about the PLC system. Being forced to use something that doesn't definitively work is part of being in K-12 education... we do this for every new fad in education. The main issue is where the responsibility for student success lies. Teachers are required to teach, assess student learning, and correct errors; This is the core of our job description. However, under the PLC concept, our job description also includes calling home for every absence (attendance office anyone?), devising methods to motivate students who simply don't care, and bending over backwards to accept work late. This has nothing to do with learning, this deals solely with accountability. When my 20 yr old gangbanger sophomore doesn't come to school for a week, the administration's first question to me should not be "What are you doing to get him in class?". Quite frankly, it isn't my problem if he doesn't come to class, it's his mother's and his own. Deciding that I'm responsible for making a student complete the work necessary to learn removes the responsibility from the student... and therein lies the problem. While my students may not (read: will not) use much of the information learned from my course throughout their lives, unless they have a specific job requiring it, they will use the life lessons they glean from school at every opportunity. We're setting up our students to absolve themselves of responsiblity for their own actions, teaching them that a lack of effort will be rewarded with someone else bailing them out.
Speaking of effort: the majority of students who do try assume that because they did what they were asked, they deserve an 'A'. (source: informal survey of 100 HS students, all of them in my classes). It's too bad that life doesn't care how hard you worked if you didn't manage to successfully complete what you needed to do, because this is what they expect. Again, the education system, coupled with parent enablers, is to blame here. These young adults are in for a rude shock when they have to deal with all of real life at once. (note: some of them deal with some aspects of real life, such as the juvenile justice system)

01 March 2009

Iran glows in the dark?


Oh great, a fundamentalist Muslim nation has enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon... can you picture the wonderful potential outcomes from this one?
1) The U.S. decides to invade because, well, that's what we do to people we think have these things.
2) Israel does something astoundingly stupid, like bombing the Iranian nuclear site and starting yet another shooting war in the Middle East.
3) Nothing, because we weren't right in the first place.
4) Iran builds their bomb, and uses it somewhere, sometime... or just hands it over to Al-Qaeda.
5) Insert scenario here...

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz?

For a first post, ever, I'm going to take the ever so easy potshot at fundamentalist twit Christians. I have a student who, being completely serious, made praying part of her plan for an egg-drop contest. "Mr V. , I prayed for my egg and it survived, so prayer works." Nevermind that she also swathed said egg in foam rubber and attached a freakin' parachute to it. I wonder if she'd have attributed the egg not surviving to her sky daddy as well...