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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.

27 June 2009

I get email...

It isn't nearly as deranged or interesting as the stuff PZ gets, but it's deluded in its own way.
Hey David, how have you been? We've missed you. We have been wondering what we have done for you to not talk with us or your dad, for so long. Could you possibly call your dad sometime soon, and fix things ?
He talks about you often and wonders what he did for you to not talk to him.
We sold the condo last year and we got your grandmothers house. We moved in June 27th. Can't believe it's a year tomorrow.
Are you teaching anywhere?
Are you dating anyone now?
What are you doing this summer, if your still a teacher?
Do you come up to NY often?
We would really love to hear from you soon
Love Dee

Wow, where to start... So this is my step-mother, who I've met perhaps 5 times. She's playing the step-motherly peacemaker role, which I can understand. What bemuses me is that she, and more so my father, fail to understand why I don't speak with him. I'll preface this next bit of vitriol with the fact that she and my step-sisters don't know me well enough to have done anything to me... therefore this is not aimed at them. Rather they're being ignored by proxy.
The man who physically and emotionally abused me doesn't grasp why it is that I won't talk to him. I find that both comical and sad... Does he honestly think I'd want to? By way of apology, he once said "Sometimes I feel like I didn't do a very good job with you." Awesome. Try for some actual remorse, and we might have somewhere to begin. In all reality, I'm not sure that a sobbing, legitimate apology would elicit anything other than disgust on my part at this point in my life. There are things for which I can forgive, but forgetting and moving into a normal father-son relationship isn't going to happen. So there lies the crux of this issue. No, Dee I can't call and fix things, that's well out of my hands, and out of the question.
The rest of this is step-motherly (faux?) concern banter. They don't miss me, as they don't know me. The search for information is awkward, as some of these questions have answers they can easily surmise: No, I don't go to NY often, I haven't since I left. Painting herself and my father as the victims is an interesting twist on a guilt trip, but doesn't make it any more likely to work.
There's something a bit ghoulish about living in the house in which you grew up after your parents have died and left it, at least to me. It's a situation I'll never face, as neither of those houses are the property of my family now, but I still find it odd that my father (or anyone) would choose to do that. He must have really wanted out of that condo.
At least they're reading the nephew I didn't know I had fairy tales, she states on her Facebook that she's "teaching him about the love of Jesus".

10 June 2009

Proctor and Proctologist have the same root...

for a damn good reason... both are expected to ignore all the shit they happen to come across in the course of their duties.

Ok, for the actual point of this post: The poor woman who proctored for an exam I had to give yesterday (a re-test for a course I don't teach, lovely) chose to expound to me on why she feels that creationism needs to be taught in science classes. Other than because she's a creationist, of course. A summary of her argument could be this:

1.) I just can't see how the Big Bang and all that knows to make me different from you, and one trees leaves different from another.
2.) Well, all creation stories have the same basis, so teaching one would at least let the kids know that there are other points of view out there.
3.) (In response to "Faith based concepts don't belong in a science class because they aren't science.") Well, there's an answer to that, I just don't remember it. I had a brain trauma, so I don't always remember or understand things.

Responses to this load of collops? 1 is an argument from personal incredulity, the reason for which I refer you to #3. Her second point is arguable on philosophical grounds, but to appease her I offered to discuss Norse creation myth in my class alongside evolution. After all, according to her it's enlightening students to the fact that there are other points of view. When this didn't mollify her, it became clear that she only wanted Xian creation taught... funny how that always seems to be a sticking point. The simplest demolition of her second point is this: the kids are aware there are other points of view. They can't walk 50 feet, drive 5 blocks, or turn on any form of media in the country for any length of time without being reminded about teh Jebus.
And the key to this entire discussion? statement #3... Lady, you had a brain trauma that you admit impairs your memory and cognitive abilities... and I'm supposed to take your opinion on something you aren't even trained in seriously?
For a bit of colour: This woman claimed repeatedly that private schools give a better education than public, because when she transferred from St. Pederast the Buggerer or Our Lady of Intolerance in the 9th grade, she took 11th and 12th grade classes, and then had nothing to take but "her major", which she claims is chemistry. Firstly, I completely fail to believe that story without seeing 3 years worth of transcript that says Chemistry, 1 credit, and nothing else. More importantly, one instance of anything does not count as evidence of the same... but she wasn't about to win any prizes for polysyllabic cogitation. There are possibly a number of private schools that offer a better education than a number of public schools in this country. Having seen the state of some of our public schools, and knowing the private schools can't remain open without tuition, I should hope so. When all else fails, refer her back to #3 above. It's not an ad hominem if it literally means you can't think for yourself anymore.

07 June 2009

They live in Lotus Land, all right...


So, Wilhelm Bartholt examines lotus leaves, because they appear to be free of dirt at nearly all times, and discovers what he calls the "lotus effect", a combination of hydrophobic waxes and bumps on the leaves that cause water to bead up rapidly and run-off, cleaning the leaves as it goes. He's applied this useful phenomenon to fabrics, and hopes to do so to other materials. None of this is in contention, and is a commercially useful application of nanotechnology.
The issue arises when people attempt to explain the evolutionary reason for the lotus effect, and continue to focus on the self-cleaning aspect of the plants. Let's have a cursory examination of the ecology of the lotus: The water lotus grows in India, China, and Southeast Asia, and as you might gather from the name, it's aquatic. It also happens to be a perennial, meaning that the tubers under the sediment at the bottom of the water regrow into full plants yearly. It is known for purity because it grows only in clear water and its leaves are always clean. Some scientists have proposed that the self-cleaning adaptation in lotus' has evolved because there is an advantage to removing dust and dirt from the leaves, ostensibly for photosynthesis. While this sounds reasonable at first, shall we consider the environment of the lotus before we make such a pronouncement? How much dust would you say the average aquatic plant contends with? This isn't something that grows in a desert oasis, it's a subtropical to tropical (Burma) plant the grows in slow pools in rivers, naturally. So why decide that the lotus is trying to be clean? Well, there are insects that use a similar effect on their wings to keep them clean, dry, and ready for flight... and this seems to be reasonable as well until we understand that those are desert insects, who have to contend with immense amounts of dust in many cases. Indeed, dry seems to be the key here: aquatic plants, especially those that live on the surface, don't need to cleanse themselves of dust, they need to get water off of their leaves as fast as possible. Light attenuates with water depth, and even liquid water increases the albedo of a surface that, in this case, is supposed to be absorbing light. On top of that, the lotus grows only in clear pools, indicating that it has a low tolerance for low light levels (it also grows in areas that may already be shaded, which decreases available light intensity. The self cleaning effect of the hydrophobic leaf surfaces is a spandrel, a structure that happened to evolve along with a selected trait. The spandrel is the commercially viable aspect of that property, but that doesn't mean that the plant is trying to remain clean, it's simply trying to keep it's leaves on the surface and free of reflective water during heavy rains to maximise photosynthetic potential. A brief study in the light intensity reaching the leaves under a) conditions where the leaves have some dust on them and b) the leaves are free of dust but subject to pooling water or submersion would likely bury this silliness for good. Or, it may actually prove me wrong, but at least there would be some evidential basis for the adaptation story, which flies in the face of photo-physics and ecology.

05 June 2009

Random Drug Tests are Unreasonable Search/Seizure?


That's what an NC Appeals court ruled when the issue of random drug testing of teachers in Graham, NC was brought before it. I'm not sure about the constitutionality here, but I do have an opinion of random drug tests in general.
Random tests are going to catch two kinds of users: people with serious chronic drug problems, and someone who occasionally uses marijuana. I'm just fine with someone catching the first, as they don't need to be responsible for the care of children while under the influence, and are likely to have difficulty regulating their drug use/abuse enough to not be high at work. However, I'm not ok with penalising someone who smokes a joint in their basement on a Saturday with Pink Floyd playing in the same manner. The issue here is the marijuana a) stays in someone's system a lot longer than more dangerous substances (a couple weeks to a month, from most sources, as compared to a matter of hours or a day.), and b) not nearly as harmful a substance physically/mentally as things that aren't going to be caught (like the teacher who decides that weekends=cocaine). Drug testing someone because they do something stupid or appear to be high at work, now that I'm fine with.
This may be a case of my pro-hippie bias coming through. From my personal experience, and most statistics I've seen, potheads aren't aggressive or harmful to other people, they're simply lazy. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't want a chronic pot user teaching my kids, if I had any, because I can't picture that being an effective teacher.