More music you¹ can do math to...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 6:50 PM Bookmark and Share
Apparently, Pandora insists I get at least one kick-ass song a day in which G. W. Bush is quote mined about war.  So far, so good.

¹ I should probably just say "music I can do math to" but that's hardly an interesting title for a blog post, right? Right.

Math & The Oh-So-Musical Ministry

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 7:09 PM Bookmark and Share
While working on a proof just now, this little beauty came pouring through my headphones. Great beat for doing math to, hilarious quote mining... what's not to love!?

In which a family cheers at the suffering and death of an animal...

Monday, September 27, 2010 at 12:15 AM Bookmark and Share
Science is cold, emotionless.  It takes no moral positions, it has no fears, it's just a method for rooting out incorrect ideas by challenging those ideas with logic and data.  This is a good thing: it's what makes science so successful at giving us relatively objective descriptions of reality and how it works.

But scientists aren't science.  They do hold moral position, and sometimes they give a damn about something. That means the things they care about - be it puppies, women's rights, great music, historical buildings, or hot shoes - these things evoke emotion, and dictate action. Personally, I'm rather partial to snakes, which is why my blood boils when I watch this video of a family cheering as passing traffic repeatedly hits and eventually kills an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake...

Interestingly, I don't hate these people - I don't even dislike them (which I'll admit feels a bit odd - I feel like I should). Certainly, if I were in their shoes, I would have jumped out of the car and tried to saved the snake. But that's me - I know a fair bit about rattlesnakes, and through that knowledge I've developed a great deal of appreciation for them.

That's important, so I'll reiterate: my knowledge of snakes has brought me to appreciate them. Science may be cold and emotionless, but the factual details it provides can significantly shape our morality - our sense of good and bad, right and wrong - and I think this is generally true for nearly everyone.  I'll let Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris elaborate (although see Massimo Piggliucci's commentary for a critique of Harris's talk)...

So when I see videos like the first one above, I don't see an evil family of ruthless sadists raising sociopathic  children.  In fact, I'd be surprised if they weren't actually a rather likable and otherwise decent family.

What I do see is a family that doesn't live near a good nature center. That doesn't spend much time at high quality zoos. That lives where the schools have ineffective biology teachers. A family with no pet reptiles, maybe no pets at all. Mom and dad are almost certainly not biologists, probably don't get out into nature much, and the kids probably don't want to become doctors or social workers or biologists (yet!).

What I see is the target audience of every science and nature educator ever to speak to the public.

Ignorance is the problem, education the solution.  

Should Scientists, Journalists "Take Sides"?

Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 6:11 PM Bookmark and Share
Ed Yong has a great post up on his (excellent) blog Not Exactly Rocket Science, which I hope you'll read. There, he writes (emphasis mine):
It is clear to me that science journalists should not take the side of any particular scientist, of a specific idea, or even of science itself. But it is imperative that we take the side of truth. That may seem obvious but many of the strictures of traditional journalism are incompatible with even that simple goal.

You can read more details on the topic of objectivity, science journalism, and "taking sides" in his post, here.

Discover Magazine on Intelligent Design

Tuesday, September 21, 2010 at 7:18 PM Bookmark and Share
Discover Magazine has a 30 year anniversary issue out, and among it's pages is a short list of some big scientific blunders from recent decades. Included on the list: Intelligent Design/Creationism.
Intelligent Design:
Not satisfied with the biblical God who created the world in six days, creationists developed a "science" that aims to explain the supernatural force behind the whole shebang: intelligent design.  Because we cannot reverse-engineer things like the human eye, they say, it follows that all must be designed by a higher being. (The human knee presumably came together during a moment of distraction.)  This tactic had some success easing intelligent design/creationism into American public-school science lessons. But in 2005 a jury prohibited its teaching in the schools of Dover, Pennsylvania, delivering a stinging rebuke.
If you saw my previous post, you've likely already noticed a mistake which the NCSE has rightly pointed out.
Discover errs in attributing the verdict in Kitzmiller v. Dover to "a jury"; it was a bench trial, and the decision — which was indeed a stinging rebuke to the scientific pretensions of "intelligent design" — was due to Judge John E. Jones III.

Intelligent Design: Creationism's Trojan Horse

Monday, September 20, 2010 at 4:51 PM Bookmark and Share
A nice look at the history of the ID movement in the talk below, by NCSE board member Dr. Barbara Forrest (see below to jump around the video by topic highlights). You can read more about her book "Creationism's Trojan Horse" in this review at Panda's Thumb, or in the links given below.

A few bookmarks for those of you who'd like to jump around or don't have time to watch the whole thing:
  1. Dembski's juvenile attempt to anonymously thumb his nose at Judge Jones and others @ 1:20
  2. Talk begins @ 4:14
  3. Trojan Horse defined/discussed @ 5:30
  4. Intelligent Design as a Trojan Horse @ 6:00
  5. Dover Trial details begin around 7:50 
  6. Who's Who of the Discovery Institute: Center for the Renewal of Science & Culture @ 9:49
  7. Their infamous Wedge Strategy (and Wedge Document) @ 11:45
  8. Trial details begin around 13:30
  9. More from Dembski starting @ 14:00 (followed by more shenanigans from the Disco'Tute)
  10. Expert witnesses on the side of science (plaintiffs) @ 17:50
  11. Summary of lessons learned from the trial are in a nice book (see resource links below) @ 18:28
  12. Plaintiff's attorneys @ 18:43
  13. Expert witnesses on the side of intelligent design creationism (defendants) including those  who backed out @18:55
  14. Dr. Forrest describes her role in the trial @ 20:50 (followed by a nice summary of "ID = christian creationism")
  15. The evolution of the creationist-turned-ID text, Of Pandas and People @ 29:45
  16. The origin of that accidental term, cdesign proponentsists @ 33:00
  17. Cost of the Dover trial (including Dembski's $20K "for not showing up") @ 35:45
  18. 1982 source of "Complex specified information"; 1982 precursor to "Irreducible Complexity" @ 37:30
  19. Behe continues on after the trial, his book, etc. @ 39:00
  20. Key terms/phrases used by ID proponents - things to look out for @ 39:25
  21. The new replacement creationist text? Explore Evolution @ 41:00
  22. Nice book list of additional reading on the Creationism vs. Evolution conflict @ 42:34
  23. Did you know Dembski helped A. Coulter write ID chapters in 'Godless'? @ 44:06
  24. Talk ends @ 44:40, Q&A begins.
See anything else worth noting? Please take note of the time, and leave a comment below.  If it doesn't slip my mind, I'll try and include comments above on what's in the Q&A when I get a chance.


  1. Scott, E. C., Branch, G. 2006. Not in our classroom: Why Intelligent Design is Wrong for Our Schools. (purchase here).
  2. Trial Documents from Kitzmiller vs. Dover available here on the NCSE website.
  3. Dr. Forrest's Creationism's Trojan Horse website: Both book info and info/resources from the Dover trial.

Mid-week Reptilian #23: Tuatara

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 12:39 PM Bookmark and Share
I recently came across an excellent short film on a most fascinating reptile - the Tuatara (Sphenodon sp.) - so I've embedded the film below for your viewing pleasure.

Figure 1: Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus).
Click image for source.

But first, some background on the tuatara is in order...

Bed Bugs!

 at 11:35 AM Bookmark and Share

Don't forget to click the video and jump over to the youtube page to tell Cornell that you like their video by clicking the "Like" button. 

More info on bed bugs can be found here, here and of course here.

Texas Governor Perry Equates Creationism, Intelligent Design

Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 5:47 PM Bookmark and Share
It's shameful that a sitting Governor would so blatantly advocate for religious pseudoscience to be taught as real science to public school students.  But I suppose there is silver lining to the story: at least Texas Gov. Rick Perry recognizes intelligent design as creationism:
Explain where you stand on evolution-creationism being taught in school.

I am a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect, and I believe it should be presented in schools alongside the theories of evolution. The State Board of Education has been charged with the task of adopting curriculum requirements for Texas public schools and recently adopted guidelines that call for the examination of all sides of a scientific theory, which will encourage critical thinking in our students, an essential learning skill.
He's right. While some of his fellow Texans have previously tried to pretend otherwise, intelligent design is a form of monotheistic creationism.

As for that "teach the alternatives" nonsense - maybe he'd also be keen to start teaching about the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster alongside Christianity in Texas history and religion classes?

[Hat tip to PZ]

2010 Arctic Ice Update: It's Melting...

Monday, September 13, 2010 at 11:44 PM Bookmark and Share

R Tip: Listing Loaded Packages

 at 2:22 PM Bookmark and Share
A friend recently asked how you list the packages currently loaded into R's workspace, as opposed to listing all available packages which is what library() does. The answer?
> (.packages())

Oh no! I (almost) missed IRFD, 2010!!!

Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 10:40 PM Bookmark and Share
Yikes! I somehow failed to recognize that today is International Rock Flipping Day, 2010!

So what's a thesis-writing, easily distracted grad student to do? Why run outside and flip some rocks, of course. Pics will be posted below once I get them cropped and uploaded to the intertubes.

[Brief pause while I run outside with a camera and flashlight...]

Turns out, there aren't too many rocks worth living under in our yard - and the few that are are a bit on the huge end of the spectrum.  Still, I managed to snap some decent photos of a few of the invertebrates living around our house.  Pictures will be posted below tomorrow.

50 Atheist/Agnostic Billboards Go Up In Atlanta, GA

Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 1:14 AM Bookmark and Share
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has really outdone themselves this time: 50 billboards!?

That first one has some local significance...
Atlantans can look out for a variety of small, colorful billboards around town, including one with particular meaning for FFRF and for Atlanta. It features actress Butterfly McQueen, who lived in Atlanta at the end of her life, and showcases her statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution made during the 50th anniversary year of the release of the movie, “Gone with the Wind,” in which she played the role of “Prissy.” McQueen, who rebelled her entire life against religion as she rebelled against stereotyped acting roles, said: “As my ancestors are free from slavery, I am free from the slavery of religion.”

McQueen was a Lifetime Member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and made an appearance at FFRF’s 1989 national convention in Atlanta, where she was named FFRF’s premiere Freethought Heroine. She died in a tragic kitchen fire in 1995.
You can find more details (and more billboards) here and here.

Columbus Science Pub off to a GREAT start!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 1:22 AM Bookmark and Share
Here's a few photos and thoughts after tonight's inaugural Columbus Science Pub (more on the event here), held at the Hampton's on King near the OSU campus. The first speaker in the monthly event series? Dr. Tara C. Smith, professor of epidemiology and author of the kick-ass ScienceBlog, Aetiology.  Not sure what the organizer(s) thought, but I thought the event was a great success.

Figure 1.  Science education done right: on bed sheet, in a bar.

Tara's talk was titled Science Denial and the Internet, and covered topics ranging from HIV denial, this history of the anti-vaccine movement, and advice for the audience (which included both scientists and non-scientists) on how to weed out misinformation and promote better communication of science to the public.  By my count, there were a little over 50 people in the audience at it's peak.

Figure 2.  Some of the crowd.

So why do I consider this first installment of the Columbus Science Pub a success?

First, we had a good mix of folks in the audience: Non-science folks, science students, researchers and a few bloggers like myself and

I'll try and get a copy of her talk to share some of the highlights, but in the mean time I'll share her closing slide which probably sums up the frustration my internet presence causes Dr. Wife™... ;)

For more details on her talk, see this Newsvine article by Brent Jernigan.