Monthly Archives: September 2010

Antievolutionism in a marine science textbook

A sidebar in a marine science textbook recommended for approval in Florida is “packed with good ol’ fashioned creationist language,” Florida Citizens for Science charges. The text in question, Life on an Ocean Planet (Current Publishing, 2011), was recently recommended for state approval by the state’s instructional materials adoption committee on a 7-2 vote, according to the education blog of the St. Petersburg Times (September 22, 2010). But as FCFS’s president Joe Wolf wrote to Florida Department of Education Commissioner Eric Smith, the sidebar on “Questions about the Origin and Development of Life” is “simultaneously actively misinforming, at odds with state standards, and ultimately irrelevant to marine science.” Smith has the final say in the textbook adoption process, and Wolf recommended that the sidebar “should be removed entirely, as there is so little information that is either correct or useful to make it worth retaining.”

details, more

Why does my coffee cup not just fall through the coffee table?

After all, the distance between the bits my coffee cup is made of and the distance between the bits the coffee table is made of is absolutely hugemoungous. If you were a person standing on one atom of my coffee cup, scaled so the atom was the size of, say a Sofa, and you looked out in the direction of the next atom, it would look like a distant star. Or something.

Perhaps there is some kind of force working, I dunno.

Anyway, this is the kind of question that arises when you look at this thing. Teachers, you can use this to freak out your students!

Call in, question everything

Tonight’s skeptically speaking will be on Improbable Research:

Marc Abrahams

We look at the stranger side of science with Marc Abrahams, the editor of Annals of Improbable Research and creator of the the Ig Nobel Prize. Is science that makes us laugh better at making us think?


Speaking up
Neurobiologist Dr. Richard Wassersug explains his research into the relative tastiness of Costa Rican tadpoles.

Details here.

And, don’t forget to listen to the podcast from last week:

Bad Research

Cognitive psychologist Barbara Drescher joins us to discuss the common mistakes scientists make, and what happens to the science when their research goes wrong.


Journalist David Dobbs explains the case against Marc Hauser, a prominent Harvard evolutionary biologist who was recently found guilty of scientific misconduct.

Review: The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism

“Everyone needs to understand the basic facts of evolution as well as the essentials of the scientific method… When people are deprived of a scientific approach to reality as a whole, they are robbed of both a full appreciation of the beauty and richness of the natural world and the means to understand the dynamics of change not only in nature but in human society as well.”

-Ardea Skybreak, “The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism”

Continue reading Review: The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism

Matthew Is a Tropical Storm

The stormy feature in the West Indies has formed into a named storm, and it is Matthew. Matthew is expected to remain as a tropical storm as it follows the North Honduras coast and dissipates over the central Yucatan. Well, it is possible that it will jump the isthmus and do something interesting in the Pacific, or reform in the gulf, but it is too early to say.

Meanwhile, Lisa continues to be one of the least interesting storms ever, and is expected to dissipate before Tuesday evening.

Meanwhile, the ITCZ is very active with lots of storms and low pressure, but not the best conditions in terms of wind sheer. Nothing at the moment seems to be forming over land in Africa. Perhaps we’ll see a shift of origins to the east for the remaining few hurricanes of the season.

Andrew Brown is an Ignoramus

Andrew Brown has written a blog post about the atheist rally in England at which Dawkins gave his now famous speech. Brown quote mines Dawkins in a way that is utterly abominable. Dawkins, in his speech, discusses a somewhat complicated relationship between certain facts … not too complicated but complicated enough that an ignoramus would misunderstand, as Brown had demonstrated. Here’s what Dawkins was saying, nice and slow:

1) Pro-pope interlocutors have stated that even if Adolph Hitler was baptized as a catholic and went to church and stuff, he really can’t be counted as a catholic.

2) Pro-pope interlocutors have stated that there are X million (the number does not matter, but it is inconceivably large) Catholics in Britain.

3) We must guess that the number of British Catholics is based on baptismal roles, but that should not really be considered accurate because of the number of ex-catholics who don’t count themselves as Cathlics.

4) Therefore, the Pro-pope interlocutors are trying to have it both ways. If all those Brits are Catholics, then Hitler was a Catholic by the same definition.

Here, Dawkins actually makes a weaker argument than possible (though he makes the stronger argument elsewhere in his speech) because Hitler was not merely baptized Catholic, but he was totally in bed with the Catholic establishment of Germany.

Anyway, the above four statements describe the somewhat complicated thing Dawkins said very clearly. This got translated by Brown to:

There was a picture of the pope holding a golden swastika, which the organisers apparently took down later, as offensive. I don’t know why, since Richard Dawkins later published on his web site the speech he meant to deliver, comparing every Catholic in Britain to Adolf Hitler: “Adolf Hitler was a Roman Catholic. Or at least he was as much a Roman Catholic as the 5 million so-called Roman Catholics in this country today”, although in the event he said something less gratuitously provocative: “Adolf Hitler was a Roman Catholic … If the church wants to claim [5m Britons] as Catholics, then they have to claim Hitler as a Catholic”.

Dawkins statement was not even slightly provocative or gratuitous. Nothing he said was gratuitous during the entire speech, and if you want provocative, look elsewhere in what he said. I would start with his comments on original sin, or his assertion (quite correct) that the Pope is an enemy of Humanity! Is it more important to Andrew Brown that someone may have compared Brits to something bad, or that Humanity has an Aweful Powerful Deadly Enemy?

Brown is an ignoramus at a higher level as well. If you read his commentary (and sadly, comments are closed on that piece) you’ll see that he appears surprised that any atheists showed up at all, that they were unhappy about the Pope, yet cheerful and good humoured, and then he figures maybe they’ll just go away …. their energy will ‘dissipate’ … now that this is over with.

Clearly, Andrew Brown has not been paying attention.

Excellent research blogging

Once again, I have been awarded an Editors’ Choice award on Peter Janiszewski’s Research Blogging Blog. They tell me that this is somewhere between an Academy Award and a Nobel Prize. Thank you thank you thank you. And, I’d like to point out that I share this award with several other excellent bloggers and their blog posts, including those on creativity and mental illness, sports injuries, modernization and dietary issues, and the link between stress and suicide. Click here to see summaries and links to all these wonderful posts!