Daily Archives: November 23, 2012

Once we all had gills (free book chapter)

Have you heard of the book “Once We All Had Gills: Growing Up Evolutionist in an Evolving World“?

Here’s a summary:

In this book, Rudolf A. Raff reaches out to the scientifically queasy, using his life story and his growth as a scientist to illustrate why science matters, especially at a time when many Americans are both suspicious of science and hostile to scientific ways of thinking. Noting that science has too often been the object of controversy in school curriculums and debates on public policy issues ranging from energy and conservation to stem-cell research and climate change, Raff argues that when the public is confused or ill-informed, these issues tend to be decided on religious, economic, and political grounds that disregard the realities of the natural world. Speaking up for science and scientific literacy, Raff tells how and why he became an evolutionary biologist and describes some of the vibrant and living science of evolution. Once We All Had Gills is also the story of evolution writ large: its history, how it is studied, what it means, and why it has become a useful target in a cultural war against rational thought and the idea of a secular, religiously tolerant nation.

Courtesy of the National Center for Science Education, you can have a FREE CHAPTER of this interesting book!

Strip Violating Religious Institutions of Tax Exempt Status

There is a petition making the rounds which is getting some real support, and that you should sign:

Enforce the tax code, and strip violating Religious institutions of their tax exempt 501(c) status.

Religious institutions across our great nation serve an important role in community building & out reach, helping the poor & disenfranchised, among many other noble actions.

Our forefathers had the foresight to see that for our nation to succeed, we would need to enforce an unparalleled freedom of religion. However, they also understood the imperative need for a legal separation between church & state.

In recent years, the IRS has turned a blind eye to offending Religious institutions that mix religion with politics. By not enforcing the qualifications & disqualification’s of 26 U.S.C. § 501(c) of the United States tax code, the IRS is doing a diservice to both the American people & the vision of our forefathers.

We ask that you enforce the letter of the law.

There are two things the petition does not mention but that you need to know:

1) Many religious institutions carry out activities that are generally done by businesses that pay taxes, and they compete. Mega churches are often conference centers. Churches often run supportive housing facilities that bring in profits, or build social service facilities that dome with guarantteed developers fees. I know of a church that got a government grant to build a housing facility, subcontracted the work, and had a guaranteed $500,000 profit for their effort, and now runs the facility in the black with no taxes to pay. There may be nothing wrong that any of that. You just need to know that the tax exempt status is worth mucho dinero for any church.

2) Many religious institutions carry out a defacto political policy even other than supporting specific candidates, so even churches that stay within the letter of the law are busy being very political.

Please sign the petition HERE.

Photo of megachurch by Flickr user rauchdickson.

A Few Good Science Toys

Dinosaur Toys?

Glendon Mellow was asking the other day where to get “realistic” or “scientifically accurate” dinosaurs for kids to play with. There are a LOT of “realistic” dinosaur sets out there, but they are for the most part realistic in that they really look like the imagined dinosaurs of the last century and a half, and not the reconstructed dinosaurs of present day paleontology. I’m not sure if you can even get those. The 12 piece Large Assorted Dinosaurs – Toys 5–7" Larger Size Dinosaur Figures exemplify the results of an Interent search for “realistic dinosaur.” Yes, they are realistic but they are not so much revised. Among the highest quality but maybe not very toy-like are the Schleich models. The Schleich Dilophosaurus Dinosaur and other Schleich dinos such as the Schleich Triceratops and the Schleich Velociraptor are all very “real” looking but I don’t see much in there that is taking into account ALL of the more recent revisions.

In the absence of scientific accuracy one might go for fun. For this you can’t do much better than dinosaur finger puppets. Little kids love stickers, and really, they hardly pay any attention to detail as long as they are sticking them on as many inconvenient places as possible. I don’t see any feathers in the Realistic Dinosaur Playset, but there are brilliant colors and the details are glossed enough that they might suffice, plus they are cheap. The Papo Running Tyrannosaurus Rex is the scariest one of all that I’ve seen, so that’s good. And if you have a spare few hundred bucks, you might as well go for the Pleo Robotic Dinosaur because it is a robot!


Chemistry sets are great for the right kids. I’ve often recommended this book for serious home chemistry. The current best chemistry set is probably buying everything individually on the Internet and then dealing with Homeland Security. If you are going to do that you might have a look at this: 16 Piece Deluxe Organic Chemistry Glassware Set. Inspiring.

The Scientific Explorer’s Mind Blowing Science Kit for Young Scientists is highly ranked on Amazon for little kids (4 years old) and I’ve heard people rave about the various The Magic School Bus sets. The chemistry set that probably represents best the one many of us had when we were kids and that is currently highly ranked may be the Thames & Kosmos CHEM C2000 (V 2.0) or the Thames & Kosmos CHEM C3000 (V 2.0), depending on how much money you want to spend.

Life Science

Everybody needs a good dissection set. Here there are a few ways to go. One can get a reasonably good dissection set like this one, or one can get a kit with a specific critter to dissect that comes with some tools such as the Carolina Pig Anatomy Kit with Dissecting Set. Generally, materials from Carolina or Wards are going to be higher quality than randomly chosen items off the internet.

There are dozens of kits and toys you can get that let you grow an organism and keep it alive for a while. I hate most of these kids. I recommend getting a 10 gallon aquarium from your local fish or pet shop, an external box filter (easiest to clean) and an aerator (yes, both) and then just go to your local swamps and ponds and scoop up mud and stuff and put that in the aquarium, along with water that has been properly handled or processed. Stuff will spontaneously generate from the mud, don’t worry. If it doesn’t work just get some more mud, clean it out, and try again (don’t use cleaning chemicals). You will learn to make it work over time … by doing science!

Geology and Rock Collecting

The best “Kit” for geology is a good book on geology that introduces you to some of the basic techniques, and then you go and find the parts you need around the house and at your local stores, although you might not find a proper geology hammer. Having said that, it is a good idea to get a hardness set of minerals (e.g. Mohs Scale of Hardness w/ Diamond Rock Mineral). But, “rock hounding” and “geology” are not the same thing. Someone interested in collecting rocks and minerals should visit rock shops and shows, talk to people there, and learn from them where your local collecting areas might be and learn the ropes from the people you meet along the way. If geology, no specifically rock collecting, is what you are into, try finding good books and geological monographs for areas you can get to and visit those areas with the books and the maps that come with them (a good book on the geology of an area will have good maps, or it is not a good book on the geology of an area!). A great if sometimes difficult to use resource is the roadside geology guides often put together for geology conferences or courses. These are travel routes that take several hours at most, often several in one document, that bring you to individual road cuts or other sites and explain, often in technical terms, what you are looking at there. Try Googling “geology road guide” and then a state or region name. You’ll find stuff.