Daily Archives: February 9, 2013

Science and Science Communication: Self Correcting

Climate change has had a big impact in Africa. We can certainly talk about that some time. But when a David Attenborough BBC special mentioned one aspect of climate change impact they got the facts wrong. Leo Hickman of The Environment Blog at The Guardian noticed the error and wrote a very interesting blog post tracking down how this happened. The BBC, in response, has removed the specific reference from the special.

This is important because it is important to get it right, but it is also important because it demonstrates that those whom climate science denialists incorrectly call “alarmists” are really just interested in the truth, even when it removes or reduces an “alarming” statement about global warming.

Check out Leo’s post: BBC exaggerated climate change in David Attenborough’s Africa…Attenborough claims in BBC One’s Africa series that part of the continent has warmed by 3.5C over the past 20 years…

I don’t like that title because it seems to say that the BBC exaggerated the overall effects of climate change, but really they just got this one fact wrong. But headlines are often annoyingly misleading like that. I doubt Leo wrote the headline. Anyway, go read the post.

Convergence: Just a few months away!

Don’t forget to register for CONvergence. If you register early you get a break on the rate. Details at their site.

For those who don’t now, CONvergence is the largest fan run fantasy and science fiction convention, and it is held in the Twin Cities at or near the 4th of July. And, even better, every year for the last several years, Skepchick has organized a bunch of panels at The CON on skepticism, science and stuff, and for the last few years I’ve been invited to be on some of those panels, and have helped organize. Last Year Free Thought Blogs joined with Skepchick so some of those bloggers came as well.

I’m hoping to see you there! (Depending on who you are, of course.)

Anyway, get your tickets.

Creationist Home Schooling Science Fair

“You will be a restless wanderer on the earth” -Genesis 4:12

Today, a few of us visited the Twin Cities Home School Creation Science Fair of 2013 at its new location. The fair used to be held in the historic Har Mar Shopping Mall but for some reason it has wandered up the road and across Snelling Avenue to a nearby Christian college on the shores of beautiful Lake Johanna Lake, in Roseville, Minnesota.

We were, verily, Mike, Angry by Choice, and me. Angry arrived separately and reviewed the exhibits on his own, and Mike and I visited nearly all of the 23 posters together and spoke to many of the kids presenting their science projects.

… pay no attention to lies. -Exodus 5:9

Let’s be clear right away: This science fair advertises itself this way:

Unlike Some Science Fair Sites
We Are For Real!
Unlike Many Secular Educators
We Teach The Scientific Method!

I don’t now which “some” science fairs or “secular educators” shun the scientific method, so I’ll take that as a lie by the organizers, who are Young Earth Creationists with a rather weak grasp on reality. Also, there was clearly no requirement that the scientific method be used in these projects as many did not. Having said that, a number of the student’s projects rose above the organizers’s self-hobbled concept of science and were pretty good, and in two or three cases the kids were able to answer questions that probed beyond the script and addressed things not explicitly shown in their posters. For instance, the project on “getting electricity from plants” which examined the difference between various roots and fruits elicited the question “What would happen if you attached a grapefruit to a potato in series” and the student was able to explain the results of trials, not shown on the poster, of mixed plant tissue batteries that he had messed around with.

World Views In Collision: “But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” -Genesis 19:26

Only one poster only was pure creationist nonsense; the student wasn’t there and I think it was a young kid (judging by the style). This was a poster that set out to “prove” that stalactites and stalagmites formed very quickly and not slowly like geologists claimed. The student’s work did in fact seem to demonstrate that stalactites and stalagmites could form very very quickly. Unfortunately, those quick forming formations made by the student were Lotswifian (made of salt!) and not the usual limestone. Also, geologists are well aware that limestone deposits can in fact form vey quickly. As I recall, it was Isaac Asimov that caused the trouble with the stalagmites, going up against Immanuel Velikovsky with the claim that “Worlds in Collision” could not have happened because STLAGTITES!!!1! … Velikovsky was able to show Asimov stalagmites that were rather long formed beneath the foundation of the Lincoln Monument. This has been used by creationists since to prove that geology is wrong.

It, geology, is not wrong. Limestone deposition can be a highly dynamic process. We knew that.

(Note: Asimov, brilliant, everybody loved him, bla bla bla, was not actually a geologist…)

“Rise Up and Stop Sleeping” -Ephesians 5:13-14

Despite the fact that many of the kids did, as stated, rise above their mentors, there were some sad moments when this did not appear to be the case. One child faced with a not to difficult question about animal behavior suggested that a certain problem would be solved because “God put something in the animal to make that happen.” Other students produced experiments without controls, or with multiple conflicting results, but chose to “believe” the results that fit expectations.

Having said that, many of the limitations and shortfalls of the less than stellar posters were typical of small scale school science fairs in general, not peculiar to these students. And, a couple of the students were clearly destine for future … well, thinking and maybe even free thinking. One student was the offspring of a person who could be classified as scientist, which is a bit disturbing. But that kid is clearly going to walk right out of the religious fetters she is already clearly tossing off and do interesting things. When asked if she might pursue science she said yes, and when asked what kind, she said “the interesting stuff” and proceeded to go on an on about what was interesting.

“When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry” -Genesis 27:34

Each of the posters had to have a biblical quote on them. That’s part of the scientific method, apparently. Scientific method, god style. The quotes generally had about as much to do with the project as the quotes I’ve playfully putting here have had to do with the various sections of this blog post. The nefarious thing working here, of course, is tricking the students into going through the bible one more time while they are dealing with what is clearly an alternative to biblical or religious thinking. Well, in some cases, I suppose the quote was relevant. But generally, disappointingly, not.

“The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen.” -Job 37:10

Oh, there’s also this: I’m happy to report that the student that did the obligatory study to determin which freezes faster, hot vs. cold water, discovered that water that starts out colder reaches freezing sooner, though he was shocked by the rate at which hot water almost, but not quite, caught up.

‘The king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?”’ -1 Kings 22:16

We go to this fair to encourage students to think about science, to be possibly the only people who ask questions that may lead beyond the poster or the bible quote on the poster, but not to harass the students. Angry, Mike and I did not mention evolution vs. creationism. We just talked about the science.

There is another reason we go: To keep the creationists honest(ish). A few years ago, a group of us went to the fair and noted 20-something posters, and in that year the organizers, unaware of our presence, reported a much larger number, thus lying about the level of participation in this event. When I pointed out on my blog that all the posters depicted in all the photographs they took and we took combined did not add up to the number they claimed, the organizers of the creationist science fair deleted all their photos from their web site and accused me of being a child abuser.

Well, screw that. What we do now is we go and count the posters. Last year, no one from our group went and the organizers took the opportunity to claim that there were 60 posters. I’m thinking that is a lie because there’s never been that many. This year we counted the entries. Twenty three. There were 23 of them. We’ll swear to it. And we were able to count all the way to 23 without abusing a single child.

The Fate of the Species

Skeptically Speaking’s 200th show is coming up soon! But first, there is show #199. But before I mention show #199, I want to remind you of show #198, because I was in it:

#198 Nature’s Compass and New Caledonian Crows

This week, we’re looking at some of the amazing abilities exhibited by our animal cousins. We’ll speak to James Gould, co-author of Nature’s Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation, about the varying strategies animals use to find their way across all kinds of distances. And biological anthropologist Greg Laden discusses new research on the surprising reasoning abilities of some extremely intelligent crows.

I reviewed Nature’s Compass here, by the way.

Listen or Download Here

#199 Fate of The Species

This week, we’re looking at the ways that people are changing the planet, and the consequences for all of us if we don’t start doing it responsibly. We’re joined by Fred Guterl, Executive Editor at Scientific American, to discuss his book The Fate of the Species: Why the Human Race May Cause Its Own Extinction and How We Can Stop It. From climate change to superbugs, we’ll talk about the ways humanity could take itself out, and how (or if) we can stop it before it’s too late. And we’ll talk to John Cook, creator of Skeptical Science, about the political arguments over climate change.

Listen or download here