Should I be flattered or insulted? 1

“The curious Wheatdogg” is how I am described by one Harvey Bialy in his reprise of a lengthy set of comments about HIV and AIDS at Aetiology. Now, “curious” can mean “inquisitive,” but it can also mean, “odd.” Well, I am inquisitive, a trait that I suppose led me into newspaper reporting and the study of science. Whether I am odd depends on one’s regard of science teachers. We do tend to be a bit nerdy, but I am not sure I am pleased with the characterization in this case. Anyway, here’s some background behind my first degree of separation from Dr. Bialy. SEED Magazine hosts several science blogs, one of which is Aetiology, hosted by Tara Smith of the University of Iowa. Dr. Smith was reviewing the chapter on African AIDS included in Tom Bethell’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science. She was less than complimentary. Bethell contends that AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa does not result from a virus (HIV), but is a consequence of poor living conditions. Dr. Smith, arguing for the majority, contends that HIV does indeed cause AIDS; poor living conditions arguably exacerbate the spread of the syndrome. Therein followed a long series of comments from ...

Collisions created Pluto’s moons

Little more than a few thousand miles across, tiny Pluto still has not one, but three natural satellites. All three have been detected using the Hubble Space Telescope orbiting Earth. Astronomers at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, have modeled how a collision probably knocked the three moons off their parent body billions of years ago. A similar process probably created our own moon. Pluto’s moons, Charon, P1 and P2, orbit in the same plane, suggesting a simultaneous origin. P1 and P2 are also in orbital resonance with Charon, the largest of the three, meaning their orbital periods are gravitationally linked. P1 and P2 are likely smaller fragments created when Charon was knocked off Pluto. Details about the astronomers’ findings are here

Japan launches infrared observatory

The Japanese space agency sent a new infrared (IR) telescope into orbit today, the first such probe since 1983. The Astro-F telescope will circle earth’s poles to conduct a survey of the skies. Most of us are used to seeing the night sky with just the visible spectrum, but astronomers since the mid-20th century have been exploring the heavens with every frequency from gamma rays to radio waves. The different frequencies of light provide different kinds of information. IR (heat) waves penetrate dust and gas clouds better than visible light, and are associated with stellar and planetary formation. IRAS, a joint US-European telescope, previously surveyed the infrared heavens and took the first image of the dust- and-gas-enshrouded core of our galaxy. Infrared view of Milky Way core. For more IRAS images, go here. For details about the launch, go here.

UK talks on law, religion and intelligent design

Attention fellow Kentuckians! There will be two interesting talks at the University of Kentucky College of Law. The complete details are at The Panda’s Thumb, but here’s the basics. On Wednesday the 22nd, a seminar on “Religion, the First Amendment, and the New Supreme Court” at 12:00 noon in the College of Law Courtroom. The public is invited. On Monday the 27th, a discussion about “Intelligent Design: Question and Controversy in Law and Philosophy,” at 4 pm in the Courtroom. The public is also invited to this one. William Dembski, one of the leading detractors of evolution, now teaches at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary here in Louisville. He could make an appearance at the second talk, which ought to be interesting, to say the least.

Scientists ask for churches’ help

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has asked the nation’s churches to join scientists in the battle against teaching creationism and intelligent design in public schools. Meeting in St. Louis for its annual sessions, the AAAS also started a new organization to foster scientific understanding, the Alliance for Science. Referring to repeated attempts by anti-evolution forces to introduce creationism and intelligent design in public schools, AAAS president Gilbert Omenn said: “Such veiled attempts to wedge religion – actually just one kind of religion – into science classrooms is a disservice to students, parents, teachers and taxpayers “It’s time to recognise that science and religion should never be pitted against each other. “They can and do co-exist in the context of most people’s lives. Just not in science classrooms, lest we confuse our children.” Anti-evolution proponents characterized the efforts as a sign of the weakness of science. Tom Willis, president of the Creation Science Association for Mid America, based in Cleveland, Mo., ridiculed the scientists’ efforts. His group believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible as a basis for much of science. “Most would be out of a job if they couldn’t sell evolution to children,” Willis ...

Al Gebra — terrorist math? 1

A Washington Post columnist, Richard Cohen, opened up a can of worms last week with a column that proposes that high school algebra is useless for most students, and should be dropped as a requirement for everyone. Bloggers all over the map have jumped on the column. Chad at Uncertain Principles offers a comparison to the difficulties in narrative structure in literature. His comments ring true to me. Besides studying physics, I also have a degree in Comparative Literature. Rather than comment on the Cohen piece here, I wrote Cohen a personal e-mail and diarized about the issue at The Daily Kos. Check it out.

Religion and politics, Kentucky style 1

I just finished reading, The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right’s Plans for the Rest of Us by Rabbi James Rudin. In the book, Rudin makes a fairly convincing case for a long-term, sly conspiracy to convert the US into a theocracy. There was still a part of me that would like to believe that Rudin’s conclusions are too far-fetched, that things could never get that extreme. That is, until I read a political report in the Louisville Eccentric Observer about our fair Commonwealth’s legislature, now in session. Some the legislation being considered includes HB489: A bill to outlaw and criminalize all abortions, even in rape and incest cases — there are 39 sponsors of this challenge to Roe v. Wade; HB 277: A bill to permit the posting of “historical documents” — like the Ten Commandments — in public buildings; this potentially unconstitutional legislation passed through the House overwhelmingly, 91-3; HB 290: A bill to make secret the names of citizens with licenses to carry concealed weapons — all other weapons licenses (hunting, for example) would remain public; A bill in the Senate to reduce the consequences of bringing a gun onto school grounds from criminal charges to mere ...

Amateur astronomers help out the Cassini mission to Saturn

Astronomy is one of the few sciences in which amateurs can actively participate. Here’s a great example of how amateurs can help the professionals. The Cassini probe now orbiting Saturn detected a mammoth lightning storm in Saturn’s atmosphere, which researchers at the University of Iowa have been tracking since Jan. 23. The probe could “hear” the crackling of the lightning in its radio receiver, but could not image it with its cameras. From Science Daily : “Since Cassini was over the night side of Saturn and in a difficult position to image clouds, amateur astronomers were asked if they had seen evidence of a storm cloud recently [UI professor Donald Gurnett said.]” He adds that within hours, two amateurs near Paris had posted a beautiful image of a white cloud at southern latitudes on Saturn that they had obtained early on Jan. 25, at a location consistent with the source of the lightning radio emissions being observed by Cassini. The moving white spot near the top of the planet is the storm in question. (Astronomical images typically have south facing up.) This storm is approximately the size of the continental US, with lightning strikes thousands of times stronger than terrestrial ...

Baby got math

Infants have a sense of number by the time they reach seven months, researchers at Duke University have found. Given visual and aural cues, babies will preferentially look at videos of faces that match the number of voices they hear. Non-verbal animals, such as rhesus monkeys, have similar abilities, implying that math — or at least counting — is innately part of our makeup. Now if we could just figure out why kids lose their interest in math around the age of 10 … How To Teach Your Baby Math: The Gentle Revolution

Proof Kentucky is behind the times

I quote from the Kentucky Revised Statutes (thanks to Future Geek for pointing these out): In re: public schools KRS 158.170 Bible to be read. The teacher in charge shall read or cause to be read a portion of the Bible daily in every classroom or session room of the common schools of the state in the presence of the pupils therein assembled, but no child shall be required to read the Bible against the wish of his parents or guardian. History: Recodified 1942 Ky. Acts ch. 208, sec. 1, effective October 1, 1942, from Ky. Stat. sec. 4363-7. KRS 158.175 Recitation of Lord’s prayer and pledge of allegiance — Instruction in proper respect for and display of the flag — observation of moment of silence or reflection. (1) As a continuation of the policy of teaching our country’s history and as an affirmation of the freedom of religion in this country, the board of education of a local school district may authorize the recitation of the traditional Lord’s prayer and the pledge of allegiance to the flag in public elementary schools. Pupil participation in the recitation of the prayer and pledge of allegiance shall be voluntary. Pupils shall be ...

In Ohio, Science 1, ID 0

Ohio, which borders our fair Commonwealth, has come to its senses and rejected the attempts by Intelligent Design advocates to weasel ID into the public school science curriculum. The Ohio Board of Education voted, 11-4, to remove a pro-ID lesson plan and pro-ID science standards from the state curriculum. The board had a month earlier voted, 9-8, to retain the material, which essentially gave ID proponents a way to introduce discussion of ID as an alternative to the theory of evolution. Reactions, as they say, were mixed. From The New York Times: Darwin’s defenders celebrated the reversal as a sign of a backlash against the inroads made last year by critics of evolution. But leaders of the Discovery Institute, the intellectual home of intelligent design, warned that Ohio’s move would create a backlash of its own. “It’s an outrageous slap in the face to the citizens of Ohio,” said John G. West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at the institute, referring to several polls that show public support for criticism of evolution in science classes. “The effort to try to suppress ideas that you dislike, to use the government to suppress ideas you dislike, has a ...

Save your money – buy a cheap vac

Fancy vacuums with high-efficiency HEPA filters do no better than regular vacs in protecting allergy sufferers from dust mites, a study at the University of Manchester in the UK shows. So forget about all those expensive, high tech vacs that promise cleaner air, and just get a cheap one. I guess if you’re really allergic, you should wear a dust mask.
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