Evolution Day in church

Clergy at several hundred US churches on Sunday risked hellfire and damnation by suggesting that Charles Darwin is not the AntiChrist and the theory of evolution is not apostasy. The churches (including at least three here in Kentucky) were participating in Evolution Sunday, an effort by moderate Christian churches to counter the anti-Darwin, anti-evolution diatribes by more conservative Christian groups. From The New York Times article today: At St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, a small contemporary structure among the pricey homes of north Atlanta, the Rev. Patricia Templeton told the 85 worshipers gathered yesterday, “A faith that requires you to close your mind in order to believe is not much of a faith at all.” I could not have said it better. Read the rest of the article here.

Bring out your dead!

Well, long dead anyway. Archaelogists this week have turned up two unexpected finds in Egypt and Greece, both containing remarkable details. In Greece, a farmer stumbled upon an underground tomb carved into the rock near the ancient city of Pella, the birthplace of Alexander the Great. Archaelogists say it is the largest underground tomb of its kind and dates back 2,300 years. Details about the historic find are here. Across the sea in Egypt, archaeologists from the University of Memphis, Tenn., stumbled upon an intact tomb in the Valley of Kings, adjacent to Luxor, the first such discovery since King Tut was unearthed in 1922. The new tomb (in a manner of speaking) was just 5 meters (15 feet) from Tut’s final resting place and may date back to the 16th century BCE. The team thinks one of the bodies contained inside could be Queen Nefertiti, whose tomb has never been discovered. Both teams promise more details about the finds in the days to come. The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, the Tomb, the Royal TreasureAlexander the GreatNefertiti: Unlocking the Mystery Surrounding Egypt’s Most Famous and Beautiful Queen

The death of theories

There seems to be much confusion in the US lately about the concept of a scientific theory, in particular the theory of evolution. Many detractors characterize theories as “opinion” or ad hoc explanations, apparently unaware that all scientific theories depend on pretty substantial evidence. While it is true that theories can have relatively short lifetimes, the ones that are commonly accepted today as valid rest on strong foundations of evidence. Debating the validity of theories is a healthy and necessary part of scientific investigation. History is rife with examples of theories that were once widely held, then eventually discarded as new data became available. As a science teacher, I refer in class to these old theories frequently as a means to demonstrate how science progresses. As a blogger, I want to educate my readers as well. So, beginning with this post, I begin an occasional series of essays about the deaths of theories. I begin with one I am most familiar with, the end of the geocentric universe. Since it is a lengthy essay, I have placed it in its own page here. Later essays will appear in the same place.

Blogging and the AIDS debate

To learn more about blogging on science and tech, I frequently visit other science blogs to see how they do it. While visiting Aetiology, a site at ScienceBlogs hosted by Tara C. Smith, I got sucked into a debate regarding the connection between AIDS and HIV. My big mouth resulted in a somewhat heated exchange between me and Dr. Harvey Bialy. If you are at all curious to see what happens at an active blog, click on the debate link. Dr. Smith is an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology in the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa. In the post referenced here, she took on a point-by-point critique of a chapter on AIDS in Tom Bethell’s book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science. Bethell (and Dr. Bialy) both dissent from the widely accepted theory that HIV causes AIDS. Smith does an excellent job taking apart Bethell’s arguments, as she should, being an epidemiologist and all. She quoted an excerpt from Bethell’s book that I found particularly offensive. In tropical Africa, a deterioration of the physical infrastructure swiftly followed the end of colonial rule. Sewage and sanitation crumbled. The issue was too awkward to mention because it would strongly ...

Reality 1 – Stan Deyo 0 57

Stan Deyo is one of those self-promoting “psychics” who claims, in his case, to be able to predict earthquakes days in advance. Deyo says his system of monitoring global ocean temperatures permits him to forecast when and where earthquakes are likely to hit about 75% of the time. Me, I’m doubtful, since geologists are lucky if they get an inkling just hours in advance. Deyo made this prediction on his site last week: February 3, 2006 By Stan Deyo Home http://standeyo.com WARNING: USA San Francisco is the hot spot of today’s forecast. There is a STRONG signal between Mendocino and San Francisco along the San Andreas Fault. The signal shows the stress is from the Pioneer Fault Zone just below the Mendocino Fault Zone. People in the immediate area of this location should prepare to leave their homes should a major quake strike SF in the next 5 days…. possibly even tonight. Well, it’s been six days and, unless I’ve missed the news, the Bay Area seems OK. In fact, I wonder if anyone has independently verified his success rate. There are a lot of people who seem to think he’s the shiznit when it comes to earthquake forecasting. To ...

While the US dilly-dallies, others plan for oil-less future

Partnerships in two countries, Sweden and South Africa, have seen the writing on the wall and are making concrete steps toward life without oil. One hopes that the US can learn some things from their planning. In Sweden, a committee representing a cross-section of society, will offer to parliament plans to wean the nation of 9 million off oil within the next 15 years, without building any more nuclear power plants. The committee will focus on alternatives to heating oil and gasoline. Nuclear and hydroelectric plants already provide all the nation’s electricity. If successful, the plan would make Sweden largely free of dependence on oil. Meanwhile, SASOL, the South African petroleum giant, and the Central Energy Fund, are planning to build a major biodiesel plant, using soybeans as the source. Biodiesel supplements petroleum-based diesel fuel, simultaneously stretching diesel supplies and reducing tailpipe emissions. A feasibility study is expected by the end of the year. The Guardian also reported today that French automaker Renault plans to manufacture half its cars to run on a mixture of ethanol and gasoline by 2009. “French car groups have seized on the call by President Jacques Chirac to end the country’s “addiction to oil” with ...

Help from an unexpected corner

Climatologists say global warming is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Many governments around the world agree, but the Bush administration apparently does not. So, to prod the incumbent administration into action, a group of evangelical Christians — yes, you read that right — are petitioning the White House to do something about it. From the Guardian Unlimited: “Whether you believe the Earth began 4,000 years ago, or 4 billion years ago, you are still concerned with the consequences of global warming, especially for the poor,” said Leith Anderson, pastor of a “mega-church” in Minneapolis, and former president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Saying it is a matter of their responsibility as Christians, Anderson and 85 other influential Evangelicals endorsed a plan that calls on the current administration to impose mandatory limits on fossil fuel emissions. Pres. George W. Bush, a “Big Oil” man, has been reluctant to make the connection between fossil fuel emissions and global warming, despite evidence linking the two. The signatories include the leader of the Salvation Army, the president of Wheaton College (no connection, BTW), the editor of Christianity Today, and others. Absent from the list are conservative Pentecostals like James ...

Imagine art auction at my school

I teach at a private high school in Louisville, Kentucky. Ten years ago, we developed a terrific idea to raise money for the school’s scholarship fund (we help about 40% of our students annually, which is quite high for independent schools.) So, this post is a plug for the 10th reiteration of that idea. Press release begins ——————————————— Each year the Imagine art auction raises critical dollars to support student scholarships for young adults who would otherwise not be able to attend St. Francis High School. Imagine also provides the community with a wonderful opportunity to buy high quality artwork produced by some of the most talented artists in the region. Imagine 2006 marks the 10th anniversary of the event, and we have procured some exciting pieces from both returning artists such as RedXing Ye (叶红杏), Chuck Swanson, Rodney Hatfield (Art Snake), Stephen Powell, whose piece, “Startled Lemon Jealousy,” is pictured at right, and Dale Chihuly and some new resources, including an acrylic and oil by Dionisio Ceballos, an Ansel Adams photograph and several contemporary items representing a variety of mediums from a prominent Chicago gallery. A selection of the items being auctioned is featured in The Wyvern Gallery. If ...

Pat Robertson: irate eugenicist

Televangelist Pat Robertson has once again managed to insult another US ally. This latest remark is so weird that it’s stranger than science. Europe is committing racial suicide, he says, because Europeans aren’t having enough babies. And who is to blame for the low birth rate? Not Satan, but French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre! From the Feb. 6 edition of his news program, The 700 Club, Robertson said: Studies that I have read indicate that having babies is a sign of a faith in the future. You know, unless you believe in the future, you’re not going to take the trouble of raising a child, educating a child, doing something. If there is no future, why do it? Well, unless you believe in God, there’s really no future. And when you go back to the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre, the whole idea of this desperate nightmare we are in — you know, that we are in this prison, and it has no hope, no exit. That kind of philosophy has permeated the intellectual thinking of Europe, and hopefully it doesn’t come here. But nevertheless, ladies and gentlemen, Europe is right now in the midst of racial suicide because of the declining ...

NASA know-nothing resigns

The political hack who advised a NASA web developer that the Big Bang was just an opinion has resigned, The New York Times reports, following several days of furor over his remarks. George Deutsch’s “resignation came on the same day that officials at Texas A&M University confirmed that he did not graduate from there, as his résumé on file at the [space] agency asserted,” the Times continues. It’s hard to say at this point which was Deutsch’s fatal error, lying about having a college degree or stomping on the toes of NASA scientists in the interests of his own apparent religio-political agenda. For Washington politicos, it was probably the former, but I’d like to believe the young Mr. Deutsch’s actions were such an embarrassment that the Bush administration had to ask him to leave. To recap recent events, Deutsch, 24, was a political appointee to the public relations office of NASA. On his résumé, he stated he had a journalism degree from TAMU, which somehow qualified him to run the NASA PR office, despite having no apparent scientific knowledge. Deutsch tried to limit media access to one of the agency’s experts on global warming, and told the expert hinself to ...

TIME: Teachers needed to inspire young scientists

This week’s TIME magazine’s cover story is about science, specifically whether the USA’s progress in science and technology is lagging behind other countries’ efforts. Of particular interest to me is the story about science teaching. The gist of the story is: elementary school kids in the US are doing as well as ever in science, but they are losing the race to their peers in other countries. As the article says, our kids lose their enthusiasm for science by the time they reach high school. In college, science has no appeal and students seek careers in other fields. Science teachers are a key factor in keeping up student interest, the article continues. The numbers are discouraging, however. The science role models most students know best are their teachers. But science teachers who are both passionate and prepared are scarce. U.S. high school students have just a 40% chance of studying chemistry with a teacher who majored in the subject, according to a 2005 report from the National Academy of Sciences. By contrast, they have a 70% likelihood of studying English with an English major. Often, educators at the elementary level never liked science in the first place. There are financial ...

Dark matter is warm and WIMPy

A team of British astronomers have managed to glean some secrets about the mysterious dark matter that inhabits the galaxies. Dark matter is warmer than expected and may in fact be composed of primordial particles called WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles). Using several large telescopes around the globe, including the Very Large Telescope in Chile, the team determined that the 12 dwarf galaxies they studied contain about 400 times more dark matter than regular matter. In addition, the team found that the dark matter was moving faster — in other words was hotter — than expected. The speed of the subatomic particles also sets parameters on the volume they can occupy. They need more room than predicted. “It looks like you cannot ever pack it smaller than about 300 parsecs – 1,000 light-years; this stuff will not let you. That tells you a speed actually – about 9km/s – at which the dark matter particles are moving because they are moving too fast to be compressed into a smaller scale,” Prof Gerry Gilmore of the Cambridge Institute of Astronomy told the BBC. In other words, if the dark matter particles act like an ideal gas, their average kinetic energy (temperature) ...
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