Sen. Inhofe, the Bible and Global Warming

JISHOU, HUNAN — I visit Dispatches from the Culture Wars almost every day, and today commented on a report about Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who is convinced that not only is global warming a lot of hooey, but that God has everything under control, so we humans needn’t worry at all. In an interview with Voice of Christian Youth America, Inhofe repeated his claim that anthropic global warming is all a hoax. He gave as his reason: Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that “as long as the earth remains there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.” My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous. At Dispatches, there was a lot of commentary about how knuckleheaded this reasoning is, and I added to the discussion with a rejoinder that I think is so good I am repeating it here. If you read Genesis carefully (and not human chauvinistically), it’s important to note that God created humans last, and told them to be ...

Bachmann wants schools to teach religion in science class

JISHOU, HUNAN — CNN reports the not-very-surprising news that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) favors teaching Intelligent Design (religion made science-y) in schools, right alongside evolution (actual science). It’s not surprising, because Bachmann (and most of the other candidates for the GOP presidential nomination), are stubbornly in the Science (and History) Ignoramus class. Global warming? Liberal nonsense! Evolution? Atheist nonsense! Separation of Church and State? It was never there! Intelligent Design is religious belief, Creationism with a different label, and the federal courts — most recently in 2005 — have ruled it cannot be taught in public schools, especially in science class. Period. Yet, Bachmann and others stubbornly insist ID must be taught in public schools. Don’t they read the newspapers? Here’s what she told CNN. “I support intelligent design,” Bachmann told reporters in New Orleans following her speech to the Republican Leadership Conference. “What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don’t think it’s a good idea for government to come down on one side of scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides.” WRONG!! There is no “reasonable doubt” about evolution, at least among sensible people and ...

The Ballad of John Freshwater finally ends

JISHOU, HUNAN — Like the fabled “Song That Never Ends,” the story of John Freshwater, a middle school Ohio science teacher bent on proselytizing his students, seems to have gone on and on and on … The end is this: he will be dismissed from his teaching job at the Mount Vernon public schools. Actually, that’s the same ending as before, but he was entitled to an administrative hearing, which dragged on for almost two years. In a decision released this week, the referee for the hearing agreed with the school district, and said, “Yup, Freshwater is out.” John Freshwater purposely used his classroom to advance his Christian religious views knowing full well or ignoring the fact that those views might conflict with the private beliefs of his students. John Freshwater refused and/or failed to employ objectivity in his instruction of a variety of science subjects and, in so doing, endorsed a particular religious doctrine. By this course of conduct John Freshwater repeatedly violated the Establishment Clause. Without question, the repeated violation of the Constitution of The United States is a “fairly serious matter” and is, therefore, a valid basis for termination of John Freshwater’s contract(s). Further, he repeatedly acted ...

Happy Winter Solstice!

It’s today, at 6:38 PM EST (6:38 AM Wednesday my time). I hope you got a chance to see the lunar eclipse, because I’m on the wrong side of the world for it. Just for the record, this is the shortest period of daylight in the northern hemisphere for the whole year. And the furthest south on the horizon that the sun will rise and set. Now the days will get longer, and the sun will move toward the north. Good reason for a celebration! Have some glögg! It’s a traditional holiday punch in Sweden and the other north lands. The really old fashioned way to make it was to leave out the sugar, and instead drink the punch while holding a sugar cube in your teeth. At least, that’s how my grandpa did it. Sugar was expensive way back when.

Arsenic-based lifeform? Maybe, maybe not. 5

JISHOU, HUNAN — Just a few days ago, the Internet was in a hub-bub about the discovery of a strain of bacteria that thrives in an arsenic-laced environment. Several biologists, however, are not so convinced, and have pointed out weaknesses in the scientific paper announcing the discovery. Carl Zimmer at Discover magazine just published a summary of some of these objections. The late astronomer and author Carl Sagan once wrote that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” In other words, if you claim you saw a UFO zipping across the sky from your backyard, your photographic “proof” had better not look like blurry shot of a modified dinner plate. Briefly, that’s what critics of the arsenic-loving bacteria paper are saying. They believe the authors’ methodology and analysis is flawed, so they want further evidence that these bacteria have really incorporated arsenic into their DNA, for example. This is how science works. Even Newton and Einstein, whose theories of gravity and relativity are now considered foundations of modern physics, had their critics when they were first published. Science is all about testing and verification of hypotheses. Peer-reviewed journals, like Science, run submissions past a panel of editors, who judge in part whether ...

And here’s something even more wrong than Rand Paul 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — I just read this at Pharyngula. Words escape me. Any of my former physics students could write a better explanation of electricity than this tripe. It’s apparently from a homeschooling science text peddled by Bob Jones University. [The link in PZ’s post seems to be broken. The page shown is from the Science 4 textbook, printed in 2004.]

Speaking of pictures …

Check out this zoomable graphic showing the comparative sizes of tiny biological things, from the University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center. [Hat tip to Little Green Footballs.]

Bizarro world “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?”

CHANGSHA, HUNAN — While I wait for my lunch companions to show up, I will try to dash off a quick movie review. Of course, it’s not very current. GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra opened in the USA weeks ago, but I saw it for the first time here just last week. In Chinese. With Chinese subtitles. I didn’t miss a thing. Some B-movies have redeeming virtues, despite poor acting, bad direction, cheesy scripts, or lousy camera work. Really bad movies (grade Z’s), though, combine all four to make a US Grade A turkey. And being a science-fictiony kind of film, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, brought really bad to a whole new level with really awful science concepts. Here’s a few glaring mistakes. The Bad Guy (TBG) has a huge underwater lair that puts Stargate Atlantis’ digs to shame. Yet, this underwater metropolis is supposedly a secret. How? Its heat signature alone would be as bright as lighthouse beacon to a spy satellite in orbit. For argument’s sake, let’s suppose the US government knew about The Bad Guy’s secret underwater lair. Wouldn’t the Defense Department be just a teensy bit interested in why TBG has all of ...

Women in science: more Letters to Our Daughters

JISHOU, HUNAN — Dr. Isis at Scienceblogs.com has published a few more letters from women scientists, as part of her “Letters to Our Daughters Project.” The daughters are not necessarily the scientists’ biological daughters, by the way. Isis wants young female scientists-in-training to stay the course, get their degrees and begin science careers. As a former high school science teacher, I’m blogging about these letters because they contain sound advice for teenaged science students, too. Girls can be scientists, without giving up romance, motherhood, or … shopping. The third letter in the series is by Wendee Holtcamp, a free-lance science journalist who blogs at Animal Planet and has written for Scientific American and other big time publications. She reminisces about the doubts of others around her whether she could or should pursue a doctoral degree. It seems that the higher I climb up the totem pole of success, the more resistance I encounter. Whatever happened to those feel-good messages from kindergarten: You can be anything you want to be! Girls can do anything boys can! Go make your dreams come true! What I’m discovering as I journey toward my doctorate is that while women may cheer our abundant opportunities in ...

Women in science: Dr. Isis and The Letters to Our Daughters Project 4

JISHOU, HUNAN — One of my favorite Internet hangouts is ScienceBlogs.com, which has a veritable pantheon of engaging and intelligent bloggers commenting on everything from creationist malarkey and real science to … shoes. One of the goddesses there is Dr. Isis (her mortal form is depicted below), who recently started a project to encourage more young women to enter the sciences. Dr. Isis and I share the same concern. I spent more than two decades teaching physics to sometimes reluctant teenagers, and because our school basically required everyone to take physics to graduate, I managed to teach nearly everyone who passed through those hallowed halls. Roughly half my students were girls. I don’t have any hard statistics, but I think about as many women as men among my students entered medical, scientific or technical fields. The numbers for both genders are comparatively small, given the arts-and-humanities bent of the school, but it’s the parity of the numbers that I am proud of. For a student to love math and science is hard enough in the United States — such students are labeled nerds, geeks, and weirdos, because math and science are supposed to be (a) really hard and (b) really ...

John Freshwater is a menace 2

The Panda’s Thumb has been keeping a close tab on Ohio science teacher/religious fanatic John Freshwater even since he got into trouble last year, allegedly burning a cross on a student’s arm with a Tesla coil. Freshwater and school officials have been making their cases in adiministrative hearings since then. There have been six days of testimony so far, spread over several months. So far, the testimony suggests Freshwater was an insubordinate teacher who resisted his superiors’ efforts to bring him in line, perhaps because he believed God’s authority trumped theirs. Members of the science department were supposed to bring their Tesla coils to the front office; Freshwater kept his. He was supposed to remove his Bible from plain sight of students; he put additional religious materials in his classroom instead. Ohio’s scope and sequence of science instruction places the teaching of evolution in the 8th grade and later, and forbids the teaching of creationism; Freshwater was telling his seventh graders that evolution was bunk, that the world was only 6,000 years old, and that humans and dinosaurs co-existed for a time. Freshwater, who apparently is a very popular teacher and has won teaching awards in the past, is associated ...

Meanwhile, back on Mars …

JISHOU, HUNAN — Most of my posts lately have been about China, for obvious reasons, but it’s hard to abandon being a physics teacher. So, here’s a science post. While humans have been flitting around in low-earth orbit, NASA-JPL’s Martian probes have been busy on the red planet. The arctic explorer, Phoenix, has discovered water ice in the soil and in the sky, detected snow falling from the clouds, and photographed the sun creeping up above the horizon as the martian winter approaches. This sequence just fascinates me in particular. It shows clouds scooting through the sky, much as they would here in Earth. These are water-ice clouds, like the high-altitude cirrus clouds here. Aside from practical issues like not having any oxygen to breath and sub-sub-zero temperatures, you could almost imagine yourself standing there watching the clouds go by. Phoenix has been operating for more than four months, but the approaching martian winter solstice may kill the little fellow off. Temperatures are dropping to -120C (-184F), which is bad for its electronics and especially its solar panels. Carbon dioxide frost is forming on the solar panels, cutting down sunlight reaching the solar cells. And the sun itself, as it ...
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