Gravity Is Just a Theory

This is a post by guest blogger Ellen Bulger.

You Know, Gravity is Only a Theory Too © Ellen Bulger

If I hear “Evolution is only a theory!” one more time, my head might very well explode.

What in hell goes on in the schools? Maybe, instead of the dumbed-down GEE-WHIZ-WATER-IS-WET science that is designed to break the hearts of the kids who really care and bore the living snot out of the rest of the class, we should step it up a bit. It’s not like the kids who aren’t already motivated are learning anything anyway. Maybe we should start explaining the difference between a hypothesis and a theory about the same time kids start growing their little bean plants in paper cups at the back of the classroom. Good gravy, they are taught all kinds of cockamamie prayers at the same age that you have to convince them that library paste is not a foodstuff, no matter how lovely it smells.

If they are old enough to study the life cycle of a frog, they can be exposed to the scientific method*. Just give it to them along with their dip nets and food coloring and magnets. Kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for and this is a good thing.

* This probably wouldn’t fly in Texas.

FTF1 – Kevin Padian – Lessons from the Dover Trial

This entry is a  recap and review of Kevin Padian’s Freethought Festival 2012 presentation as observed by me as an audience member. Shitty writing or misinterpretation of the presenter’s material is completely my fault. If you think I got something wrong, please let me know in the comments or feel free to email me at bio_dork(at)hotmail(dot)com.  

The keynote speaker on Friday night was Dr. Kevin Padian. He was one of the most laid-back and charismatic speakers of the entire weekend, and that’s saying quite a bit considering the speaker lineup that FTF1 put together! His talk was Evolution, Education, and “Intelligent Design” – Lessons from the Dover Trial.

Dr. Padian is an evolutionary biologist and he served as an expert witness in  Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. He is currently the President of the National Coalition for Science Education (NCSE).

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What are you doing for Darwin Day?

Tomorrow is Charles Darwin’s 202nd birthday. How are you celebrating?

I’m going to the ZOO!

I’m pulling together an event with the Minneapolis Skeptics to celebrate International Darwin Day. We’re going to visit the Como Park Zoo’s primate house, chat Darwin, share our favorite evolution books, movies, and news, take pictures with our primate cousins and/or whatever else people feel like doing. We’ll be meeting inside the main entrance at 1pm, and I invite you to join us. If you come out, look for me – I’ll be the woman holding the Happy Darwin Day sign! 

If you’re not into the zoo, you could visit the Science Museum of Minnesota tomorrow between 1pm-4pm; they’re holding a Darwin Day event and showing a film called A Portrait of Charles Darwin.

And/or, go pick up a copy of Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth at Big Brain Comics in downtown Minneapolis on Saturday.  Bonus: The cartoonists, Zander and Kevin Cannon, will be signing their graphic novel about evolution at 4pm.

And finally – you can help celebrate Darwin Day and the importance of scientific inquiry by signing a petition hosted by Rep Pete Stark and the American Humanist Associateion in support of H. Res 81, which would recognize every February 12th as Darwin Day.

From the AHA website:

In a statement, Representative Stark said, “Darwin’s birthday is a good time for us to reflect on the important role of science in our society. It is also a time to redouble our efforts to ensure that children are being taught scientific facts, not religious dogma, and to fight back against those who seek to undermine the science of climate change for political ends.”

Go HERE to learn more and to sign the petition.

Happy Darwin Day!

CONvergence 2010: Day 3

CONvergence Day 3 – Saturday

First, the outfits!  I pulled out a bunch of things that I don’t get to wear very often – my snazzy cocktail dress, glass bead necklaces, and a black/blue bob wig that I bought for a Halloween costume years ago.  The hubby had a much more deliberate dieselpunk costume – barnstormer cap, goggles, and beige military-style dress including fancy brown army boots.

 

Saturday was chock-full of panels!

11:00 am – Losing My Religion
This was a huge panel, and had about 25 attendees.  Panelists included Jen M, Ted Meissner, David Walbridge, Maria Walters, PZ Myers, Carrie Iwan, Debbie Goddard, Jennifer Ouellete, Lyra Lynx and Bug Girl.  Panelists shared where they were coming from (where they were raised along the range of a heavily religious upbringing to not exposed to religion in their youth or life), and how they dealt with “outing” themselves as atheists or agnostics to family, friends and coworkers, if they chose to do so. 

It was interesting to hear the different perspectives of how “safe” people felt about identifying as atheistic at work.   On the one hand you have someone like PZ Myers – a tenured professor with the ability to be as vocal as he wants to be about his atheism.  Then you have someone like Jen M.  who has a very real fear that she might lose her job if her boss were to find out that she’s an atheist.  Some of the panelists were in the middle – it wouldn’t be the end of the world if their coworkers found out, but they treat their atheism as personal and don’t share their beliefs casually.  One audience member commented that while he didn’t personally care if he was outed, he did worry about the financial ramifications being an out atheist might have on his small-town business. 

Best lines from this session:  
From Debbie Goddard, about not being true to yourself – “It eats at your soul that doesn’t exist.”

From PZ Myers: “We have to stop sacrificing our integrity on the altar of ‘let’s get along’.”

12:30 pm – Profanity as a Fraking Function of Language
Panelists included Kelly Murphy, M.K.Melin, Hilary Moon Murphy, Rebecca Marjesdatter.  This was a somewhat academic discussion about the types, definitions, where, when and whys of profanity.  The moderator could easily have split the slides into a full semester class!  The “Whys”  of using profanity included catharsis, abuse, social bonding and intensification.  She presented a section called “English Profanity Classification”, which was split into religion-related, scatalogical, sexual referents, animal names, euphemisms, foreign language words as swears, and starting a swear but finishing with a non-swear (shhhhhh….ugar!).

The tie-in to the SciFi group came in during the second half of the talk.  We came up with a few books, shows and movies that used cursing or swearing:

Firefly – Gorram and chinese language cursing.  Gorram being a “replacement” for “Goddamn”?
Harry Potter – the kids swear in a very kid-like manner – “Damn” sounds just shocking coming from Harry Potter!  At least the first time…
Battlestar Galactica – “Frak, frakin” – Classic replacement word.
Star Trek –  Data saying “shit”
Pirates of Darkwater – “Noishatot!” – Made-up curse words.
Warner Brothers – Yosemite Sam “rashafrashin…”, Donald Duck “Sufferin’ succotash!”
DC Comics – “Bastich” – combination of “bastard” and “bitch”
Red Dwarf – “Smeg”
Frostflower and Thorn – “You don’t have the tits for that” and “Fathermilker” (A very matriarchal, female-dominated society) By the way, “fathermilker” was the one that caught the greatest number of people in the audience unaware during the entire panel. It was unexpected and could be a universal insult, a corollary to motherf****r. Before you read too much into the astrick-ing – I’m just trying to keep this entry out of the NSFW category.

The moderator said that one of her main disappointments with swearing/cursing in scifi fantasy is when authors don’t use imagination, logic or art when employing profanity.  She asked the writers in the audience to consider these factors when writing profanity into a story:

Offensiveness vs. Offendedness – who’s sending the message and who’s receiving it?  For whom is the profferred profanity intended? And how do these factors affect offensiveness and offendedness: Setting, Gender, Age, Race, Culture, Personality, Power, Class, Occupation, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Relationship.

2 pm – Women as Skeptical Activists
Panelists: Rebecca Watson, Maria Walters, Jennifer Newport, Debbie Goddard, Carrie Iwan, Pamela Gay

The main theme that came out of this panel was Role Models, Role Models, Role Models!  One of the speakers offered up the idea that while being a woman in the fields of science and skepticism may not necessarily put one at a disadvantage for hiring or promotion (although there is still a wage gap in many parts of the US), women are still in the minority. 

The panel discussed studies which have shown that when women are seen as role models in positions of power and respect, more girls and women do better on tests, decide to go into male-dominated professions and excel in those professions.  Also presented was the importance of introducing a woman’s perspective to help minimize “male priviledge”.  Gender bias still exists – just because we got the “big” wins – namely, the right to vote and the perception that women can do as well in business, academics and politics as men, doesn’t mean that all gender bias issues have been solved (brought up were breast-feeding in public, maternity leave, wage, employment in the “upper echeleons”).

Advice for women in the audience trying to distinguish themselves in the skeptical movement and blogging community: Find your niche!  Avoid being a generalist, be the go-to person for a certain topic. 

Pseudoscience targeted at women (pregnany, childrearing, weight loss, fertility) was briefly discussed.

3:30 pm – Evolution Mythbusters
Panelists: Ted Meissner (mod), PZ Myers, Bug Girl, Gred Laden

Favorite misconceptions:

Bug Girl – The false idea that bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly.

Greg Laden – Greg was rather winding in his answer, but I believe this was the crux of his statements:  The false idea that animal behaviors are genetic and thus subject to evolutionary forces and anything outside of this is a violation of evolutionary theory, and thus evolution is false. 

PZ Myers – The idea that all features of humaness are a product of selection, when in fact, very few are.  Again, I hope I summarized this correctly.  This led into a discussion of the human immune system, the “broken” Vitamin C gene and lactose-intolerance.

Most fascinating part of evolution:

Bug Girl – Sex!  Separation of species.

Greg Laden – The emergence of complicated systems from simple beginnings.

PZ Myers – Development, how evolution affects form by affecting development.

My favorite statements from the panel:

  • “Nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution”.  An oldie, but goodie.
  • Science is more than just memorizing facts; it’s a way of thinking.
  • Regarding willful ignorance: When a creationist studen tries to disrupt the teaching of evolution, that’s not honest inquiry.
  • The “theory” of evolution is to intelligent design as the “theory” of gravity is to intelligent pushing.  This one came from an audience member sitting near me. 
  • Biggest challenges to the teaching of evolution?  Media, culture, religion.
  • ~~~~~

    Phew!  So I was pretty much done with panels after these four machine-gun style sessions.  I stopped briefly by the Seamstress Guild cabana, checked my email, facebook and blog at the hotel computers, and then went to the Dealer’s Room where I bought my first Surly-Ramics jewelry!  I found a “Science” necklace and a “Geek” hairclip for myself, and a yellow hairclip for my sister that has Darwin’s first “tree of life” diagram on the button. 

      

    The hubby and I went to the Masquerade at 7pm and saw all sorts of fantastic and horrific (i.e., fantasy and horror, not well-done and poorly-made!) costumes.  I like the way CONvergence does Masquerade – it’s a runway-style show and a costume competition, but there are three levels or categories: Novice, Journeyman and Master.  This way, the professional costumers can compete among themselves but present alongside the noob who gets up in a cloak and wig.  My favorite costume set was a Master-level group who presented as the entire cast of The Guild.

    Afterwards the Hubby and I had dinner at TGIFridays across the parking lot and then bummed around some of the party rooms, cabanas and CONsuite until 12pm when we went to see The Dregs – fun!  They played the classic Zombies in the Shire AND the Zombie Chicken song!  The performance was very casual and silly.  There may or may not have been a bottle containing some brown liquid that passed back and forth between band members and the audience, one of the lead singers was taking pics and posting to facebook between songs, and there was a lot of verbal bashing back and forth between the performers.  So a fantastic time was had by all. 

    Afterwards – exhaustion and home.  This ended up being our last day of CONvergence.  There was only one panel that I wanted to see on Sunday, and we decided that we didn’t care too much about closing ceremonies, so we decided to get a head start on con drop before going back to work.  It was a beautiful day, so we ended up renting a “deuce coup” at Minnehaha Falls, going to the Mall of America for some people watching and lunch, and a spending a quiet night at home with a movie (Paul Giamatti’s Cold Souls). 

    Thus endeth CONvergence 2010.

    Odds and Ends

    Things that make me sad:

    Oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Barrier Reef.  I’m just getting my SCUBA certification this spring – quite screwing up the pretty diving areas!

    The Party of Hell No! – Republicans who like to look tough when they’re grilling Goldman Sachs executives, but who vote no to discussing Wall Street Reform.

    The new Papers Please law.  Thank you, Arizona, for your cultural sensitivity and legal logic.  From Jon Stewart: “”It’s not unprecedented, having to carry around your papers. It’s the same thing free black people had to do in 1863!”

    Oklahoma’s new limiting-your-choice abortion laws.

    Things that make me happy:

    Pay It Forward Day (here’s the facebook group).  As Anne Frank wrote: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

    Zooey Deschenel’s She and Him.

    My favorite books.  Not too long ago I had to submit a Top 10 list to the bookstore for a “Our Employees Suggest” display.  This was the original list – before I had to chop it down – who only gets to pick TEN favoriate books?

    Stranger in a Strange Land

    Robert A. Heinlein
    I Never Promised You a Rose Garden Joanne Greenberg
    Tales of a Female Nomad Rita Golden Gelman
    Flowers For Algernon Daniel Keyes
    Good Omens Neil Gaiman
    Neverwhere Neil Gaiman
    Lamb Christopher Moore
    The Shack William Paul Young
    Voyage of the Dawn Treader CS Lewis
    The Cat Who Went to Heaven Elizabeth Coatsworth
    Ecoptopia Ernest Callenbach
    Brave New World Aldous Huxley
    Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury
    Beggars in Spain Nancy Kress
    Darkfever Karen Marie Moning
    Vertical Run Joseph Garber
    Replay Ken Grimwood
    Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams
    Toxin Robin Cook
    And Eternity Piers Anthony

    This picture that Liz from the bookstore drew during break, and then gave to me!  It’s a book superhero robert:

    Things that make me giggle:

    A church sign seen in Hutchinson, MN:  Be a fisher of men – You catch ‘em, He’ll clean ‘em.  Aieee!  I don’t want to be filleted!

    This Family Guy video: 

     

    Lordosis as an evolutionary advantage?

    I found this in today’s comics – F-Minus by Tony Carrillo

    F Minus - March 3, 2010

    Height has long been recognized as way to display confidence and strength, and high heels are a great way to show that you’ve got resources to burn.  I’m trying to pretend that there’s a way a heel like this could evolve…what kind of environment would select for a heel bone or an arch like this?  Ah, nevermind…t’s just going NOWHERE!  Thought exercise over – it hurts my eyes to look at this picture. 

    Entropy and Evolution Art Exhibit

    In the Star Tribune West Today section, there is a teensy little paragraph in the header that says “In Your Area:  Biology and science, as big art.”

    Oooo…sounds intriguing.  The brief write up goes on to list the where (Hopkins Center for the Arts – 1111 Mainstreet), the what (“Entropy and Evolution, Works on Paper”), the who (Minneapolis artist Martha Iserman) and the when (Feb 25th-April 3).  And that’s it.  Sad!  Off to the interwebs!

    A stop at the Hopkins Center for the Arts website gives a brief write-up of the new exhibit, but doesn’t list much more than the Stribe.

    I have a little more luck at Rift Magazine, a local music and art news website and print publication.  They’re kind enough to give a lengthier event description and have this to say:

    Martha is an artist interested in preserving and promoting an innate sense of awe with nature. She uses ink and watercolor to render naturalistic creatures that she has imagined based on her own science studies. Her work is focused on the natural world due to a fascination with the biological sciences and her lifelong fear of sharks and water. Entropy and Evolution is a study between time and biology, relating to natural processes such as growth, predation, symbiosis, migration, decay and adaptation.

    And then jackpot with Martha Iserman‘s personal website!  She has very interesting pictures of cephelopods, cnidarians, giant jellies, and my favorite – “nightmares” – ocean creatures that are part nature, part imagination.  She mixes pale whites and grays with dark greens, blues, red, browns and grays and the overall effect is one of somber appreciation.  I’m ain’t one of them there art critics, but I think I’ll really enjoy her exhibit.

    Looks like a trip to the art center for me!