Bring back Pangaea!

Everything was better in the good old days.

Unfortunately, being in the middle of a continent means I’m still stuck in the middle of a continent.

Bring back the Western Interior Seaway! We only need to rewind the clock to the Cretaceous, rather than the Permian, to give me some oceanfront property.


Atheist “spirituality” and “mindfulness”


I despise it. But it’s the new thing, and there’s a lot of promotion of this “mindfulness” nonsense. Yeah, it makes you feel better, which is a good thing, but so does prayer, and acupuncture, and petting a puppy, and taking long walks on the beach. That something might have subjective effects is useful — we all do things that are enjoyable, and we should — but that’s different from claiming it causes material improvements in your physical state.

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It’s only plutonium. It’s only near the Columbia River.


Hanford, in Washington state, has been processing plutonium for decades. The radioactive waste is pumped into gigantic, double-walled tanks with a capacity of a million gallons each, which, we are told, prevents the deadly stuff from leaking into the Columbia River drainage basin. It’ll just get caught by the outer wall of the tank! No worries!

That is, until the inner tank starts leaking heavily, and they procrastinate for years over doing anything about it.

“This is catastrophic. This is probably the biggest event to ever happen in tank farm history. The double shell tanks were supposed to be the saviors of all saviors (to hold waste safely from people and the environment),” said former Hanford worker Mike Geffre.

Geffre is the worker who first discovered that the tank, known as AY-102, was failing in 2011. In a 2013 series, “Hanford’s Dirty Secrets,” the KING 5 Investigators exposed that the government contractor in charge of the tanks, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), ignored Geffre’s findings for nearly a year. The company finally admitted the problem in 2012.

What with the mega-earthquake waiting to destroy the region, and the volcanoes primed to bury Seattle in ash and lava, and the giant pools of deadly plutonium on the Eastern side of the state, it’s a wonder that I managed to survive growing up there.

Washington state is on my short list of places to someday retire to (if I should live that long), but maybe I ought to consider changing it up to places that are safer. Like Australia. They’re always bragging about their lethal wildlife, but back home, we are threatened with the grand forces of geology and nuclear physics.

Teachers, we want you to come to Morris

We’re doing it again: we’re offering our workshop, Changes in Nature, to interested teachers this summer, 11-15 July. It was fun and we learned a lot last year, so it’s going to be even better this year. This is a workshop that focuses on helping teachers develop strategies to teach “controversial” topics, evolution and climate change, so there’s a bit of us lecturing at them, and a lot of discussion and listening to teachers, so we all win.

I’ve been keeping my eyes open for papers on teaching evolution for this purpose, and one that caught my attention is a recent article by Price and Perez, Beyond the Adaptationist Legacy: Updating Our Teaching to Include a Diversity of Evolutionary Mechanisms. This has been a hobby horse of mine for a while, that so many people turn to selection and only selection to explain biological phenomena, and it impoverishes the field. So I was happy, sort of, to see an attempt to describe the errors a lack of diversity of explanations leads students to. I’m not happy to see these errors — and I see them in my students, too — but identifying the problem is a first step to correcting it.

Here, for instance, is a table of recognized misconceptions. You don’t have any of these, of course…right?

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The science fair conundrum


Back when I lived in Philadelphia, I used to judge a couple of science fairs every year. It was a discouraging experience.

You’d go through the exhibits with a partner and a checklist, and, for instance, you’d see some kid who’d put together something with duct tape and string and a couple of sad looking plants next to a kid who’d had connections at UPenn and had used a sequencer, a confocal microscope, and a battery of fluorescent probes to put together a gigantic shiny display of images so bright they glistened. Guess who’d win? And it was sad because sometimes the kid with the simple experiment done with homemade gadgets had been more creative and curious and true to the spirit of the science than the kid who’d been fed some high-tech gadgetry and pooped out an answer.

Carl Zimmer is similarly concerned. Too often science fairs get sidetracked into celebrating the mindless use of expensive instruments over the business of thinking like a scientist.

If I were a public school teacher trying to get students involved in a science fair, I know what I would do.

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Sarah Palin delivers a sick burn, she thinks

Ooh, ouch.

Bill Nye is as much a scientist as I am.

Actually, though, she’s almost right. Bill Nye is not a scientist, he’s a science guy, which is something different. He was trained and worked as an engineer, was a science educator and popular TV show host, and is currently the CEO of the Planetary Society, an institution dedicated to promoting science. But strictly speaking, he’s not doing any of the things scientists traditionally do, which seems to be mainly writing grants and tearing our hair out in frustration at the science illiteracy of our nation. He’s just trying to do all the things that might help make scientist’s jobs a little easier.

Sarah Palin, on the other hand, is a babbling ignoramus who despises basic research and evolution, and is campaigning against actions to reduce climate change. She’s actively anti-science.

So, no, sorry Ms Palin, but Bill Nye is about a billion times the scientist you are.

Friday Cephalopod: Somebody’s been watching The Shawshank Redemption a few too many times

The guards should have known. Inky had just been biding his time, planning patiently. And then he scurried down a sewer pipe late at night, to freedom!


If I’d been guarding him, I would have been suspicious of that poster of Ursula from The Little Mermaid that he’d requested, too, and would have regularly checked behind it.

Sunday at the Rondo Public Library

I’ll be there, talkin’ evolution. You should come. Details in the latest Minnesota Atheists newsletter (pdf).

We’re coming into the big city on Saturday to putter around in some parks, so if you see me around, don’t be surprised. I’m hoping to catch some sun for a change, although I hear it’s going to be cloudy all day. Probably for the best, I should ease myself gently into this springtime nonsense.

How ignorant can Jack be?

Pretty damned ignorant.

Paleontology is what is classified as a hard science. I’m not a fan of the distinction being made, though: sociology also involves some demanding statistical work, so even if the basis of the stereotype is a lack of math, it’s wrong. Also, anthropologists don’t study dinosaurs.

I’m also amused by the claim that no tissue from dinosaurs has been found. Guess what? Bone is a tissue!

Before you indignantly explain that this has to be a spoof, that creationists believe dinosaurs were on the Ark, I have to tell you: Ken Ham is not mainstream. Answers in Genesis argues that dinosaurs existed (because the Bible says so, although it doesn’t), but there are a lot of creationists who reject all the fossil evidence, rather than trying to mangle and distort it. There are conspiracy theorists who think dinosaurs were an invention, and that the evidence is all made up.

Some of these dino-deniers are hilarious. “Mike”, for instance, is truly oblivious.

Think about it. I live in New Jersey. One of the shittiest states in the Union besides Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Connecticut. Why is it that there are no dinosaur fossils anywhere near the United States? If this whole Pangaea nonsense is in fact true and the entire world was connected together at one point, wouldn’t the fossils be spread around evenly? So they typically only find fossils in Canyon-like areas in the Middle East or Africa or Australia. But never in North America? Hmm. That seems a bit off to me. Needless to say, archaelogists have also never found an entire dinosaurs’ remains. And don’t you dare say because it’s 34,000,000 million years old. It’s because they never existed.

Hmm. New Jersey, you say? It’s too bad nobody ever mapped the distribution of dinosaur fossils.


Nye smack-down

I told you that Bill Nye was not going to be debating Sarah Palin on climate change, but that instead science denialist Marc Morano was going to be showing clips of Bill Nye to publicize his no-doubt horrid new “documentary”. It probably won’t be this clip. Bill Nye did meet with Morano, briefly, and made this little video.

I don’t think Morano knows how to deal with the issues outside of his little bubble of denialists.