Carrie Poppy reads Of Pandas and People, so you don’t have to


Really, you don’t want to ever have to bother reading Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins, the terrible textbook from the Discovery Institute that was at the heart of the Dover trial. It’s badly written sludge, warmed over creationism (remember “cdesign proponentsists”, the typo that was the result of a botched copy/replace of “design proponents” for “creationists”? That was from this book), and it’s basically an error-filled bad textbook.

Carrie Poppy read it for the Center for Inquiry. I don’t know why. Maybe the editors were playing a cruel trick, like saying “here’s a flashlight and a shovel; I need you to do an important investigative piece exploring my cesspool”, but she survived and has written a brief summary of a few things that leapt out at a lay person reading a pseudoscientific text. It’s entertaining.

But come to think of it, my bathroom sink is clogged. I’m sure there’s a story in it. I wonder if Carrie would like to stop by and venture into the world of old toothpaste, hair, and drainage?

By the way, I also talked about Pandas and the Dover trial in my intro class on Monday. It’s important to remember the ugly bits of history so we don’t repeat them.

“Australia’s biggest ever environmental disaster”

The Great Barrier Reef is dying. We’re killing it.

The corals are bleaching. When stressed, They lose their symbiotic algae, and then they starve and die. What’s stressing them? Rising ocean temperatures. What’s making the ocean temperatures rise? Fossil fuel consumption.

So this was a bit ironic.

As news of the bleaching spread around the globe, the Australian government granted more approvals for what could be Australia’s largest ever coalmine in Queensland’s Galilee basin.

This isn’t just Australia’s fault or Australia’s disaster, though. We could point to the exploitation of oil shales by Canada, or the US’s eagerness to suck in more oil pipelines and blow out more CO2, or China’s enthusiastic conversion of coal into smog. It’s a world-wide catastrophe.

We seem bound and determined to destroy ourselves, do we really need to take out every ecosystem on the planet on our way out?

Who is the big bad stressor?

You could argue that humans were more impactful than the radiation.

You could argue that humans were more impactful than the radiation.

Boxplot has been running this comic series on the science behind the video game Fallout — basically its about the reality of radiation. You know it’s not good for you, right? It doesn’t give you superpowers, and mutations in somatic tissues are called “cancers”?

But at the same time, there are a couple of places where radiation drove people away — Fukushima and Chernobyl come to mind — and we’re currently seeing a remarkable rebound, as nature comes rushing in to flourish. There’s the temptation to wonder if maybe radiation isn’t as bad as the scientists say it is.

Rather, though, we should be making the point in the panel above and to the right. Humans are much worse for the environment than we think.

Let’s talk about science education this weekend

I’ll be at the West Metro Critical Thinking Club on Saturday morning to talk STEM. Come on down and tell me what you think — I’m aiming to set up the issue and then try to get opinions from the audience, so the more the feistier.

TOPIC: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and the Liberal Arts: How do we teach science?

There is a constant push to change education from an experience that broadens the mind to one that focuses students on a vocation. We’ve got universities hiring business people with no educational experience to make them more profitable, and people seriously questioning the value of disciplines like philosophy, psychology, sociology, or anything that others disparagingly call “soft” subjects. At the same time, there are advocates of reform who think algebra is useless, and that we waste too much time teaching mathematics that, they think, no one will ever use.

P Z will be presenting an interdisciplinary, liberal arts perspective on science education — we need all facets of human knowledge if we are to adequately comprehend our own narrower fields of interest. I’ll be interested in getting a discussion going about what attendees expect from a college education.

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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