Massimo Pigliucci has principles

He was given the opportunity to suckle at the teat of the Templeton Foundation, and he turned them down.

A few weeks ago I got an email from my book agent. She had been approached by an editor at a well known academic publishing house with a project she thought I would be interested in. Sometime later I met with the editor in question, a genial person with whom I clearly had quite a few interests in common. Nonetheless, a few days later I decided to turn down the offer and pursue other projects. The reason: the book, which would have been part of a series, was going to be produced as a joint venture by the academic press in question and the John Templeton Foundation.

In short, my reason for declining the book project is that I simply don’t like having my name associated with right wing and/or libertarian organizations like the JTF, the American Enterprise Institute or the Institute for American Values.

More scientists ought to join him in refusing to prop up the Templeton’s mystical agenda.

Anti-caturday post

There is actually a cat in this video. Notice, though, that it only appears briefly in the beginning, looks bored, and apathetically wanders off screen. Why? Because the rest of the video features something far more exciting and bizarre than a mere cat: it’s all about zombie fish, their brains infected with trematode parasites. The cat knows that it cannot compete, unless it goes off and gets its brain tainted with some freaky strange parasite to give it some character.

Another interesting thing about it is that this video is an attempt to get funding for science research. If you feel like promoting more research into how to infect brains and make zombies, donate!

(Also on FtB)


This used to happen every time I visited the Oregon high desert, too: walk into a place that is reliably dry, and it would start raining on me. I come to Houston, Texas, in a drought, and the deluge comes.

So yes, it’s pouring here, and Texans don’t know what to do with this strange wet stuff falling out of the sky. My plane is greatly delayed. All planes are delayed. It’s a snarled up mess.

I’m trying to get through to my wife, who’s on the way to pick me up, and of course she’s not answering the phone. in case she sees this, GET A HOTEL ROOM IN MINNEAPOLIS, I won’t be home until the wee hours.

My students will be devastated. I won’t make it in time for my 8am class, and they’ll have to sleep in.

Outing Thunderf00t

Thunderf00t has been getting threats from an angry Muslim who has been taking a shotgun approach to threaten and extort, and has actually been tossing around documents labeling his brother as Thunderf00t. So he has decided to give up his pseudonymity and reveal his actual identity: say hello to Phil Mason.

I guess he can’t be threatened with having his real name revealed now.

The Houston meetup

Those of you wondering about a Gathering of the Horde in Texas…yes. Saturday, after the free thought banquet, we’ll meet in the Hyatt hotel bar, from say, 7:30 or 8 until whenever. Stop on by. I’ll be all done with all my labors at the convention, so I’ll be ready for entertainment and relaxation.

I didn’t realize how late the banquet goes on. It’ll be more like 9pm, at the lobby bar of the Hyatt Regency Houston on Louisiana street — and of course, you don’t need convention admission to attend.

A goal to strive for

The American education system is a mess — thanks to the right wing cranks, we keep trying to apply free market principles to a process to which they don’t apply. Watching America deal with education is a lot like watching the old USSR trying to cope with competitive economies — that there’s a place for everything does not imply that one strategy is the solution for all problems.

What we ought to do is look at other countries around the world that have successful educational systems, and emulate them (isn’t that a good capitalist value? Steal the ideas that work?). I have a suggestion: Let’s steal Finland’s educational system.

The transformation of the Finns’ education system began some 40 years ago as the key propellent of the country’s economic recovery plan. Educators had little idea it was so successful until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries (and a few cities) in science. In the 2009 PISA scores released last year, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide. “I’m still surprised,” said Arjariita Heikkinen, principal of a Helsinki comprehensive school. “I didn’t realize we were that good.”

In the United States, which has muddled along in the middle for the past decade, government officials have attempted to introduce marketplace competition into public schools. In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade. President Obama, too, has apparently bet on compe­tition. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers, a philosophy that would not fly in Finland. “I think, in fact, teachers would tear off their shirts,” said Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience. “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.”

There’s a brief summary of how they did it. I think the first and most important step was making a decision that education was important.

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