Rain

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.

[Read more…]

Wingers are such post-modernists

I had a strange and twisted conversation with Billy Hallowell, a writer for Glenn Beck’s lunatic site, The Blaze, and and also the creator of that poll we pharyngulated the other day. He was not happy. He was also more than a little obtuse. He has now posted a rather fragmentary and unrepresentative version of the interview on his site.

I had to explain to him more than a few times that these online polls are utterly pointless — they are just exercises in back-patting among the commentariat, where they give themselves a false sense of confidence that they really are the majority with skewed numbers generated from their own ranks, and that all we do is show up and demonstrate that there are other views out there, and their numbers go all wacky. I even told him the situation would play out the same if I were stupid enough to put up a poll, and Beckian microcephalics showed up en masse…I don’t do these open polls because you learn nothing from them.

It’s a measure of their insularity that Hallowell seemed quite shocked that their poll could be shifted around so much; he says I “ignited a mini-firestorm”! My post was a “battle-cry”! No, I casually put up a quick link to a bad poll, as I often do, and suddenly the creators of that poll were distressed to see that they didn’t have the comfortable majority they expected.

He’s now claiming that we were making an “effort to prevent Blaze readers from participating in the Adam and Eve poll”. You naughty, naughty Pharyngulistas. Were you visiting wingnut homes and slapping the mice out of their hands? That wasn’t nice.

He also has a bit of a blind spot.

Whatever happened to making a solid case and fairly proving it? What was the point of these atheists’ time-sucking exploits?

My point exactly. Why is The Blaze substituting a stupid poll for making a solid, substantive case? It’s empty of facts, and is only an opportunity for people to cheer for their side in a complete absence of evidence.

One thing that didn’t really make it into his article, though, was his insistence that everyone had a right to their own opinion and their own beliefs. When we discussed the subject of his poll, I pointed out that there actually is a right answer in it, one that is selected by virtually all intelligent, educated adults who are familiar with the evidence, and it doesn’t jibe with the one his readership selected. He was persistent in his belief that that didn’t matter: there are creation scientists, he said, who disagreed (I explained that any large group of people will have a tiny fringe of crackpots, and that’s who he was talking about), and that surveys show about 40% of Americans believe in creationism (scientific truths aren’t settled by popularity contests), and by golly, his people had a right to believe whatever they wanted.

And of course they do. They have a right to be wrong. We have a right to show that they’re wrong.

People can disagree in their interpretations of the evidence, and I went out of my way to explain that theistic evolutionists, for instance, try to have beliefs that are consonant with the facts, but also add their own peculiar explanations, like the ensoulment of humans, that aren’t contradicted by the facts, but also lack actual evidence supporting them. The literalist interpretation of the book of Genesis, though, is something different: that’s an explanation that ignores the majority of the evidence, and is even contradicted by that evidence. That his readers largely opted for the counterfactual claim is evidence that they are ignorant of the science, or willfully defying the evidence because it does not prop up their ideology.

He was happy at one thing, though. I told him that I had readers who loved exposing stupidity, and his site looked like a rich vein of inanity, so he could expect a few new readers who’d be looking over his nonsense with a critical eye. He just likes the idea of more traffic, I guess. But sure, have fun; the comments to his article are just full of blinkered Christian bigotry and foolishness.

A Y chromosome is worth the same as a Ph.D.

I’m glad I’ve got one, and I’m so proud that my worth is enhanced by my testicles, as this report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce shows.

The findings are stark: Women earn less at all degree levels, even when they work as much as men. On average, women who work full-time, full-year earn 25 percent less than men, even at similar education levels. At all levels of educational attainment, African Americans and Latinos earn less than Whites.

I have to thank Carl Zimmer for bringing that to my attention — when he isn’t writing about parasites and viruses, he also dabbles in other heartwarming subjects, like this.

(Also on Sb)