Don’t waste your breath warning them of me, Billy

I have survived the first week of classes (my schedule leaves Fridays free of lecturing), as have my students — one down, sixteen to go. I’ve got a fairly heavy load this term, with a brand new introductory biology course (with 84 freshman students!) and a neurobiology course for more advanced students, so it’s going to be a long hard slog, I can tell. Pity those poor students, though — thrown right into the lion’s den. Ask Billy Graham, he knows.

Q. I’m headed for college in a few weeks, and as a Christian I’m wondering what to expect. Some people say that my faith will be attacked there, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. Do you have any advice for me?

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I’m beginning to feel a bit sorry for the guy

Now the Stuart Pivar Story is on Daily Kos. Even after he dropped the lawsuit, his reputation on the blogosphere is sealed. If he’d never started this duel, it would have been nothing but a few fading memories of a negative review of an obscure book … but by playing games with the law and trying to intimidate others by throwing his money around, he’s elevated himself into notoriety.

Ruloff’s claims are not credible

The second part of the DI’s interview with Ruloff, producer of the movie Expelled, is now available. He’s claiming now that there will be no hacking and chopping of the interview footage, which is, of course, complete nonsense. I was interviewed for something close to two hours; we know that that will be extensively cut for the movie, and I fully expect my part will be notably brief. The question is one of what context will be removed to make their point.

But OK, since he promises that the movie will make no distortions, here’s the challenge: send me a copy of the unedited footage. Likewise, send copies of their interviews to Eugenie Scott and Richard Dawkins. That’s an easy resolution that any confident, reasonable person should consider perfectly fair.

I’ll look forward to receiving the tape in my mail.

Happy Birthday, Skatje!

She really hasn’t changed a bit.


Well, maybe a little. Skatje (since everyone asks how it’s pronounced, I’ll spell it out: scot-ya) is turning 17 today, and guess how she’s going to celebrate?

She’s hosting the first ever meeting of the UMM Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists, with free pizza, free discussion, and free thought at the Morris Pizza Hut, at 7:00. She’s a regular little godless debutante, I guess.

Lucy’s legacy

As I’ve mentioned before, Lucy is going to be in Houston at the end of this week for an extended stay. This is not entirely a joyous occasion in the scientific community: many people, including Richard Leakey, are not happy that such a precious specimen has been subjected to the risks of travel. I sympathize. The bones of Lucy must be treated with the utmost care and regard, and any loss or damage would be an awful tragedy. However, there’s more to it than preserving an important fossil: Lucy is a touchstone to our past and is a symbol of the importance of our long history. We need to bring the ancient world to life for our citizens, and for not entirely rational reasons, people will want to see the real thing. I see that someone else shares my sentiment:

There is a wanton arrogance alive and kicking within the general scientific community. An arrogance that clings stubbornly to fact while at the same time stridently denying reality. And it pisses me the hell off. The facts in this case are clear: Lucy is one of the oldest hominid fossils ever discovered, and is very valuable for researchers. The reality of the situation is equally clear-cut, if a bit harder for the critics to swallow: Nobody gives a shit about replicas. Does it look the same? Sure. Can 99.9 percent of the population not tell the difference? You betcha. Does that matter? Not one iota. You see, for all the cranial capacity human beings have developed since little Lucy made do with a glob of gray matter the size of a key lime, we are not rational thinkers. Homo sapiens are, first and foremost, irrational and emotional.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call it arrogance, but there is a little selfishness to it, and most importantly, there’s a deep appreciation of the importance of that long-dead individual and a greater fear of its loss. What balances that fear, though, should be the recognition that other people could also stand to learn to love that tiny scrap of our long-past ancestry — the Lucy exhibit is an opportunity to teach.

Shouldn’t that be part of our mission? In addition to our own intimate learning of science, the task of sharing it with everyone else?