Hey, this Joachim Bublath guy is good!

A reader pointed me to this German documentary (with English subtitles) on evolution and creationism—it has a nice 10 minute primer on mechanisms and evidence for evolution (with evo-devo, especially of fruit flies and zebrafish, prominently mentioned, appropriately enough for the country of Christiane Nusslein-Volhard).

There’s also a segment on creationism that is a bit lacking in nuance—they are all lumped together as young earth creationists—which is the kind of opening creationists use to disavow association with those other kooks, while glossing over the foolishness they do believe. Never mind the theological hairsplitting, though, YECs and IDist are fundamentally identical in their rejection of science for dogma.

Aside from that, it’s a simple introduction to evolution that emphasizes the molecular evidence (yay!), has eye-catching graphics and animations, and scathingly dismisses creationism and the general descent into mystical thinking. Do any of my German readers know of this fellow? Was this broadcast on German television?

The Dumbening of America continues

Somebody shoot me now. The Washington Post tallies up congressional votes, and in an astounding display of technological mastery, allows you to sort and display them by the congressperson’s astrological sign. If you’ve ever wondered whether Scorpios were more likely to vote for highway appropriations than are Virgos, now you can find out.

I really want to know what the conversations the editors or publishers had about this decision were like. I’m thinking they were getting worried about how idiotic and cowardly the press has been looking lately, so someone decided to do something bold and exciting and revolutionary…and this is what they came up with.

Would Chuck Terhark like a job writing science abstracts?

One of the subjects I mentioned at the Thursday Flock of Dodos discussion was that an obstacle to getting the public excited about science is the state of science writing. It’s a very formal style in which the passive voice is encouraged, caution and tentative statements are demanded, adverbs are frowned upon and adjectives are treated with suspicion, and all the passion is wrung out in favor of dry recitations of data. Now that actually has a good purpose: it makes it easy to get to the meat of the article for people who are already familiar with the subject and may not need any pizazz to get excited about nematode cell lineages or connectivity diagrams of forebrain nuclei. It makes the work impenetrable to those not already inculcated with the arcana of the discipline, however.

The City Pages illustrates the difference. On Tuesday, the Café Scientifique is going to be given by Cynthia Norton of College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, on the subject of snails. Just for comparison, I’ve put an example of a scientific abstract and the publicity copy for the talk below the fold, and you’ll see what I mean.

[Read more…]


Here’s a site full of interesting noises: freesound. You can search for anything, and it will return Creative Commons licensed sound samples; if you want the sound of a phone ringing, or wind chimes, or throatsinging, or thunderstorms, or someone being tortured, or a good laser death ray, there it is. I started looking for more organic things, like whale songs, crickets chirping, frogs croaking, bird songs, etc., and it’s amazing—all kinds of stuff turns up.

One creepy thing, though, if you have squeaky mattress. You’ll also discover that people are recording what their neighbors are doing late at night.

It’s very addictive. Now I have to get back to work on composing that genetics exam…

(via jill/txt)

Oops. That complaint backfired.

I am deeply amused. I’m no fan of “faith & religion” sections of newspapers—axe them and expand the funny pages, I say—but here’s one editor with smarts who gets the thumbs up from me. He gets lots of complaints that those dang non-Christians are being over-represented on the religion page; some of them are typical bigotry of the dominant delusion:

A couple of critics wanted to know why we were wasting ink on these “false” beliefs when Christ is the only path to salvation. Another caller said he was tired of having “that Islam religion … shoved in my face.”

Now here’s what I like: the editor decided to apply some common sense and science to the complaint. He looks at the demographics of the region his paper serves. He tallies up the content of the articles published in his section of the paper. He compares them. He comes to a conclusion.

Although Faith & Values isn’t ignoring Christians, my tally does suggest that we are giving nonreligious people less attention than they deserve. We’re already taking steps to correct that.

Whoa. Now there’s a demonstration of commendable Values (I note, though, that it wasn’t driven by Faith, but by evidence and social consciousness). I’m already impressed, but the guy goes a step further and does even better.

Some might argue that the religion section is meant for religious people, just as the Sports section is intended for sports fans. (Because I myself have little interest in sports, I don’t expect that section to cater to me.)

But this analogy is faulty. Nonreligious people have their own codes of ethics and explanations for the meaning of life. Many pursue independent spiritual paths; others are happily secular.

I think these people deserve more coverage in F&V. What do you think?

He’s asking for input. Go ahead, say nice things to Mark Fisher (mfisher@dispatch.com) of the Columbus Dispatch about his sensible and fair attitude. I guess I won’t lobby to have his pages replaced with double-sized copies of Cathy, Garfield, Marmaduke, and Family Circus.


The big, important news is, of course, the death of a gold-digging addlepated model (I’m sorry that she’s dead, but really…it’s not something worth flogging over and over on the news), so the feature on atheism that CNN was going to show has been bumped to Friday.

Unless somebody in programming gets a yen for accordion music, I think.

Put down those non sequiturs and stereotypes, Captain Fishsticks, and no one will get hurt

Captain Fishsticks is one of our local conservative nutjobs who haunts the pages of the St Paul Pioneer Press—he’s a free market freak who wants to privatize everything, especially the schools, and yet everything he writes reveals a painful ignorance of anything academic. This week he’s written a response to an article that left him distraught: Peter Pitman advocated more and better science education for Minnesotans, especially on the subject of climate change. Fishsticks, to whom all education is a zero-sum game because every time he has to learn another phone number a whole ‘nother column of the times table drops out of his brain, objects to this threat. He starts off by agreeing with Pitman’s argument, but does so by tying it to some of his lunatic obsessions—he’s a pro-smoking anti-vaccination guy.

I’ve made much the same argument relative to policymakers who unscientifically exaggerate the dangers of secondhand smoke and bureaucrats who ignore scientific evidence about the dangers of universal vaccination.

This approval will not last. The rest of his column is a weird paean to excusing ignorance of science. You see, if people learn more math and physics, they’ll get the idea that we live in a “clockwork universe”, and then they won’t like music or poetry anymore. Seriously.

[Read more…]

If they can’t get the details right, why trust them at all?

Is anyone else getting a “look how stupid Americans are” vibe from all the British coverage of Ken Ham’s creation ‘science’ museum? It’s another story from the European press that politely echoes Ham’s overblown claims for his grandiose edifice to ignorance, and mostly recycles the same old stuff we’ve heard over and over again. It really does seem to simply parrot whatever the Answers in Genesis con men say with complete credulity…for instance, I’ve seen this strange comment repeated multiple times in these kinds of stories.

Two-thirds of the US population lives within six hours’ drive of Cincinnati, but Mr Ham has bigger ambitions for tackling agnostics further afield.

Hold it. Think. Check your facts. Look at a map, and you’ll see that that domain outside of a circle with a radius of 300 miles includes everything west of Chicago, the entire urban Northeast, and most of the major cities of the South, such as Atlanta. It includes Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, etc., a populous region to be sure, but how can one argue that a small area that excludes California, Texas, New York, and Florida contains the bulk of the nation’s people? That’s an area of about 280,000 square miles in a country of 3,700,000 square miles—shouldn’t that make a reporter stop and think, especially when it is an area that does not include our regions of highest population density?

I’m beginning to feel a “look how stupid the BBC can be” vibe right now, myself. Does anyone know where this mysterious number comes from? Is it Ken Ham lying, or is it the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce lying?

A plug!

Coturnix finds a blog that is reviewing Seed magazine in a multi-part series. He seems pretty cool with it so far, but he hasn’t reached that review of mine at the end of the last issue yet, though.

I know it sounds so crass, since Seed Media is hosting this site, but it really is a good magazine—I eyeball it every month with some trepidation, for fear it might go the Omni/Wired route of hyping widgets, but it’s holding my interest every time. There’s a real kicker of a testimonial to it, that I just learned about the other day:

My Mom subscribes to it.

Whoa. You know it’s gotta be good. She’s an intelligent and discriminating lady, you know.

DeLong explains Easterbrook

How can Gregg Easterbrook be publishing a science column in Slate? Brad DeLong explains it all.

The fact that Easterbook’s writing is “lively” and “provocative” and that he is a member of the appropriate social networks is sufficient reason to publish him as a “science writer.”

I can see where “lively” and “provocative” are necessary pre-conditions for getting a column in a popular magazine, but are they sufficient? No. Would they hire someone for a gossip column who had never heard of Scarlet Johansson or Brad Pitt? There is this phenomenon called “expertise” that ought to be part of the equation.

That being in the right clique is part of the prerequisite is unfortunate, but is a common part of human reality. The interesting thing, though, is that picking Easterbrook tells us something about the social circles in which Slate management seems to circulate—and that is that they are disjunct from the social circles that include competent scientists and science writers.

The fact that this has an effect not just on how good their operations are at delivering accurate information but also on how the scientifically-literate regard their operations as a whole–I don’t think that’s something that enters Weisberg’s (or Foer’s) mind at all.

Exactly. Although it could be that that’s a smart (in a short-sighted, counter-intuitive way) decision: the scientifically literate are clearly a minority in this country, so maybe one way to market ‘science’ to that profitable majority of boobs is to hire a boob to write it. That is, if you think your job is not to tell people what they ought to know, but rather to repeat to them what they think they already know.