Death of science by multiple organ system failure

Science fairs usually have a few pleasant surprises, a lot of ho-hum projects done by rote with little thought (sometimes clearly done the night before), and a few stinkers that reveal nothing but the student’s ignorance. The science teachers are supposed to screen the project proposals to prevent that from happening, though, so the really bad projects usually don’t get through. There’s also a hierarchy: local to county or regional to state, and only the best are supposed to progress. State science fairs usually have some very impressive work and some that might be naive, but at least the student has enthusiasm. This description of a state level science fair project is disturbing, not just because the student’s work was substandard, but because it somehow made it through what should have been multiple levels of screening.

Then I saw it. “Creator or Not? YOU DECIDE”

The title claimed we could decide, but the project left no room for vacillation. It started with a hypothesis that “The universe was created by an intelligent designer.” It went on to make the standard big number argument, and closed with the conclusion, “The universe was created by an intelligent designer.”

The big number argument: there are twenty amino acids. The average human protein has around 460 amino acids in it. Thus the number of possible combinations is a huge number. The age of the universe in seconds likewise is a huge number, but less huge than the number of possible amino acid combinations. Thus you would have to have been randomly generating these protien chains at the rate of bunches every second from the Big Bang to now before you got human protein chains. Clearly that didn’t happen; therefore, an intelligent designer did it. Quod erat demonstratum.

That’s extremely distressing. It’s sad that some kid has such a poor knowledge of logic and evidence, but it is even more troubling that the educational system has rotted out so much that shoddy work like that can actually advance that far. We should worry about individuals, of course, but this is a sign that the educational infrastructure that leads to good scientists isn’t working—there was a complete failure from parents to science teacher to fair judges, and all of those people ought to be ashamed of themselves. This is not how we get kids into the Siemens Westinghouse competition.

(via The Scientific Activist)

Blithering spiritualists

Palazzo has put me in a pissy mood, now. He’s mentioned those pompous god-botherers at the Templeton Foundation, who awarded 1.4 million dollars to that credulous gasbag, John Barrow.

When Selfish Gene author Richard Dawkins challenged physicist John Barrow on his formulation of the constants of nature at last summer’s Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowship lectures, Barrow laughed and said, “You have a problem with these ideas, Richard, because you’re not really a scientist. You’re a biologist.”

For Barrow, biology is little more than a branch of natural history. “Biologists have a limited, intuitive understanding of complexity. They’re stuck with an inherited conflict from the 19th century, and are only interested in outcomes, in what wins out over others,” he adds. “But outcomes tell you almost nothing about the laws that govern the universe.” For physicists it is the laws of nature themselves that capture and structure the universe–and put brakes on it as well.

Yeah, and some physicists are little more than glorified numerologists.

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No sense of humor

Connie Morris is the lead creationist kook on the Kansas state board of education. She recently took a tour of a middle school and was horrified at the depravity on display:

State Board of Education member Connie Morris took exception Wednesday to a picture of a made-up creature that satirizes the state’s new science standards hanging on a Stucky Middle School teacher’s door.

Fellow board member Sue Gamble told The Eagle that Morris asked for the picture to be removed.

It was a picture of…The Flying Spaghetti Monster!

You know, when word gets out that pictures of noodles and meatballs get Connie Morris all twitterpated, there is going to be a thousand of these blooming on school teachers doors now. Especially since, when Morris asked the principal to have it removed, the teacher was advised that a school board member had no jurisdiction on the matter…and the picture is still up.

Catfish eating its dinner

John Lynch beat me to this story about catfish feeding on land, so I’ll be brief. It shows how the eel catfish, Channallabes apus, can manage to take an aquatic feeding structure and use it to capture terrestrial meals. Many fish rely on suction feeding: gape the mouth widely and drop the pharyngeal floor, and the resulting increase in volume of the oral cavity just sucks in whatever is in front of the animal. That doesn’t work well at all in the air, of course—try putting your face a few inches in front of a hamburger, inhale abruptly, and see how close you come to sucking in your meal. So how does an aquatically adapted feeder make the transition to eating on land?

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