Good teachers don’t have it easy

Via Coturnix, here’s an extremely depressing resignation letter from a public school teacher. I’ve seen this kind of thing a few times now: our problem is that the public schools are being treated as little factories, where you push kindergarten kids in at one end, and a dozen years later an adult with an education pops out. A high school diploma is regarded as an entitlement rather than an earned acknowledgment of ability, and what that means is that administrators tend to lower their standards and be extremely lenient about the behavior and skills of both students and faculty. Even where there are great teachers and first-rate students, they are getting swamped in the rising tide of permitted nonsense.

After all, if all the voting public cares about is your graduation rate, it’s easy to keep that high: just hand out diplomas to kids for showing up.

DonorsChoose status report

I’m a bit stunned, people. I set up my DonorsChoose challenge to raise money for teachers with a goal of $2000, and we gave ourselves two weeks to raise that much. It’s the second day of the fundraiser, and my readers have contributed $3,967.80, and fully funded 7 of the 12 proposals. Seriously, I’m feeling a bit like Dr Evil; I put my pinkie finger to the corner of my mouth, asked for the huge sum of two thousand dollars, and laughed maniacally at my arrogance…and you people shrugged your shoulders and just came through with the cash. I am impressed.

Thank you all very much.

If anyone else wants to contribute, there are still underfunded proposals, and Janet has been our central coordinator, and has a list of other challenges through the Seed scienceblogs consortium.

Whose side are you on, Flatow?

I’ve been listening to Bethell vs. Mooney on Science Friday, and I’ve come to one conclusion: I really need to slap Ira Flatow. Repeatedly. And maybe kick him a few times, too.

He was playing right into Bethell’s hands. Bethell was rambling and vague, and he went on and on, and Flatow fed into it. Mooney had to interrupt several times and demand a chance to rebut (and good for him—he was on the attack, as he needed to be), and at least once Flatow stopped Mooney for a commercial and then asked Bethell to follow up afterwards.

Worse, Flatow wouldn’t allow any depth. They’d start getting into HIV and Bethell’s denial, and just as Mooney was getting into it, he’d say, “Now we need to talk about global warming!” Come on, FOCUS. The strengths of science come into play when we have a chance to dig deep and actually grapple with the issues; Bethell is a superficial flibbertigibbet who knows nothing, and this show gave him a forum for his usual unsupported pronouncements of doubt.

Grrr. Mooney was appropriately assertive, but it sounds like we need to go to new levels of aggression: next interview, bring duct tape and a clothesline. Shut the interviewer up, and charge right into the data. I can’t believe Flatow let Bethell get away with that crap.

So, um, Dembski is a mathematician?

He must be one of those very abstract types who never looks at data, doesn’t understand statistics, and has never heard of the word “normalized.” In a post that is a microcosmic analog of the whole Intelligent Design paradigm, Dembski completely bungles an analysis of Google searches to conclude that “international interest in ID is growing.” Andrea Bottaro shows that he screwed up thoroughly, and the conclusion is actually the reverse.

I wonder if Dembski will acknowledge the correction, and admit that international interest in ID is negligible or declining? Or will his mistake mysteriously disappear from his web page? Anyone want to place any bets?

Polar lobes and trefoil embryos in the Precambrian

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The diagram above shows the early cleavages of the embryo of the scaphopod mollusc, Dentalium. You may notice a few peculiarities: the first cleavage is asymmetric, producing a cell called AB and a larger sister cell, CD. Before the second division, CD makes a large bulge, called a polar lobe, and it almost looks like it’s a three-cell stage—this is called a trefoil embryo, and can look a bit like Mickey Mouse. The second division produces an A, a B, a C, and a D cell, and there’s that polar lobe, about as large as the regular cells, so that it now resembles a 5-cell embryo. What’s going on in these animals?

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Maternal effect genes

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Maternal effect genes are a special class of genes that have their effect in the reproductive organs of the mutant; they are interesting because the mutant organism may appear phenotypically normal, and it is the progeny that express detectable differences, and they do so whether the progeny have inherited the mutant gene or not. That sounds a little confusing, but it really isn’t that complex. I’ll explain it using one canonical example of a maternal effect gene, bicoid.

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