Paternal pride

My daughter has posted her ACT scores (if you don’t know what they are, they’re an exam high school kids take; here’s an explanation of the scores). She did very well, especially considering that she took them a year earlier than most kids do. She’s a sophomore in high school, and she wants to go to UMM full time next year, taking advantage of our state’s PSEO program. She’s going to be a full-time college student at the age of 16.

I knew she could do it. I just told her that if she kept her grades up and did well on the exams, I wouldn’t take her to the Purity Ball. What a great motivator for smart young ladies!

They’ve got smellier stuff than we do, too

We biologists think we’re all grody and cool with our dead mice, but then some smart-aleck chemist has to go trump us all with thermite explosions. That just isn’t fair.

Just wait. Now some physicist is going to come along and make us all envious with his homebuilt laser.

Hold it! I just had a brilliant thought! If we got a physicist, a chemist, and a biologist together, we could make a laser-triggered thermite mouse trap. That would be waaaaaay better than a glue trap.

Najash rionegrina, a snake with legs

It’s a busy time for transitional fossil news—first they find a fishapod, and now we’ve got a Cretaceous snake with legs and a pelvis. One’s in the process of gaining legs, the other is in the early stages of losing them.

Najash rionegrina was discovered in a terrestrial fossil deposit in Argentina, which is important in the ongoing debate about whether snakes evolved from marine or terrestrial ancestors. The specimen isn’t entirely complete (but enough material is present to unambiguously identify it as a snake), consisting of a partial skull and a section of trunk. It has a sacrum! It has a pelvic girdle! It has hindlimbs, with femora, fibulae, and tibiae! It’s a definitive snake with legs, and it’s the oldest snake yet found.

[Read more…]

Let’s bring back barber-surgeons

Spot is quoting Kevin Phillips and his new book, American Theocracy(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). He’s describing the stagnation of scientific progress in the West when religion set its heavy hand on learning.

Symptom number two [referring to attributes regimes that become increasingly theocratic], related to the first, involves the interplay of faith and science. What might be called the Roman disenlightenment has been well dissected in Charles Freeman’s The Closing of the Western Mind (2002). He dwells on how Rome’s fourth- and fifth-century Christian regimes closed famous libraries like the one in Alexandria, limited the availability of books, discarded the works of Aristotle and Ptolemy, and embraced the dismissal of Greek logicians set forth in the gospel of Paul [well, there is no gospel of Paul, but never mind]. To Freeman, the elevation of faith over logic stifled inquiry in the West- leaving the next advances to Arab mathematicians, doctors, and astronomers-and brought on intellectual stagnation.” It is hard,” he wrote, “to see how mathematics, science or associated disciplines that depended on empirical observations could have made any progress in this atmosphere.” From the last recorded astronomical observation in 475, “it would be over 1,000 years-with the publication of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus in 1543-before these studies began to move ahead again.”

Keep that in mind while reading Orac’s discussion of creationists in medicine. It’s depressing that such an important and respected profession is overrun with shortsighted ignoramuses.

You can be an adequate doctor and be a creationist: you don’t need to understand evolution to follow your training and cut out a gall bladder or give an injection or diagnose a known disease. It just means that you will follow by rote the procedures of your predecessors. The practice will stay the same, but progress will stop. We will fall once again into the situation Phillips describes (although I suspect our successors will emerge from Farther Asia this time around.)

Orac talks about some of the reasons why it’s difficult to get doctors to be solidly and openly on the side of good science, but I think it’s essential for the prestige and future advancement of the medical profession that more of them think about correcting this failing in their training policies. Are they to be smart, flexible, adaptive, creative, and intellectual people striving to understand the workings of the human body, or is it enough to be a collection of technicians who know how to manipulate the tools of their trade? What makes a doctor different from a chiropractor if neither are to be rooted in good science?



Forbes magazine asks

What if you could pick one thing and start over from scratch? What would you change? Would you choose another career, a different home, a new spouse? Or would you choose to remake the world around you? Why not fix America’s prison system, make schools more efficient, or make your political leaders more intelligent?

The editors asked me to contribute to their special report, speculating on how we would “reinvent things without regard for cost, politics or practicality”. I thought a little bigger than a new spouse or career, though, and instead tossed in few peculiar ideas about reinventing humanity itself.

Run, Al, run!

He’s still being dodgy about whether he’s going to run against our plastic stepford senator, Norm Coleman, in 2008…but the Al Franken interview in the City Pages is worth a read. Another thing he doesn’t do is plug his Midwest Values PAC, which is a really interesting idea. It’s a kind of bloggy platform for raising money and promoting the expression of progressive ideas, but it’s seriously underutilized.