Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Evolution Debate - Science vs. Faith

The Debate about teaching Evolution in Science Classes and whether to include lessons about "alternative" theories has been a matter of science education contention forever, it seems. Feb 29, 2008 issue of Science magazine reported that Florida Standards Support Evolution--With a Twist.

One of the main counters to teaching evolution is a semantics issue. The word theory ties counters' panties in a knot. In lay terms, a theory is a guess, a whim. But in science, it is a firmly supported statement (hypothesis) that has withstood strong contests. A theory is a big deal, it pretty much set and that's it. For example, gravity is a theoretical concept (of physics), the Law of energy conservation is 'just a theory'. So when anti-evolution legislators in Florida wanted to undermine science education standards and dupe the public into thinking evolution was just sample fancy theory and tried to legally change the text books to say "evolution is a theory", suave scientists and science educators complied...Fully. They changed the language through out to make it parallel. They applied the phrase to every major, time-tested scientific concept. So not only is evolution explained to be a "scientific theory of evolution" but also things like "the scientific theory of photosynthesis".


But this matter is serious. Religious zealots are serious about undermining quality science education. Why? Many reasons, one of the best answers comes from a Florida legislator who tried to re-word the science standards for evolution, Donna Callaway. She says "People have asked me why I don't question math concepts or grammar," she explained to Science. "I tell them, 'Those things have nothing to do with life. Evolution is personal, and it affects our beliefs.' "

My response to that statement....WOW. That is naive. Plus, that's apple-picking. Even Nisbet commented on this issue in his blog posting Why the PZ Myers Affair is Really, Really Bad for Science. I completely share the sentiments of this blog. In fact I was having a great discussion with a friend about evolution distorting people's spiritual beliefs. I think it is crap to assume studying science makes one more likely to become atheist. I just don't buy that evolution affects our beliefs -- assuming one understands the concept. That's the problem. Too many people are guessing what they think it means. And what makes it right for some people to tell us what is right to impact out beliefs. I guess studying science is heresy -- leads to critical thinking, discernment, challenges to authority. Damn independent thinkers. Can't have that. Let's protect them from themselves...Change the science standards.

But for many people (outside of science) it seems a plausible correlation. Many of my peers are atheist, agnostic, or spiritually neutral. But none that I know are that way because of studying science. They were that way long before studying science. And I also know scientists of faith, who were also that way before studying science. Go figure.

Is there a relationship between science and atheism? Perhaps. But you can't automatically conclude it is causal.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Race and Science Blogging - What's really going on?

Serendipitously, I stumbled on an online conversation among members of the community. Seems most of the community's science bloggers are white and only 3 bloggers are known to be people of color.

What's up with that? has been the question for most. It has been addressed and cross-linked a million times. It's worth the read and click through.
Where Are the Science & Race Blogs? originally posted October 2006
OMG! ScienceBorgTM is like totally racist! (Updated)
Why more racial diversity in the science blogosphere would be a good thing
Jello Salad is a Weird Ethnic Food
White privilege and raising a child (Mommy Monday)

In response to these questionsWhy is there a lack of racial diversity among science bloggers?
I have the following to say:

My blog specifically deals with race, socio-economics, and science.

One of my aims/soapbox issues is that science topics are relatively rare in the Black Blogosphere and I try to infuse/share more science among African-American bloggers.
A major issue with the lack of racial diversity in science blogging involves identifying the number of Bloggers of color who are in science/engineering fields - whether or not they blog about race issues.
In my personal efforts to identify Science Bloggers of Color, I only know 4 that I discovered through Black Blog Rankings:
Raw Dawg Buffalo
Karen Venti
Urban Science Adventures
Diary of a PhD Student -AfroSpear member
5 if you count African-American Environmentalist Association (and I hesitate to count it, but they do blog about these environmental issues and race matters)

Since reading these aforementioned posts from ScienceBlogs, I've discovered 3 more -
Babe in the Universe - Latina (I think) Cosmology or Astronomy
Ed of Not Exactly Rocket Science - Biomedical Research
and that last guy on the evidence page. (I've obviously never ran across the blog, before. Sorry, I can't link it.

Correction, 4 more blogs.
Clifford Johnson of Cosmic Variance and Asymptotia and for the PBS Show Wired Science group Blog Correlations - Physics
K8, Cat, Mission blogs about science, academia, feminism and race issues, but I think she's a person of pallor

Monday, March 10, 2008

Science Diversity Meme - Women Scientists

March is celebrated as Women's History Month and to celebrate, I'm hosting my first meme on diversity in the sciences.
Can you name 5 Women Scientists from each scientific discipline?

1. You can't choose people from your own institution or company.
2. You can't google or use the internet to aid in your search. (But if you know someone is a scientist, but not sure what disciple, you can look that up).
3. You can consult textbooks, journals, and class notes.
4. You can ask others to help you brainstorm, but they can't use the internet just to get 5 names fast (see #2).
5. Living and deceased scientists are acceptable.
6. Links to or references about the named scientists are greatly appreciated. Let's share the knowledge.
List as many as you can, even if it isn't five. And multi-cultural lists are a plus.

Major Discipline Fields:

Biomedical & Medicine
Space & Planetary Sciences

I encourage you to post this meme at your page and track back. Thanks

Thanks to Renaisauce for inspiring this phenomenal idea.

Other Blogs Hosting this Meme

The Urban Scientist Reader Blog at
Greg Laden's Blog at ScienceBlogs
Eclectic Echoes
Good Math, Bad Math -- adds in Computer Science as science field.
Dinochick Blog - adds in Paleontologists.
Planet Musings
Dynamics of Cats - read comments, includes spontaneous discussion about Astronomers from different ethnic groups, too.
Uncertain Principles: Physics, Politics, Pop Culture

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Wyoming Democratic Caucus Turn out was recordbreaking

The last primary only attracted about 800 people to the democratic Caucus. This time around it was over 8,000 - a ten times increase in voter response. And this is more than 8 times the Republican turn-out for the Caucus. Wyoming is traditionally a red state, right? Like I said before, if these turn-out statistics for each party hold true, the Democrats are favored to win the general election. Now if only the Democratic party got their act together and hosted some manners classes.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The pitfalls of subjective memory

I feel like a complete misfit at my current place of employment. One constructive reason why I feel so different from most other people I work with - how I vs. most of them describe events. An early conversation with my boss opened my eyes. We were outlining goals for my part of the program - which involves teaching environmental ed in inner-city classrooms. I had looked over the lessons/activities from the previous supervisor and team. The materials were colorful, cute, and looked like fun, but lacked educational depth -- no relevant vocabulary introduced to used, no major environmental systems were covered, no testing or review of what the students learned/absorbed. He asked me what I thought about the lessons, that's exactly what I told him. He was surprised. he was thoroughly impressed with the lessons and then explained how "successful" the lessons were in the past because the student had written than you letters saying how much they liked going outside or having guest presenters. And the teachers "loved" having the team come - the kids would light up and "act right". He then went on to say something about me and my team doing those same lessons, too. My jaw was dropped. I couldn't believe what I was hearing -- no real learning... This man hadn't clue about Bloom's Taxonomy and after explaining to him that the lessons were barely ground level, he remarked "They're 3rd graders. They don't need higher level thinking lessons." I was appalled and let him know it.
But that encounter showed me he was much more concerned with Affective responses to nature as opposed to using nature and environmental science to promote constructive learning and cognitive development.

But the same thing happened every time I talked with someone. They would get all whipped up over a situation that on surface was simple. But when you ask them to explain what happened they inserted all of these inferences ans assumptions and back-story accounts into the scenario. I'd interrupt and ask "How do you know that?". They'd go, "Oh, because once upon a time ago, she/he had done it before", or something like that. Completely explaining things in the first person they never witnessed, at best it was hearsay - most of the time pure psychic assumption.

Crazy. Reminds me of this new release about how adult memory is fallible. It's fallible for this very reason, people inserting meaning into events and not just describing what happened.
Objective vs. Subjective Reasoning.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Prediction: The Next U.S. President will be a democrat.

I've been watching the primaries with much excitement. Even before the primary elections, I enjoyed the news coverage about how much money each candidate had raised -- as if it were a real surrogate of election success back in October and November 2007. When the Iowa Caucus began, I was honestly undecided. But I was excited, nay pleasantly surprised, and thoroughly amused by Barack Obama winning that election.

IOWA...All I know, All I owe, I owe I-O-WAY. Yes, the Whitest, most rural Place in the STATES. I thought to myself...If Iowa's Democrats are ready for a Black President, then by gosh, the rest of the nation is, too. Nevermind his age, his experience, his bourgeoisie-style...Pish Posh. Iowans picked Barack Obama.

And I continue to watch the primaries. I commend Huckabee & Ron Paul for hanging in there. I totally agree with him...Until a candidate has secured the required delegates, then there is no party-representative. I know campaigning is expensive and there are reasons to pull out if you haven't secure X percentage of delegates (or favored to do so in upcoming contests) then it's a cost-benefit analysis. For Edwards, maybe it was ego -- losing your home state is reason to stop now. But I still think he and Richardson should have stayed in at least until the Feb Super Tuesday. I mean, they had constituents..Give them/us an opportunity to vote for you and let you know we favor you. And Romney, what a weak-a** bow-out. He was ahead of Huckabee, he could have shaved some delegates from McCain. Give people a choice. That's what primaries are about -- Choices, not inevitable remainders.

My final thought. I have been most impressed with voter turn out to primary elections/caucuses across the board. For every state* the Democratic turn out far out-numbered the Republican turn out - most by double or more. If people remain true to party lines then the Democrats are definitely favored to be in the White House next year. Look out Conservatives, I think it's time to prepare a swan song.

* Every state that had legitimate primaries/caucuses for both parties. Michigan and Florida Democratic primaries were bogus and I posit that Democratic voter turn out was less because voters were aware of the violation of DNC rules and knew the Delegates wouldn't be seated. Some states host separate election/caucus dates for each party so all data is not it, e.g. Wyoming.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Applied for a new job

Okay, the job issues still exist, but as of the last week and half, I promised to not complain about it. I still talk about it, but I hope not as much as I use to. Anyway, I heard rumors that a local agency had an opening. I called and asked about it, but the announcement wasn't confirmed. But just now, I was on the on-line job opportunties and low and behold a real opening. So I applied. The job woes may have worked themselves out; I hope so.

It will be a bummer to leave my existing, on the road to maturity, employees. The program supervisor (my boss) and the other supervisor, will just leave them hanging. They can't provide the technical guidance they need, and wouldn't know what it is they need, even if I leave instructions. Boy, I have no stock in their leadership or comprehension of the subject. Sad, really, because this program was my bosses vision, correct that, idea, in the first place. He designed the program (work up the objectives and benchmarks) but he's clueless to how to make any of that happen. One of my main issues with him/the program --It isn't really being implemented well.
Also, if I am offered and accept, this will be a serious pay/benefit cut. On the good side, the very good side: I'll be doing exactly what I want to do - OUTREACH - and have access to dozens of outreach professionals for mentorship. Plus, I'm praying to snagged by this agency and hooked into a bigger, more financially secure net by the time my school financial aid expires.

Anyway, wish me luck .

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Self-Imposed Casting

The Caste System is a way of organizing social groups. Throughout history, many societies have created and established very strict social distinctions among its people.

Quick and Dirty: Here is how Casting works
Your parents, grandparents, and their parents before them are all tradesmen – carpenters, blacksmiths, mechanics, etc. You approach adulthood and you want to be professional – doctor, lawyer, merchant, banker, etc. You cannot. You’re locked in. For some historical reason, it was deemed that people from certain levels or castes just aren’t capable of achieving certain kinds of work or higher level thinking. Accept your station in life.

Perhaps the best examples of casting are those once practiced in India and Apartied South Africa. But the United States once had a casting system and some contend still does. Africans (Blacks) were servants and laborers. This caste was institutionalized as Slavery and legally prevented Blacks from having say over their own lives and systematically excluded them from educational and intellectual development opportunities. This meant, even if one wanted to become a professional, the deck was stacked against him. Even after Slavery was abolished, most Blacks were still occupying servant and labor trades and later branched into entertainment. Other groups had their own hang-ups, too.

What I find interesting today is that many Black people still unconsciously buy into this. An example: While teaching a Fair East-side, I recruited some great bright students to do a summer research internship at the university. Now, I’m the only Black graduate student in my department, so I managed to convince my very liberal, mostly white faculty to support this program. The students worked alongside professors and graduate students and made significant contributions to their research projects. As the program came to a close, I realized that most of my students had virtually no family support. They were dogged by their families and accused of wasting their time with those “white folks doing science”. Especially, for the girls, their families told them to focus on more meaningful activities so that they could take care of themselves or ‘get a man’ to take care of them later. Basically, they were wasting their time developing their minds because they should have been focusing on being more domestic. One student wanted to go to college and become an ornithologist, another a marine biologist. Both of their families recommended they become nurse assistants – not even nurses or doctors – but someone’s assistant! They graduated a year ago, neither one is in college yet. I am so upset. These are VERY bright young ladies, but their families were CASTING them.

Now, my employees: Same thing. They just don’t see themselves (truly) as fully capable pre-professionals. They so often count themselves out because they are black or come from a poor black neighborhood. They are casting themselves. The liberal in me is reluctantly conceding to some of Dr. Shelby Steele's points.

Back to Accept your station in life.
This notion seems to the underlying tone in the class struggle of Blacks in America. Whenever colleged or ambitious blacks try to do something more than the rest of their peers, they are often knocked back and told to not get too uppidty. They are teased and sometimes harrassed byt their less-ambitious low achieving black peers. Why is that? If you're having a hard time visualizing this, there are 2 cinematic examples of this self-casting madness.

Example 1: Raisin the Sun. The sister wants to be a doctor and the brother insinuates that "she thinks she's too good", being a doctor is inappropriate for her because she is a female, perhaps because they are are black and poor.
Example 2: School Daze. The Fellas are trying to enjoy some fried chicken and the neighborhood guys are harassing the college boys. In the parking lot, Samuel Jackson's character tells them "you think you're better...but you just Niggas, just like us."

These negative attitudes sicken me because there are enough *other people* who think that Black folk are less intelligent, less motivated, less caring, and less capable of professionalism.
"Accept your station in life. Stop trying to jump caste." Why do some of our people play into that racist madness psychology?