Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour – Life, Language, and Science

May 7th, 2010

One of the books that the TWIS book club read this year was Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle by Dr. Daniel Everett of Illinois State University.

In the book, Dr. Everett tells the story of his years spent in the amazon jungle studying the language of a small tribe of Indians. There are ups and downs, thrills and spills throughout, but the most important part of the story is the language and how it changed the Dr.’s life forever.

You would be amazed at everything Dr. Everett went through in the name of science. I know I was when I read the book.

Even more amazing was getting to speak with him on the Science Hour. See for yourself…

Want to Buy A Banned T-Shirt? Update

September 2nd, 2009

No word from Mr. Pollitt (yet), but I just sent another email offering to buy all the t-shirts from him.

Want to Buy A Banned T-Shirt?

August 31st, 2009

After reading this article about the Sedalia County (thank you Brandon for the correction!) school district’s treatment of the Smith-Cotton High School Marching Band’s new t-shirt, of course I tweeted the article. One comment came back from Tim Beauchamp (@tbeauchamp for those interested) wondering if there was a way to get one of the tees for himself.

This got me thinking… the Sedalia district’s Assistant Superintendent, Brad Pollitt, said himself that the district would have to cover the cost of the revoked shirts (some $700). So, why not try to get the school district to put the shirts up for sale as a fundraiser for the band and school district?

Here’s a letter that I wrote to Mr. Pollitt along those lines:

Dear Mr. Pollitt,

I’m writing you after reading a recent news article about the trouble that you and the Smith-Cotton High School marching band had with the “Brass Evolutions 2009” t-shirt design.

You are quoted as saying that the district will have to absorb the cost of the troublesome tees. I know several people who would be interested in purchasing the t-shirts. Perhaps there is an opportunity for the district to make the cost of the shirts back by selling them to individuals who are not upset by the creative design, and in fact who would wear the shirts proudly.

I am sorry to hear that the design was so distasteful to so many, and that you felt it necessary to respond by revoking the shirts at a cost to the district. Our nation’s schools never have it financially easy, especially so in this time of economic recession. This could be an economic win if approached in the spirit of fundraising.

All the best,

Kirsten H. Sanford, Ph.D

I think this could be an interesting way to approach the problem. Rather than bash anyone, or call anyone names, let’s try to publicize the evolution banning event by purchasing the t-shirts. It might actually help the school out, which is something very needed these days. We’ll see if and how Mr. Pollitt responds.

If you are interested in writing a similar letter to see if we can get these shirts back into the population, you can find the contact information of the Sedalia School District administrators here, and this is Mr. Brad Pollitt’s work email.

If you do write, please, keep in mind that this is a teachable moment, and civility and compassion will do more good than temper and bile.

The Church of Science

September 29th, 2008

I happen to think this temple of science, called the Atheon, in Berkeley,CA is a terrible idea. However, I do understand where the idea comes from.

Anyone involved in science these days is well aware of the gulf between science and religion. It is a gulf that has been apparent since before Copernicus revived the theory of heliocentrism, since before Galileo was punished by the Catholic church for teaching it as truth.

Religion is doctrine for a belief system based on mythology. The mythology was necessary in a time before science to explain the world, and doctrine to create order amid chaos. Science, as a tool to understand the world around us, slowly chips away at the myths. Of course, this is threatening to many religions. If the myths weaken substantially will the doctrine have any basis for control?

So, for ages there has been a perceived conflict of interest between science and religion. Fine, but does it really have to be such a deep and wide rift? I for one agree with those who think that science and religion both have their places in this world, their own jobs to do. And, I’m normally a champion of projects that try to make peace between the two.

This project in Berkeley, though, is getting in the way of that kind of progress. Science is not religion. It’s hard enough to teach people that science is simply a tool without so-called artists actually going out and promoting it as religion. This way of thinking is part of the problem rather than leading to a solution.

Religions that fight science are afraid that science wants to replace them with a purely scientific institution. How many times have I heard people refer to the Church of Darwin, or talk about scientific dogma? This use of words promotes the idea that science is thought of as a religion.

Science is a tool, a methodology, for examining the universe, not a belief system. It is a mistake to equate the two.

Evolving Landscapes

August 13th, 2008

Two articles today got me thinking today (because you know I wouldn’t have been thinking otherwise).

The first, from SF Gate, described the recent decision allowing the University of California to reject high school credits for courses using textbooks that don’t meet the accepted admissions standards. Rejection of course credits can ultimately block the admission of students to the University.

It’s too bad that some students can be kept from attending a school because of decisions that their teachers and school boards make. However, admissions standards are used for a reason, namely to be sure that students are prepared for the next level of their education. And, if a student has been taught inadequately it will at best be difficult for them to do well within the university environment. Allowing such students entry to a university would be a disservice not only to those students, but to the university environment as a whole.

Unfortunately, the case in question is being turned into a religious freedom issue rather than the simple matter of standards that it really is. The textbooks being rejected leave out evolution in favor of Creationism or focus on “supernatural” causes/events. The plaintiffs in the case argue that these texts aren’t incorrect, they just present an alternative view of science and/or history.

Ok, so if that’s the case, I should be able to start a school that teaches only from texts promoting the history and science of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Unicorns. Or, maybe I teach my home-schooled kids from texts that contain the history of the human race as being cultivated by aliens. Either way, I should expect that my students will gain entry to the UC system as long as they have good grades (and test scores, and of course, the appropriate extra-curricular activities).

It seems like the plaintiffs have the following view on getting into a STATE FUNDED university: it doesn’t matter what you learn, as long as you learn something.

I’ll stop with that soapbox now before I become even more snarky.

The second article that caught my eye was an editorial in the New York Times promoting the teaching of evolution in schools. The author lays out several great reasons why teaching and learning about evolution is important. In the process, she uses several examples of evolution in action to make her points. Unfortunately, I have to be the nit-picky scientists and point out that many of those examples are not necessarily evolution, but rather adaptations. Still, the ideas in the essay are solid. Many thanks to both the author and the New York Times for defending the teaching of evolution in schools by publishing the piece.

Finally, this all brought me to consider an interview with the US President on NBC I saw the other night. During the interview, Bob Costas did a pretty good job of asking hard-hitting questions, and Mr. Bush talked fairly openly about his visit to China. Three answers stood out to me, and I thought them especially telling of the President’s mind-set as he ends his tenure:

“…I think you should look at the relationship as one of constructive engagement, where you can find common areas like North Korea and Iran. But also be in a position where they can respect you enough to listen to your views on religious freedom and political liberty.”

Why just religious freedom? Why not personal freedom?

“…if you are a religious person you understand that once religion takes hold in a society it can’t be stopped.”

Uhhh… what? Excuse me, did he just say what I think he did? Sounds a little like zealotry to me.

“I went to church here. And I’m sure the cynics say ‘Well, you know, it was just a state sponsored church.’ On the other hand, and that’s true, it gave me a chance to say to the Chinese people, religion won’t hurt you, you ought to welcome religious people. And it gave me a chance to say to the Chinese government, ‘Why don’t you register the underground churches and give them a chance to flourish?’ And he listened politely. I can’t read his mind, but I do know that every time I met with him, I pressed the point.”

Right. So, he disrespected the beliefs of the Chinese President and the ruling party in order to promote his own religious views while acting as the President and official representative of the United States, which officially doesn’t promote religion what with the separation of church and state and all that silly stuff. And, he did it over and over again.

Thank you, Mr. President, for your efforts.