Tuesday, September 26, 2006

US Science Education

Apparently science education in the U.S. lags behind other nations. Gee. I wonder why. Most likely because we have a very anti science group of folks ruling the halls of power in D.C. Not that I'm bitter...

Really, though, the article is not good. First off is for the obvious: we are not doing science education very well here, okay, but there are no solutions presented.

The article itself, however, is problematic. It starts with the comment that "faults science curricula for assuming children are simplistic thinkers." While this is true, to a certain extent, the statement should really be turned around. Science curricula actually assume that the teachers are not sufficiently well educated in sciences to teach it well. This sounds somewhat nasty, but keep in mind that in many cases the first science education a child receives is from a teacher whose major was education (possibly with an emphasis) and who is qualified to teach several different subjects. There is less specializaiton in elementary and middle school, and by the time students reach high school they already have been taught to have science presented in a specific way. There are educators who are working to change this, but it is not so simple a process as just changing the science curricula. Guidelines provided by science groups like NAS (national acadamy of sciences) are content (e.g. a student should know the parts and functions of a cell) not methods and many different curricula could get the info across.

Nevermind that, though, because it isn't new, and scientists, in particular, are aware of it, if only through the poor understanding presented by friends, family, politicians, press, etc. The problem with the article is related to the prase "simplistic thinkers" opens the door for all of the psuedo science crackpots to push (including the Creationist/ID wackjobs). Science can become very complicated, very quickly, and psuedo-science advocates take advantage of that. The vast amount of accumulated scientific knowledge becomes a double edged sword because no one person can be sufficiently advanced to be an expert in every one of the things that are covered in science from K-12. Because of that the psuedo-sci supporters can often win "debates," even if they out and out lie.

Since it is a popular front, take, for example, evolution. Evolution is taught in biology, but the evidence for evolution comes from genetics, geology, species diversity, human history, the fossil record, anatomy, and biochemistry, basically many fields covering all of the physical sciences. Most biology teachers understand very basic notions related to some of the genetics, some of the fossil record, some of the diversity, the radio dating aspects of geology and anatomical aspects like vestigal appendiges (note that most bio majors will not have a significantly more advanced understanding). An anti-evolution puppet would not trash all of the science, but would pick one or two fairly specific aspects to take apart, typically ones that are not directly related to biology. A sufficiently knowledgeable scientist would decimate such attacks, but few and far between is the elementary/middle/high school teacher that could do so.

Science education is lacking in the U.S., to be sure, but the directions offered to "fix" science education are vague, misleading, and open to attack from those who seek to make science what they want it to be rather than what it is. The key to improving science education is not to focus on what science has discovered, but rather what science is, and using discoveries, theories, and changes in perception through history as examples.

Liquid Bomb Issues

The FAA is relaxing the rediculously asinine standards on bringing liquids and gels onto airplanes...finally. For those of you who haven't paid attention, the rule was no liquids or gels could be taken through security, nor could those purchased after going through security be brought onto planes. This was stupid on so many levels that I can't possibly address them all. I'll try though...

First off, the after security thing (which is what is being relaxed). Is the FAA suggesting that you can purchase explosive liquids in airports after passing through security?!? Why the hell isn't that a security issue?!? I was very worried (one might say "terrified") on my last flight because there is a Ben & Jerrys' in Midway and I saw people purchase ice cream and I knew they were going to be getting on airplanes, and I didn't know if the airport employees realized that ice cream can be easily converted to a liquid by holding it for an extended period of time. The horror of melted ice cream that could easily conceal high levels of triglyserides that could, conceivably, cause an explosion of the waistline of the consummer, is not one that leaves after a night or two of restless slumber. (Of course the real problem is the ubiquitous airport Starbucks *shudder*.)

Second, and probably the bigger problem: the "advanced plot" that the purported terrorists were going to use would not have worked. There are lots of available explainations (like this one) but there are two key issues that, as a chemist, I feel compelled to share. One is that highly explosive compounds can be solids, or liquids, or gasses. Making you trash that water bottle, leave the shampoo, or drain your coffee cup is no more reasonable (from a safety standpoint) than making you hand over your pants, or trash your cell phone. At least pantsless, cellphoneless people on airplanes would cause amusing ackward conversation..."so, um, why do they call it a 'thong' anyway? I mean, nice ass. No, wait, um, I mean, oh, gosh it's breezy..." The other issue is that precursors to explosives are not explosives. Trying to create an explosive on an aircraft, is not just implausable, it is virtually impossible. Not that it wouldn't be dangerous, but it would be on par with someone setting fire to a sky mall catalogue (matches are allowed). The building I work in had a acetone-piranha explosion, which is basically what these wannabe suicide bombers would have (at best) created...it didn't even destroy the fume hood it was in, and it was likely quite a bit bigger than anything these terrorists could have caused.

A final point is that terrorists goal is not to kill us all and destroy our country; they cannot, not even close. Their goal is to scare us so much that we change our way of life. They are succeeding. Every time the FAA or some other government agency enacts some rediculous rule to counter an overblown or imaginary threat, the terrorists win. Every time some politician makes noise about terrorism, telling us how dangerous they are, terrifying us, the terrorists win. Every time they try and take away our rights to preserve our "security," the terrorists win. Every time we let them without speaking out or fighting back, the terrorists win.

I want my coffee back. It's cheaper and tastier. Damnit.

"Next Blog"

I like the "next blog" feature at the top of this and most other blogspot blogs, I've only found a handful of ones that I would continue to visit, but I suppose this one would be no exception to most people. Lots of people post photos, some of them good, many slices of life, occasionally fun to read. For most people this is an online diary. Others can read it, but that doesn't really seem to be the point. There are also a fair amount of venting, bitching sites. In one in particular (which I won't link to, because I would feel, I don't know, mean) the author repeatedly mentioned his/her gluten allergy (probably coeliac disease), and I couldn't help but have no sympathy, I'm not sure why because it seems it would be tough, but I just kept thinking how this person would have died as a baby a couple centuries back.

Occasionally I come across a good WTF site or post or thing. That happened today too. The blog site is about a county beauty pagent in MO (Missouri, or Misery, or Mizura...). Mostly no big deal, but there is the little sub-title on the banner which concludes, "...this blog will be a forum for women to be empowered, promoted and respected." I know that beauty pagent people love to spout this crap off about how pagents are about female empowerment. It is total horseshit, but it makes them feel better about themselves. It is especially true of the kiddie ones which are beyond creepy. Oh, well, enough of that.

For some pretty things to look at go here (pics, mostly landscape).

Monday, September 25, 2006


Why the hell is this CNN.com frontpage news? Someone please explain.


I have one. Written and started posts that aren't posted yet. They'll come up eventually...not that many people read this regularly enough to really notice. There are several things I would like to address today, but don't have time for. Oh, well.

...hmm, I don't have too many posts like this. Weird.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Info on some Republican Candidates

I'm not sure anyone reading this will recognize it for what it is. Nor do I care. Don't bother clicking the links if you aren't interested. (The date listed is meaningless.)

--AZ-Sen: Jon Kyl
--AZ-01: Rick Renzi
--AZ-05: J.D. Hayworth
--CA-04: John Doolittle
--CA-11: Richard Pombo
--CA-50: Brian Bilbray
--CO-04: Marilyn Musgrave
--CO-05: Doug Lamborn
--CO-07: Rick O'Donnell
--CT-04: Christopher Shays
--FL-13: Vernon Buchanan
--FL-16: Joe Negron
--FL-22: Clay Shaw
--ID-01: Bill Sali
--IL-06: Peter Roskam
--IL-10: Mark Kirk
--IL-14: Dennis Hastert
--IN-02: Chris Chocola
--IN-08: John Hostettler
--IA-01: Mike Whalen
--KS-02: Jim Ryun
--KY-03: Anne Northup
--KY-04: Geoff Davis
--MD-Sen: Michael Steele
--MN-01: Gil Gutknecht
--MN-06: Michele Bachmann
--MO-Sen: Jim Talent
--MT-Sen: Conrad Burns
--NV-03: Jon Porter
--NH-02: Charlie Bass
--NJ-07: Mike Ferguson
--NM-01: Heather Wilson
--NY-03: Peter King
--NY-20: John Sweeney
--NY-26: Tom Reynolds
--NY-29: Randy Kuhl
--NC-08: Robin Hayes
--NC-11: Charles Taylor
--OH-01: Steve Chabot
--OH-02: Jean Schmidt
--OH-15: Deborah Pryce
--OH-18: Joy Padgett
--PA-04: Melissa Hart
--PA-07: Curt Weldon
--PA-08: Mike Fitzpatrick
--PA-10: Don Sherwood
--RI-Sen: Lincoln Chafee
--TN-Sen: Bob Corker
--VA-Sen: George Allen
--VA-10: Frank Wolf
--WA-Sen: Mike McGavick
--WA-08: Dave Reichert

Tuesday, September 05, 2006