Archive for: June, 2009

Why do Texas nut jobs set evolution standards for the country?

Jun 12 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

There have been several recent court cases in which Intelligent Design (ID) advocates (or their thinly veiled minions) have tried to challenge the way science, specifically evolution, are taught in schools. Thus far the rulings have gone in favor of evolution advocates, including the recent one by Judge John E. Jones, III in Dover PA, which was widely viewed as a sound beat-down of ID as a science. The school board that voted in favor of the initial change to the science policy got blown up by the voters and 8 of 9 pro-ID members were sent packing. Overall, it warms my heart.

However, as much as it is nice to see these small pockets of idiocy stomped out as they pop up like some bizarre irrationalist whack-a-mole game, there is one state that has the power to change what science students read on a national scale. Good thing it's a reasonable... oh wait, it's Texas. Fuck.

Yup, Texas has the influence to change what is in the science text books in your children's and students' hands, no matter what state you live in. How is that possible, you ask? Well, simple economics. In case you've never seen a map, Texas is kinda big. A corollary to having a big state is having a big school system and if you're following along, you can see where this is going. The Texas State Board of Education is the defacto "kingmaker" of science text books by virtue of their buying power. Publishers run themselves ragged trying to please the TSBE so that they can ship freighters of their texts to Texas. Therefore, any change in the TSBE policy force the hand of publishers, whereby they change wording in text books used nation-wide. All it takes is a couple of asshats in the right positions (in Texas, no less) to alter how evolution is presented to students. Consider the following from today's Science:

'In March, the Texas school board approved new science standards that omit the "strengths and weaknesses" line (Science, 3 April, p. 25). But many scientists view the new version as more insidious than the previous one. Among other things, it requires that students have the chance to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell." The language is seen as an opening for ID proponents to argue that such "irreducible complexity" points to an external organizing force.'

'Don McLeroy had wanted the standards to require textbooks and other materials to offer an even more skeptical view of evolution. But McLeroy, whom the state legislature declined to reappoint as chair last month although he remains on the board, says he's satisfied that requiring "more scientific evolutionary discussions" will serve students well. "The explanations offered [in the texts] will be so weak that students who are skeptical of evolution will see the weakness for themselves," he says.'

Do I want this guy picking the language in any text book. Heeeeeells no! But this is what's happening. The authors of the texts being considered or already used by the TSBE say that they will appease the TSBE by beefing up their explanation of eukaryotic evolution in order to provide more detailed evidence for the "scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell", but this is not how things have gone in the past. On previous occasions, the authors/publishers have taken the easy way out and altered only a few lines of text, which served to soften the language on evolution. If they do chose this opportunity to increase the section on evolution, then the TSBE has inadvertently done science a favor. I, however, remain unconvinced this will happen.

2 responses so far

The magnet

Jun 10 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

More powerful than the NHMFL magnet and it works on people!

I had to pick up the Wee One from daycare yesterday because she was running a slight temperature and "generally irritable" (apparently our daycare only deals with happy kids). On the way back to my office I walked through the business office of our college with the Wee One in my arms and before I knew it every office was empty and I was surrounded. The Dean's making funny faces at her, the CFO of the college is tickling her - it was like the whole place momentarily lost their minds. It's nice that there is generally a pro-family vibe here, but now I know that if I have to run the gauntlet of the business hallway with the Wee One again, I will do it at a full sprint or risk being there for 30 minutes and becoming "generally irritable" myself.

Grumpy kids love to be prodded by strangers.

4 responses so far

After all that...

Jun 09 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

A couple of months ago I struggled with trying to figure out whether to take on a particular undergrad student (UgS) in the lab for the summer. I did a lot of thinking about the situation and the program that I had committed to being a part of and finally decided that it was a good idea to do so, even if it meant UgS might turn out to be a huge time sink. After agreeing to this and prepping myself to better deal with the situation, UgS has recently bailed from the program and I found out today that they will not be in the lab this summer.

As you might imagine, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I am selfishly happy not to be faced with the amount of training I was going to have to do. On the other, it seems like an opportunity lost. However, under the circumstances by which UgS decided not to be involved with the program this year, it is probably for the best. Of course now I'm stuck with a project and no one to work on it.

5 responses so far

Sad realization

Jun 08 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

I had a great time at the conference last week and learned a lot, but I had a realization about something I have been successfully ignoring for a little while. I need to learn some programming. I don't know when the day will magically get longer so I will have the time, but I need to find a way. My field is moving in a way that I really have no choice if I want to continue to be competitive. I was hoping that I could leave that to students or technicians, but I know that I won't feel comfortable with the meal I am served unless I understand what goes into the recipe. It's why I don't eat hotdogs.

Now I need to do some poking and figure out whether to start with Perl or Python. I wonder if I should shave my head now so I don't end up pulling all of my hair out.

19 responses so far


Jun 06 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Moderators, you have two tasks. 1) Introduce the speakers without butchering their names or their titles, too badly. 2) Keep the speakers on time. It's a pretty cushy job and really shouldn't be all that taxing, but I think we're going to have to institute an opportunity for our moderators to bow out if they feel those tasks are asking too much (sort of like when the flight attendant asks if you want to be responsible for opening the door in case of an emergency when you sit in an exit row), because those two tasks have apparently been overwhelming to a few session leaders today. When there are parallel session you have to keep people on schedule or else it screws up everything. So, Dr. moderator who let a "30 minute" talk run 42 minutes today, maybe it's time to hang up the moderator mic and stick with the lab job.

And Dr. speaker who talked 50% too long today, what the hell were you thinking? When you had spoken for your entire time allotment already and then launched into another study to illustrate your point I almost threw up. You see, no one is listening at that point. You could be describing cold fusion or your own genitalia in detail and not a single person would notice because we all checked out when it was clear you had no regard for your audience or the speakers after you. We just sat there watching the clock while you turned into Charlie Brown's teacher.

Finally, my fellow conferencees. You do realize that the session isn't over until after the questions, right? I know that the talks can be tiresome at times, but can't you wait two more minutes before loudly gathering your things and starting conversations with the people you met last night? If the undergrads in your classes behaved the way I have seen many conduct themselves today, you would be livid. Why are you so anxious to get to the snack cart to have the same cookies and weak coffee that we've had for days? If you can't respect the fact that some people actually want to hear the question and answer period, go shopping instead of coming to the talks.

And p.s. Wearing the conference shirt at the conference is like wearing the shirt with the band on it, who's concert you are at. It's like running advertisements for your hospital only to those who are forced to watch TV from your hospital beds. Don't be that person.

5 responses so far

Conference Observations

Jun 05 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Why do people coming into any session duck when they come into the room and have to cross in front of people, even if ducking has no effect on how much they block the view of said people?

I just got an Godfather offer that if our March grant doesn't get through we can get the work done in Germany for free... with a trip and "all you can carry schnitzel". Tempting, but if we can do this ourselves, all the better.

Lots of feedback on my student's talk today, mostly good. When you're floating an unusual idea you never know you what you're going to get.

I got to talk for a while with my science crush.

Middle America is a different breed of place, no matter where you come from (if it ain't here).

3 responses so far

The other shoe

Jun 03 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

It's a law of nature. Whenever I travel there must be an accompanying catastrophe at home the makes my absence that much worse. The last time I was away the Wee One's 20 gallon fish tank sprung a leak and was only found by my wife when she was putting the Wee One to bed after she had vomited all over the floor.

This week both of them are sick, but that can't be the problem because they are each recovering. Barring some enormous back-slide, that situation is only going to improve. So, the mystery has been when the other shoe will drop and what is going to explode, implode, catch on fire, leak or turn into a black hole that sucks the entire Earth in, this week. Up until last night it seemed that I would have to wait until the mid-conference phone call to find out, but mail was delivered early instead. While I was getting the Wee One ready for her bath last night I noticed she had something in her armpit. Fuzz? Food? Dirt? No, no and no. Deer tick! Yay, in an area rife with Lyme disease, my daughter has a deer tick attached to her. Not much we can do now but check her for the characteristic bruise if the tick was carrying Lyme disease. The one saving grace to her being sick this week with a bad ear infection is that she is on super powered antibiotics right now, which may act as a preemptive strike against the disease causing bacteria, should the tick have had it. And now we wait. And now I leave.

8 responses so far

In season

Jun 02 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

This week officially kicks off the lab's summer season of crazy travel and writing. Tomorrow we heading to a major conference in our field, which should be a lot of fun. It'll be an opportunity for me to catch up with a lot of old friends and a chance for my students to be involved in an international conference, even if it is in the US this year. As much as I am always conflicted about leaving home, the truth is that I need this in a big way. Not only am I looking forward to being immersed in the science, but I need a break from my desk. It's taking me way too long to get writing done at the moment and I'm having trouble focusing on the day-to-day things that just need to get done for everything to keep running. I need a change of scenery, however brief, to get me back in the right mind-set so I can make this next push without combusting just shy of the finish line. This job is a series of peaks and valleys of intensity and if you don't spend time in the valleys clearing the decks and finding a bit of time for yourself, each peak starts to look bigger.

The funny thing is that as much as I have traveled to some amazing places in this job, this week we will be going to a place I never imagined I would ever be, in an area of the country I have previously never even thought twice (or even once) about visiting. Perhaps that's another benefit of work-related travel - being forced to experience places and people one would otherwise just fly over on the way to somewhere else. I'm sure I will let you know.

One response so far

Working from a cave, under a bunker, under a rock

Jun 01 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

I have a love / hate relationship when it comes to dealing with one Senior Collaborator (SC), with whom I have recently submitted a rather large grant proposal. I love working with SC because they are the kind of person who is a wealth of information and has something useful to add to just about any topic I am interested in. SC has worked with and knows a lot about a wide variety of organisms, knowledge that has come in handy on a number of occasions. What I don't like about working with SC is the unpredictability. You never know quite what you're gonna get with SC. Last time we submitted a grant, everything came down to the last minute and I was fairly uncomfortable with the "process". There were a bunch of complicating factors, but when SC asked me if I was interested in collaborating on a second proposal for July, I had to think about it for a bit. In the end, the scientific opportunity (and the need to get money in the lab) won out over how I felt about the last grant. As much as I did not like the process, it's a collaboration and I can't always get things done the way I want them done (*twitch, twitch*). In the end the proposal was solid, despite some minor issues.

I had assumed that it would be a couple of weeks before I heard from SC about this grant, since we have 6 weeks before the deadline. To my surprise, I got an email on Friday with a few pages of rough draft and a commitment for more this week. SC also wanted to talk on the phone about some progress they had made on our first collaborative project and to get an update on where we stood on our end. No problem! I let SC know when to call me and carried on my way. No call. I called SC's office and cell. No Answer. Tried again over the weekend and again today. Nothing. So begins what will undoubtedly be another epic writing process.

3 responses so far

Important issue

Jun 01 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Things are a little crazy here after getting almost no sleep last night and prepping to leave for a conference on Wednesday, but please please please go check out CPP's post today.

No responses yet

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