Thursday, April 24, 2008

Texas Board Denies Online Creationism "Master of Science"

Following up on a similar "no" vote, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has turned down a request by the Institute of Creation Research to offer an online Master of Science Degree. (The vote yesterday was done by just a subcommittee of the board, and today's vote was by the entire board. We were pretty sure that the whole Board would vote against the proposal, but you never know what weird things can happen overnight.)

This struggle is never ending, though -- this year, high school biology books are up for review, and a majority of TX SBOE members favor the new creationism/creation science/intelligent design flavor, "Teach the Controversy," which means, "Teach our particular interpretation of the bible, and never mind that we are skipping some important steps that every other hypothesis has to go through on its way to being taught as a theory in schools: Research, Peer Review, Scientific Consensus, etc."

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Texas higher education board rejects creation science degree

This is a follow up to something I just posted.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board rejected the Institute for Creation Research's proposal to offer a master's degree in science education, claiming that the degree would not prepare teachers to teach evolution. The ruling raises the question if current degree programs prepare teachers to give fair treatment to creation science.

I especially found this interesting:

The decision to turn down the proposal, subject to final action by the full board Thursday, came despite arguments from institute officials and faculty that teaching creationism to students would not hurt their future effectiveness as science teachers."

Yeah, right, being indoctrinated in pseudoscience won't hurt your effectiveness as a science teacher.

According to the article, the ICR also threatened legal action on free speech grounds. If the ICR wants to offer a graduate degree in Texas, and have it certified and/or accredited, all they need to do is label it accurately. I've put some suggestions in the post below this one.

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Another Setback for Creationism in Texas?

Details to follow, but I just got an email from someone who was at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Academic Excellence & Research, etc. Committee meeting today, and they have voted to accept the recommendation of Commissioner Paredes to deny certification for a Masters of Science Education program to be offered by the Institution for Creation Research.

The full board votes tomorrow, so unless they get "teh dumb" overnight, this is a setback for the ICR.

If they want certification in Texas, they might want to consider calling it a "Masters of Theology" or "Masters of Creationism", since it certainly isn't science.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sexpelled: No Intercourse Allowed

This is one of those occasions when parody is the best response.

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April 1 @ RLM

Our admin. associate, Colleen, made me take down the broken door signs this week after two math professors were flummoxed by them -- they wanted to come in to tell her that their sections of Number Theory in the fall would be taught via Moore Method, and they walked up to the door, looked at the signs, looked confused, walked away, saw students leaving the office, walked back to the door, stared at the door, and finally entered the office. Click on the title above to see the picture she took of our office doors.

Colleen wasn't too upset about the rest of the April 1 antics. (Actually, she was laughing about them most of the morning.) I stuck a mini sticky note that said "gotcha" at the bottom of her optical mouse; taped down the switch hook on the telephone so that when she picked the phone up it would still ring, joined all her paper clips together, etc. For the computer the faculty use, I moved the dock, opened up a couple of applications, took a screen shot, closed the applications, replaced the wallpaper with the screen shot, and hid the dock; however, after thinking about it for a bit, we decided that we should put the faculty computer back to normal, since we didn't think he could deal with it. (He's brilliant, but not that technologically savvy -- we can usually introduce him to one new change per year -- for example, when our note taking system migrated from a mainframe application to a web based one -- we would have been in trouble if they were to have also switched the registration system to the web at the same time.)

I am taking suggestions for next year in the comments section -- you really have to plan ahead a bit for these things.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Chris Comer was Expelled

Ahh, shortly before 7 a.m. CDT, the real Expelled site was updated. Currently, a short video with Chris Comer's story is featured.

Why wasn't this real travesty of decency and justice mentioned in the movie Expelled?

Monday, April 14, 2008

John A. Wheeler, R.I.P.

(Click on the title for the NYT obit.)

The auditorium classroom across from my office in RLM at UT is named after John Wheeler (he joined the faculty here in the late 1970s.) He coined the term "black hole", and science fiction would be a lot less interesting without his concepts such as the "many worlds" theory.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Expelled Exposed

Expelled Exposed, has the truth about the so-called "Expellees" of the movie, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." Please click on the title to visit their site.

I'd like to point out that (from what I've heard), "Expelled" does not discuss the science educators and administrators (such as Chris Comer of Texas) who have been reprimanded or fired for supporting science. Kenneth Miller alluded to several other cases when he spoke at UT recently -- I'll try to find some information about them to put in another post.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Dr. Kenneth Miller @ UT Austin: "God, Darwin, and Design: Lessons from the Dover Monkey Trial"

Kenneth Miller, one of the witnesses for the plaintiffs in the Dover ID trial, gave an engaging SRO talk at UT Austin tonight. The webcast is already up, if you click on the title above. You'll need to download the Envivo plugin (and you need to have the most recent media player for your system) to view the webcast.

As the room filled up, I contrasted this event with the recent stealth screenings of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed -- where the Expelled audience was carefully vetted and screened to keep out undesirables, the "God, Darwin, and Design" talk was widely advertised and extra room was made for the overflow. (The room held 400 - 500, and they directed people to the classroom next door where they set up the webcast for viewing.) All were welcome, and the webcast had an international audience -- groups were set up all over for viewing, including Monterrey, Mexico and the UK.

The target audience for this talk (actually a series of outreach talks sponsored by UT's Environmental Sciences Institute) is K - 12 educators, and this comes at an opportune time for Texas since out SBOE is doing biology text reviews this year. During the Q & A period at the end, I asked if anyone had invited the TX SBOE, which got a laugh -- Miller said that he understood people could be fired for forwarding emails about talks on evolution. (I had actually meant to send the information about the talk on to my SBOE representative, Ken Mercer, and suggest that he attend, but I didn't get around to it.) Later I did see Chris Comer in the audience (the former Science Director for our state who actually was fired after she forwarded an "FYI" email announcing a talk by Barbara Forrest, another Dover ID witness.)

The contrasts with the ID crowd (if it can be said they have enough for a crowd) continued with Miller's points about how science deals with a new claim (1. research, 2. peer review, conferences, publishing, thrashing it out, which leads to 3. scientific consensus and then finally 4. the claims are included in classrooms and textbooks.) and what the IDers are demanding (going directly from the new claim to the classroom and textbooks without all the intervening steps that scientists take.)

Miller talked a bit about his experiences in the Dover trial -- I'll gloss over that, except for the fact that former PA Sentator Rick Santorum had nominated Judge Jones to his position (how did I not know that?!) The IDers must have felt that the fix was in when they drew Judge Jones.

He also gave some examples of evolutionary theory pwning ID/creationism/irreducible complexity. I've heard him talk about these in more detail in this video from a talk he gave at Case Western: It's 2 hours long, but he presents some very powerful evolutionary explanations and predictions. (bacterial flagellum, fused human chromosome #2, the dishonest presentation of the fish-to-amphibian fossil record in the ID/creationist book "Of Panda's and People", etc.

Tonight's talk was a little over an hour and fifteen minutes, but Miller is a very funny, engaging speaker. "Didn't these guys learn anything from the Nixon administration?!" (referring to the documents presented by the "Of Pandas and People" text creators to the Dover plaintiffs which were the nail in the coffin on the idea that ID is creationism and hence is religious teaching, not science.)

His view of Expelled is that the IDers need an explanation of why their ideas haven't caught on in the scientific community, and about the last straw they have is to conflate "Darwinism" to Nazism and other social ills. He said that we have to confront those errors with the facts every time we hear them. He also talked about reviewing Behe's new book -- twice -- and reports that Behe accepts the common ancestry of all beings, including humans, which is sure to be a disappointment to many IDers.

Another couple of funny anecdotes -- when he was on the Colbert Report, the only contact he had with Colbert was right before the show when Colbert said to him as he walked by, "Are you Miller? I'm gonna get you -- you're going DOWN!" Also, during the cold war, Miller was at a conference (either in E. Germany or someplace with some E. German scientists) -- I swear, the beginning of this anecdote was the only time my mind wandered -- and when one of the Germans left to go to the rest room, Miller turned to the other scientists and said, "Um, you know, that guy really isn't very smart," and the other Germans said, "Oh, him? His not a SCIENTIST -- he's Stasi!" (apparently, that's the only way the E. Germans would let their scientists hang with our scientists.)

And of course, because Miller is a theist -- Catholic to be exact -- he discussed how one can be a believer and accept evolutionary theory, and how accepting evolution does not necessarily lead to atheism. True enough, although in the case of this writer, accepting evolutionary theory did make it possible for me to be a non-believer, and it would be dishonest of me to say that this aspect of my education didn't have an effect on my beliefs. Of course, every aspect of my education eventually led me to non-belief, so I don't think the IDers should just pick on biology!