Field of Science

Christmas Eve Services

While I am an atheist, I grew up in New England in a Lutheran/Protestant tradition. Like most people, I keep a number of traditions in association with the Christmas holiday. I still require a previously live tree, spruce is my favorite although the needles are a bit pokey. On Christmas Eve, we open one present. My wife and I have changed this tradition in that we exchange an ornament for the tree on Christmas Eve. Our son gets an ornament too, but also gets to open a "fun" gift. After everyone is asleep I put out stockings with little gifts in them (my wife does the same for me). One thing that I remember fondly from my childhood is going to Christmas Eve services at the Lutheran church, at the time I think I hated it as the services were at midnight and I had to be woken up. If I recall correctly, I got dressed up, went to bed, and was woken up ready to go. Anyway despite the pain-in-the-assness associated with this process for a 5-8 year old, it factors into part of the whole process.

So, we have taken my son to several Christmas Eve services over the last few years, the first at a Lutheran church here and another at a different church this year. This year my wife found a church that advertised a live nativity scene and as an animal lover (particularly sheep), she couldn't resist. So we all went to this church and saw outside a long haired cow about 4 foot tall, a camel, and a donkey, all of which you could touch/pet. I immediately started doing an Andy Samberg impersonation of Mark Wahlburg....

Once inside the church, there is a Mary and Joseph with baby (real life one). Lovely scene seeing a clearly young teenage girl with a baby. Though I'm sure the baby wasn't really hers, it was a somewhat surreal image when I think about how many churches like this one promote virginity promises, abstinence only education, etc. Anyway, there was also sheep. Thankfully they were inside the church because it was a frigid late afternoon to say the least. BTW, got to meet the lead pastor, seemed like a pleasant charismatic guy....unlike all those other church leaders.

So on to the service, some singing of songs and brief talking, a skit with children, more singing, and a Christmas service message, followed by a saying good-bye song. Standard stuff, right? Wrong!

I should have known better and I won't advertise for this church directly by naming names, but it is an evilgelical evangelical church and that in and of itself should have been enough to convince me to not stay for the actual service. Here are some things they profess to believe "As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises." (in the previous sentence feel free to replace "it" with "the pastors", who although human, have infallible opinions on the bible.")

The one thing I took home from this "service" besides a headache was this church epitomizes my thought that much of modern American Christianity is nothing more than a death-cult. First, the skit with children was a story read by a female leader of the church acted out by the children. When I was a child and these things occurred the story was basically a baby Jesus story with three wise men, some farmers, and an angel or two. This story was about three trees and their desires and wants. The first ultimately becomes a manger for the baby Jesus, so although a new story this seems to fit the bill. The second becomes a poor little fishing boat for reasons that are still unclear to me. There are numerous fish stories in the New testament and James and John were fishermen so that may be relevant, but now Im a little confused about where this story is going, since all the fish references that I am aware of would happen after Jesus was grown. But no, I see where this is going....The third tree becomes the crucifixion cross for Jesus. WTF?!?! We have children acting as trees and lumberjacks leading up to the nailing some dude to a cross until dead!!! And video games/rock and roll are the reasons our kids are often so screwed up.

Didn't Christians steal the solstice holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus? Wasn't Easter supposed to be the celebration of Jesus' death? Did I miss something? My experience has always been that Christmas in the Christian tradition represented joy and peace and love and well being. Not in this church and this was just a portents of things to come. The Christmas service message (remember peace, joy, love, babies, etc?) was, how to say this.....psychotic. I heard more about how we deserve and need to be punished more (3-5 times) than I heard about joy or peace (0 times). I heard the pastor berate us as horrible insignificant worms (my words and I apologize to worms), he tried to emotional break us down, and then offer the carrot of immediate redemption. Needless to say, no one in my family left with a warm feeling about Christmas (and O'Reilly thinks atheists are waging war on Christmas, at least when his ratings begin to fall in the early winter). Take home message from church: You were given a gift you didnt ask for, this gift is to fix a "mistake" you never made, oh and if you dont take this gift you will be forever punished in eternal hell. Now that's an offer he can't refuse! Wait that wasn't god, wasn't that...

Regardless, we had a very nice Christmas, lots of toys, books, family, food, and pleasantness PLUS I got to pat a camel, how cool is that!

Get Smart LOL funny

Big fan of Don Adams, bigger fan of Steve Carell. Its been a long time since I saw a movie that made me lol, but Get Smart had tears rolling down my cheeks I was laughing so damn hard. There were several laughter-to-tears moments, but my absolute favorite was listening to Alan Arkin below.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Turkey day everyone!

And Happy Tofurkey day to those who hold mobility as an important trait in making your culinary decisions.

Bats, Fungi, and Mosquitoes

(Credit: Right Photo/ Al Hicks with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation)

Over the last two years some bat populations in the NE US  have been decimated for unknown reasons by what has been called white-nose syndrome. The name comes because a white fungus is often found growing around the nose of affected bats. So what is going on and does it matter? I mean not to be heartless but these are just flying rodents and they can carry the rabies virus. Well let's take the latter question first.

Does it matter? Yes it freaking matters! First, it matters because bats are fascinating mammals that use sonar to avoid objects and find food in the dark. Second, its never a good idea to ignore it when vast numbers of a group of animals starts dropping dead for no apparent reason. Are we susceptible? Our livestock? Our pets? Third, many bats are important for plant propagation as either pollinators (generally in climes warmer than the NE USA) and for seed dispersal by fruit eaters. Fourth, many bats eat mosquitos  and can eat a prodigious (elitist) number of mosquitos at that (on the order of 1000 mosquitos/hour/bat). Now a colony of bats is not going to effectively reduce the mosquito population enough to reduce human suffering (ie bites), but when you live in Minnesota every mosquito that dies is somehow reassuring.

Back to the first question, "What's going on?" Well the answer to this question is disheartening because we don't know. However, we know some things. First, we know there is a fungus growing around the nasal cavities of many afflicted bats. This means......not much sadly. This fungus could be a normal part of the flora (elitist) that lives in low numbers on the skin of bats normally, also known as a commensal. In this case, the large large amount of fungus observed to be growing around the nose could reflect some underlying immune dysfunction due to toxins, other pathogens, etc. In this case the fungus is not the cause of disease but a symptom. (A runny nose does not cause a cold, it is simply a symptom of a cold.) Second, we know the bats' hibernation patterns are screwed up, they wake up early or do not wake up.

Alright this is really old news (Spring 08), why post about this now? Well, the Oct. 30th  Science Express has a paper from Blehert DS, Hicks AC, and colleagues describing the identification of the fungus associated with white-nose syndrome. In short, the fungus is a member of the Geomyces family, a cold loving (psychrophilic) family of fungi related to baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). Now the fact that a cold loving fungus is infecting bats in cold environments (bat caves in NE USA in the winter hover around 4°C) is interesting. However, is this fungus the cause of white-nose syndrome or an effect? Ok, it is THE cause of white-nose syndrome, since white-nose syndrome is the growth of fungus around the nose. The question is, is the problem with bats leading to white-nose syndrome or is white-nose syndrome the problem with bats? We still don't know. However, the authors, correctly Ill add, remind us that fungi (chytrids in this case) have devasted frog populations. So this is an important step forward. Now that we know what we are dealing with, we can ask if the fungus is causing disease or not. Geomyces species have caused disease in people and other mammals so it is not implausible however it is early to give a definitive response.


Why to we go to war? Hopefully there is a rational and moral reason for it.

and while we, as a people, may debate whether the sacrifices that come with war are a price worth paying, I think at the end of the day the consensus at least agrees there is a rational for going to war.

Regardless of whether you believe the reasons are right, there are sacrifices. Sadly, for the last seven years we have been at war (I would argue for the right reasons) without being asked to sacrifice anything other than our soldiers and our soldiers families. Even worse, for the last five years we have been at war (I would argue for all the wrong reasons) without being asked to sacrifice anything other than our soldiers and our soldiers families and "our" ability to successfully complete the first war.

The bodies returning home to be buried or irreparably damaged are true sacrifices we can see and relate to. There are more long term sacrifices being made that we essentially never consider.

So is the invasion of Iraq for no other rational than Saddam was a bad guy (no argument) and the neocons desperately wanted it worth this? In 20 years, are we going to be able to sleep peacefully with the rationales we give this and many other children for why their lives were fundamentally disrupted? Maybe if our forces were committed to destroying those responsible for 9/11, I could sleep ok. It sucks but I expect in 20 years these children could understand that their sacrifice (because that is what it is and they do not have a choice) was worth it. But Iraq? I very much doubt that most of these children will understand and agree with the sacrifices that were made and I wouldn't be surprised if many in that generation gives us a big

The speeches

Well its over and Im mostly happy. Maybe ecstatic is a better word. No I do not think I am kidding myself with what Obama can get done in the next four years. I am mostly happy in that I believe this presidential election, while being about many things, was primarily a national referendum on the course of our country. The choices being continuing down the road towards anti-intellectualism increased theocracy and intolerance or changing course and embracing rationalism and secular principles to promote the rights of all Americans.

First John McCain's concession speech:

This is the John McCain I remember. This is the John McCain I disagree with on many policies, but have the utmost respect for. This is the John McCain who I will argue cares more about his country than himself. This is the John McCain who, I feel, abandoned his principles and took on the rethuglican playbook written by Rove during much of this election. This is the McCain that Bush and company tried to smear by suggesting his adopted child was due to a wartime dalliance. I guess since this approach worked for Bush, McCain was convinced it would work for him when a straight approach wouldn't. This is why negativity was the highlight. I am not suggesting negative ads are improper, but there are lines. Attacking a policy position and putting it in a bad light is stock and trade in an election. Ads stating your opponent wants comprehensive sex education for kindergarteners is evil. Divisiveness "Real America" "Pro-America" etc, is not uncommon in an election, but it is draining and depressing to see the level we can be reduced to. Of all the speeches I do not recall hearing catcalls from the audience of Obama's supporters, scratch that I do remember a number of boos at one televised speech and Obama immediately saying something to the effect of 'we don't need that, we need to vote.' I will also give credit to McCain when he immediately shut down the woman stating her distrust of Obama because he was Muslim. But the rift caused by the tone of the McCain/Palin campaign will be difficult to heal. We elected a president with an immediate African lineage, however racism is strong and ugly and I believe the tone from the republican campaign fueled those fires. I understand the disappointment of McCain supporters, but the boos during McCain's speech were saddening.

Second Barak Obama's acceptance speech:

Saying that Obama gave an excellent speech is redundant at this point. However, for me, this was the highlight:

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight's about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing: Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons -- because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America -- the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that "We Shall Overcome." Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination.

And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.

Yes we can.

Yes we did, but now the real work begins. The solutions to our problems are not solved by an election, are not solved by one man, are not solved by one party. We have taken one step in a long trip, but damn this was one nice step!

Civic Pride

Now all you others go vote too. If you need incentive Starbucks is giving out free coffee. Ben and Jerry's is giving out free ice cream (during limited hours).

Atheist Talk radio this Sunday

Listen in to Atheist Talk this Sunday November 2nd 9AM Central time on AM 950 KTNF, Air America. Several of my colleagues will be on, including Sehoya Cotner and Randy Moore.

The show is also streamed live online at:

Call in or email questions during the show at 952-946-6205 or

Dear Senator Obama,

Thank you for all your hard work through both the general election and previously through the democratic primary. I find myself well in line with the democratic party and I strongly support you and your nomination for president of the United States of America. I cannot begin to fathom the personal sacrifices you have made for myself and other American citizens in your attempt to serve as the potential president of the United States of America.

Without question I am a supporter of Barak Obama and his platform for presidency. I am a scientist, an atheist, and most importantly a devoted family man (as I believe you are sir). My son turned 6 on October 22nd, at the next election my son will be 10 years old. My son has just entered kindergarten and has begun to learn to read on his own! (I have been reading to him since he was born, including times when I was away for meetings or NIH study sections, so obviously this gives me profound joy and I will note that he has heard all the Harry Potter books (albeit with verbal editing.)) In the next 4 years, my son will mature under different circumstances than I did. Speaking to a father, I realize a 10 year old will not represent the end product of adulthood. His ideas, and ideologies, may change profoundly. He may find himself a Republican as an adult. The only thing I wish to bestow upon my son (and your daughters Senator Obama) is a sense of rationality to allow him (and yours) to prosper and thrive in whatever future society we have. I know there are some who believe the world will end either physically or spiritually in the near future. These are NOT the people I want "leading" the nation. I want what you, Senator Obama, appear to represent. I want someone who embraces the future, no matter what the short term problems are. I am happy to cancel cable, my parking space, and internet for my son's future. I would rather have the benefits my parents and grandparents knew, but our political predecessors have taken that token off the playing field. Senator Obama, please help give my son a future that has a dependable energy source, does not treat "others" as other, that respects different viewpoints, and that can except victory and defeat with an equal measure of maturity necessary for a country to thrive in the 21st century. I believe that YOU can help set the tone and policies to take us, and more importantly my son and your daughters, into the 21st century. I donated what I could financially and I will advocate as I am able. If you need a science advisor let me know, although I expect you have that covered.

Upcoming event(s) of interest-one is immediate

Just passing along some information that passed my desk...

Science, Ideology, Religion: Is There Immunity to Ideology in Either Scientific or Religious Consciousness? (Looking from the Russian Perspective): A talk with Natalia A. Pecherskaya

Friday, October 31, 2008
3:00 PM - 4:30 PM
125, Nolte Center for Continuing Education
Minneapolis Campus
Free and open to the public!

Natalia Pecherskaya, President of St. Petersburg School of Religion and Philosophy, one of the first non-state, non-church educational institutions in Russia, will discuss the problem of the human being in science and theology.

Sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study and Center for Science, Technology, and Public Policy
For questions contact the Institute for Advanced Study 612-626-5054

Technology Based Economic Development: Minnesota’s New Office of Scienceand Technology

Brown Bag Lunch
November 12th, 12:00-2:00
180, Humphrey Institute
University of Minnesota, West Bank Campus
Free and open to the public

This year, the Minnesota Legislature authorized the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to establish an Office of Science and Technology in order to promote technology-based economic development. States and communities across the country are exploring ways to use technology to fuel business growth. DEED Commissioner Dan McElroy and Betsy Lulfs, Director of the new Office will describe their vision for its work and the opportunities for using science and technology to promote job growth in Minnesota.

This brown bag lunch conversation is sponsored by the Humphrey Institute’s Center for Science, Technology and Public Policy and the University of Minnesota Academic and Corporate Relations Center.

Cafe Scientifique: Electing Science: Science and Public Policy Tuesday

November 18, 2008, 7 p.m.
Bryant-Lake Bowl
$5 - $10; pay what you can at the door

Join former state senator Steve Kelley, director of the Humphrey Institute's Center for Science, Technology, and Public Policy, for a conversation about science and public policy. Kelley will tackle such topics as whether our elected officials are prepared to make smart science policy decisions, how scientific leaders might better communicate their work on issues of public
concern, and the future of science in America.

The Bell Museum's Café Scientifique is a happy hour exchange of ideas about science, environment, and popular culture featuring experts from a variety of fields on diverse and often provocative topics.
For more information visit

Ill definitely be at the first and last. Feel free to buy me a tasty malt beverage at the latter if you come (at least if you found out about it from my blog).

Palin loves science....NOT

A week late, but OMFG!!!!

Please can we NOT elect a person who wraps herself in the fur of proud ignorance, wears the tiara of stupidity, and walks around in 6 inch least-common-denominator stilettos. "Phroot phalie research" she drawls, the loathing just dripping from her lips. The disdain is overwhelming. She doesn't know what she's talking about but she is damn sure of herself. Another 4 years with someone thinking with their gut, great maybe she can digest with kidney, breath with her brain, and talk out of her ass....oh wait a minute. Of course we'll throw in a nasally drawl (complete with belittling smirk) "in Paris, France!" immediately followed with the "I kid you not." line. I think she meant to say "I kid you not, I am that fucking small minded," but she choked on her vile. Why do the front people for the rethuglican party hate France? Scratch that, they hate all "them," you know because they are not us or not-US, not-USA USA USA.

Anyway, thanks McCain for introducing us to this creationist teachin', environmental change denyin', france hatin', science scarin', end of world anticipatin' governor from Alaska Sarah Paling (figured Ild use one her wasted g's).

Finding my voice

I think about this quite a bit. What should my voice be, how can I most effectively make my point to the two of you reading this post. I have thought about this more as the presidential election rapidly approaches and I think the following comparison helps make my point:

Here we have a rational lucid explanation of what he likes and dislikes. You can disagree with specific aspects of Gen. Powell's arguments, but you cannot blow them off as unthoughtful. Then we have:


You know when I listen to Powell (who I have serious issues with over his involvement in pushing forward the lie Iraq war) it makes me reconsider my use of vulgarities when dealing with people and issues they espouse that I have disagreements with. Maybe I am over the top and excluding those people who are open to meaningful conversation and discussion. Maybe I am excluding the Gen. Powells out there.

But then, I see/hear the hate and lies that come from the far right. Evolution is just a theory. Atheists cause all problems. Floods and fires are caused by the friction of 2 men getting it on. Disagreeing with neo-cons means Im a traitor or am unamerican. I remember all the calls ignorance and exclusion. I see how McCain/Palin is going all division and culture war as the only way to garner votes. Know I remember my voice. I remember what Gen. Powell made me forget.

FUCK YOU! Fuck you Michelle Bachmann, dissent is not unamerican, it is the foundation of americanism, your approach Rep. Bachmann is fascist, and that is unamerican. Fuck you Sarah Palin, Obama's terrorist ties? How about looking at yourself in the mirror, Mrs. I married a member of an Alaskan secessionist party. if you are so all up in arms over Ayers, then why aren't you trying to get him rearrested or taking other legal action against him? Is it because you don't really care about that, you only care about talking points to the lowest common denominator? Fuck you everyone who called Barak Obama a Muslim/made an Obama-Osama association like it actually means something/bitched about flag pins. Yep that's my voice.

When the dregs of society crawl back into the sewer they were lured out of, my voice will change. But for now, I will be crass vulgar and offensive. I will help to pull the pendulum back towards the center. I will cheer when I hear comments and discussions like those presented by Gen. Powell. Even those I fundamentally disagree with, George Will springs to mind, I can respect their positions and cheer at thoughtful discourse. I know many pro-lifers who I can talk to and respect their positions, these are not the ones yelling at women at clinics (those people can also go fuck themselves).

I hope that if Obama is elected, he can do much to start a change in the dialogue. In no way can 20 years of the primacy of divisiveness be corrected by one person. However, he could help set the tone and that would be a start. McCain could not do that, he effectively burnt his "working across the aisle" credit over the last few weeks.

Rodents and Seasonal Changes

It's that time of year when the temperatures are dropping and the field mice are looking to relocate to warmer climes (namely my goddamn house). We found clear evidence of murine activity the other night (mouse shit in place of some dried berries my wife had used in some artwork). So I immediately set up three traps to begin to restore the natural order of things. Well the next morning I check said traps, to prevent surprise discoveries by said wife. Well three traps set, four mice dead! WOOT!....wait a minute, four? Yep (and I should have taken a picture as depraved as that sounds) three mice were dispersed between the three traps, and the fourth apparently stumbling on the carnage in the night suffered a massive heart attack and died on the spot in a manner I imagine went something like this....

Mouse 1 Ill go over here and check out that peanut butter smell
Mouse 2 Sounds good Ill head over here to the left and check out this other peanut butter smell
Mouse 3 Thinking to self "Noobs," Sounds like a plan, Ill be over by this other wall by myself. Eating all this other peanut butter without having to share with you tools.

off camera SNAP! SNAP! SNAP!

Mouse 4 Whistling a happy mouse tune. Hey Bertie? You out here Gertie? Is that you Joe? Guys aren't moving too much. Hey, are you guys skarfing all the food?!?! Guys? guys?? Oh god Bertie!!! Joe, come here! Gertie is dead oh hell she's DEAD! Joe hurry! Bertie quit sitting there like an IDiot! Bertie? Oh sweet cheese factory. BERTIE! No!.... Joe where the hell are....Joe? Not Joe tooooo urk....

And scene

OR maybe two mice were eating peanut butter from a trap when it sprung, one got caught and the other got smacked on the head by the trap when it sprung. That would explain thetwo dead mice and explains the blood from mouse number 4. Nah, I like the idea expressed in mousterpiece theater better.

Time to set more traps....

My Spawn Completes Another Solar Revolution

Happy Birthday Big Guy!

Innovation 2008

Innovation 2008: Renewing America Through Smarter Science & Technology Policy starts today....I made the first session and the second is about to start (Renewing STEM Education). It is being prodcast online (although Im not sure if you have to register).

Innovation 2008

Obama on science

Last year a movement started to push for a debate on science and technology policy. Since that time, we have gone through both republican and democratic primaries yielding John McCain and Barrck Obama as our candidates for the next election. We have also been immersed with issues of faith and god throughout the primaries and most recently for the general election at Saddlebrook in a "debate" run by Rick Warren.

I realize how important it is to many people in this country that our elected leaders have the appropriate belief in magical beings, Jesus walking on water and born of a virgin (no rape on god's part involved of course): REQUIRED; Tooth fairy takes baby tooth from under pillow and replaces it with inflation adjusted coinage (25 cents in the 1970's): UNACCEPTABLE. However, for a minority of us, we want to know how the candidates will approach real life issues with real life policies. Are they in favor of the Roe v Wade decision and how will they approach this issue? How and/or will they take any steps to avoid disasters like Katrina? What I find ironic is that it seems a segment of our society thinks continuous prayer and/or discriminating gays is one good way to prevent Katrina; however, prayer and gay discrimination isnt sufficient to reverse roe v. Wade, for that we need supreme court judges with an agenda.

Anyway, my candidate has responded to the 14 science and technology policy questions submitted to both candidates. Senator McCain has also stated that responses will be submitted. (Always going second, like at Saddleback, does give one an advantage although it begins to look weak). Read through the responses and see what you think.

Science Education in Minnesota: How Ugly is it?

Yesterday came the the press release from the Minnesota Department of Education discussing the recent New Science Assessment. The test was given to 5th graders, 8th graders, and high school students and the results for proficiency (across the state) were 39%, 38%, and 43% respectively. In other words, 6 out of 10 students did not meet the standard. Students were grouped as either DOES NOT MEET STANDARD, PARTIALLY MEETS STANDARD, MEETS STANDARD, or EXCEEDS STANDARD. To me I reclassify them as F, D, C, A respectively. So what does this mean and is it important?

Well damned if I know what it truly means or if it is important in any definitive sense but I have some thoughts that may be relevant.

First, a quick look at the Star Tribune article particularly the comments provides some insights. First, we have the comments of the nature "Since these tests have no effect on the test taker they are invalid." I see, so I expect individuals with these thoughts hate No Child Left Behind and punishments being handed down for poor school performance. I mean the math and reading tests do not impact the test taker directly either. Maybe, just maybe, students aren't lazy fucking pukes like the assholes writing these comments....unless of course these idiots reproduced and their kids are taking the tests.

Second, we have the people who have a political objection with science they don't like (kinda like our president (and republican candidate)). "Global warming and high standards - two myths we can live better without" See if you don't believe in global warming, then if a test has a question on global warming, the entire test is invalid. It doesn't matter what was in the standards, and presumably taught. No, it only matters what you personally believe at home watching FOX news and drinking beer (full disclosure Im drinking a beer right now, Surly's Furious, Mmmmm Mmmmmm good). You know if I am given a test in this country and a question reads Who was the son of god? A. Kukla; B. Fran; C. Olly; D. Jesus. I answer D, because I know that is what I was taught (obviously this would be a sunday school test), this is despite the fact I want to write in E. Are you kidding me? as the answer. Note the focus on some specific aspect of the test and then KABOOM everything is invalid.

While this was the first time this specific test was implemented the Trib article notes the following trend in science in Minnesota: 1995 8th graders ranked #2 world-wide behind Singapore (outstanding MINN!!!); 2000 #2 in the country; 2005 # 5 in the country. Nice downward trend there, but of course that just means the tests are invalid because everyone knows We're #1!, We're #1!, We're #1! There said it 3 times it must be true. Doesnt this seem disconcerting, 3 tests over a 10 year period and continual drops in the scores and now we have 60% of our students are not making what "we" consider the minimum?

Hey Lorax! Why was "we" in quotes like that in the previous sentence?
Glad you asked. In fact, by "we" I mean "not me." The minimum achievement in the current K-12 science standards were implemented under the auspices of Cheri Yecke. Cheri Yecke who came from the Dept. of Education in VA serving under George Allen (R) and Jim Gilmore (R), by way of the edukashun president for a year, before landing in our laps thanks to Tim "wishes to sit on Bush's lap in the Rose Garden" Pawlenty. Yecke left in 2005 (after being booted by the legislature) to fuck up schools in Florida and has since become the Dean of Graduate Programs of Harding University.

Based on that pedigree and a little knowledge, you may think to yourself, I bet she wasn't to keen on evolution. You'ld be right!
Under Yecke's watch our current science standards were developed and finalized. During that process, a number of educators and other citizens work diligently to integrate the needs of students in Minnesota with the basic sciences using National documents, other state documents, and a variety of professional resources all of which were developed by experts with tremendous amounts of experience elitists. These individuals spent many hours away from home work and family without recompense to develop these standards. Once drafted they are sent out for public review, HOWEVER Yecke and company decided to "spell check" the document, and by spell check I mean diminish any reference to evolution without the committee's knowledge. (Got to love to honest approach to life this type of evangelical christian has.) This led to a blow up from the committee and the document was restored. However, the damage was done. We are currently involved in redoing the Minnesota science standards and I am fortunate/cursed enough to be able to serve on that committee. However, all committee members had to agree before hand that we would include the following in the standards: "The student will be able to explain how scientific and technological innovations as well as new evidence can challenge portions of or entire accepted theories and models including but not limited to cell theory, atomic theory, theory of evolution, plate tectonic theory, germ theory of disease and big bang theory." The first part of this was inserted by creationists people with concerns who wanted to ensure evolutionary theory was in some way disparaged. Now the first part of this is true, no question, and it is taught as an integral part of the nature of science. However, it was not included as a mandate to make sure science standards were developed well, simply this was like the stickers on textbooks and statements read in classrooms, an attempt to force a specific biblical story into the classroom as fact. Now the second part of that phrase was the attempt of non-idiots to make sure it was apparent to thus of us who follow that the first part is ridiculous. The truth of the first part is that it is true for every single aspect and theory of science, evolution is not special in this way.

At the end of the day the current standards are pretty good, but there are clear places where someone's personal opinion got forced in. I actually expect this was from a committee member. However, once the floodgates of personal preference almost got rammed in by people not even working on the document, it seems like a natural consequence.

So for the last 8 years we've been teaching our students science using standards that were developed in a sub-optimal setting with what seems to be a far bit of outside malice. But our students did not do well on the science test? I don't get it.

Finally, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Accountability for schools to make sure they in fact are educating our students. Sounds like a great idea to me (barring the fact that it was developed in large part by those who prefer indoctrination over education). However, maybe we could think about this a little, you know like more than 6 months in advance. First, we want our students to know how to read and do some math (not too much math or election debates might become more difficult). Now if students don't do well in those areas the schools could lose funding....Hmmm, what do you do if you run a school? Is this too hard to see? I have been told by K-12 teachers that administrators have said point-blank social studies and science is gravy if you get to it great but focus on math and reading. Math and reading are essential, but so are science and social studies for different reasons. Not everyone needs a degree in science, but don't call into Rush Limbaugh's show if you don't really know what the fuck an embryo or a stem cell is. Don't worry about someone's position on evolution/intelligent design if you use the C14 is a poor indicator of fossil age argument. Dont complain about the price of gas when you drop $20 on dietary supplements because Oprah thought it was a good idea. If you don't want to have any critical thinking skills, fine but don't be surprised that there were no weapons of mass destruction and that your non-vaccinated autistic kid gets the measles. By the way, speaking of critical thinking my point about what teachers have told me is strictly anecdotal, I could have made that up, like a cross in the sand. Of course, you could simply assume I did and discount my entire argument or you could go talk to a number of teachers in different schools and see what they say.

Ill leave you with this. Don Pascoe the assessment director of Osseo schools say this "Minnesotans are smart. They're going to see the disconnect between the standards set here and things like our ACT scores. There will be an initial bad reaction to the scores, but I think it'll soften quickly when people recognize how high the targets really are." Well is one sense Mr Pascoe is right, Minnesota was the 4th highest ranked state in 2007 for the ACT, but in another sense he's full of shit since only 38% of the Minnesota students taking the test scored as college ready in science (biology specifically, which all students take). Hmm, 38% ready for college, that's in line with the state test scores and kind of contradicts the idea thrown around about how high the science standards are. To contrast, Illinois which ranked 40th in state rankings, had 25% college science readiness. Big difference in college readiness, but every student in Illinois takes the ACT and only those considering going to college take the ACT in Minnesota, so we are dealing with a selected population and expect our scores to be much higher (in fact it looks like they should be much much higher, but they aren't). Anyway, Im sure Mr. Pascoe isnt biased in his opinion I mean Osseo schools scored as 32.4%, 31.9%, and 42.5% at the 5th, 8th, and high school levels, hmm, maybe Minnesotans are smart, but is this guy from here?

Why Im an Atheist, part XVI

So I should be a XXX, YYY, ZZZ, or any other major religion why again? Because it looks to me like individuals are essentially indoctrinated into whatever religious culture is en vogue. Am I wrong here?
I guess more importantly, for those of you who are in the predominant faith of your region (catholicism/protestantism or sunni/shia reflect opposite sides of the same coin in my opinion), why are you what you are as opposed to Buddhist (or Protestant if you happen to be Buddhist)?

If you changed mindset, why? Did this happen without being exposed to your current belief system prior to your change?

Suffice it to say, why do you believe what you believe? for example, I believe in science because it pays dividends, case in point: Moon landing, internet, corn, dogs, life expectancy, birth control, antibiotics, etc.

HT sandwalk

Good Books Gone Bad

I have been meaning to comment on Sharon Moalem's Survival of the Sickest for a while now, but I have been stymied by the real world. In short, I think this book is based on a truly interesting premise, but in presentation does a tremendous disservice to said premise. The idea behind this book is that many of the mutations that cause or predispose people to disease are actually beneficial mutations that were selected for in the distant past. One thing I took away from this book is that while I am a definite adaptionist, Dr. Moalem makes me look like a structuralist.

Now the idea that harmful mutations are really beneficial mutations in a different light is not new nor wrong. In fact the hallmark example for this is likely known to everyone reading this. It is sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell anemia is a blood disorder in which the classic concave red blood cell (the cell that transports oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the cells of our bodies) as shown to the left and taken from here, has a sickle shape to the right. Now this shape in and of itself, is not a bad thing. The problem lies in the fact that these oddly shaped cells cannot move through blood vessels effectively, thus depriving tissues of much need oxygen. This causes lots of problems, not the least of which can be demonstrated as a 30 year decline in life expectancy. In case you were wondering, or need a refresher, sickle cell anemia is cause by a point mutation in the DNA (a single nucleotide change) that leads to a single amino acid substitution in the protein sequence of hemoglobin (by the way, most of a red blood cell is composed of hemoglobin). This mutation, causes hemoglobin sub-units to polymerize into fibers, which distorts the red blood cell, leading to its sickle cell shape.

Holy crap Batman! This sounds bad and should be selected against.

Indeed Robin, however, let's look at where this mutation is most often found. Yes boy wonder, Sub-Saharan Africa. Notice that malaria is prevalent in that area as well. What? You're wondering if there is a link? Damn Boy Wonder is you aren't just the cats meow (and by that I mean smart, yet pathetic). Indeed there is a link! You see, human beings who carry the sickle cell mutation (in other words have a normal copy and a mutant copy) or are homozygous for sickle cell (have 2 mutant copies and 0 normal copies) are more resistant to malaria.

Holy defecation Batman, that rocks! But if sickle cell anemia is bad, what the fuck? I mean that doesn't make sense.

Indeed it does Boy Blunder, I mean Wonder (wonder I don't kick his ass out of the Justice League). However, think about this. Malaria will sicken everyone, but kills children in the less than 5 year old range. Whereas, sickle cell anemia, while debilitating tends to kill 40+ year olds. So, if you live in a malarial invested area, its better for you to have the sickle cell mutation survive childhood, be hawt and reproduce, and die at 40 rather than not having the sickle cell mutation and dying in childhood.

Now while the evidence linking malaria/sickle cell anemia is well established, the scenarios described by Dr. Moalem are weaker. There is the  pubonic plague vs. iron overloading, diabetes and ice age (recent ice age not ancient), high cholesterol (which your blogmaster is dealing with) vs. vitamin D, and the list continues. Now I will not dispute any of the potential claims made by Dr. Moalem, but I will remain highly skeptical primarily because Dr. Moalem does a fantastic job writing to the lay public and an atrocious job writing to a scientist. Phrasology (if I can make up a word) such as "in the prestigous journal..." or the fact that nothing in science is understood until some asshat working on a mouse recapitulates what's been known in yeast and plants for decades (epigenetics).  Pounding the Barbara McClintock was relegated to the back burner mythology because MDs couldn't understand the importance of her work, although she worked alongside other seminal molecular biologists such as Salvador Luria and Max Delbruck, not to mention the fact that Dr. McClintock was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1944. Nope. The value of Dr. McClintock's work was not appreciated until mouse geneticists realized she was right.

Suffice it to say the idea behind the book is outstanding and deserves more intellectual consideration. However, the delivery of the book, after the first 1-2 chapters, reads more like any general woo-meister cook book rather than a scientific analysis. Worth it from the Barnes and Noble bargain bin, but only if you get the 10% member discount.  

Fallout over a death threat and apology?

I previously wrote a short post in support of PZ Myers and his over-the-top post on the great cracker hijacking of 2008. Of course missing the point completely (albeit I can be understanding as PZ's hyperbole was intentionally inflammatory), a number of christians™ did what they do best and proceeded to exhort, damn, and otherwise hate on Dr. Myers. This isn't a christian trait by any stretch, get enough people together, offend them in some way, and a few will go all ape-shit in an anonymous fashion. So, the reaction was not unexpected. However, and again this could not be unexpected, Dr. Myers received some extremely threatening responses, including at least one death threat. 
Much to my satisfaction, Dr. Myers instituted a publication policy stating that he reserves the right to post any threatening emails he receives with full identifying information. (Note to self:  delete recent draft of email to Dr. Myers.) So of course, more emails come in and he posts two of them for his vast audience's perusal. Now PZ notes that he simply wanted to advertise these emails and the identifying information that could be found there and that's it. Sad Sad Sad. I will take him at his word and assume he meant what he said, however, I will also assume that he is naive (at best) or delusional (at worst) and I am leaning more towards the latter than the former.  PZ has been blogging since before there was a blogosphere, he's like those early bacterial species generating O2, which eventually increased atmospheric oxygen levels to levels that allowed us respiratory bloggers a niche in which to grow. When you post this kind of "anonymous" information in relation to someone who sent you a threatening email, your computer savvy (and not so savvy) readers will attempt to gather information on the sender. Why? because its a challenge, "what can I learn and post in a comment revealing more information" mindset. You want to know why this psychological perspective exists, look at all the reality shows on the damn tube. People want up close and personal information and many people are willing to go after it.
Now the first email came with readily obvious information, which was immediately problematic for the sender. It came from a email address, and represented an obvious employee's account. The stupid would burn if it wasn't for the fact that people seem to check their brains when the modem light comes on. Alright, so why does this matter? Well the email read (punctuation, grammar, spelling in the original post)...

what I would like to know is how did you even get a job at a collage. when you are obviously a moron. How would you feel if nice folks starting ranting against Fags, and atheist like yourself. well sir, you don't get to blaspheme and walk away from this. You have two choices my fucked up friend, first you can quit your job for the good of the children. Or you can get your brains beat in. I give you till the first of the month, get that resignation in cunt

Call me an idiot, but WOW, strike that FUCKING WOW! Just to be a complete asshole let me try a do over for the sender...

Dear Dr. Myers,
What I would like to know is, how did you even get a job at a college when you are obviously a moron? How would you feel if nice folks started ranting against fags and atheists like yourself? Well sir, you don't get to blaspheme and walk away from this. You have two choices my fucked up friend, first, you can quit your job for the good of the children or second, you can get your brains beat in. I give you until the first of the month to get that resignation in, you cunt!

Now I am not to happy with the corrected version, but damn! Brain cells were flinging themselves out of my ears like rats from a sinking ship while I was typing that. I mean, jesus christ, "...if nice folks starting ranting against Fags..." What the hell is your definition of nice?

Now it turns out numerous individuals contacted 1800flowers and informed the company that an employee's email account was used to send a threatening email. Long story short, said employee got fired.....because the email was sent by her husband! It was sent by Mr. Kroll using Mrs. Kroll's work email account. Now in no way do I believe Mr. Kroll was acting maliciously in using said email account. He is too damn stupid to understand that aspect. Now while many posters in the comments of several blogs have anguished over Mrs. Kroll's firing, I am less forgiving.

Alright, that is the back story. Now we finally get to the purpose of this post. Chuck Kroll issues an apology? (punctuation is correct) You can read the post uninterrupted at that link, I just want to break down several aspects in this long winded apology/diatribe.

Melanie Kroll did not send an email to anyone named Paul. Melanie Kroll did not threaten anyone in an email with death, or as was the case in the email in question, a physical beating.

Does "Paul" get a last name too or is it only catholics?

this email did not come from 1-800-flowers, or anyone connected in anyway shape or form to that company

Connected like being married to said employee and sent while logged into a 1800flowers server? 

The fact is, that this email to the so called professor,

No in actual fact PZ Myers is a professor, not a "so called" professor unlike Mr. Kroll a so called christian. 

was sent by an angry male catholic, who was very upset after reading that some crazed person in a position of responsibility, charged with teaching children biology, had been encouraging people to steal and desecrate the body of CHRIST, which for Catholics is represented by the Eucharist.

Where to start...would it matter if PZ was a firefighter? or taught French? He never encouraged anyone to steal anyone's body and if you think a piece of bread is a human body, can we amplify christ's DNA from it? Also, he never asked anyone to desecrate a piece of bread, he wanted to do it himself..I mean if you can desecrate a piece of bread.

I know this to be true, since I wrote the original email to this so called teacher.

Again with the so called.....sigh

Was the tone of the letter terse, and did I say I would beat his brains in, yes I did.
I wrote this in the same way one does when saying “I’ll beat your ass”, “or kick I’ll kick your butt” or other such niceties used by members of the unpolished masses, such as myself.

Please assclown do not include yourself in the unpolished masses club. Im one and I don't use the term "cunt" lightly. By the way, I can kick a butt and beat an ass and not kill anyone, but if I bash in someone's brain they are effectively fucked.

 I live a thousand miles away from this guy.

Planes asshole, or car....1000 miles/60 miles per hour = less than a days drive.

My anger at what he (Myers) was doing,


and the fact that there seems to be a double standard used by these so called intellectuals such as Paul Myers to attack the religion of millions of Americans, and to encourage others to do so made me see red. 

so called #3. What is the double standard? Only christians are allowed to send death threats?

Upon reflection, and reading many of the comments made, I feel that no matter how mad I was, it did not make it right for me to use the language or tone I used. In fact, I think there would have been many more constructive things I could have done, the angry email was just the simplest way.
And I’m sorry.

Poor start, but Mr Kroll really pulled it out at the finish which seemed ok....what? there's more? But he said sorry, what else is there to say?

There are many folks that read, and biog. at this site who are not religious, perhaps you feel it’s silly, outdated, or superstition, fine. This is your right,

Ok, I dont know why he's going on, this is correct but so freaking obvious my head hurts...what there's more?

 but for people in positions of responsibility and with the power to encourage captive undeveloped minds to attack their neighbors beliefs is just insane, divisive, and maybe even criminal.

Ok I see, only halfwits like yourself are allowed to be assholes. If you have a reliably firing neuron you must tread softly. This must explain why the so called Mr Kroll never sent a death threat to Bill Donohue. By the way, why is it ok for Dr. Myers to believe these rituals are based on silly outdated superstitions, but he should not talk about it on his (personal fucking) blog, whereas the religious can believe any old batshit crazy things they want and indoctrinate undeveloped minds?

I wonder if that university where mr. myers is employed excepts any money from the state?

Of course it does moron...Its the University of Minnesota: Morris. Must have taken too long to look it up or see it on the sidebar of PZ's site or read it in the blogs you are clearly getting your information™ from.

 And I wonder if the good people of this state know that they are paying good, hard earned tax dollars on such a disturbing creature as mr. myers.?

Dr. Myers, its Dr. Myers Mr. Kroll. Let's see Dr. Myers has been interviewed numerous times in the papers, most recently in relation to being expelled from a screening of the movie Expelled, in which he played a role. Since the movie was about how bad it is that creationism intelligent design is being kept out of schools, I expect anyone capable of reading or being read to is able to be aware of Dr. Myers opinions on religion.

 I know for a fact that the University is aware of mr. myers antics, and have disavowed his statements.

So? Your wife seems to have disavowed your actions. What's your point?

I am going to write to mr. Myers and offer him my apologies for using such childish language, and the threatening way in which I presented myself to him. It is my hope that he will forgive me, or hold me accountable. However, I think it is his duty to repair the damage that he and his associates have achieved through their concerted and organized campaign to punish both Melanie Kroll, and 1-800-flowers, who were completely blameless in this matter.

Umm, Mr Kroll? About that apology earlier, I am feeling a little uncomfortable know what? Fuck you. There I said it. No more pansy footing around. Mr Kroll you are a despicable little troll of a man. You know you're despicable, but are fortunate enough to be able to cloak yourself in religion to try and hide that fact from yourself and those around you. 1. Your wife is not completely blameless, she let you have access to her email account. Thus, nullifying your completely blameless hypothesis. If you (Mr. Kroll) had logged her out or even taken the time to check where you were sending this ADMITTEDLY threatening email none of this would have happened. You could have sent the email from another account (try gmail, yahoo, or hotmail for starters) and your wife would have her job. Concerted and organized....paranoid much? Yes, PZ was kidding himself when he posted the information. However, many commentors went to bat for your wife and PZ insisted people stop emailing 1800flowers (of course that ship had sailed). Regardless, its on you asshat. Blaming PZ and those that contacted 1800flowers is like blaming your mother for birthing you. Actually it probably is more her fault since your parents likely indoctrinated you into the hateful self-absorbed puke you are.

However, this whole incident has caused someone who had nothing to do with the email to mr.myers,.a wonderful, sweet person who would never threaten anyone terrible troubles. Great harm has been done to this wonderful lady, without proof or a question asked, you just accuse, and assume.

Liar liar pants on fire! Show me where Dr. Myers accused and assumed that Mkroll sent the email. Was it this? "for one thing, we can't be certain that an innocent's account hasn't been hijacked; for another, we're supposed to be better than that." or this "Please STOP SENDING EMAIL TO THESE INDIVIDUALS. There are too many of you, the over-reaction is excessive, and you are not doing our reputation any favor. See this message for more."

Wow and I thought you liberal folks were supposed to be the open minded ones.

Sweet, nice use of the FOX "liberal" there. By open minded, are you referring to after you bashed in PZ's brains?

It is my hope that since the mystery is now removed, and now that the Identity of the horrible person who dared write such crude things to the mr. myers is known, that the same people who put so much effort into harming Melanie Kroll, will use as much effort to right the wrong that has been done to her.

Right the wrong, right the wrong....hmm, Dear Mrs. Kroll, I know an excellent divorce lawyer...

If there is responsibility, and any seek revenge or if there is a need for consequence, it should fall on me, and me alone.

Duh, ya think? But if you are responsible, why is it Dr. Myers' duty to get your wife's job back? I don't get it.

The email account used to send the email was used by mistake, I sent the email from what I thought was my private account, not the 1-800 email account that was used. I had simply clicked on the link to the professors email in the article.

You forgot so called. Also, your wife almost certainly violated the use policies for the 18o0flowers account. Your toolness simply let the company know that. For the record, I send flowers often to family members and friends across the country, ask me if I would use 1800flowers if some action had not been taken. I think the company is knowledgeable about these issues even if you are not. Bad press is not better than no press, unless you're a creationist.

. It’s somewhat amazing to me, that a guy responding (albeit brutishly) )to
a news article about a crazed professor who was encouraging his students and others to
desecrate the American catholic church, could turn into this orgy of innuendo, and an attack on an innocent, hard working mother of three, and a company that hires many underprivileged people, and single mothers as a matter of policy.

So what is it? A piece of bread, a chunk of human meat, or a frigging building, you are confusing me. Orgy of innuendo? Please. Innocent? She exposes her 3 children to the rantings of an apparent lunatic. Attack? I am sure some assholes sent inflammatory and vile emails in protest, much like yourself Mr. Kroll. But I also expect most were simply informative and if the assholes who sent inflammatory emails did it from their work computers or let someone do it from their work account, I expect their jobs are in jeopardy too.

I want to thank some of the level headed people that have posted here. Some who seem so super smart to me, it’s almost intimating!

Low bar phenomenon

 My sending mr. myers that wrongheaded stupid email was never the fault of Melanie Kroll, or 1800-flowers, or the pope, or Bill DONAHUE, not even the president. It was just my gut reaction to statements made by mr. myers and his disciples.

Approaching a closing apology....?

In closing I still maintain that if mr. myers. Or anyone, who is encouraging people to desecrate the Eucharist, or if he is doing so himself, I would like to beat his brains in, would I? I don’t know.
I’ve never done so before. Though, at that one moment when I was reading his statements..?
I suppose If I caught him doing it, I would try to stop him.

Apology denied!

I wonder if all of you perfectly politically correct folks here, the ones who prefer to stifle any thought, or debate that does not fit into the approved thoughts of the day.
Would find it so interesting, or funny, if mr.myers were attacking the Muslim or Jewish religions, or encouraging others do so?

Hey moron, spend a minute doing some research. Myers attacks any and all religions, christianity turns up most often because of fucks like you, who live and breath right here next door. Groups that insist we give them super extra special consideration in all things.

What many folks don’t know, is that mr. myers seems to have a warm spot for the Islamic religion.

Prove it. Read the post on the Koran, read the post on the father who beat his daughter to death and got away with it and then had the wife killed when she left him.

 We know this from his spirited defense of Islam in the past, he insists Islam differs from other religions.

Prove it.

 It seems that mr.myers can’t even be a good atheist.
His thesis is that, it’s wrong to attack Islamic houses of worship and symbols, because they are poor and minorities. 

Do not confuse a building or ancient monument with a ritz cracker.

At least that is what a reasonable person would gather from mr. myers past statements.

How the hell would you know what a reasonable person would gather? You sent an email threatening someone's life over a cracker. If you would not have acted on it, why the fuck would a reasonable person have sent it?

That Islam is the largest religion in the world is of no matter to this professor.
why is that? Would not Islam be a fair target for mr.myers disgusting
attacks as well? If you believed that the attacks on Catholics are fair, even correct, then why not
other religions that hold that there is a God. Is Islam less wrong about this then Catholicism or Judaism mr. myers?

One syllable summarizes my interpretations of Mr. Kroll. Douche.

My feeling is that mr.myers would never dare attack Muslims, or their beliefs. Even though as an atheist, you think he would. I mean just to be fair. I hate to use a military term here, but my feeling is that Catholics are just easy targets for people like mr. myers.

Get off the cross asshole, people need the wood.

As mr. myers, should know, and most intellectually honest people do know, attacking the Muslim religion or advocating attacks of it’s symbols and traditions would not have resulted in a stupid but boorish email from a “Nutjob whacko, and all-around asshole catholic ” as ole ylooshi here, so eloquently posted above.
It may very well have resulted (if the recent 30 or so year past is any indication) with the good professor hearing the words Allah Akbar shouted into his ear, while not so nice things were happening to him, perhaps things like, being shot in the lobby of a travel agency, being thrown overboard of his cruise ship, or being shot at the airport ticket counter at lax, or maybe being driven over by a student in the college parking lot, could be the bus he rides would have been torn to shreds by a homicide bomber, or even being murdered while riding his bicycle to work, or perhaps he would have been sitting at his office computer, when one the offended folks drove an airplane through his window.

Keep praying Mr. Kroll, maybe your god will answer your prayers. If not it simply means your god was busy smiting some protestants, gays, Iowans, meh pick some place in the news. Or maybe your god doesn't like it when you call someone a cunt, I don't know.

By the way, how does Islam have anything to do with this? You sent a threatening email to PZ Myers, breaking federal and likely several laws protecting us from terrorists and terroristic activity. Are you saying that if Dr. Myers had more posts railing against bombastic asshats who follow Islam, you wouldn't have sent that email? I thought it was a gut reaction after reading a report on a ffaaaaarrrrrr right wing site that prompted you to write it? So now you wrote it because your readings of Pharyngula led you to believe there is an imbalance in the religion bashing and you want that rectified? Please explain.....What? Oh right, douche, I forgot.

Now I ask you, if that’s a fact. am I lying.

Its not a fact and yes you a re a liar. If it were a fact, sadly you would still be a liar. But hey, at least you're consistent.

C. Kroll,
Brookhaven, NY

p.s. it is my prayer that none of these terrible acts that I mentioned above happen to the good professor, or any other American for that matter. Jew, Christen, Muslim, or even atheist.

I am sure you pray it, but I expect the thought still gives you a little stiffy.

In support of that bastard Myers

There is a current little war being waged in one little niche of the blogosphere. In one corner we have PZ Myers, who has one of the more popular science/atheist websites on the net at the moment. In the other corner we have Bill Donohue, the president of the self-proclaimed spokes organization for the Catholic Church in America. At issue the eucharist. In a post, Dr. Myers responded to a news item, describing a student who took a wafer/cracker/cookie from a church, instead of worshiping, loving, holy shit EATING it!!! This kid is getting a lot of shit and death threats, because he took a wafer from the church instead of eating it. That bears repeating...

A living breathing human being is hated, reviled, and threatened because he walked out of a building with a small edible piece of cooked flour and water instead of eating it.

Now I am not Catholic, nor was I raised Catholic. However, the Lutheran and Baptist churches I went to had a similar ceremony, albeit I expect the focus was on the ceremony not the piece of bread as it appears to be for Catholics. Now PZ wrote some inflammatory things (at least inflammatory if you've been brainwashed schooled in the catholic tradition) and asked that his audience help him do some unnamed acts to said cookie wafer. Bill Donohue, speaking for all Catholics took offense at this, again on behalf of all Catholics. This led immediately to a protest to the University of Minnesota to get Dr. Myers fired. For some updates, check here, here and especially here (I love the Xian turn the other cheek love thy neighbor responses in the letters to PZ).

Now my initial response is that PZ crossed a line and should full well have expected the response he received. I agree with him almost to the letter, but my word choice would have been different. At issue here is whether the student (have we forgotten that PZ's initial post was in response to members of a Catholic church getting up in arms over a student taking a piece of the eucharist from a church, and by up in arms I do mean death threats! fucking death threats!!!). If you want to go through the communion ceremony and feel closer to your god, fine. Good for you. But I the problem lies in those members of that faith who believe that the wafer is actually in fact and in truth the body of Jesus. Ok I know the bible verse Luke 22:19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." (New American Standard edition) So how does this work, in the story of the last supper, I am assuming that the bread, which presumably had been on the table the whole time, didn't disappear only to be replaced with actually parts of Jesus' body in the form of bread. If that is the argument, then did Jesus have a bunch of wounds afterwards from the chunks of flesh that flipped into the breadbasket? or is it a metaphor (assuming it actually happened)? If it was a metaphor, why is the cookie now an actual part of Jesus? I just don't get it....not enough prepubescent guilt/hope brainwashing I guess.

I started out agreeing with PZ, although feeling compassionate for the religious side. Now I agree with PZ and no longer feel compassionate. I mean WHAT THE FUCK?!?!

I believe in the Purple Unicorn of Belize and in the holy ceremonies celebrating and remembering the splendid world which her holy horsey gave us by spilling her blood into the beer steins of those first Octoberfesters. I do dedicate this fine India Pale Ale in her name as the true blood of our Purple Unicorn. If anyone should try to Snarf my beer or take another but not chug it within the ordained 5 minutes, I shall be morally offended and may have to bust a cap in their ass.

Tell me the difference in these stories.....Ill start. 1. Story #1 has been around a bit longer than the one I pulled out of my ass. Your turn.

Oh and thinking of wafers, I couldnt help but leave you with this...

New T-shirt

I was hoping to get a picture of my new T-shirt (a gift from a like minded individual who I will allow to remain anonymous). Sadly, I didn't. I did wear it today proudly as promised. From the public I encountered, I heard 4 positive responses and 0 negative responses, which surprised me. Anyway, below is the shirt and I recommend buying one for all your friends.

By the way, I think many people may be concerned that the T-shirt is insulting. However, I have thought about it and in fact I can not come up with an offensive message from the shirt, unless you believe it nullifies Jesus's accomplishments as a scientist. Enjoy!

On Being a Post-Doc

Over at Highly Allochthonous Dr. Rowan asks a question on the minds of many/most post-doctoral researchers. "How long do I have to do this before I can get a real fucking job?" I posted a rather long rambling answer to this there, but thought I would expand on it here a bit, because it is always timely.

By way of full disclosure, I did one post-doc before getting a faculty position. I also know of and have known dozens of post-docs over my career as an undergrad through the present. However, most of my thoughts originate from my direct experiences as a post-doc. Thus, these will not apply to everyone.

First, when you are completing graduate school and thinking about post-docs, think beyond the post-doc. Where do you want to end up? Do you want to be a research scientist at a tier one research institution or do you want to teach science at a small liberal arts college? Do you want to go into industry? Science writing? The possibilities are endless. However, if you don't have an idea of what you want to do in the long term, stop reading and go figure that out first. By the way, you can take some time after graduate school to figure it out, maybe doing a temporary post-doc in your thesis advisor's lab or a related lab nearby (however, I do not recommend this for more than a few months as the best course of action).

Ok, you know what you want to do. Now you need to find a post-doctoral mentor that can help you reach that goal.

If you want to go primarily into teaching, why would you go to a high powered lab with 5 other post-docs who are at least partially competing with each other to get the next Science/Nature/Cell paper? Not that you couldn't do well there, but what you really need, in addition to research and pubs, is some teaching experience. So find a post-doctoral mentor that will accommodate you being out of the lab to teach a section of undergraduates or a class at a community college. Also, just because you are primarily interested in teaching undergraduates, you may want to, or have to, continue doing some research. How about doing a post-doc in a bacterial or fungal lab? These organisms tend to be easy to handle in a small college setting. The supplies to grow and study them are fairly inexpensive and its possible to get a lot of data in a short time by asking the right questions using undergraduates. Remember you will not be doing this research much yourself, you'll be teaching 2-3 classes a semester. But think of the excitement and passion for science you can generate in your undergraduates by giving them readily doable (and publishable) projects!

If you want to go primarily into research (this is my track), then you need to be thinking about the research program you will have as a future PI. Here's a question you must ask when you interview with a potential mentor, "What aspects of the work I do can I take with me for my own lab?" If you don't ask that question in some clear way, you are a fucking moron. You might get lucky regardless, but morons sometimes do. You are striving to establish your own career, while working in someone's lab who is trying to maintain their own career, so this isn't trivial. The answer might be, anything done here, stays here. Isn't it better to know you will likely be directly competing with an established funded filled to capacity lab before you even unpack at your new position? If the answer is like this, find another post-doc with a different answer or plan on doing a second post-doc. You may get an "I expect you to work on this for me, but you can also establish your own projects to take with you." or "Whatever you want to take, take." answer. The permutations are endless, but you need this information! Also, talk to the current and former members of the lab, has the mentor scooped a trainee trying to start their own lab in the past? Its not common but it happens (regardless of the answers given above). Remember at the end of the day when an unpleasant surprise greets you, no one in your department, at NIH NSF or the DOE, on the tenure committee is going to give two shits about your "Its not fair!" approach. Its not fair, its sucks, and while I dont like to blame the victim, in most cases I've seen, its due to the victim not doing their homework or blatantly ignoring all the warnings.

Alrighty, you've got the perfect post-doc! How do you know when its done? My advice is be thinking about jobs from day 1, because success in getting a job is due to luck as much as skill. What you need to do is try your best to stack the deck in your favor. You will need publications, a strong rapport with your mentor, and contacts outside your current research center (independent funding is also a gigantic plus (a training grant/NRSA is not gigantic since these are primarily given to the mentor)). To be marketable for the research track, you will need at least 3 publications within 2-3 years, more is better and it can easily take a little longer depending on your field. Regardless, now is not the time to be dappling with 4 different projects. Also, to quote myself, publication quality matters more than quantity, but D'uh. Impact (not impact factor) is important, though often overlooked. If you are publishing high quality papers that are essentially in the "more of the same" variety this does not have as much impact as a paper establishing a new approach to study a problem, a new way of thinking about a problem, etc. If you are doing what everyone else is doing (albeit in your specific area) you can not set yourself apart from your competitors. BTW dont kid yourself, it is a competition and you generally don't get to see the competition in action. Obviously you want a strong rapport with your mentor, if you don't have that consider yourself terminally fucked (shouting matches with your mentor can often be an indication of a strong rapport). Finally, outside contacts to write you letters of reference is a great way to set yourself apart. If you can, skip your thesis advisor, its like asking a parent for a letter. Getting your mentor and 2-3 top researchers at top research centers to write letters is like gold. When you go up for tenure (if you are in a tenure-track position), you need outside letters and everyone knows it. If you can show the hiring committees that you are already establishing yourself, you've gained several strides on your competition. Finally, obtaining a post-doc to PI transition award is essentially a free pass to a faculty position (but these are not trivial to get and you shouldn't count on them).

Ok, you have interesting and important pubs, your god-like mentor adores you and departmental chairs across the nation are emailing you for help, now what? Pray and pray often, and dont be choosy about the deities you pray to. This is where it becomes a crap shoot. Again plagiarizing myself the issue is the job market and how your research area/skills fit into the job market. When you apply and go on the job search you need to leave the committees with an idea about what you will bring to the institution. Your specific research area will get you in the door, but how you approach science and think about things will get you an offer. What you cannot control is what research areas will be in demand (actually you can usually determine if an area will likely not be in demand, which can help).

As I said there is a ton of luck involved, although to a large extent you can stack the deck in your favor. I got a faculty position after 2.5 years of post-doc. This was not the norm nor am I some super-star, primarily this was being in the right place at the right time (this is the luck component and why I only got a few interviews). However, I also had a bigger view about my research area than the specific niche I was immersed in or at least I think I did and the projects I was involved with had broad ramifications (the stacking the deck component and why I got offers from every place I interviewed).

So, to all those soon-to-be and current post-docs out there take my opinions with a five pound tablet of salt along with this heart-felt "Good Luck!"