Field of Science

The Impending crisis

"If the *..... convention was meeting in an irrational atmosphere, the reason is clear. During the last few years events themselves had been irrational; politics in America could no longer be wholly sane. Here and there, like flickers of angry light before a thunderstorm, there had been bursts of violence, and although political debate continued, the nearness of violence-the reality of it, the mounting threat that it would monstrously grow and drown out all voices-made the debaters shout more loudly and appeal more directly to emotions that made reasonable debate impossible. Men put special meaning on words and phrases, so that what sounded good to one sounded evil to another, and certain slogans took on their own significance and became portentous, streaming in the heated air like banners against the sunset; and even the voices that called for moderation became immoderate. American politicians **..... could do almost anything on earth except sit down and take a reasoned and dispassionate view of their situation."

Alright, 5 points to the person telling me what this passage is referring to.

This paragraph is from one of the books I am currently reading, and I was struck with how this rings true to our current politics. Maybe this is what politics and discourse is universally. Maybe its an American idiosyncrasy, Im not sure. Regardless, it is not effective or meaningful ways to solve problems or protect citizens. This particular passage comes from Bruce Catton's The Coming Fury and describes the Democratic convention in Charleston SC in 1860. There are ramifications to this kind of rhetoric and discourse. In this case, it resulted in 620,000 American lives lost directly and is still the deadliest war in relation to US deaths.

Now despite the whining of a Texas governor, there is no obvious secession or splitting the union along state lines. However, the rhetoric regarding fundamentalist christianity is getting louder and louder. Major "news" outlets espouse the idea that we are a Christian nation in a way that is more than numerical. The military is allowing (by a lack of enforcement) evangelicals to force religion on all troops. The peer pressure and abuse that non-christian kids and adults face is pervasive, but if someone requests that a baby jesus not be on the steps of a state capital building or prayer not be forced upon public school children, its the fucking apocalypse.

Today our debates are centralized around who is more godly, who gets the most oil doused upon them (but not in a running around with my mistress lube kind-of-oil), who may be an atheist (even if they aren't). And if you don't cowtow to overt fundamentalism, you may be fired. But Christians are the persecuted minority and maybe they are sick of it. The most extreme fundamentalists have essentially taken over the Republican party and makes up most of the Tea Bag movement (LOL, I can't tell you how much I laugh when some slick haired 55 year old overweight white guy proudly proclaims they are a teabagger). Anyway, maybe its time (well past time) to wrest discourse back into the realm of reason before we get to a Terrible Swift Sword.

* ..... replaced Democratic
** ..... replaced 1860

Son of a "science" fair

Well I am 3 for 3 in attending the Creationist Homeschooling Science Fair at the Har Mar Mall in Roseville Minnesota. My first year was an eye opening disheartening experience. My second year was like a dull ache that won't go away.

This year was awesome!

Ok, seeing intellectual child abuse in action is not awesome but other aspects helped offset that.

First, the disclaimers.

1.If you happen to be a homeschooler and disagree with the hole I am about to tear the parents of these children, I want to highlight that this was the Creationist Homeschooling Science Fair, not the Homeschooling Science Fair. See that little word creationist means something and it means something important. I wouldn't mention it because its obvious, but clearly some people have a problem with this as seen here.

2. This is not an attack on the children. These parents and the organizations that front them (and use many of them) are the problem, the children are victims. When despots surround themselves with children, to prevent attack most people blame the despot when the children are hurt. Unless you're a homeschooling supporter, then you attack anyone who questions you, your methods, or your beliefs as attacks on the poor little children.

Alright, the short assessment is that like any school science fair the projects range from the good, the bad, and the ugly. I feel pretty good about this comparison since I had attended an evil public school science fair the week before. Except for the devil worship the similarities in projects was about the same.

I showed up when the kids were presenting their projects, although I was running late (see below) and decided to come back later and not ask questions about their work. (Plus, I was somewhat uncomfortable talking with these kids dressed in my gym clothes.) However, I made 2 quick assessments as I scanned the posters. By-and-large the posters were put together extremely well and the kids were well dressed and professional looking.

While I do not mean to joke about the posters, because any science fair (bullshit ones like this being no exception) have some truly hilarious attempts at science. My personally favorite was the student who compared gorillas, orangutans, and people by going to one of the local zoos (Como Zoo, it is a beautiful zoo highly recommended, current donations suggested at a measly $3.00) and making lists. Included in the dissimilar category included No writing, No cars, No jobs (Im assuming these are about the non-human apes), and We take care of them. The conclusion was that we are not descended from a related ancestor since the differences outweigh the similarities. Clearly, gorillas in the wild are more closely related to illiterate people in 1930s America. Another great one was the old music affecting plant growth uncontrolled experiment. Needless to say rock inhibited growth whereas classical promoted growth, which begs the question how does classic rock affect plants or christian rock. It would have been helpful to know the presenters musical preference...

Anyway, the awesome part was meeting and having lunch with a number of like minded people. I enjoy meeting new people and this was no exception. Big shout out to George, Tom, Lynn, Greg (or the guy if I screwed up your name), and others. It was a pleasure and I hope to see you all around at other venues. During these conversations I heard that there are essentially no science fairs in the high schools (although there is a state science fair) and that the state fair has posters on display in the education building, which basically come from the creation science fair...I need to look into this more and see if we can do more to promote science in the high schools/state (and we can).

When I went back to the posters after a nice lunch and tasty malt beverage, one of the organizers came up to talk to me. Actually, she seemed to be primarily interested in the notes I was writing down and was talking to me in order to steal glances at my least I hope that's what she was trying to steal glances at. The organizer described the process for selecting the best posters, which I found revealing. Not the process itself, but the way she described it. The presenters are judged on their paper (a written paper on their poster), the set up of their poster, their presentation and QandA, and their bible verse. I pointed out that it was a requirement to have a bible verse, so how could it be "scorable." Not surprisingly, the verse had to be appropriate for the project being done, which makes a superficial amount of sense. So if one poster scores lower does that mean there is a better verse? Is there a 65% verse and an 85% verse, too bad you missed the 100% verse? Are the organizers suggesting that every possible science project is rooted in a single perfect bible verse? Does version/edition of said bible effect scoring?

The organizer then told me about their esteemed judges (not my phrase). These were eminent scientists, and by that I mean not scientists. She told me they had someone who walked on the moon. When I mentioned that only 12 men did, and wondered which one it was she back pedaled to someone who worked for NASA. I buy that, but would point out Im certain NASA has a cafeteria. Said judge, likely not a line worker at the cafeteria, but if the organizers are first going with a moonwalker to be someone involved with NASA at the appropriate time, then its not far to include the cafeteria workers as NASA employees along with the rocket scientists. Another judge invented RAM and ROM (doubtful) and they also had some engineers.

Then it hit me. See the judges are not scientists, at least not formally trained scientists, but engineers and technicians. This is not to disparage engineers and technicians, I am neither and cannot do their jobs. But they are not scientists and cannot do mine. Yes, there are exceptions and yes in some minor way I do do some engineering and engineers do do some science. But its different. Engineers are trying to solve immediate problems using available resources and technologies. Scientists are trying to learn more about the universe, which is often geared towards a problem, but may not solve it. Scientists and engineers have overlapping spheres of expertise and work together frequently, but they are not the same. An anesthesiologist and a brain surgeon have some profound similarities in training and often work together, but I don't want one doing to the job of the other.

And this highlights one of the main problems with society's understanding and expectations of science. Most people seem to view science as engineering. Its a tool to solve some specific problem, its the hammer to cure cancer, its the scalpel of job creation. Its just a tool. Well, in a way I agree. Its a tool, a tool to understand the universe in the most accurate way available. Its not a tool to confirm your particular bias (although it may fortuitously). Science will not confirm that children should be baptized at birth and that those who think baptism should only occur upon adulthood should be burnt at the stake. Nope science will tell you about reality. The problem with tools, is that if you aren't trained and don't know what you're doing, you may cut your fucking hand off. Dont blame science because bats aren't birds, because T rex went extinct millions of years ago, and because people are good who have never heard of your little god.

(I would like to point out that the "son of a science fair" came after the "bride of a science fair," and thus represents the progeny of a wholesome union.)

What I Read (2009)

In reverse order
(Grade A-F, no E's) Title-Author Additional thoughts

B- The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett My least favorite Pratchett to date, but still quite good. Making fun of academicians and evolution all in one fell swoop.

F Lost City of the Jedi by Paul Davids and Hollace Davids Weak, but the boy loves Star Wars

D Star Wars: the Phantom Menace by Henry Gilroy, Rodolfo Damaggio, Al Williamson

B- Under the Dome by Stephen King Pretty compelling story, end was a bit weak, but these kinds of stories are basically impossible to end well IMHO.

F Young Jedi Knights by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta Ugh, Part II

C+ 1421 The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies Thought provoking book, although I think Menzies overstates the case a bit.

D The Mark on the Door by Franklin W. Dixon

B+ Mort by Terry Pratchett :)

C Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rawling A reread for the boy

C+ Law of Nines by Terry Goodkind Love me some Goodkind, took quite awhile before I the tie in with the Sword of Truth series

B- Devices and Desires by K.J. Parker

A Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin Must read science book, ties in the actual doing of science with the knowledge generated

D The Emerald City of Oz by Frank Baum

A- Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett :)x2

A+ God's Problem by Bart D. Ehrman Favorite book of the year!!!

C+ Human Natures by Paul R. Ehrlich

D Footprints Under the Window by Franklin W. Dixon

A Small Gods by Terry Pratchett Funniest Pratchett book to date!!

B The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

B Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead

B- Junk Science by Dan Agin

B+ Hood by Stephen Lawhead A good reworking of Robin Hood.

D While the Clock Ticked by Franklin W. Dixon

B Making Money by Terry Pratchett My first Pratchett....only 3x more to go

C Marlfox by Brian Jacques