Field of Science

Class dichotomies

Not sure what to make of this. Classes start next week and the two classes I am teaching have online moodle sites. Student access to both sites has been ~10 days ± 5 minutes. To date my senior/graduate level course has 3.3% of students accessing the website; my sophomore level course has 18% of students accessing the website. That's a 6x difference!!! Are my sophomores more motivated than my seniors/graduate students?

Does it matter that the raw data is 1/30 students and 5/28 students respectively?

Why the Marriage Amendment is Asinine

The citizens of Minnesota will be voting on Nov. 6th on whether to amend the state constitution on the issue of gay marriage. I've been holding off on commenting in depth on this issue because I've been busy with other things and because the time until the issue came to a head was big enough that I could put it off. I am well aware of the numerous reasons bigots those who support the amendment make and I think it is time to deal with the reasons. Face it, at this point and time the reasons are not going to change. This is the best they've got.

Now to be clear the amendment reads as follows:

"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?"1
Before we get to the reasons against homosexuals getting married, we should first define marriage. I am not talking about the bumper sticker 'one man, one woman' bullshit, but what we actually think marriage is. This is where I think most of the problems come in.

Marriage is both a religious institution and a legal institution. Unfortunately for many (not all) Christians religious reasons and legal reasons are not the same, in Iran they are, but here not so much. I care little about the religious aspects of marriage because those are not what we are talking about. Let me say that again, the religious definitions or aspects of marriage are not at issue here. What we are talking about are the legal issues, the secular definition and meaning of marriage. If you want to make this about religious marriage then you are either in favor of a theocracy (of your religion's specific flavor) or you received a poor high school education and do not realize that words, like marriage, can have a variety of meanings (in other words language is fluid). I wrote about this religious vs secular issue last year and will not rehash it here. I'll assume you know what I'm talking about and carry on.


OK, so what are the rationales to prevent gay men and women from marrying?
1. Marriage is historically one man one woman.
OK, but history is often (always) not the best. What is the number one reason to study history? It's so we don't repeat it (Just ask George Santayana). But this is a fact based statement. Marriage is historically one man one woman. Is it? Maybe, but based on my reading of history men of means usually supported the multiple-wives version of marriage. I mean look at David or Solomon in the bible. Hell, Muhammed notes that Islamic martyrs will have 70 virgin wives in heaven (Im guessing Muhammed never had sex with a virgin).

Or let's look at how women were (are) treated historically. The dowery was a payment of the brides family to the man who married said woman. The dowery was basically a payment to take this woman off the parents' hands, a way to improve the status of the bride's family. The woman was a piece of property in all sense of the word. In the progressive USA, women could not vote until 1920, which is about the time the entire world was realizing women were not akin to donkeys. So historically, until the early-mid 20th century, marriage was simply passing a woman from the parents to the groom with a few bucks to grease the wheels.


So if we accept that historically marriage was one man, one woman, it was a shit institution from the aspect of women's rights. It was also only one man, one woman from the poor man's perspective.

2. Children need a father and a mother.
This fails at several levels. First, post-menopausal women can get married as can eunuchs and men that have had vasectomies. So child rearing is not, I repeat not, required for marriage. Second, do children require a father and a mother living in the same house sharing the same bed? If so, I know a fair number of marriages that must be dissolved. If it's true that children do better in two parent households, I assume the pro-marriage amendment supporters are in favor of forced adoption of children of single mothers and fathers. Once a divorce is in place, the children are available to any and all one man, one woman households. No? Didn't think so. Do children do best if there is a vagina and a penis as parents or do two vaginas or two penises suffice? Are Mitt Romney's kids worse off because there was basically two vaginas raising them while the penis was off working hard? There is actual data on families and child outcomes. Unfortunately these studies are difficult so it's fairly easy to find data that supports your position2. Overall the data clearly says that stable households are best for children. Even divorced families can raise children successfully as long as the parents work together for the good of the children. Homosexual parents act similarly. (As an aside, remember when Hillary Clinton said 'it takes a village to raise a child'? Remember the blow back from the right wing regarding those words? I wonder how many of people who despised Clinton for stating this fact are now trying to make sure children of gay parents are dispossessed.)

Let's be clear about the repercussions of this amendment. If a 7 year old child of two gay women has one of their moms die (let's say of breast cancer), then the bigoted grandmother of the dead mom could potentially take the child and prevent it from ever seeing the living parent again. Anyone think this could affect the child's development? If there were adoption papers, this probably wouldn't be an issue, but remember this is not even an issue in a heterosexual marriage. What if the bigoted grandmother said the 'spouse' could not visit her wife in the hospital while she lay dying of said breast cancer? I guess it's better to suffer alone than with the one you love. 

3. The marriage amendment is about freedom of religion
Except it's not. You don't want homosexuals being married in your church, don't marry them in your church. That's your right as a religious institution. But your freedom of religion does not give you the right to impede the secular state rights of others. Maybe it's against your religion to allow women to divorce. You know what, if a woman divorces you have the right to kick her out of your church, you do not have the right to force her to stay married to the abusive prick who paid 6 donkeys to her dad. (Trust me, the threat of being thrown out of the church is sufficient for many people to do what they're told.)

It's just like me being able to say 'Fuck Jesus.' You may not like it, you may want to outlaw it, but that's my freedom of speech. It does not impede your ability to believe the Jesus hung around with a bunch of guys and told them to abandon their wives but was not gay. Now if there was a movement to force churches to conduct gay marriages if said churches did not want to, I will write a blog post about the fuckheads who do not understand that churches do not have to conduct marriages of homosexuals. Except that isn't happening, we're talking about marriage from a legal standpoint and the rights conferred upon the spouse concomitant with marriage. I didn't get married in a church or by the clergy, but Newt Gingrich did, all 3 times. Who's marriage is more real or legal?

4. Homosexual marriage is unnatural.
From here
As stated by someone who knows jackshit about biology. What is natural? Because there are numerous examples of homosexuality in the animal kingdom (and don't even get me started on fungi or plants). Did you know that bacteria exchange DNA between members of different species and even phyla? It's even worse than a person getting it on with an oak tree, but it's totally natural. Almost all animals (our closest relatives) do not exist in monogamous relationships. (Factual aside: almost no humans exist in monogamous relationships.)

5. Slippery slope
I dealt with this previously, but suffice it to say that there is the issue of consent. Children, non-human animals, and plants can not consent. Therefore they can't marry an adult. Therefore, this is a non-issue. A red herring if you will.
6. The bible says....
First, it doesn't matter. Not everyone in this country believes like you do. I'm sorry that bothers you, but I can live with you believing bullshit, and until you destroy the constitution and replace it with your version of a holy book you have to live with the fact that not everyone agrees with you (and even if they did, you have to leave room for a hypothetical person to disagree with you).

Second, what does the bible say? Tell me book, chapter, and verse what the bible says? Really, I hear this biblical justification often, but I have a bible and studied it for quite some time, I don't see a biblical definition of marriage. Here, maybe Betty Bowers can give you some help.

Third, I, and none of the other 300+ million citizens of the United States of America have to follow your religion. It's right there in the first amendment, you might have missed it on your way to the second. So, until you establish a 12th century theocracy, you'll have to accept the fact that other people can believe differently than you.  
7. It will destroy the institution of marriage 
How? I've seen this argument, but never a defense of it. Did two guys in Des Moines ruin Newt's second marriage or was that the younger hottie Callista, nah must have been gay guys. Will the divorce rate increase significantly in this country over the ~46% it currently stands at. (Divorce really increased in the 70s when women actually became able to take of themselves. It has been going down since 1980 probably because all people are more empowered to make their own decisions without religious white guys telling everyone what to do.)

Finale (that's French for the last section):


So, I'm happy to entertain other reasons to vote YES on an amendment to make something that is already not legal, still not legal. Please leave those rationales in the comments, but until I see one, I'll assume those voting YES are either small minded bigots or people who find guys doing it (but not women based on most issues of Penthouse) icky.
Totally gross
Totally awesome3
1wording from here
2Bullshit study
3For some reason our society is really hung up on the left picture, but can't seem to get enough of the right picture.

A Curious Night

I was too young to appreciate (or be aware of) the moon landings. After that was the space shuttle generation. I can appreciate the space shuttle, but when all is said and done, and it is, the space shuttle was a glorified jet. The missions, while impressive, were not the kind to stimulate and invigorate a young mind. Probably the greatest accomplishment of the shuttle was repairing Hubble. Now the Hubble telescope is impressive, the pictures and information about the universe is without peer and rival the awe that is leaving the city for the first time to see the stars without the light pollution.

NASA / JPL-CALTECH
But really, there have been no space missions in the last 40 years to rival that which really begins tonight. Tonight at 12:30AM my time, Curiosity (hopefully) lands on Mars. Obviously, we've already landed two robots on Mars, Spirit and Opportunity, which were themselves massive successes. So, what's all the hubbub? Well, to me Spirit and Opportunity make Curiosity that much more exciting. These robots did so well and exceeded all expectations that it's hard to not to have huge expectations for Curiosity....



Little Green Man © Rex
The biggest selling point of Curiosity is its ability to test for evidence of life. We have already been tempted with the possibility of life having occurred on Mars, although this has not held up. (And no, I'm not talking about little green men.) But Curiosity can directly test for evidence. Will it be definitive? Possibly, but probably not. But the point, for me at least, is that this mission could provide strong evidence that we are not unique, the life is not some specific characteristic of an oddball world near the edge of yet another galaxy in the universe. If we find evidence of life here in our own solar system, then this tells us something profound about the propensity of life. It tells us something profound about our own place in the universe. It teaches us something profound about humility, a lesson many on this planet need to learn. Of course, Curiosity may not find evidence of life, but Curiosity will tell us much about Mars (and thus about ourselves and our planet).

I do not know what tomorrow holds for us, but I do know I'll be awake early tomorrow waiting with bated breath to see if Curiosity survives the seven minutes of terror. 

On Voice: My Defense

It seems that many people creationists are often put off by the use of language that may be deemed socially inappropriate. I noticed this when dealing with Cornelius Hunter and now I had anonymous (the most popular commenter on blogs) note that:
You're an associate professor and find it necessary to load up your argument with all kinds of expletives and mocking, defamatory comments?
So why do I resort to using expletives and mockery?
Thanks Prof. Bacteriality

Opinion piece uses 14th century ideas as a counterpoint

The last day of July 2012 went out with a fizzle in the Twin Cities. This is the day the Star Tribune, arguably the paper of note in the 20th largest population area in the USA, published a counterpoint piece in the Op/Ed section. The initial article described how a creationist learned about the scientific evidence of evolution and came to change his opinion. It's a quite personal account that does a great job personifying the issue. The article yesterday by Ross S. Olson (not to be confused with less ignorant Ross Olson's) is a supposed counterpoint to Peter M. Leschak's initial article.

Olson starts with the premise that he went from being a creationist to a supporter of evolution back to being a creationist. 
Peter Leschak described his change from belief in biblical creation to evolution. I went through that transformation, too. But later I went beyond it -- back to young Earth creation, backed up by scientific evidence.
Note the 'backed up by scientific evidence.' We'll deal with that, but first Olson seems to have gone from being a supporter of evolution to young earth creationist when he read "The Creation of Life" by A.E. Wilder-Smith (published 1970). Wilder-Smith argued that the order seen in life requires intelligence to arise.
"The Creation of Life," which showed clearly that order of the kind seen in life does not arise spontaneously by natural law and requires an intelligent intervention.
Three Stooges Rock Formation
Ripples in underwater sand

Obviously order can not occur naturally and interesting and inspiring rock formations were carved by Hephaestus and underwater sand ripples were put there by Poseidon.

Why was I never shown this evidence before? I began to read widely.
Because a book is not evidence, although it can contain evidence. By widely read, I assume you mean Genesis Chapters 1 and 2 with additional Christian literature, but no scientific journals.
We recognize an arrowhead as a product of intelligent manipulation -- even though it is theoretically possible that erosion might form one. A living cell is as complex as a city; the human brain is as complex as the Internet; no natural process produces things like the Encyclopedia Britannica. In fact, time and chance degrade information.
Ftz expression in Drosophila
I think Olson is trying to use Paley's discounted watchmaker analogy without actually saying so. Basically if Olson doesn't understand how something arises, ergo god. If we kick up the sand ripples or smooth them out, does Olson think angels descend from heaven to pile them up into beautiful patterns? Does Olson think the Archangel Michael creates the pattern of gene expression observed in a fruit fly maggot?

Then comes the warblegarblefarble. How is a cell complex like a city? Do bacteria have wifi or is that only eukaryotes? In what way is the human brain like the internet and what does that make a squirrel's brain like? Obviously no natural process could produce something like an encyclopedia. I mean only humans, which are totally fucking unnatural, could have done such a thing (It's life Jim, but not as we know it.)
The mathematical odds of forming, by chance, a single protein molecule from its component parts can be shown to be so unlikely that it could not have happened anywhere in the known universe in 30 billion years. Much less could it be combined with the hundreds of other components to form the simplest possible living cell.
Been there, done that. The nice thing about creationists is that the arguments never change, once you write a response, you can simply link back when the next idiot shows up.
Similarity of form does not prove common ancestry. It can also mean common design. (Young Earth creationists believe that the original Genesis kinds were intrinsically capable of great diversification, something we have seen with the breeds of dogs -- who remain dogs, nonetheless.) And fundamentally, fossils require rapid burial. Closed clams, seen all over the world, were covered before they could open in death.
Similarity of form could indicate common descent or common design I suppose. However, we have a lot more information than that. First, the similarity of our protein sequences demonstrates common descent. The amino acid sequences of our proteins are essentially identical to our nearest relatives the chimpanzees, which are more similar when compared to a mouse, which are more similar when compared to a frog, which are more similar when compared to baker's yeast. Same for our nucleotide sequences. Second, the order of our genes on the chromosome is essentially the same as the chimpanzee. This is not necessary to 'design' a human or a chimpanzee and strongly demonstrates common descent. Indeed the order of genes is similar in a mouse, which is more similar than the order in a frog, and not similar to baker's yeast. These facts support descent not design. (Importantly, descent was hypothesized long before we knew anything about DNA, genomes, or protein structure). Third, within our genomes are the remnants of dead viruses. Many of these dead viruses are found in the exact same positions in the genomes of our nearest relatives (primates). This demonstrates either common descent or design by a capricious and evil little shit of a god.

Olson the pediatrician then tells us that all of geology and physics is wrong. This means that the methods used by oil companies to find new deposits is wrong because it's based on science that disagrees with his interpretation of the bible. One thing I want to note:
Recently the project called RATE has shown that rocks contain too much helium to be millions of years old and also there is measurable carbon 14 in all fossils, oil, coal and even diamonds when it ought to be totally gone, implying a young and similar age for all those materials.
It is true that there is carbon 14 in things like coal. Since carbon-14 has a half-life of 5730 years, it should be gone after several tens of thousands of years. Olson therefore concludes that these deposits cannot be millions of years old. Most carbon-14 we think of comes from neutrinos smashing into nitrogen in the atmosphere. However, that's not the only place it comes from. The radioactive decay of uranium-thorium in rock generates carbon-14. Microbes, which will contain some amount of carbon-14, can and will contaminate the deposits as they are mined. Of course, we won't mention those well known sources of carbon-14 in the editorial. Olson also ignores all the really long lived isotopes, like potassium-argon, that demonstrate an old earth. 
Evidence of coexistence of humans and dinosaurs is vigorously opposed by the evolutionary establishment but is actually quite convincing. Human and dinosaur tracks have been found in the same strata and have been uncovered on film to prove that they were not manufactured.
Really? Human and dinosaur tracks? We doing that one again? I'm surprised that human fossils have not been found in the same strata as dinosaurs then. Why no bunnies in the precambrian? 
Recently a T Rex bone was found that contained blood vessels, cells and collagen fibers in the marrow cavity. Rather than admit that this specimen could not be 65 million years old, the response was to claim that we need to rethink how soft tissue is preserved for long ages. In a demonstration of the incredible power of professional peer pressure, the discoverer, a self proclaimed evangelical Christian, claimed that young Earth creationists were "hijacking" her data.
This is probably the paper he's referring to. Note Olson's approach, when we get new data, we do not think about it. It's funny because the 'widely read' Olson doesn't need to think about information like genome similarities, the fossil record, biogeography, the entirety of physics, geology, biology,  chemistry, archaeology, and paleontology.

Also note how the conspiracy is everywhere. The lead author capitulated to those evil scientists. And although Olson never comes out and says it, all those biology and physics programs in universities and colleges all over the globe are caught up in a vast conspiracy to hide the truth of young earth creationism. That must be the case because the alternative is that a dimwitted pediatrician is wrong.
But bucking peer pressure, plant geneticist J.C. Sanford, asked, "Can natural selection improve the human genome?" The result is in his book, "Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome."
The conclusion? Natural selection cannot improve the human genome. It cannot even prevent steady deterioration. There are at least 100 new mildly deleterious mutations in each surviving individual with each generation. (The severe defects do not survive.) The overall fitness of the human race is decreasing by about 1 to 2 percent per generation. He concludes that we are headed for extinction as a race and that the human genome cannot yet be a thousand generations old or we would already be extinct.
"Natural selection cannot improve the human genome." Clearly, Sanford, a UMN alum (horticulture) does not understand natural selection. He also doesn't understand sexual reproduction (condolences to his wife if he has one). If he were correct that fitness deteriorates by 1-2%/generation, how come bacteria haven't gone extinct already? or most flowers? or most insects? or almost all animals except the few with long generation times?
This, of course, is contrary to evolution but fits completely with the Biblical account of a perfect creation, spoiled by sin and with a world that will someday -- perhaps very soon -- come to an end.
BWAHAHAHA. If creation was so fucking perfect, how could it be spoiled by sin? Maybe your definition of perfection and mine are not the same. Anyway, thanks Star Tribune for publishing any old horse shit you can find. Next week, please publish an opinion on the use of astrology to make important decisions or homeopathy to cure malaria or how scientology is the one true religion. Dumbasses.