Tuesday, October 31, 2006

And it's not even a full moon

The past week has seen two prominent street preachers hitting the campus here at KU. The first was a set of black preachers from Soul Winners Ministry. Each whore a bright red shirt with "No homos in heaven!" written on them in gaudy yellow letters. One preached while the other filmed it.

The preacher was very loathe to answer any questions and instead ranted on any topic he felt like. This didn't make him any fans in the crowd. Ironically, the Gideons crowd was also handing out their little green bibles that day (I haven't collected enough to make my bandolier yet), and many people in the audience threw the bibles at him as well as one spectator who got a carton of eggs (but ended up missing his target every time). The most creative objects getting tossed around were balloons made from condoms when the preacher started ranting about abstinance.

I saw a few members of SOMA there, but they tended to sit back and laugh as opposed to engaging in the egg and bible throwing (although I did hear that the condom balloons were the work of one of our members).

Ironically, when asked what church the team was from, the cameraman replied by saying they weren't from any particular church. I wonder why he decided to lie. Perhaps he was secretly ashamed of how foolish he and his preaching partner were looking? Would this also be why they both took off their homophobic T-shirts before departing?

The crowd finally started dying down as other Christians started protesting his hateful version of God and the war of ideologies was on! But of course, this isn't much fun given that most people had already made their mind up on which version of the fairy tale they want to believe.

I thought those two would be the end of the fun, but on my way to class Monday, none other than my favourite street preacher, Brother Jed was out in front of Wesco Hall. My first question to him referred to this post in which I was wondering if, given that Jed has the same anti-gay stance as religious idealogue Fred Phelps, that if Jed's daughter who is now in military service were to die, if he felt that it would be justified for Phelps to protest her funeral?

Jed dodged the question muttering something that was inaudable, but gave the general impression that he didn't think too kindly of Phelps. This was encouraging at least, to see that extreme right wingers aren't as unified as they pretend to be.

From there, the crowd asked why we were in Iraq in the first place. His response: "To kill the Jihadists" because, according to Jed, Islam is a religion of intolerance and hate. Interestingly enough, when confronted with several passages from the Koran directly contradicting this, Brother Jed refused to admit his error. Not that I expected any less from him.

Next, I pressed Jed to show just how strong his holier-than-thou facade was by recounting his college years in which he engaged in far more "immoral" acts than any atheist I've ever met. I've got to say, even if an astounding hypocrite, Jed is a fanstastic story teller. You could really see him reliving his sexual exploits in the back seat of his father's car at the drive in, as he recounted them, spittle flying from his mouth.

In telling his life story, he also went through his years as a hippie and revealed the event that led him to become a Christian. It happened while he was meditating on a shore in North Africa during the sunset. As the sun set in front of him, he looked over his shoulder and noticed the full moon was rising at the same time.

This he said, could not be the result of random chance. It must be design! I pointed out that it has more to do with basic geometry which he could have learned in an introductory astronomy course, but he brushed this off as well.

This design argument led into his usual argument of how, since his eyeglasses were designed, that implied a designer, and as such, since his eyes were far more complex than his glasses, they too must be designed. Good ole argument from complexity! This led him to decide to read the Bible (athough admittedly, he said he had only skimmed the Old Testament) and accept Jesus as his savior.

In response, I pointed out that if you flip a coin a trillian times, the resulting sequence of heads and tails is ridiculously complex, but was the result of random processes. Thus, complexity in and of itself is a poor argument for design, unless of course, he wanted to argue that the result of a coin flip is not random and that God is actually determining what it should be every time. He mumbled something about coin flips being determined by natural laws which he didn't really know too much about, but it wasn't really important since God made all the laws anyway.

Another question that was posed was, what was his favourite biblical story? With no hesitation, he jumped up, and spittle dribbling onto his chin, he told us of Soddam and Gommorah. He went through the entire story with his usual fervor, giving us quite the show.

But perhaps the best part, was his demonstration of why homosexuality was wrong. And it involved props! From his bumper sticker laden briefcase, Jed pulled out two extention cords, saying that you could only get heat and power one way: by sticking the "male" end into the "female" end. He butted the two male ends together chanting "no no homo" and similarly, with the two female ends, chanting "no no lesbo", claiming that no power could flow this way. I pointed out that as long as the metal parts were touching, power flows just fine, and with the two female ends, it still works, as long as you get a few "accessories". The crowd laughed, realizing that Jed's metaphor was shot. I don't think Jed understood though. Sadly, I think his grasp on electric circuits is as weak as his grasp on basic astronomy.

But his fun with power cords didn't end there! He then extended the analogy claiming that one was Michael Jackson and the other was "a little brown boy" visiting Neverland ranch. Brother Jed seemed to really get into this one with some strange sort of strange fascination as he played with his cords.

Eventually, I had to leave, and I headed off. As I got back to my room, it occured to me that I failed to get a clarification on commandment VI according to Jed on whether or not this applied to gays. I'm pretty sure it does, but I'll just have to ask next time he come around.

Ironically, it was exactly three years ago today that I last saw Jed when I was at MSU. Perhaps he only comes out at this time of year. Coincidence?

I know a few people that took pictures at these events, and I'll see if I can't get them at some point.

Halloween Pareidolia

Today's APOD has a very cute but appropriate bit of pareidolia. Be sure to check it out.

And happy Halloween everyone! My apologies for not blogging much. Aside from school, I spent a great deal of Friday and Saturday making my girlfriend her Halloween costume in time for a party Saturday night. Then Sunday was spent avoiding anything that engage my brain lest it annoy my hangover.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Difficult Dialogues: The Video

Many people recently have been interested in the posts I've made concerning the Difficult Dialogues series that KU has been sponsoring this fall which included Ken Miller, Judge Jones, and most recently, Richard Dawkins.

Firstly, I apologize for being so slow in getting more of my notes up from Dawkins' lecture. It takes 2-3 hours to transcribe each section and that's been more time than I've had recently and, when I do have that much time, I've found it better devoted to doing things that are completely unrelated to academia.

But for those of you that don't want the wait, all of this fall's Difficult Dialouges are available in video format here.

Unfortunately, they're all in Real Player format which is an awful form in my experience.

But if you're really in a hurry, or want to see the video for yourself, there it is. If not, it might be awhile yet before I get all the rest of my notes up from Dawkins.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

IRS steps up Church/State Seperation enforcement

This article is rather encouraging. It describes that the IRS is finally stepping up action on going after tax-exempt churches that use their status to illegally promote political candidates.

This coming on the heels of the start of "Dr." Kent Hovind's trial.

O'Leary puts her foot in her mouth

When Ken Miller was visiting KU, one of the things he said about the trial was that the prosecution didn't feel the need to work too hard to show that ID is really just another form of creationism. They just let the ID crowd do the talking for them.

Over at Uncommon Descent, O'Leary makes it pretty clear that there's a strong religious appeal for ID when she asks, "...what kind of faith would be compatible with an unguided, unplanned process?"

Interestingly enough, she prefaces that with, "What blows me away is how stupid those people think the rest of us are." No Denyse. We don't think you're stupid. Just as the prosecution did in Dover, we'll let your words speak for themselves when you continue to repeat your strawman versiobn of evolution being "an unguided, unplanned process".

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Baby with the bathwater

It's a terribly disgusting thing when a small minority ruins something for the whole.

We see this happening frequently in Christianity, in which people like Phelps and Robertson give the very public image that Christianity is a group of homophobic, uneducated, prosetylizing, zealots.

It's worse when this stupidity from the minority is institutionalized by the government passing Intelligent Design into classrooms, or legislating their morality.

But what really irks me, is when kids get the short end of the stick. I'm all for keeping children safe, but preventing them from playing tag is heniously overboard.

Perhaps in the next few years, we should also require children to wear kneepads while walking between classes?

Word Verification now Enabled

Due to what I expect is the work of some good loving Christians, I've been recieving a great deal of spam in the comments recently. This thing has happened from time to time, peaking every time I've made a post that could possibly be construed as relating to a critisizm of Christianity (which is why I suspect the cause is related).

To hopefully slow this down somewhat, and save me the time from having to delete them, I've enabled thw word verification in which anyone commenting will need to type in a word to verify that they are, in fact, literate humans.

Please don't let this discourage anyone from posting comments as they are always appreciated.

And if you really want to contact me about a job in which I could make $800 a week while sitting on my ass, send it to my Email. Gmail is great at sending that stuff right where I want it: The trash.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Richard Dawkins at KU, Part 1: Evening Lecture

Before I discuss Dawkins or his presentation, let me start by saying that, going into this, I was in no way a fan of Dawkins. I staunchly agreed with Ken Miller that science is silent in the areas of religion and that trying to twist science to comment on religion was an abuse of the powers and limitations of science. I absolutely still hold this position and in no way think that science disproves God. Thus, I was inclined to disagree with many of Dawkins’ underlying principles as I understood them.

So for those intending to read this assuming I am predisposed to support Dawkins as some sort of idol, I will say forthwith that you are sadly mistaken. However, I doubt that this warning will stop those predisposed to making such claims from doing so. After all, Judge Jones’ records and political affiliations have never stopped them from branding him an activist judge. But I have no interest in the opinions of such people as make their opinions in spite of the facts.

As has become usual, I intend to break this summary of Dawkins’ time at KU into several parts. The first, I expect, shall be the summary of his presentation with as little commentary as possible, followed when I have the time, by my summary of the Q&A session from the evening. Next should be a summary of his morning Q&A session, and lastly, my opinions on both.

Dawkins’ talk began with a reference to one of creationists favourite analogies that attempts to disprove evolution. This is, of course, Fred Hoyle’s famous quote about the likelihood of evolving humans randomly is like a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and assembling a 747.

But, he pointed out, this analogy is only used by those who have no clue how evolution really works. In reality, God is the ultimate 747 in that the likelihood of God existing is amazingly improbable.

This tactic of asking loaded questions with pithy catch phrases, he says, is the standard for Creationists. Evolutionists are frequently told to explain “information” or hounded with phrases like “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Yet, despite uninformed critiques, evolution through random mutations and natural selection is the only known theory that actually works.

God, meanwhile, is the ultimate free lunch.

Yet it’s held that God is somehow the natural alternative to chance. But natural selection is better. Claiming that the imagined failures of evolution supports creationism is the illogic of default. To illustrate this, Dawkins gave the basic formula that those in support of ID and creationism follow in this regard:

1. We have theories A and B
2. Theory A is supported by lots of evidence
3. Theory B has no evidence
4. Theory A can’t explain X.
5. Thus B is correct (regardless of whether or not it explains X)

This is the inherent problem with ID/Creationism. Both ignore the vast successes of Evolution to harp on imagined shortcomings, such as the origin of life, yet beg the same questions themselves: i.e., who designed the designer?

Meanwhile, evolution through natural selection is the only working solution.

This is because natural selection takes something that would otherwise be amazingly improbable (on the order of 1076 that John Calvert loves to cite), and breaks it into a series of manageable chunks. This power of chunking is conveniently ignored by creationists of all sorts.

Instead of relying on rational arguments, they focus on appeals to the public with slogans like “Teach the controversy.”

“What controversy?” Dawkins responds prompting a massive amount of applause.

This rhetorical device, while sounding nice is ultimately ridiculous. To illustrate this point, Dawkins showed a few slides:

It is this sort of thing, he argued, that teachers are forced to defend against. He said he empathized with teachers who are “in the front line trenches against the forces of darkness” and encouraged them to “fight the good fight.”

He declared that Creationism and Intelligent Design are “skyhooks” meaning that they fly in an explanation out of nowhere and don’t really explain anything except in terms of something larger, which is itself unexplained.

Meanwhile, evolution, was a “crane”, which is supported from the ground up by things that are well explained.

Dawkins then discussed other creationist tactics such as quote mining. In “Origin of Species,” Darwin noted that some systems, such as the eye, seem to cause difficulty for his theory. Creationists frequently cite this, but refuse to acknowledge that Darwin then addressed those difficulties in the next breath.

Dawkins also shared an experience in which he was quote mined saying that the Cambrian explosion presented an apparent problem with evolution. But, as we’d expect, the Creationists never quote the rest of the chapter, in which this apparent problem is resolved. But, as has been astutely pointed out, each missing link that is found, creates two new ones in the eyes of Creationists.

Instead, they bemoan the lack of fossils, which, Dawkins says, is ridiculous to expect. It would be like expecting someone to produce a full color video recording with no missing frames of a murder before being able to convict someone. This is ludicrous, and even without a comprehensive fossil record, there is still more than enough evidence from other methods to be sure, beyond a reasonable doubt, that evolution did indeed occur.

Another fallacy of Creationism and Intelligent Design is the God of the Gaps argument. Science, ultimately, thrives in gaps. Without them, there would be nothing to research. Creationism, by default, can only thrive in the supposed gaps left by science. However, unlike science, which attempts to fill the mystery with understanding, mystics like creationists want the mysterious to stay a mystery, lest they have no thing to exploit.

This is evidenced by the fondness of gaps such as the ones already mentioned in the fossil records. Yet, for all the supposed shortcomings in this area, not a single fossil has ever been found out of its chronological expectation; the “fossil rabbit in the Precambrian.”

Another favourite argument of Creationism is that of personal incredulity. If someone doesn’t personally understand something, that must somehow mean that no one does, and thus, God did it.

Dawkins has one word for this:

He summarized this Creationist vantage as saying “You don’t understand how the nerve impulse works? Gooood… Don’t squander precious ignorance by researching it away. We need those precious gaps as the last refuge of God.”

From there, Dawkins began discussing the events that are deemed highly unlikely in the origin of mankind.

Having already addressed how the supposedly impossibly improbable “chance” that evolution worked he first discussed the origin of life, saying that such a thing would indeed be a highly improbable event. However, unlike evolution, it only had to occur once.

This means that, given the sheer number of planets thought to exist in our galaxy, and even ignoring those that aren’t in the “goldilocks zone”, multiplied by all the galaxies in the known universe, even a conservative estimate would provide a highly likely chance that life would emerge somewhere.

On an even larger scale, it’s frequently stated that we’re somehow in a privileged universe with properties “just right” for life. Thus, by the same reasoning, and the anthropic principle, it’s reasonable to invoke the possibility of multiple universes to account for that apparent improbability.

Not wishing to spend much time defending this position claim (which is something many seem to be complaining about on other blogs) Dawkins instead said he discussed this point more in his book.

From there, he turned his attention towards religion itself as opposed to the pseudo-science it creates.

His first note was that almost all children tend to be the same religion as their parents and, very conveniently, it just happens to be the “right one.” Why is this? Indoctrination of course.

He argued that there was no such thing as a truly Christian child; Only children of religious parents. Forcing a child to adopt a religious label takes away the natural curiosity of children and, according to Dawkins, is a form of metal child abuse. While I fully expected this claim to be met with loud disapproval, it was instead met by a large amount of applause.

To support his claim of how ridiculous it was to label children, he showed an image that labeled three children as being of various religions. He then replaced the religions with political affiliations, and remarked that no one would argue that kids actually understood the labels that would be attached. Similarly, one cannot truly affix religious labels to children.

He then asked what would happen if science accepted the same poor standards as religion did. To illustrate his point, he presented an imaginary table of contents of the Quarterly Review of Biology.

Ultimately, he pointed out, we are all atheists to a large number of gods and would say that anyone believing in others is deluded. But why make an exception for the last one?

From there, Dawkins took a number of questions from the audience which I’ll address in my next post.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Uncommon so common...

I don't visit Uncommon Descent too often, but things to post about have been rather slow recently, so I figured I'd head over to see what's going on.

It looks like head honcho, Billy Dembski is worried that his PR committee is failing him. Poor guy.

Also, DaveScott has gotten bored with ID and has decided to misrepresent other parts of science, namely global warming.

But perhaps most interestingly, Uncommon Descent's newcomer, Denyse O'Leary makes a quick quip showing she doesn't quite get the idea of reading comprehension. She quotes Clarence Darrow from the 1925 Scopes Monkey trial:
For God's sake, let the children have their minds kept open – close no doors to their knowledge; shut no door from them. Make a distinction between theology and science. Let them have both. Let them be taught. Let them both live.
It's a great quote, to be sure, but there's a sentence it seems that O'Leary skipped over all together. I'll repeat it just in case you did too: "Make a distinction between theology and science."

Did you catch it? Darrow doesn't say, "Let theology masquerade as science" but proclaims that a distinction need be made. But he goes further to say "Let them have both", which is also something I agree with! Science goes in the science class, theology (read Intelligent Design) in a comparative religions class, or better yet, a church. Anything goes there.

Dawkins at KU

Richard Dawkins was at KU tonight. I attended and had another several pages of notes, but it's going to take some time to organize it and, unfortunately, I actually spent my fall break resting instead of working. Silly me. So be sure to stick around for another long summary of Dawkins' lecture.

And if you're around, why not attend the Discussing Dawkins event sponsored by KUSFS tomorrow!

Statistical advantage

There's some bad ideas I've seen out there. And then there's the downright idiotic ones.

This would definately fall into the latter.

The article informs us that a school district in Texas is preparing kids to fight off armed classroom invaders by swarming him. After all, they have the advantage of numbers. There's no way they could lose. And who cares if a few lives are lost, just as long as those Texans teach the intruder not to fuck with Texans.

Perhaps this is the prevailing wisdom of Texans. As long as we show the bastards who's boss, it doesn't matter how many people die. Who cares if 2,000 American soldiers die just as long as we show Iraq not to fuck with US.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Michigan Stands up for Science

Michigan's State Board of Education just passed its new state standards and curriculum. And guess what! Intelligent Design isn't on it.

What's better is that this set of standards was approved unanimously. Congrats Michigan! Dispite having the double speaking DeVos running for office, you've shown that you're not all idiots. Perhaps just stupid evil bastards.

Heading for Stardom

The Onion has had some great articles in the past. My favourite (of course) is that of "Intelligent Falling". However, this one just jumped to my list of favourites.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Astronomical Detective Work - Pinning Down the Stragglers

Recently, I've been spending a lot of time posting on bad science. Any time I've been sufficiently interested in something enough to consider writing a post on it, it seems Phil Plait beats me to the punch. That rascal.

But today something caught my eye that's not something that really deserves comment, but is still sufficiently interesting that I feel like posting about it.

For those of you that are new to this blog, I spent my summer in sunny San Diego doing some work on researching an open cluster (NGC 7142 to be specific). While doing so, I had to do a bit of reading on clusters, learning their properties and some of the peculiarities about them. One of the things that made NGC 7142 unusual was that it had some features in common with what are known as globular clusters.

Globular clusters are typically much older than open clusters, and as such, don't generally have nearly as many blue stars, which are more massive and die off quickly unless there's a source of new ones being made. Since globular clusters lack the gas to form new stars, the standard model for these clusters predicts that we shouldn't see any blue stars.

But we do.

Thus, astronomers have needed to form a model for these "blue stragglers". There's been two main theories behind it thus far.

The first was that, since globular clusters are pretty tightly packed, perhaps stars collided. In that case, it would form a new star. In the process, it would make the resulting star more massive (bluer), as well as mixing material throughout the star.

The second predicted that, perhaps stars didn't collide, but just came fairly close together. If one of them was expanding into its red giant phase, it could pass material from its photosphere to the nearby companion, again adding fresh mass and making the star bluer.

So the problem is that there are two competing theories. But to be really good science, we now need to test each model against some real world obesrvations and see which can hold up to scrutiny.

Finally that task has been achieved.

By looking at the spectra of some of these blue stragglers in the globular cluster 47 Tucanae. What the group found was that six of the blue stragglers observed had substantial carbon and oxygen depletion in their spectra. This strongly supports the second theory I mentioned above, involving a mass transfer. The reason for this is that, if the straggler was the result of two stars colliding, hydrodynamic simulations show that there shouldn't be much mixing and that concentrations of elements should remain about the same as other stars in the cluster.

However, if the straggler formation was a result of a companion star piling on mass, it would pile on mass from its outer layers, which would add a fresh layer of hydrogen to the "surface" of the star and mask the presence of the carbon and oxygen which would get buried.

But wait! There's more! If these stragglers really were formed by mass transfer from a close binary, it might be possible to check to see if the star is in a known binary system. It turned out that half of the carbon and oxygen depleted stragglers are known to be binaries. The other three aren't known to be, but determining whether or not a star is a binary in such a crowded field of stars relies on some tricky methodology that doesn't always work depending on the orientation of the system.

So here we have two competing theories (to be more accurate, I should say hypothesies), both of which make testable predictions. When one is tested, it is empirically confirmed.

But does this mean the other is wrong? Unlike what the ID crowd would like you to believe, science isn't an all or nothing venture. As the authors of the paper state, it's entirely possible that each one contributes in some way.

In fact, the end of the paper suggests that it's quite likely that this is the case. It also turns out that a few of the stars they observed are a class of stars called "W UMa" stars which are thought to be close binary stars that are slowly spiraling into eachother. So, perhaps the blue stragglers first arise through a mass transfer before the stars finally merge, but are eventually merged stars.

All in all, it's an interesting article. It's also a nice reminder that science is still very much an ongoing process. There's a lot we know, but a whole universe left to figure out.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


It seems Kansas is percieved to have such a problem with bad science, that Kansas Citizens For Science needed some backup. So recently, graduate student Laura Murphy created the KU Students For Science. I found myself signing up to be treasurer somhow, so as an officer, I suppose I should mention it. The current website is a blog which I'm apparently co-author for.

Surprisingly, this group has already stirred a fair amount of interest. The local paper already wrote an article for which I was interviewed (although nothing I said was used. In it, Intelligent Design Network leader John Calvert manages to make himself look like a complete idiot.

In just a few short quotes, he manages to make many errors. His first is the typical abuse of the distinction between facts, theories, and hypothesies. From there, he repeats the tired claim that evolution is somehow inherently materialistic. The funny thing is if we look at material posessions like, say, money, it's not scientists (who, if evolution is so damned materialistic, should be the most materialistic bastards on the face of the Earth) that swim in money; it's the televangelists and megachurch pastors who decry materialism while bathing themselves in it. I really wonder how much Calvert's salary is and if he'd be willing to distance himself from materialism by taking a pay cut to show some piety in front of his God "Intelligent Designer".

From there he plagarizes good 'ole Ann Coulter, claiming that evolution is a religion and that it has its own gospel. I'm curious as to what gospel that would be. The Gospel of Empirical Evidence perhaps? The Gospel of Peer Review? Or the one of Testable Hypothesies? Does Calvert really know? Probably not.

So perhaps KUSFS and KCFS don't have much of a challange ahead of them, considering how weak the opposition seems to be. Now we just have to get the rest of Kansas to see through the smokescreen...

Hm. Maybe our work is cut out for us.

Fox and Phelps

Fox News loves the Phelpses. Dispite the fact that every time they get them on the air, they cut them off and trash them to no end, they keep bringing them back in order to pretend that they really are "fair and balanced."

So when the Phelpses threatened to picket the funerals of the Amish girls recently murdered unless they were given air time, Fox jumped on it.

Shirley Phelps is really a piece of work. It's actually pretty funny reading the transcript. I'm amused that she claims every death in America is because of God's wrath. As if deaths don't happen in other countries...

My question is, if every death here is because God's pissed and they feel the need to picket funerals to remind everyone of this, when Fred kicks the bucket, will they have to picket his funeral?

Numerology Review Part 1: My Life Path

As much as I dislike target advertising and annoying spam, I've occasionally come to actually like the banner ads and newsfeeds Google provides in Gmail. Occasionally it provides me with astronomy tidbits I might have overlooked, there's been cool things about gadgets, and of course, when I get Emails discussing creationism, it has links to silly creationist sites for me to chuckle at.

But recently, Gmail's ad service popped up one saying I could get my free numerology review. Being the skeptic I am, I figured I'd check it out and see how it fared. So I headed to their website and signed up for my free mini-reading. After putting in my full name and birthday (which is in fact, today), I recieved an Email with my profile. I'll go through point by point (skipping how the "results" were derived) and see how this exact methodology fares (If you want the short version, it fails). I'll put the text from their review in italics and my comments on accuracy in plain text. Each point will be rated as "true", if it is an accurate statement about me, "false" if it's not, or "too vague" if it's something is not well defined or applies to pretty much everyone. So let's begin!

My Life Path (7):
You are a reserved: False. In fact, I'm quite the opposite. If something angers me, or I feel it needs commenting on, I'm not shy about saying something. One of my ex-girlfriends forbid me to ever meet an entire half of her family because they're all devoutly religious and I'm generally not one to hold my tongue when someone starts preaching to me.

analytical: Too Vague. What's this supposed to mean? I try to figure things out? Is there anyone in the world that, upon being told they're analytical would respond by saying "Hell no! I don't think about things!"

peace-loving: Too Vague. This could apply to anyone as well. I doubt there are many people out there that really have a passion for starting wars (although one of the few exceptions is in the White House). But if we take this more in an academic sense as opposed to physical, then this statement could be dubbed "false". I love a good debate so long as its well reasoned.

blessed with intuition: Too Vague. Again, who's going to say that they don't have an intuiative understanding of things and are clueless to reality.

and intelligence: Too Vague. Most of these comments so far just play to peoples egos. Is anyone going to deny this and say, "nope. I'm an idiot!" Thus, anyone could feel this comment applies to them.

Your ability to concentrate, learn and absorb information far outshines other numbers and you often excel at all forms of scholastics: False, False, True. I'm terrible at concentrating. There's so many other more entertaining things I could be doing than studying. I have real difficulty forcing myself to actually work. As far as learning goes, I often find myself being just about the last person to catch on to things in academic subjects. However, for the last point (absorbing information), I do seem to have a strange knack for this. I remember bits of completely random conversations very well. Not necessarily in context, but I've sure absorbed a lot of junk.

your intellectual prowess as well as the clarity and foresight of mind is very evident to others at an early age.: False. I would argue that I don't have any sort of intellectual prowess beyond the ordinary person. Intellectual curiosity, perhaps, but I'm no genius.

you are also a very spiritual number: False. I'm about as far from spiritual as a person can get!

You dislike braggarts, gossips and neurotic individuals: Too Vague. I don't know anyone that would love such people. Foaming at the mouth isn't cool.

find socializing difficult: False. I have no problem with socializing. I just find it tedious. I prefer an in depth conversation.

your contempt of other people, who are often, indeed acting like fools: True. This blog should be evidence enough.

You dislike crowds: True. Too many people just annoy me.

noise: False. I get edgy when things become too quiet. I always have music playing. Even if it's only in my head.

confusion: Too Vague. Who does like being confused? It's not a pleasant feeling for anyone I'd imagine.

others are more likely to find you watching television at home rather than attending a big sports events: False. I love a good baseball game, dispite the crowds. I don't get to too many, but then again, I don't think I've actually watched TV in several months either.

tend to excel at any career: False. If I'm so amazing, why did I have so much trouble with Calculus 2?

have the discipline and mental power to master anything in half the time of the other: False. Did I mention it took me three tries to the through Calc 2?

very good with money: False. I've forgotten how many times I've accidentally over drafted my savings account.

reluctant to lend or borrow money: False. I frequently borrow money from my parents to buy things at the beginning of the summer and work to pay it off as I have a job over the summer. I think I still owe a bit for my telescope I bought 2 years ago... Meanwhile, when I hit Comic Con, I got items for several friends that still owe me money.

Others simply cannot evaluate or analyze information as fast as you: False. My partner in my Classic Mechanics class is always having to repeat things for me.

suffer a great deal of rejection from their peers as they are seen as contemptuous and aloof: False. I seem to be generally liked around the department. Most of the people I know that don't like me don't do so because I'm contemptuous, but rather because I'm brutally honest.

Overcoming shyness is also a common problem: False. I've been just fine with this.

not likely to have a wide circle of friends: True, although that has been changing recently.

once you do accept someone as your friend the bond is usually for life: False. People frequently come and go in my life. I rarely keep up with friends from my last school.

not unusual for a seven to go their entire life without a partner: Too Vague. I wouldn't say I've been amazingly successful, but nor have I been a disaster case. But since I haven't had the time in life to really say one way or another, I'll leave this one alone.

You are happiest when you are alone to pursue your innermost thoughts and inner dreams: Too Vague. I like being left alone when I'm understanding something and doing my own thing, but at the same time, I also recognize that I'm in no way able to do everything by myself. Thus, I prefer to have my friends and mentors there to help me along.

Whew! That's only the first section of the Email. I think I'll call it quits there as I have some other things on my plate tonight. So let's take count at this point and see how Numerology stacks up:

True: 4
False: 16
Too Vague: 8

So this review gave me a total of 28 points about myself. Only four of them ended up being correct in a manner that was unique to myself. That mean Numerology gets a 15% success rating! Not doing too well.

Later, I'll start going through other sections of the Email I recieved and see if their fortunes will improve.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

What standards?

On Tuesday nights this semester, my nights are spent teaching a group of 21 students for one of KU's four astronomy lab sections. Since my lab section and the Monday section get to meet 15 times within the semester, but the Wednesday/Thursday sections only meet 14 times due to long weekends, my class had the luxury of getting the first week to have a bit of extra time to do a math review before actually starting a lab.

This math review covers pretty basic things. The first thing we went over was how to do unit conversions such as converting feet to meters using a conversion factor. I think I do a pretty good job of this, showing exactly why you can multiply/divide by the factor and it's ok to do so (ie, because a conversion factor is essentially multiplying by one). I very carefully show how if you have the same units in the numerator as you do in the denominator, it cancels out, leaving you with the new units you need.

We discuss ratios as a means of comparing things and determining how many times larger one quantity is than another. The lab packet each student has even has a big bold statement saying "Notice that a ratio does not have any units!"

We also cover a bit of scientific notation and how it relates to the metric system. Should be simple enough. After all, it's base ten. If you need to go from meters to centimeters, just move the decimal point two places to the right.

We discuss triangles. Not even in the depth a high school student had in which they have to learn how to do sine and cosine, but just the realization that there's a base, height, and some angles.

So the first week of lab, I go through all of this, taking what is a ridiculous amount of time doing so given that it's so basic. Every step along the way, I ask if there are questions, if it looks familiar, if they think they could replicate what I'm doing, etc... I don't continue until I see, at the very least, some general head nodding from the majority of the class.

All in all, if people can't do this, there's no reason they should ever have graduated high school. Yet last night in my lab, a sizeable amount of students demonstrated that they lack these skills as well as any sort of basic algebra (junior high type stuff).

Our lab last night was over angles and parallax. Since the angles involved are generally pretty small, we can skip the nasty trig functions and just use the small angle approximation (angle = 57.3┬║Base/Height). In this equation, there are three unknows: angle, base, and height. Thus, if you know two, you can find the third.

Since the angle is the measurable quantity in all cases we study, this means that they will have to solve for the base and the height. Out of 21 students, at least three were completely unable to do this (possibly more if they worked with a partner that explained it to them). To be fair, one is a non-traditional student and admitted she hadn't used algebra in any recognizeable form in at least a decade.

In one section, they had to measure the height of a classmate, and knowing this, derive the distance after measuring the angle. For some reason, my students have no concept of what a "meter" is and were getting heights of 30m before I peered over their shoulders and asked if their partner was really as tall as the building we were working in.

We also measured the height of boxes having known distances and measured angles. The answer would come out in meters, but I gave them the true value, so they could calculate their error, in centimeters. It should be obvious that you're going to need to convert them all to the same units, otherwise the dimentions don't come out right. To make sure they would recognize this, I told them to write their units on everything. Some still didn't do so, and wondered why their errors came out to be several hundred percent. After figuring out that units were the problem, a good two or three still didn't know how to convert within the metric system.

One of the questions at the end of the lab, asked them to compare their observed angle for a certain measurement, to the largest oberved stellar parallax angle in astronomy (.76 arcseconds). The point of this question is to drive home the fact that stuff is so far away, that even the largest shift is still about 50,000 times smaller than what they were measuring in class. To make this comparison, the students need to put things in the same units. They measured in degrees, the given angle was in arcseconds. The conversion was given (1┬║ = 3,600 arcseconds). A full 3/4 of the class was unable to answer this question without assistance. So much for them understanding what I'd said at the beginning of the semester about convserion factors. And apparently they missed the bolded statement about ratios not having units too.

Admittedly, this is a 100 level course, taken by primarily freshman wanting to get their lab science requirement out of the way so they never have to think about that awful "science" thing again. But admittedly, this is a 100 level course, taken by college freshman. The skills we use here are ones that are taught to students(with the exception of those with developmental disabilities) in 10th grade or before.

And yet somehow, many seem to be making it through America's public school system, and accepted to a university without even a smidgeon of proficiency. I suppose this is the true meaning of "No Child Left Behind": We'll drag them kicking and screaming along, whether or not they understand anything.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Where's the cream filling?

Following a link from RSR this morning, I discovered this article about a creationist conference in Dallas. According to the article, there was "nearly a full day of research reports from scientists who support the Biblical or "young earth" account of creation."

I think that the creationists claims that they're getting short changed by the media must be right because, out of "nearly a full day" of what I'm sure is solid evidence, the article casually mentions a single one (C14 has a short half life), which can be easily refuted by a quick stop by the Talk Origins archive.

And of course they would have to selectively pull out the single logical fallacy that the creationism movement has ever made (because God knows, aside from this one mistake, creationism is perfect, being inspired by God and all):
"What they would say is this C-14 must be the result of contamination," he said. "If pressed to demonstrate that suggestion, they are unable to do that."
The logical fallacy being used? Good ole bifurcation and implying that not being able to prove every single niggling detail on demand somehow invalidates the whole theory. And I suppose it's also a logical fallacy that they do ignore such studies. Oh well. If you're going to ruin creationism's good track record with logical fallacies, you might as well do three at once just to show how great creationists are at everything they do, like screwing up.

The article also notes that a new diploma mill "online graduate education and professional development program" is in the works. I suppose that's good. Perhaps when there's some more qualified preachers creation scientists, they can explain to me some of this evidence that the horrible news media left out!

I'm not holding my breath.