Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Super Flares from the Sun

It's been a long time since I've written anything on super flares. My last year at KU, this was my research topic, in which I was looking at some really big flares on some stars very similar to the Sun.

The thing about those flares is that, in the 200ish years we've been watching the Sun, we've never seen anything that's even close. So can the Sun do anything like those, because if it can, we should be worried. Very worried. A coronal mass ejection or flare of that size would wipe out the entire electrical grid of the world in minutes.

The biggest solar flare we know about, was the "Carrington event" in 1859. This one was large enough to cause currents in telegraph wires strong enough to start fires on the desks of the operators. Even when the batteries that powered the system were disconnected, telegraphs could still be sent. With a much larger system carrying much more energy that is much more stressed today, we'd be in far bigger trouble if that happened again.

So ideally we'd like to know more about how the Sun acts over a longer timescale. The professor I was working with on this was Dr. Melott, and this week he released a paper that looks at a way to look through the historical record for signs that other flares may have hit us.

One of the effects we'd expect is that we'd see a sudden spike in C14, the isotope of carbon used for radioisotope dating. This is created when high energy protons from the sun hit our atmosphere. Usually this is pretty stable, since the Sun is pretty stable on longer timescales.

Drilling ice core samples and looking at the C14 in air bubbles trapped in the ice provide a way to see how much C14 was being created. It turns out that there is just such a spike around 774-775 CE.

While it can't be confirmed that this was absolutely caused from the Sun (a nearby gamma ray burst could similarly irradiate our atmosphere causing the formation of C14, but it highly unlikely), it's still a good bet. If it was the case, it would have been an eruption with some 2x1026 J of energy!

This is still a bit shy of the super flares that were the focus of my research, but it's getting close. So it's not unrealistic that the mechanism that produced those flares could also happen to us. If so, it's not so much a question of if, but when.

Indiana Lawmaker Tries to Give Students Rights They Already Have

Over in Indiana, Sen. Dennis Kruse (obviously a Republican), recently failed to push through a bill to Creationism. I guess it's too much to expect that a guy that writes laws would know something about them. Like that the Supreme Court stated that teaching Creationism in public schools was unconstitutional in 1987. Fortunately, other people knew and that didn't get passed.

Not deterred, Kruse is trying a new typical strategy. It's been the ID/Creationist strategy ever since they got their asses kicked at Dover. They realize they can't teach the non-existent controversy, so instead, they try to get people to question evolution so they can push non-existent criticisms assuming that the teacher is sympathetic to Creationism, or if they're not, enough students can harass the teacher and disrupt the class that the teacher will be forced to give the section up due to the prohibitive amount of time it would take to address every single false "question".

The new bill basically ensures that students are free to question the teachers. Which in truth, they already are. Students are encouraged to ask questions. Teachers can and should be ready and able to answer them.

This bill is new in that the teachers would have to cite the research to support their answer. This is where the trick lies and takes it from simple questioning to harassment. It doesn't say, simply the "evidence", but the "research". So teachers would be forced to have a library of specific research that was done for every given topic. Which often is contrary to how science works, especially on the big topics.

See, the deal is that it is very rare that a single bit of research establishes an entire field. So saying "what piece of research proves common descent" is a question that a teacher can't given an answer to. Because it's not a "piece" of research. It's a body and teachers would now be required to provide, on demand, massive amounts of research.

Thus, all a student would have to do to disrupt an entire week of class, would be to ramble off a Gish Gallop of dishonest Creationist "criticisms" of evolution, and the teacher would now be required to answer every one of them, in detail. That's not conducive to teaching. That's not conducive to learning.

Which is precisely what Creationists want.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Things Like This

A lot of people don't seem to understand how male centered American society is. It's so pervasive that we take it for granted. Before really starting to "get" such things, I was always told that once you do, it will be everywhere.

Browsing reddit tonight, one example just smacked me in the face.

This particular image at present has 1384 upvotes. Apparently it's only guys that play video games and the entire goal of Target is to further what guys want (meeting girls). It couldn't be that women make up 40% of PC gamers. Because everyone knows that girls only care about makeup. Right...

Monday, October 22, 2012

The War on Women

I've been hearing quite frequently from right wing pundits that the "war on women" is a fabrication of the left, that it's a distraction from real issues. However, the Republican party's own record makes it very clear that it's not a side issue; it's one that they have been very focused on. So I've put together a list of recent attacks on women from the Republican party.

Keep in mind I'm limiting this list to just instances by official party members serving in the government. Not their advisers, not radio hosts, not congressional aides. If I did, this list would be much, much longer.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Archon 36 Recap

Archon has now come and gone for yet another year, although I'm still feeling it. My body's still angry at me from the lack of sleep.

I think all my panels went very well this year. Friday evening was my "Anime Mythbusters" panel which is always a fun time. I haven't changed it any since Naka-Kon this year, but I rarely look over it again once it's been put together. I glanced over the slides to remind myself what topics I'd included, but beyond that, did absolutely no preparation. Yet giving the talk, I felt perfectly comfortable and never missed a beat. One of my goals is to always know the talk well enough that I can say things before putting that information on the slide, so I don't have people trying to read the same thing I'm saying.

This is especially true for things where I'm doing math, where I want to walk people through what I'm doing, such as in segments like this one in which I'm deriving the geometry necessary to figure out how close the comet came to hitting the planet.

My intention was to be that well prepared for my new Quantum Mechanics talk I delivered Saturday morning. The challenge is even harder in this case since there's so much technical information that builds on itself. If I forget even a single sentence, often times, it will come back to haunt me since I rely on that information having been passed on later.

Unfortunately, that was too large of a challenge for me this time. Friday, as the con started, I think I only had the first 50% of the talk memorized perfectly, and about another quarter memorized in rough format. So I cheated more than normal and had my outline on notecards, as well as the full script downloaded on my Kindle. I had to pause a few times to figure out where I was again, but after the talk, people told me they didn't even remember me doing so. I'll take that as a sign that the rest of the material was of sufficient quality that it distracted them.

I'd meant to get a video of this talk, but left my camera sitting at home. I know a few segments were recorded, but I'll wait until I have the full thing before posting anything.

My last talk Saturday was the "Sexism in Anime" panel. For whatever reason, I feel like I prepare a lot less for this panel. Even the first time presenting it, I knew what I wanted to say, but I allowed myself to deviate far more than I usually do. Perhaps it has something to do with still being relatively new to this field. I have a lot of information still kicking around in my head that's all still shuffling around, trying to find a good and appropriate home in the talk. Until it does, sometimes it just jumps out at odd moments.

Archon is well known for its parties and this year was no exception. Since I just live across the river, I went home nightly, but I didn't make it to bed until Sunday morning at 4:30am. I did go back Sunday, but had no panels and was just saying goodbye to friends.

In the meantime, Go Cardinals!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Archon 36 and a New Quantum Talk

Archon 36 is less than a month away. It's October 12-14 in Collinsville, Illinois.

I gave a few talks there last year and got my telescope out for some public viewing. This year, I'll be back, this time as an invited Guest, and I'll be giving 3 solo talks as well as joining a panel.

My first talk will be my Anime Mythbusters one. I'm still touring the 2012 version (I debut each new version at Naka Kon), but since I was out of town for all of the St Louis anime conventions (with the exception of Kawa Kon which I hadn't planned on attending anyway), I didn't have a chance to do the panel in my home town this year. Archon seems to have been wanting to introduce more anime programming, so they went ahead and asked me to do it. This talk will be Friday night at 6:10pm in the Great Rivers Ballroom A.

My second talk is an entirely new one that I'm quite excited about. This past summer, I went to a meetup with the St. Louis Skeptics Society, to welcome Nicole Gugliucci to the region. While out to dinner, one of the other attendees started going on about mystical resonances that allow us to shape reality because quantum waves and resonance. I'd had a pretty stiff drink and didn't feel like debating quantum mechanics at the time, so I told him that until he learned to normalize a wave function, he really had no clue what he was talking about.

But the encounter was a good reminder that even people who are very interested in science frequently don't have the first clue about quantum physics. So I decided to put together a new talk looking at the use of "quantum" in pop-culture, from sci-fi to Deepak Chopra. I finished putting it together last weekend and will be debuting it at Archon, Saturday at 10am in the Great Rivers Ballroom B. The intro video is below.

My last talk is again an analysis of the anime genre, using it as a lens to explore sexism and feminism. I presented this talk at Naka-Kon this past February which had a fantastic discussion session afterwards, and also at Tokyo in Tulsa, where the audience was somewhat smaller. I'll be doing it again at Archon Saturday at 9:30pm in the Cahokian room.

Not too many people still play, but I'll also be hosting a CCG tournament with the old Star Wars CCG made by Decipher that's been out of print for a decade. That's going to be Saturday from 2:30 - 6:30.

There was some discussion about putting me on a discussion panel regarding the "Impact of Science on Society" but times for that haven't been finalized.

When not occupied otherwise, I'll probably have my telescope out again, although this year I'll need to remember to avoid sunburn.

Friday, August 24, 2012

How Not to Debate

I'm already working on a bunch of new talks for various conventions. At Archon 36 this year, I'll be an invited Guest and will be debuting a new talk I'm nearly finished writing, entitled "Everything You Know About Quantum Mechanics Is Wrong" looking at how QM is actually used in science vs. how it's portrayed in pop-media like Sci-fi and new age spirituality. I also apparently volunteered myself to do a talk I haven't even started, on the history of Mars rovers and exploration.

But I'm thinking I may have to write another new talk on how to actually debate. After going to several years of things like Skepticon, it seems that people have become equipped with huge amounts of information to use in a debate with pseudo-scientists and the like, but there hasn't been any discussion of how to debate them effectively, to diffuse the intellectually dishonest tactics they use, and to make your own position clear.

For example, this morning a friend posted a link on facebook decrying religious intrusions into government. A friend of his left a comment stating:

This nation was founded as a Christian nation. It's because of our Christian forefathers that people in this country have the right to worship as they please. Maybe a little more appreciation for Christians is in order...don'tcha think?
Obviously I took this apart. Founding fathers had many Diests some outright hostile towards Christianity, the sources they refer to and draw inspiration from even more so, treaty of Tripoli, most religious references on money and in pledge only added recently, etc...

I closed it off by stating I'd give respect Christians when it was earned "by collectively understanding history instead of trying to rewrite it; when they use their faith to help others, not oppress them; when they can admit their vast power and privilege instead of trying to constantly play martyr; when they know as much about their own faith as those outside it."

For good measure, I even linked to Myth of a Christian Nation by a Christian pastor as an example of someone that does earn that respect.

The response was pretty typical: He ignored everything that was said and demanded I "explain ... why God is quoted constantly by almost every forefather". Note that he didn't even dispute my points. He just threw out a new one as if that somehow negated everything I said.

He went on to prove my points on playing the victim card by whining about me stating conditions for respect when he demanded it via entitlement. Lastly, he tried to claim it didn't matter because "the case for Christ still stands." Thereby changing the subject away from the original discussion on America being a "Christian nation".

It was pathetic, but ever so common.

My response was to point out that founders cite the bible in many other works because, "bible because it's the single most read book in history. It provides us with a common language by which to communicate, grounded in something nearly universal. Excellent communication tool. If Star Wars were as universally watched, people would likely be quoting that just as much".

An easy argument to knock down, but it doesn't stop them from throwing it out in desperation. I called him on these things and stated that I was through debating with him until he could make a salient point.

His final response?

"I bet you get laid about as much as I win the lottery."

This is the caliber of people skeptics often face. The tactics are depressingly common and I think it's time for a summary of how to deal with them.

So does anyone know if something like this already exists? If not, what sorts of things do you think should be included in a discussion?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

CNN Has Unintelligent Commentary Too

I don't think anyone was shocked when Fox News had some awful article trying to distract everyone from the GOP's war on women's rights. But now CNN is trying the same thing.

In CNN's article, they too try to ignore issues that effect women by turning the focus on how women have disproportionately lost jobs in this recession. And of course, the blame is laid at the feet of Obama. No explanation as to why or how, except that he's president. So it's his fault.

Neither Fox nor CNN has bothered to take the time to consider the general level of sexism in our country in which women disproportionately hold low income jobs that are more likely to be trimmed since they're faced with a glass ceiling. Admittedly that ceiling does have some cracks in it. Which is awesome. But then again, it's Ryan Paul's party that's trying to stop laws that are at work prying those cracks open.

UPDATE: CNN is trying yet again to distract from what are typically considered women's issues. This article, written by Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican congresswoman, actually does address a few of the issues after going on and on about how what women really care about is how the economy is doing. Which I'm sure they do, but trying to downplay the concern about their rights to equal pay, to be free of violence, and control their own bodies, in light of the economy isn't a realistic picture. When she does get to legislation, it's interesting to watch her cognitive dissonance. She brings up some legislation she wrote in 1975. As if that's indicative of the current party in any way. She discusses helping to create a "Homemaker IRA". But who does she say she worked with to create it? A Democrat. She says that when the Violence Against Women Act was up for renewal this past year, that she tried to put in an amendment that would enact harsher penalties that was eventually defeated. But which party was it that was trying to tear down the act? Oh yes. Republicans. She says she believes that we need to encourage women to go into STEM fields and they need more education. I couldn't agree more. But it's not the Democrats trying to gut educational funding. So while Ms. Hutchison may be doing a few good things within her party, she's apparently blinded herself to the virulently anti-woman campaign her party has been waging.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

This Passes for Intelligent Commentary? Oh right. Fox News.

Over at FoxNews, they have a commentary ranting about how awful it is that women like Obama more than Romney. The article starts off with just simple statistics. Women in general give Obama a moderate lead of about 9%. And it's worst amongst educated women where Obama holds a lead of nearly 60%. Ouch.

Obviously the writer thinks this is a huge problem and admits that the GOP has a "very big problem when it comes to female voters." And then she proceeds to miss the point entirely.

Instead of inquiring at all about why this might be, she lays the blame not at the feet of the GOP, but at the feet of women themselves; they're too stupid to figure out why they should vote Republican.

The argument is that Obama protects their rights "entitlements" and that they're pathetic and dependent on them. The women can't do anything for themselves, so they need big government to protect them.

And that's where the commentary on women leaves off. It doesn't stop to consider that they might actually need that protection because as much as feminism might be about being independent, it's rather hard to do anything independently when you've had your rights to control your own body and financial independence stripped.

It doesn't stop to realize that domestic abuse against women is exceptionally high which is why we need the Violence Against Women act.... which Republicans are trying to repeal.

It doesn't stop to consider that women are raped an order of magnitude more than men and that we need to recognize the extent of ways in which this occurs.... which has Republicans trying to redefine rape to exclude many forms.

It doesn't stop to realize that women are disproportionately paid less than men for the same jobs which is why we need the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.... which Republicans are trying to repeal.

It doesn't stop to realize that women have legitimate medical conditions which birth control is the most effective method of treatment which is why we need the Affordable Care Act.... which Republicans are so busy trying to repeal, they can't seem to get anything else done.

But according to this author, it's not the GOP that gives women legitimate reasons to distrust them. It's Obama.

Why? All of their arguments rest on the idea that Obama hurts women business owners. We'll pretend that's true for a moment, but note that the article doesn't say "hurts women business owners more than men". The author tries to make a gender issue out of something that's not in an effort to distract from issues that actually are rooted in gender. Which might just be why those darn educated women flee the GOP.

It's pathetic and childish of the author to try something like this. But then again, that's about all the right wing can manage: Missing the point and misdirection.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Same Mistake, Different Context

I'm going to share one of my favorite quotes regarding Creationism. It's from this book I reviewed back in 2007.

Yes, the proponents of intelligent design understand the eye . . . but as only one example, not as the basis of a general principle. ‘Oh yes, we know all about the eye,’ they say (we paraphrase). ‘We’re not going to ask you what use half an eye is. That’s simple-minded nonsense.’ So instead, they ask what use half a bacterial flagellum is, and thereby repeat the identical error in a different context.

I love the quote because it so accurately sums up the problem with Creationists: They'll accept one thing, but completely reject another situation that's painfully similar and insist there's no relation.

Oddly enough, that's exactly how the skeptic movement is feeling right about now. The entire situation with feminism and harassment that's been going on for the past year has shown that, while skeptics may understand how systems of oppression have been used against them by theists, they fail to realize themselves using the exact same techniques "thereby repeating the identical error in a different context."

The biggest way I've seen this done lately is the trivializing of the entire issue. I already touched on this once, and the "Great Penis Debate" had another great example in which Emery tried to write off the harassment Rebecca and other women have received for their position as "what the internet is. It is where the idiots come out to play and say hateful things. It’s not about sex, it’s not about power, it’s not about skeptics. It’s just about what happens when you’re a public figure on the internet."

While it's true that the internet does tend to bring out the jerk in people (mildly NSFW due to language), and simply being a public person does attract internet trolls, that's not the whole story. While it's easy to write off an instance here or there as an isolated instance of internet trolls, he fails to look at the big picture where the trolling takes on a whole new level and different dimension when it comes to women. For example, look at what happened recently with Anita Sarkeesian when she made a kickstarter to study gender tropes in video games.

And there's been another major example of it that's led to a firestorm lately.

Namely, thunderf00t, well known for his "Why People Laugh At Creationists" youtube series was recently given a spot on Freethought Blogs. He promptly declared that "sexual harassment at conferences really is a non-issue" and went on a tirade trying to justify this by stating that he has more followers on youtube than there are at such conferences. This is about like me stating that I have more followers on G+ than Dr. Who does so that TV show must not matter. It's an idiotic argument, but TF uses it to try to state that harassment isn't a big enough issue to care about.

This smacks of the sort of trivializing that non-theists routinely receive. The routinely refuse to even acknowledge there's any sort of issue and ask why we're angry, which has obviously prompted an entire book explaining this. But in both cases, these very real issues are trivialized and ignored.

Certainly the examples of religious wrongdoings in Greta's book are far more damaging than a case of harassment at a convention, but what those trying to trivialize this topic fail to acknowledge is that, while harassment is "small" it's also prevalent in society and as such, it adds up very quickly and fosters the climate of "big" dangers that women disproportionately face in relation to men.

Which highlights yet another example of how these skeptics fail to recognize the similarities. They'll go after religion in every respect, because they recognize that it fosters a culture of fuzzy thinking leading to the big issues Greta cites. It's the soil for these twisted trees. But where general, low-key sexism is the soil that nurtures the "big" issues of assault, they refuse to go after that fertile soil, even as it sprouts young saplings of harassment.

Calling out this fertile soil is nothing new. It's been around since the 1970's when studies first started labeling it as "rape culture". Since then, it's been an entire field of study, but one that these detractors seem ready to blithely ignore. Which brings me to my next example for now of how this crowd of trivializers are making the same transgressions as their theist counterparts.

In this post, the anonymous blogger accuses PZ and other Freethought Bloggers of "an unthinking adoption of academic feminist theory." This obviously implies that there's something wrong with "academic feminist theory" although the writer doesn't deign to even link to anything critical of an entire discipline that's had nearly fifty years of in depth research. This reeks of Don McLeroy's declaration that "somebody's gotta stand up to experts".

The last example of how the skeptic movement is failing to see how their same points apply in different contexts is on the burden they place on the group that is the subject of this harassment. Repeatedly, I have seen demands that women that are the targets of harassment report it. They never admit the fact that reporting doesn't happen in a vacuum, and there are many reasons a woman wouldn't want to report something, not the least of which, is the additional harassment she'll open herself up to. The logic is that by not coming forward, you're condoning the behavior. And there's some truth to this: It becomes much harder to victimize someone, or a group of people, when someone you know is a member of that group. As long as that group remains anonymous, it's easy to continue the power differential (which all goes back to my first point about silencing people through trivialization).

The parallel in the skeptic movement would be saying that if you're an atheist and you don't come out of the atheistic closet when a theist trashes atheism or coming out of the closet as a homosexual when someone trashes gays. In these cases, we acknowledge the extra baggage that comes with such things. But when it's women and harassment, there's a group of dedicated people that refuse to do so. It's mind boggling how these parallels exist, and yet they continue to make the same errors in a different context.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Stupid Anti-Woman Quote of the Week

I've already had a week full of stupidity but a new quote just took the cake:
if you are raped and do not report it and someone else is raped, you are partially responsible for that rape.
Right. Because if you don't report it after the fact, that somehow travels backwards through time and contributes to your attack.

Even the flow of time and laws of causality don't matter to this level of raging stupidity.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Beyond Elevatorgate

It's barely been one year since Elevatorgate and my posting of my thoughts on it. In that time, I've been involving myself very deeply in gender studies. While I've only written up one review on a book I've read on the subject, I've actually read several (as well as many more on other topics I haven't reviewed) and been involved heavily in study on the topic in other ways. This past February at Naka-Kon I even gave a talk on the issues of sexism in anime (which went over very well and I'll be reprising at Tokyo in Tulsa next month).

So it's interesting to me to take a look back and see how the whole issue has evolved over the past year.

In general, I think it's brought up a lot of very good discussion. The notion that there is a lot of harassment that goes on has definitely been brought to the forefront of a lot of the skeptic movement. But sadly, that doesn't mean that people have actually learned from it. They're still making the same mistakes they did in the immediate aftermath, claiming that women being creeped on and objectified isn't a problem.

Much of the discussion lately from the apologist side seems to be that it's not "harassment" until someone's said no and the behavior continued. While from a rather rational standpoint, I agree with this, there's obviously cases that cross the line. The best example recently was where one speaker was solicited to join in a threesome by being passed a card with nudity on it without even being given a chance to respond. That's harassment.

But what of the "lesser" case in which someone flirts, inappropriately, but has not yet been rebuked?

Apologists are hammering the position that it's not harassment (and so it shouldn't be an issue). However, in discussing the issue with a friend that works as a probation officer with the MO Department of Youth Services' Gender Response Team, I was informed that by definition, if a woman feels harassed, even without letting anyone knows, it's harassment.

I personally don't like this. It reeks of the "stand your ground" laws in which someone just needs to "feel" something and there's repercussions for the other party. Except that, my friend noted, this definition can't be upheld in courts since it's too subjective and demonstrating that the feelings were reasonable still requires some sort of standard. So that definition is kind of useless. In reality, there is that standard of needing a clear rejection.

But the bigger issue isn't on meeting that standard. Convention like TAM have done a great job of making a harassment policy that does protect against clear cut harassment. But what they haven't done is engaged in any sort of dialogue on the stuff that falls below that threshold.

Instead, the apologists have been busy claiming that if it doesn't meet that criteria, it's not an issue, and thereby trivializing a major source of concern. They blindly forget that all harassment, sexual assault, and rape, is enabled by a culture that thinks creeping on women isn't an issue and dismisses it. That's rape culture.

This should be a major embarrassment for the skeptic and atheist community. We very frequently say that religious extremists are enabled by a society that thinks non-rational thought is a virtue. In the exact same manner, rape is enabled by a society that thinks womens' feelings are a non-issue unless it meets a certain threshold beyond which they can "rightfully" be called "victims".

This is exactly what's been going on over at this blog. Redd links to a video in which Emery Emery says that this low level harassment isn't an issue worth raising a fuss over. And in general I agree. It's an issue, but it's not a huge one. It's a pretty small one, but that's exactly how Rebecca, Jen, and PZ treated the original issue. What they have been much more vocal on is the reprisals they've received for even daring to mention it and the trivializing and silencing they've received as a result. That is a very big issue that the apologists are refusing to even acknowledge.

And then there's the strawmen. The apologists consistently claim that Rebecca, Jen, PZ, and others drawing attention to this problem are saying TAM and such conferences are unsafe. I called this strawman and asked for examples of this. The response was underwhelming. I was given Rebecca saying,
I do not feel welcomed or safe and I disagree strongly with the recent actions of the JREF president, DJ Grothe.
I think Redd missed the point that Rebecca was only speaking for herself there. But then there were other gems:
This is quite obviously not a safe space for me or for other women who want to be free of the gendered slurs and sexual threats and come-ons we experience in our day-to-day lives.
Which is a very different argument than the words Redd and other apologists are trying to shove into Rebecca's mouth. The apologists are trying to frame this as the clear cut "harassment" that demands an immediate and significant response. But this comment that was even quoted at me makes it very clear that what Rebecca's talking about is the low key harassment that's constantly ongoing and isn't something that can really be reported for the reasons I noted above.

I've called this, but the obfuscation continues. It's embarrassing, but makes another issue very clear to me. One of the final points in "The Gender Knot" was that we are all part of this culture if for no other reason than our language is steeped with gender bias. It doesn't mean we endorse it, but admitting that we're involved in it, and getting over that knee-jerk reaction and guilt is the first step to being able to change the culture.

Unfortunately, much of the skeptic community, which has pulled itself from the culture of non-rational thinking that pervades this country, refuses to acknowledge that they may be part of other systems.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Random STEM Question of the Day #3

My current job has my flying a lot. I'm on flights somewhere around 8-10 times a month now. I'm not a huge fan of airports (although there was an interesting segment on NPR this week about a writer being invited to live in one for a week) but I do like airplanes. There's all sorts of great science wrapped up in them. Bernoulli's principle obviously comes to mind since that's what makes them work in the first place.

Last time I was flying we were on a 757 which had a great little touch screen in the back of each seat and you could bring up flight data that included the altitude and exterior temperature. I thought it would be fun to graph that, but I didn't feel like staring at that and recording all the data for a 3 hour flight.

Of course, any time you're flying, there's always the question of how the pilots are minimizing the distance traveled which is flying along a great circle, unless jet streams are involved. But that's not something I'd discuss with students since it's not likely they've had any spherical trig or calculus of variations.

But what would a good question be? I usually have books with me when flying, but I wasn't feeling them last flight, so I picked up their Sky Mag, and in the back was this image:

Over at one of my favorite teacher blogs, dy/dan, he often presents scenarios with the tag WCYDWT? which is an abbreviation for "What Can You Do With This?".

I love the idea and it's one that has motivated a lot of my thinking when it comes to education, and when I see images like the above, there's a lot of good questions that could be asked.

Here's the first one that popped into my mind when I saw this:

The image gives us information about the thrust of an engine as well as the max speed. This can tell you something about the drag the plane is experiencing. Thus, it would seem that there's some information buried in there about how overall efficient the plane is. Which are the most? Which are the least? Does the airline charge more to make up for the inefficiency of those that have more drag?

What questions can you come up with?

Random STEM Question of the Day #2

My friend Sarah and I took a road trip to Marceline, MO this past weekend. For those that don't know, Marceline is Walt Disney's childhood home and we've been running a Disney blog since the beginning of this year.

Sarah and I have been on quite a few road trips together and we always play the license plate game. If you're not familiar with it, the goal is to find license plates from as many states or other unique identifiers as possible (e.g. Ontario, US government, etc...). She always wins due to her having far more experience (her family went on roadtrips as a kid and mine, not so much) as well as likely better vision.

One of the best sources of license plates from far off locales is trucks. Thus, to ensure the game keeps moving along, you really need to make sure you're passing trucks.

On the way home, however, Sarah noted that there sure seemed to be a lot more trucks in the opposite lane (going the opposite direction) than we were passing which was frustrating since the highway is divided and the division it too large to tell what states they were from (not to mention squinting at plates on oncoming traffic is a bad idea if you're a driver).

Immediately, I figured this was due to the bias imposed by the fact that the trucks going the same direction were, well, going the same direction, so our relative velocity would be far less.

But there sure did seem to be a lot of trucks going the opposite direction.

Perhaps there was a preferred direction.

So the question of the day is, how many trucks should you see going the opposite direction compared to the ones going the same direction?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Tolerating Intolerance

There's an argument that I've heard many times that popped up again today that I'm getting tired of.

Let me rephrase that: I've been tired of it for a good long time, but today I actually heard it being made on the radio instead of in a smaller debate. Had I not been driving in traffic and had a nearly dead battery on my phone, I would have been tempted to call in. But alas, I was and it was, so instead you get a blog post.

The argument is that atheists are hypocrites because they ask for tolerance while being intolerant. (You can probably guess the topic it came up on.)

It doesn't happen to matter which group is being talked about. I've heard it used every which way from Sunday. Muslims, Christians, atheists, democrats, republicans, blah, blah, blah.

It doesn't matter which group you're talking about, it's a damned stupid argument regardless.

The reason is that it's missing the point. No one ever calls for unilateral and unconditional tolerance. Ask even the most tolerant fluff brained spiritualist who pretends like everything is all cool and we need to have respect for everyone and anything. Then ask them if molesting children is something we should tolerate. You'll be hard pressed to find one that does.

Obviously, the idea that anyone is calling for universal tolerance is a strawman heaped upon the victims of this argument.

Rather, what's behind everything, that is so rarely articulated, is that we should have rules for tolerance: We should tolerate things that encourage the well being of individuals and the community, that expand freedoms and happiness without infringing on the rights of others. We should be intolerant of things that cause harm that erode the freedoms of others, or are built on logical fallacies or just plain wrong.

When understood in this fashion, it's easy to see why someone may call for tolerance of one thing, but expect intolerance of something else. And that's not hypocritical.

But the charge is too often leveled which pisses me off because it's a smoke bomb: It obscures the actual issues and diverts us away from intelligent discussion.

I really don't think it's always done intentionally. Rather, I expect that most people just think they're being clever or taking some sort moral high ground, but they're not. They're discouraging discourse. And that's something we should call them on.

Because limiting discourse, especially when used against minorities to shut them down, is something we shouldn't tolerate.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Random STEM Question of the Day #1

Every so often, good questions for math/science classes pop into my head that are interesting (to me) at least to spend a few minutes thinking about. So I'm going to start posting them here under the tag STEM-Q so I can refer back to them. Here's the first one.

Just got home from a quick roadtrip to Ohio today. On the way up there my family and I drove through some pretty heavy rain which reminded me of a question that I kick around in my head every so often:

When plowing through a good rainstorm, how much does this change your fuel efficiency?

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Should Colleges Teach Remedial Math?

JT is upset.

The state of Kansas has passed a bill in its House to cut funding for universities to have remedial courses in public universities. Apparently, my alma matter, KU, helps 900 students each year retake basic math courses that are prerequisites for the entry level university courses. Between grad students and undergrad, KU has just under 30,000 students so 900 translates to about 3% of the student body that would be prevented from being able to qualify for the first class in their math section if this passes.

I'm very torn on how I feel about this. My first reaction is that these aren't college classes. They're high school classes. And only barely. Basic Algabra is taught to many students in junior high. So my main feeling is that if people can't hack this, then they don't belong in college. Period.

What baffles me even more is that such things (JT's post in particular) single Math out as if it's some special subject where being years behind is somehow acceptable, that it's "ok" to be mathematically illiterate.

JT places the blame squarely on the shoulders of our educational system which has some serious problems. But having taught high school, the biggest problem I see isn't the system, it's the attitudes of the students that exemplify what I've stated above. It doesn't matter how good your educational system is when the students have such attitudes. And it only compounds the problems when schools reinforce this by removing all the standards, and universities allow people that barely meet an entry high school ability, to go on.

The counter JT offers is that there are exceptional cases who truly do have the drive and ability to do well, such as non-traditional students whose skills have deteriorated over time through no fault of their own and as such, they cannot be held entirely responsible. But the answer shouldn't be that it's the responsibility of the public to pay for them to relearn such things. We've already paid for it. It was called high school. Forcing the public to pick up the tab twice is double jeopardy and it's ridiculous.

If students like JT's brother can't "jump into collegiate algebra", then by all means, he should take courses to get himself ready. But it shouldn't be done at the public's expense and universities shouldn't be covering junior high material. The onus should be where it belongs: On the individual student, to fully prepare themselves for the program to which they apply.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Creationists Wrong? Unpossible!

Remember when I had a creationist claiming
stars are found where astronomers agree they could not evolve, near the center of our galaxy. These short-lived stars orbit a massive black hole, where gravity is so strong that gas and dust clouds could never evolve into a star.
Well, surprise surprise, recent studies have shown this is likely incorrect.

The new research shows that as large chunks of galactic molecular clouds fall into the galactic center, the gravitational forces conspire to compress infalling gas creating fresh young stars.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

More Thoughts on the Contraception Kerfuffle

After posting my initial thoughts to Google+ and attracting at least one myopic idiot, there were a few other points that were put forth that I wanted to comment on as well.

The main one was a point that Gingrich tried to make in the interview I linked to as an addendum to my last post. His claim is that this isn't an issue about women's health, but rather, is about religious liberties. Namely, should religious institutions be forced to pay for services that run counter to their beliefs.

If that were the full story, I'd absolutely say no. As long time readers know, I firmly support the 1st amendment guarantee of separation of church and state which protects religious institutions from government influence.

But what tipped me off that this wasn't the big picture was the shrill cry on the slippery slope that I kept seeing as an example of what would happen if health care insurers were required to pay for contraception: Catholic universities and hospitals everywhere would be forced to shut their doors since the Church couldn't continue to run them if they had to partake in something that *gasp* might possibly pay for birth control.

That's when I realized how full of hot air this argument was.

The reason is that I've heard this exact argument before. A few years ago there was a dust up over whether hospitals (including Catholic ones) should be required to provide medically necessary abortions. As with this instance, Catholics immediately tried to play the "religious liberty" card claiming that they would have to shut their doors if these requirements were made.

And yet, here we are with the hospitals still intact and providing medically necessary abortions is still an expectation of these hospitals. The reason that these institutions don't get an exemption is that they're not truly religious institutions. They're religiously affiliated. However, these hospitals are providing a secular service and receiving money (and apparently a lot of it) from a secular government to function. Indeed, one study* showed that religious hospitals get more of their funding (36%) from medicare than typical public hospitals (27%).

The fact of the matter is, that if you want money from our government, you have to play by secular rules which means claiming religious liberty doesn't cut it. If it's an expectation for secular hospitals, secular schools, and the insurance companies that contract with them, then it's a requirement for religiously affiliated institutions (which mostly arise when a Catholic organization throws down enough money to slap their name on a previously established independent hospital).

So where does this leave us? I suspect that the same thing will happen here as it did in the previous case: The dust will settle, the expectation will be upheld, and Catholic affiliated institutions, despite their protestations will remain running.

The alternative is that they could pull their funding. Which... wouldn't much matter as I see it. Aside from medicare being a primary source of funding, a large portion obviously comes from the bills that patients (or their insurance companies) pay.... which wouldn't change if the religious organizations pulled out.

The religious organizations could refuse to sell the facilities to groups without such holy sticks up their butt which would effectively close them, but this would be seen as a childish move and petty move on their part. Definitely bad PR. Seeing that this would be a bad move, they would likely just pull their names off it, and these hospitals would become like any other secular hospital out there (78% of all the hospitals currently). In other words, it's business as usual.

In either case, the religious organizations only reveal themselves for what they are: Irrelevant to secular law.

Which reinforces my initial point: This isn't a discussion about religious liberty. Gingrich and others want to claim it is, but they're not trying to protect the rights of these organizations. They're trying to carve out new ones and create further intrusions on our secular government by religious organizations. Which is just as scary as all the other things I listed in my last post that the GOP is trying to pull.

* - Uttley, L. J, "No strings attached: Public funding of religiously-sponsored hospitals in the United States," Mergerwatch, 2002, p.10.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Contraception Kerfuffle

It's very rare that I write an "angry" post anymore in a blog with "angry" in the title. Even my recent dissection of the Missouri Creationism bill wasn't in anger, but in annoyance.

But the recent discussion in the political arena has gotten me downright irate.

For those that haven't been following the story, here's the recap:

The GOP decides to have a hearing on the bill that would require health insurance companies to help pay for birth control. Of course, their panel of "experts" was filled with anything but; it was a bunch of men, at least two of which only had the "expertise" of being religious.

The Democrats tried to get a woman, Sandra Fluke, on the panel to testify, but the GOP decided she wasn't expert enough and blocked her.

So instead of hearing from someone that the issue actually impacts directly, we get a bunch of men missing the issue completely.

Indeed, the discussion has revolved around the wrong points entirely. Whereas the requirement for health insurance companies is about treating health issues through birth control (where there are many), the "experts" whined about how their religion says people shouldn't have sex unless they're married, in which case, there's no reason for birth control and they didn't like paying health insurance companies that would have to pay, in part for birth control because, to them, it's all about fornication.

Then we get some chucklehead supporter of Santorum saying that women should avoid getting pregnant by putting an aspirin between their knees (ie, keep your damn legs shut). Again, missing the point by a mile.

So the Democrats allow Sandra Fluke to testify in their own hearing, where she talks about how her friend had to lose an ovary because her loving Catholic institution wouldn't help pay for her prescription birth control which would have helped treat the issue.

But yet again, missing the point by the distance of the moon, we get conservative clown Rush Limbaugh claiming she's a "slut" and a "prostitute" and that she's asking for handouts to have sex and if she's going to get paid, then she should post sex videos online.


Of course, crackpot Bill O'Reilly has to pile it on claiming Sandra wants government to pay for her "social life".

The whole point of Sandra's testimony was that contraception isn't about sex. It's about women's health. Furthermore, Limbaugh repeatedly implied that the more sex someone had, the more expensive it would be to pay for birth control. Obviously he doesn't even know how hormonal birth control works.

Rachel Maddow nailed this one and revealed how it's not just a problem of the commentators, but of the GOP itself where GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney claims to support a "personhood" amendment which would make the destruction of a fertilized embryo a crime, but failed to understand that this is precisely what hormonal birth control does: It prevents fertilized eggs from implanting.

Meanwhile, I see Santorum giving a speech on how we shouldn't have the federal government taking over health insurance because people shouldn't have to pay for things they don't want to (like birth control). Does he really even think about what he's saying? We already have to pay for things we may not want to because it's part of the greater good; This is the entire point of taxes! All of them go towards things we may not even use, but collectively, we have acknowledged that there's massive benefits to paying for them. This is how we have schools, police, fire departments, and a military. If Santorum was intellectually consistent and honest, he would admit that there should be no place for any of those if we truly abolished requirements making people pay into things with which they may not agree.

And Santorum and Romney aren't the only ones making ignorant statements showing they don't understand what they're talking about. When Newt Gingrich was asked about his view on the issue, he also stated that he didn't want people to be forced to pay for "abortion pills". I suppose you could argue that he's a bit closer to the mark than Romney, but the closest thing I think anyone could call "abortion pills" is Plan B. And as I understand it, that's not covered in the bill, which again, reaffirms the fact that this isn't a debate about pregnancy so much as it is about healthcare. But the GOP doesn't want to hear that.

Additionally, to support this myopic crusade against women, religious institutions spread outright misinformation on birth control (kinda like Herp Derp Kirk Cameron claiming honosexuality is "unnatural" when it's been observed in numerous other species, but don't let the facts get in the way pal).

So to bring this together, here's what pisses me off:

This encapsulates the state of right-wing politics in our nation today - It's built on a foundation of ignorance and willfully misses the points, rejecting the people that actually have the points and expertise on a topic in favor of misplaced, self-righteous religious morals, attempting to slut shame women, instead of promoting their well being.

I don't buy into either political party, but while I think the Democrats are rather worthless, it's things like this that are simply a reminder of why the GOP is nothing short of vile.

(Side Note: Thanks to a concerted effort online many companies that advertised on Limbaugh's show have dropped their sponsorship.)

UPDATE: Shit like the above has real world consequences. Not only is it vile that the GOP is so scared of women having a sexuality that they'd rather punish them on medical issues, but they pass this crap onto their kids who outright harass others. The kids that echo this sort of thing are bad, but the parents are worse. The climate of condensation that the conservative right fosters is nothing short of loathsome. These people lack human compassion and should be shown none in return.

UPDATE 2: Added paragraph about Gingrich's ignorance as well.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Naka Kon 2012 Recap

My annual trip to Naka Kon was this past weekend. This year was definitely a change for me.

The past three years I've run a small sub sector of the convention: the Gaming sector. However, this year, I took a big step up. I essentially oversaw everything that happened at the convention that attendees could do.

Of course, the majority of this means figuring out the schedule, which is done well in advance, but there's always fires to put out: Panelists not having the right kinds of computer cables, Guests not being at the right place on time, schedule changes, etc...

Most of Friday was taken up working on a single event: Our Formal Ball. In past years, the host has taken an approach of "make people dress up, play music and magic happens". Instead of dancing, we instead get something more awkward than a junior high dance. So this year, with assistance from one of my best friends, we decided to 100% rework the ball. We chose only waltzes, had a 2 hour waltz lesson prior to the ball, had a bunch of staff we taught to assist everyone and pull wallflowers off the wall, and had games to keep everyone engaged. We had "dance cards" that required people to interact and learn various waltz steps that could be turned in when completed for a chance at being ball king/queen, prince/princess.

For this event we'd anticipated ~300 people, but printed 350 dance cards just in case. A few weeks before the con, I started getting worried that that might not be enough. Questions about the ball were eclipsing anything else. Even the announcement for the ball was getting more "Likes" on facebook than the announcement for the two biggest Guest voice actors (usually the biggest draw at conventions).

And I was right to be worried. We ran out of dance cards before we even got through the initial line. The 1000 ft dance floor we laid down wasn't even close to enough. We needed 4 times that (which isn't even available)! Regardless, it was an amazing event and towards the end, every single socially awkward nerd in the room was waltzing.

However, towards the end, I had to step out for 20 minutes for an emergency meeting. It wasn't just the ball that was bigger than anticipated. It was the entire convention. We had over 3,000 attendees arrive on Friday alone. Usually Saturday is the big day for people arriving and if that held up again this year, there would be no way we could accommodate everyone. We simply didn't have enough badges printed and the staff couldn't handle another day of that. The call was made to close registration several hours early.

But as luck would have it, Saturday's registrations were slow. The final numbers were somewhere around 1,000. It seems that having major events like our formal ball and concert on Friday are becoming bigger events than the usual main draw: The costume competition (which is Saturday).

While I didn't have a single event taking up my time on Saturday, it was the day of my annual "Anime Mythbusters" panel. This year I had the largest room available for general panels. Our most desired Guest this year, Steve Blum, had the exact same room the hour before me and only managed to fill it 3/4 the way. For me, it was standing room only. Yes, science can be that cool.

This year I added 4 new segments including things from Avatar (the show, not the awful movie), Samurai 7 and Nyan Cat. I think this was easily the best year yet and can't wait to start touring it to my other annual conventions.

Saturday was busy in other respects too. Our voice actor Guests had a few things they decided to change around on us and we couldn't get the word out to attendees, which caused major headaches. It was also the day of security incidents, two of which involved the police. Our security team did an amazing job, but we're lucky to have a team that's composed of a large number of current and ex-military as well as former and off duty police officers so if any security team is ready to handle such things, it was ours.

Sunday went pretty quietly. It had to be up at 5:30 am to do my shift in our con HQ which wasn't fun. I had a panel on Sexism in Anime later that day and the amount of tired was kicking my butt. I wasn't intending on having any powerpoints and was just going to deliver it straight lecture style to not detract from the message, but I knew I was too tired to remember everything. Also, when that tired, I become more dyslexic so I couldn't use my notes I'd prepared as a crutch either. As such, I used my 4 hour shift to put together a powerpoint so I could remind myself what was going on in big words but not have to read too much.

In the end, the panel went spectacularly. I'd used my #1 favorite anime, Gurren Lagann, as a case study. My basis for the discussion was Allan Johnson's Gender Knot in which I went through several points that fit each of his criteria and examined whether they were present. Eventually, I'm wanting to expand this to many more animes and start building up a survey of the entire genre instead of a single data point.

The panel had about 300 attendees and several of them stayed after to discuss things further including apparently one that reads this blog (small universe). It was a really great experience and I've submitted it to Tokyo in Tulsa for July. I can't wait to update it and present it there.

Naka is usually my first convention of each year and has consistently been my favorite. This year's was easily the best, despite all the issues we encountered. But most of those issues are something that can easily be resolved and Naka 2013 will be even better.

Now to continue sleeping.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Happy New Year. Have an ID Bill Missouri!

It's been quite some time since I've seen any pro-Creationism bills introduced in my home state of Missouri. In general, it seems we learned from our neighbors in Kansas when they had their big kerfuffle and had their pro-ID standards struck down and were embarrassed nation wide (if you don't remember, Kansas' bill actually was put into law for some time and changed the definition of science to include the supernatural, whereas most bills die before ever becoming law).

But it seems Missouri has forgotten the lesson and a pro-Creationist bill introduced recently. And boy is it loaded with some stupid. Let's take a look.

One of the first things it does is define a bunch of terms:
"Biological evolution", a theory of the origin of life and its ascent by naturalistic means.
Uh, no. Evolution has nothing to do with the origin of life. That's how you can tell real scientists didn't have anything to do with this bill. Real scientists know what words mean.

A second quibble is that "ascent" is a poor word choice that makes the assumption that evolution has a goal towards "higher" species. This is nonsense.
Theory philosophically demands only naturalistic causes and denies the operation of any intelligence, supernatural event, God or theistic figure in the initial or subsequent development of life;
Again, it's pretty painfully obvious this was written by scientifically illiterate Creationists. Evolution doesn't deny the existence of God; it just makes Him superfluous.
"Biological intelligent design", a hypothesis that the complex form and function observed in biological structures are the result of intelligence and, by inference, that the origin of biological life and the diversity of all original species on earth are the result of intelligence.
Hey! That one is almost right! It didn't attempt to pass Intelligent Design off as a theory, whereas they admit that evolution is, although they don't make any indication that they know what the difference is.
Since the inception of each original species, genetic material has been lost, inherited, exchanged, mutated, and recombined to result in limited variation.
Wait, what? So this bill is passing straight lies into law? No, genetic material has not been "lost". Sometimes it is, but through gene duplication and other methods, the amount of information increases. Creationists often deny this. Furthermore, we've seen species diverge, thus giving lie to the idea that there is "limited variation" with "each original species".
Naturalistic mechanisms do not provide a means for making life from simple molecules or making sufficient new genetic material to cause ascent from microscopic organisms to large life forms.
A claim without any supporting evidence.
The hypothesis does not require the identity of intelligence responsible for earth’s biology but requires any proposed identity of that intelligence to be verifiable by present-day observation or experimentation.
It claims not to, but every major ID proponent, from Behe, to Dembski, to Johnson, have claimed otherwise at some point.
Concepts inherent within the hypothesis include:
(a) The origin of life on earth is inferred to be the result of intelligence directed design and construction. There are no plausible mechanisms or present-day experiments to prove the naturalistic origin of the first independent living organism;
Um, argument from ignorance.
(b) All original species on earth are inferred to be the result of intelligence directed design and construction. There are no significant mechanisms or present-day experiments to prove the naturalistic development of earth's species from microscopic organisms;
Another argument from ignorance, and one that's actually untrue. Genetics "proves" the common ancestry.
(c) Complex forms in proteins, enzymes, DNA, and other biological structures demonstrated by their constituent molecules in regard to size, shape, quantity, orientation, sequence, chirality, and integration imply intelligent design was necessary for the first life on earth. Intelligence is capable of designing complex form;
Intelligence is capable of designing complex form. However, it's not exclusive. Roll a rock down a mountainside and the chips and nicks it accumulates are exceptionally "complex". But that doesn't mean it was done in any intelligent manner. Thus, they're trying to confuse people with a possibility as the only possible answer.
(d) Complex functions demonstrated by growth, reproduction, repair, food metabolization, waste disposal, stimuli response, and autonomous mobility in microscopic organisms imply intelligent design was necessary for the first life on earth.
In other words, "we're going to assume the first life was as complex as life is today requiring all these things." Evolution has never made such a claim. Thus, this is a strawman.
(e) Within the history of human experience, all exhibits of recurring discrete symbols from a set of symbols arranged in a specific sequence which store information and can be read by human intelligence, is itself the result of intelligence.
Since when are nucleic acids "discrete symbols"? We assign symbols to represent them, but that doesn't mean that's what they are. We use symbols to make things comprehensible, but we can't project backwards and assume the reverse.
(f) Intelligence-directed design and construction of all original species at inception without an accompanying genetic burden is inferred rather than random mutational genetic change as a constructive mechanism. Random mutational genetic change results in an increasing genetic burden and species degradation rather than species ascent;
Again with the ridiculous humancentric notion that there are "higher" and "lower" species. Also, they're making the absolutely false claim that mutations are only harmful. This is an outright lie.
(g) Intelligence-directed action is necessary to exceed the limits of natural species change, which is a combination of autogenous species change and environmental effected species change. Multi-generation breeding experiments illustrate the limits of natural species change and its inadequacy for developing required genetic information found in dissimilar species;
No. We have directly seen species diverge.
(h) The irreducible complexity of certain biological systems implies a completed design and construction at inception rather than step-by-step development, as indicated by the structures observed for sight, hearing, smell, balance, blood coagulation, digestion, and hormone control;
Wait... did they really just invoke Irreducible Complexity? That notion that got destroyed in the Dover trial? Hell, they're even including some of the exact systems that were shown to be reducible in that trial! It's cute they found some new ones to list, but it's still an argument from ignorance. Logical fallacies don't fly in real science.
(i) The lack of significant transitional forms between diverse species existing today and in the fossil record implies all original species were completed at inception rather than by a step-by-step development from other species. A lack of transitional forms is illustrated by the appearance of large complex life forms in the Cambrian fossil record without any significant previous fossils;
Wow. Two lies in one point. 1) We have a ton of transitional fossils. And even if we didn't, genetics and homology establish evolution beyond a shadow of a doubt. The fossil record is just bonus. 2) The Cambrian explosion has many fossils prior to it. Creationists just pretend they don't exist.
(j) Common designs and features evident in different species imply the intelligent reuse of proven designs analogous to the reuse of proven designs by human designers;
This is the gibberish that "common design implies common designer". No. If things weren't similar, then Creationists could claim it "implies a creative designer." Indeed, only a few hundred years ago, this is exactly the argument Creationists made. God was invoked to explain diversity.

The take away less is that a designer is assumed either way and since, no matter what, that's the case for common or different structures, there's no way to falsify the hypothesis. And if it can't be falsified, it's not science.
(k) The lack of significant present-day observable changes in species due to random variation, mutation, natural selection, adaptation, segregation, or other naturalistic mechanisms implies intelligence as the cause for all original species;
Again, an outright lie. We've seen numerous species diverge. When they diverge, that's very significant. But Creationists pretend that doesn't happen or use the term "species" so vaguely that it's meaningless.

From there, the bill goes on to proscribe "Equal treatment" which is defined as "the approximate equal teaching of each specified viewpoint for a single course of instruction in course textbooks" which should "contain approximately an equal number of pages of relevant material teaching each viewpoint."

That's right. The bill acknowledges that ID is merely a hypothesis, but claims it deserves as much time as a full fledged theory (which it spent considerable time lying about).

As expected, they go on to attempt to define "theory" but botch it:
"Scientific theory", an inferred explanation of incompletely understood phenomena about the physical universe based on limited knowledge, whose components are data, logic, and faith-based philosophy. The inferred explanation may be proven, mostly proven, partially proven, unproven or false and may be based on data which is supportive, inconsistent, conflicting, incomplete, or inaccurate. The inferred explanation may be described as a scientific theoretical model;
Nothing is ever "completely understood" in science. To do so would require infinite knowledge, something science doesn't claim to have (yet Creationists do!). Theories in science are not "proven" in an absolute sense. They are, however, proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If they are "partially proven, unproven or false ... based on data which is supportive, inconsistent, conflicting, incomplete, or inaccurate" then it's not a theory. The end.

Similarly, the sponsors of the bill can't manage to define a scientific law either:
(10) "Scientific law", a statement describing specific phenomena about the physical universe which has been verified by observation or experimentation and has no exceptions of verified empirical data. The statement may be described by formula;
"No exceptions of verified empirical data" you say? What about Newton's laws? There are numerous exceptions. Which is why the law had to be replaced... with a theory.

There's quite a few other ironies in the bill. For example:
If empirical data is taught, only such data which has been verified or is currently capable of being verified by observation or experimentation shall be taught.
Since every point listed in defining the thrust of ID is a logical fallacy, it is not "capable of being verified by observation or experimentation" in a broad sense. In narrow senses, some specific points may be, but every time those points have been raised, they have been found to be false.
Data with the appearance of empirical data which has never been verified and is currently incapable of being verified shall be identified as nonverifiable when taught orally or in writing;
You mean like Behe's claims of IC, or Dembski's entire concept of Specified Complexity which make up the core of many of the points previously raised?
If scientific law is taught, written textbooks statements identified as scientific law shall have no known exceptions of verified empirical data;
As previously pointed out, this actually has more of an effect on Physics than it does Biology.

But perhaps one of the most vile things the bill does, is after working so hard to (mis)define theory, they nearly admit that it's irrelevant anyway because they're going to mush everything up with false equivalence:
As used in this subsection, the term "theory" shall mean theory or hypothesis;
In other words, they don't care that ID hasn't been established. They're just going to promote it for no reason.

Here's another doozy:
If biological intelligent design is taught, any proposed identity of the intelligence responsible for earth’s biology shall be verifiable by present-day observation or experimentation
Either the sponsors of this bill are fiendishly smart, or incredibly stupid with this point.

As written, it would seem the intent of this passage is to prevent discussion that would link the designer to the Biblical God, thereby keeping it from running afoul of 1st amendment challenges under the guise that it doesn't promote any specific religion and is therefore secular. But Behe, Dembski, Johnson, et al claim to be able to infer the identity of the designer. Thus, if that was the intent of the sponsors, since those arguments are presumably scientific, there is a gaping loophole.

But then again, that may well be the intent, that those very arguments could sneak God into the discussion while excluding all other options. Again, either very clever or very stupid (as if the rest of the bill doesn't indicate the latter).
(6) If a scientific theory or hypothesis proven to be false is taught for historical, illustrative, or other reasons, the theory or hypothesis shall be identified as false when taught orally or in writing.
Wait... doesn't that mean the entire bill defeats itself?

As noted previously, the bill requires that all textbooks conform to this "equal time" nonsense. Obviously, this doesn't mean all textbooks are thrown out immediately, but all new ones purchased must be. In the meantime, the bill requires that a "supplemental textbook" be created. But the identity of the people to create it is asinine:
shall consist of nine individuals who are knowledgeable of science and intelligent design and reside in Missouri.
Wait... so they don't need to be Biologists? They can just be knowledgeable about any form of science to qualify?

It's no surprise why this is included: You probably wouldn't find 9 people that are Biologists in Missouri that would support such anti-science. Rather, as the Dissent From Darwin list shows, the vast majority of "scientists" that support ID aren't in any relevant fields. According to one survey, only about 0.01% of "dissenting" scientists are from a field which is applicable.

In other words, they want to include people that are illiterate in Biology to write material for a Biology class.

So here's a quick recap:
  • The bill admits that evolution is a theory and ID is a hypothesis.
  • It promptly tosses that distinction out the window to engage in some false equivocation.
  • It incorrectly defines most of its terms.
  • It throws out all of the typical Creationist/ID false claims against evolution and pretends that they're 1) honest criticisms and 2) a positive argument for ID.
  • Leaves a wide open door to promote the Christian God as the identity of the Designer.
  • Appoints non-experts to develop classroom material.
I sincerely doubt this bill will make it too far. However, I've looked at the wording of quite a few Creationist bills and I think this one rates pretty highly on the stupid density scale.