April 2008

From wyff4.com:

JONESVILLE, S.C. — The sign in front of a small church in a small town is causing a big controversy in Jonesville, S.C.

Pastor Roger Byrd said that he just wanted to get people thinking. So last Thursday, he put a new message on the sign at the Jonesville Church of God.

It reads: “Obama, Osama, hmm, are they brothers?”

Byrd said that the message wasn’t meant to be racial or political.

“It’s simply to cause people to realize and to see what possibly could happen if we were to get someone in there that does not believe in Jesus Christ,” he said.

When asked if he believes that Barack Obama is Muslim, Byrd said, “I don’t know. See it asks a question: Are they brothers? In other words, is he Muslim ? I don’t know. He says he’s not. I hope he’s not. But I don’t know. And it’s just something to try to stir people’s minds. It was never intended to hurt feelings or to offend anybody.”

Obama has said repeatedly during his campaign that he is a Christian and attends Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

Despite some criticism, Byrd says that the message will stay on the sign. He took the issue before his congregation Sunday night, and they decided unanimously to keep it.

Byrd also said he doesn’t want it to look like controversy forced him to take the sign down.

The religious method:

The Prayer Method


Evolution exhibit shows why nobody’s perfect
‘Surviving: The Body of Evidence’ displayed at University of Pennsylvania

By Joann Loviglio

PHILADELPHIA – A new exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania about human evolution gives a new meaning to the expression “nobody’s perfect.”

Scientists say we have evolution to thank for our survival, but that it’s also where we can point the finger when we experience backaches, impacted wisdom teeth or difficulty giving birth.

The remarkable yet imperfect process that has brought homo sapiens to where we are now, and where it might take us down the road, is the theme of “Surviving: The Body of Evidence,” at the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

An exhibit five years in the making, it uses fossils and interactive multimedia displays to tell the story about how the human race adapted, thrived and continues to evolve. It leaves Penn in May 2009 for a multi-city tour including stops at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and The Health Museum in Houston.

The exhibit’s message, right down to the title, is that finding evidence of the evolutionary process is as simple as looking at ourselves.

“You are a living artifact of evolution,” said Janet Monge, co-curator of the exhibit. “We didn’t want it to be something remote. It’s about you — you’re the artifact and this will tell you why.”

Visitors can stand toe-to-toe with a skeleton cast of 3.2 million-year-old “Lucy,” one of the world’s most famous fossils, and children can see how they measure up to Nariokotome Boy, a nearly complete skeleton discovered in Kenya of a child who lived 1.6 million years ago.

Also included are more than 100 touchable casts of fossil bones and skulls from the evolutionary history of primates and humans.

The show is more focused on concepts rather than artifacts, however, and is replete with child-friendly interactive elements such as peek holes, sliding panels and video monitors.

A 16-foot-long figure of a woman with transparent plastic skin, nicknamed “JaMo” in honor of Monge, is the centerpiece of the show. Stationed around the recumbent figure will be interactive display screens using animation and 3-D graphics illustrating how and why our muscles, bones and joints evolved and their complex interplay that allows us a wide range of movement.

The exhibit also highlights what might be considered evolution’s hiccups: the imperfect results of the evolutionary process common to people around the world, such as stiff backs and pelvic bones that haven’t adapted to the larger brain size of newborns, making childbirth difficult for many women.

“The important aspect we tried to capture … is evolution isn’t just an interesting scientific idea,” said Alan Mann, exhibit co-curator. “We wanted to let everybody know what it means to be a product of evolution.”

The show also provides an unequivocally scientific message about what remains a topic of debate in some places more than 80 years after the Scopes monkey trial.

Even as understanding is growing exponentially because of advances in genetics and biology, “many Americans don’t understand evolution, they mistrust it, they don’t get it,” said Andrew Binns, Penn associate provost for education. That’s why exhibits like “Surviving” are so important as educational tools for children and adults, he said.

It’s also a stepping off point for a citywide “Year of Evolution” sponsored by Penn and featuring additional events at The Academy of Natural Sciences, the Philadelphia Zoo, The Franklin Institute, the American Philosophical Society Museum and the Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Timed to coincide with the approach of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of his seminal work “On the Origin of Species,” both happening in 2009, programs will include exhibits and lectures on Darwin and geneticist Gregor Mendel, IMAX movies, and other events for children and families.

On May Day, the international worker’s holiday, longshore workers in the US are organizing to shut down major ports on the west coast in protest of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. You can learn more about their action here: http://sbindymedia. org/for_workers_ strikes_against_ the_war

In solidarity with workers shutting down shipping lanes, we will shut down the street and hold a Reclaim the Streets party to send a strong message: Until the war ends, there will be no business as usual!

The atmosphere will be festive, with:
– Dancing
– Music
– Games
– Free Food
– Street Art
– Street Theater

Bring toys, games, costumes, art supplies, banners, and other implements of merrymaking!

*Please bring your battery-powered boom-boxes to be a part of the Anti-War Radio sound system – we want to be as loud as possible!*

Sarasota 4:00 pm, Thurs May 1 Meet at Pioneer Park on 12th and Cocoanut – From there we will march to the party

Housing for out of town activists is available, contact james.birmingham@ncf.edu to make arrangements

More info here: http://sarasota.indymedia.org/local/04-15-2008-stop-war-reclaim-streets

Actor Jason Beghe is the first celebrity Scientologist to sit down and publicly talk about his experiences after leaving the group.

Video was pulled from YouTube. Still available here.

From Herald-Tribune.com:

Evolution fray attracts top scientist
Nobel winner battles plan to let teachers challenge Darwin’s theory
By Anna Scott
Published Tuesday, April 15, 2008 at 4:30 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE — His mess of white hair rising with the wind, Nobel laureate Harold Kroto delivered what has become his standard speech on evolution:

Humans and fruit flies share the same genes.

“You may not like that but it’s not my fault,” Kroto, 68, said in front of the state Capitol on Monday.

“It’s the way it actually is.”

Florida lawmakers are frustrating the winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for chemistry. They want to change the way evolution is taught so that teachers are allowed to challenge Darwin’s theory.

It is the most absurd thing Kroto has heard since moving to Florida in 2004 to teach at Florida State University. His friends back home in England, where he was a professor in Sussex, have been sending him e-mails asking why he stays, he said.

“We’re the laughingstock of the enlightened world,” Kroto said.

For months, he has been writing newspaper articles explaining the basic tenets of Darwin’s theory, hoping to change minds.

He sits on round-table discussions and hands out booklets on evolution from the National Academy of Sciences.

He races to the Capitol between lectures to give the fruit fly talk.

To Kroto, and mainstream scientists like him, the idea that humans evolved from the world’s earliest life forms is as obvious as the laws of gravity.

“The bedrock of all biology,” Kroto calls it. “It’s beautiful.”

But Florida lawmakers and a national movement of mostly religious-based groups believe evolution is less absolute.

State proposals this year would undo a recent decision by the state Board of Education and allow teachers to “present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical evolution.”

Kroto and other scientists surmise such legislation would allow teachers to present as credible theories of creationism and intelligent design, basically beliefs that God or a higher being created humans.

Proponents say it allows teachers “academic freedom” to explore a theory, and that laws clearly ban the teaching of religious theories.

The proposals would also protect from punishment students who refuse to accept Darwin’s evolution.

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, says teachers and students feel too frightened to even discuss intelligent design.

Senate Majority Leader Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, said the theory of evolution “had flaws.”

Republicans have voted for the plan to the point where it will be considered by the full Senate, and has only one more committee to pass in the House.

Kroto, whose father was Jewish and fled the Nazis in Germany, said the belief in God has never made sense to him.

“I just think science is the way the universe is and that’s how we figure things out,” Kroto said.

He won the Nobel Prize for discovering buckminsterfullerene, a carbon molecule with a soccer ball shape that students now call “buckyballs” for short.

He fears the recent debate over evolution is a sign science is becoming irrelevant.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s an abuse of position not to teach science correctly to children,” Kroto said. “Today they don’t need to know how anything works. The technology is so good if something breaks they get it fixed. There’s a large number of kids probably prepared to accept something without being too careful.”

Video of Richard Dawkins appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher is available here:

From the Center for Inquiry Florida:

The bad news

Unfortunately, I got some bad news. SB 2692 (the so called Evolution Academic Freedom Act) has passed in the Florida Senate Judiciary committee. Its next stop is a vote before the entire Florida Senate. [This is a pro-Intelligent Design, anti-science bill.]

To add to the bad news, HB 1483 (its house companion) is coming up for a vote on Friday 4/11/08 at 9:30 AM before the Florida House Schools & Learning Council. If it passes this vote, it goes before the entire Florida House. All of this takes the bills that much closer to the governor’s office for signature into law.

As I noted in an earlier e-mail, these bills claim to protect the rights of teachers to “objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution in connection with teaching any prescribed curriculum regarding chemical or biological origins”. It also ensures that “public school students in the state’s K-12 school system shall be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials through normal testing procedures. However, students shall not be penalized for subscribing to a particular position or view regarding biological or chemical evolution.”

What you can do about it

I cannot emphasize how serious this is. I need everyone to contact members of the House Schools & Learning Council Committee and ask them to oppose this bill. Also, please send this to everyone you know that supports the teaching of evolution.

Also, please let your senator know that you oppose SB 2692 when it comes to the Senate floor for a vote.



Roundtable Discussion

Florida Citizens for Science and a coalition of stellar science organizations will present an exciting roundtable discussion on current legislative threats to science curriculum in Florida’s public schools. The panelists will address why the so-called “Evolution Academic Freedom Act” introduced in the state House and Senate is bad for science education in Florida and the growth of Florida’s economy.

WHO: Florida Citizens for Science and coalition members

WHAT: Roundtable Discussion with the following:
> Dave Campbell, high school science teacher
> Maryann Fiala, Executive Director, American electronics Alliance (AeA) Florida Council
> Dr. Harold Kroto, Nobel Prize Winner Chemistry 1996, Florida State University Dept. of Chemistry and Biochemistry
> Vic Walczak, Legal Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania, Lawyer in 2005 landmark case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District challenging the teaching of intelligent design in public schools.
> Ann Lunsden – Dr Lansden is professor of biology at FSU. She is a past president of the National Association of Biology Teachers.

WHEN: Monday, April 14 at 7:00PM

WHERE: Challenger Learning Center, Digital Dome/Planetarium, 200 South Duval Street, Tallahassee. The roundtable is free and open to the public. Legislators are also invited and encouraged to attend.

The event is an opportunity for the community to address the bill, which singles out evolution for special treatment and exposes school districts to liability if teachers and students inject their religious beliefs into the science classroom in the guise of “science.” This bill takes control of the curriculum away from education professionals. It is a red herring designed to suggest that discrimination exists where it does not, and to draw attention away from the subject matter of creationism. No law is required to authorize the teaching of scientific fact.



Participating organizations: American Society for Human Genetics (ASHG), American Association of Anatomists (AAA), American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), Genetics Society of America (GSA), National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT), and Society for Developmental Biology (SDB).

In the works

While none of the details are set in stone yet, there is talk about as many of us as possible going up to the Florida Legislature and lobbying our representative and senators concerning these bills. If anyone is interested in doing this, please let me know by sending an e-mail to wolfcu@comcast.net. More details in the next few days.

Thank you in advance for your help!

Curtis Wolf
Board Member, Florida Citizens for Science



House Schools & Learning Council Committee Members

All addresses are the same:
Capitol Office:
214 The Capitol
402 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300

Pickens, Joe H. (R) Chair
Phone: (850) 488-0665

Traviesa, Anthony T. (R) Vice Chair
Phone: (850) 488-9910

Bendross-Mindingall, Dorothy (D) Democratic Ranking Member
Phone: (850) 488-0625

Altman, Thad (R)
Phone: (850) 488-9720

Coley, Marti (R)
Phone: (850) 488-2873 

Flores, Anitere (R)
Phone: (850) 488-2831 

Ford, Clay (R)
Phone: (850) 488-0895 

Heller, Bill (D)
Phone: (850) 488-5719

Kiar, Martin David (D)
Phone: (850) 487-1588 

Legg, John (R)
Phone: (850) 488-5522 

Long, Janet C. (D)
Phone: (850) 488-6197 

McBurney, Charles (R)
Phone: (850) 488-4171 

McKeel, Seth (R)
Phone: (850) 488-9890 

Proctor, William L. (R)
Phone: (850) 488-2977

Simmons, David (R)
Phone: (850) 488-2231 

Vana, Shelley (D)
Phone: (850) 488-4791

New York Times article on how the Monty Hall Problem puts into question past experiments done on cognitive dissonance:

 The Monty Hall Problem has struck again, and this time it’s not merely embarrassing mathematicians. If the calculations of a Yale economist are correct, there’s a sneaky logical fallacy in some of the most famous experiments in psychology.

Play the Monty Hall puzzle here.

From Discover.com:

20 Ways the World Could End
Swept away.
by Corey S. Powell

We’ve had a good run of it. In the 500,000 years Homo sapiens has roamed the land we’ve built cities, created complex languages, and sent robotic scouts to other planets. It’s difficult to imagine it all coming to an end. Yet 99 percent of all species that ever lived have gone extinct, including every one of our hominid ancestors. In 1983, British cosmologist Brandon Carter framed the “Doomsday argument,” a statistical way to judge when we might join them. If humans were to survive a long time and spread through the galaxy, then the total number of people who will ever live might number in the trillions. By pure odds, it’s unlikely that we would be among the very first hundredth of a percent of all those people. Or turn the argument around: How likely is it that this generation will be the one unlucky one? Something like one fifth of all the people who have ever lived are alive today. The odds of being one of the people to witness doomsday are highest when there is the largest number of witnesses around— so now is not such an improbable time.

Human activity is severely disrupting almost all life on the planet, which surely doesn’t help matters. The current rate of extinctions is, by some estimates, 10,000 times the average in the fossil record. At present, we may worry about snail darters and red squirrels in abstract terms. But the next statistic on the list could be us.

Read on.

« Previous PageNext Page »