25 August 2008

Evolution in the classroom

An interesting NY Times article follows a science teacher who worked on evolution standards throughout a few days in his classroom. There's also a bunch of links to graphics and more information, such as the infamous 10 Questions About Evolution - and answers!

22 August 2008

19 August 2008

Another Pop Quiz

This one by Dr. Richard Mueller of UC Berkeley and "Physics for Future Presidents" fame, and brought to you by the NY Times. If you enter there, I'd be curious to hear your answer here as well.

Pop Quiz!

I heard someone's cellphone go off, so it's time for a pop quiz. Or if you prefer, think of it as a thought experiment. It's two questions. Answer me the best that you can, and explain your reasoning.

1) A tunnel is drilled straight through the Earth, straight from one side to the other and through the core. Let's suppose the tunnel is given strong enough walls that it doesn't collapse, and that it's well insulated so it isn't too boiling inside. A tourist sees this gigantic hole and decides "hey, there's no bottom to hit, so it's gotta be safe to jump into it," and follows word with deed. (a) Where does he end up? (b) If he could stop at the middle, what would be his weight there (as compared to his weight standing on the surface)?

2) Same tunnel through the Earth, this time you can walk along it with a barometer, reading air pressure throughout the tunnel. When you get to the center, will the air pressure be greater than that at the surface, the same, less than the surface, or entirely zero?

18 August 2008

Famous Scientists

I was amused to stumble across the website Famous Scientsts while doing Google Image Labeler. They've got mini-bios and photos of some 20 scientists, and I was glad to see there's two women in the list.

More on UC vs Christian schools

Whee, CNN Video now allows embedding!

(If the video has problems, try this link.)

The girl's statement that her school teaches the "theories" of both ID and evolution and therefore is less "narrow" is exactly the problem - ID is not a theory, it's a baseless conjecture without any evidence. A theory needs to be well-tested, with an overwhelming amount of physical evidence to support it, such that it is well-accepted by the scientific community. These students are clearly NOT being taught that crucial distinction, and therefore do NOT understand how science works.

15 August 2008

Bizarre observations from normal videos

There's a couple videos making the rounds right now where a woman observes some natural phenomenon and makes really bizarre conclusions. Although these are posted by two different people, I believe they were originally made by the same person - the rainbow link is a reposting, the Moon one appears to be the original person if you glance at some of her other videos, but I don't see the rainbow among them.

The Rainbow DiHydrogen Monoxide Conspiracy

This was discussed by the Bad Astronomer, and I didn't have the desire to view it then, but will now. If anyone here really does need an explanation of this "freaky unnatural rainbow sprinkler, since light isn't naturally a rainbow," in short, whenever there's a fine mist (such as clouds, or spray from a waterfall, or from a sprinkler) in front of you, and a source of continuum light (usually the Sun) behind you, the light bounces around inside the mist droplets and comes back out as a rainbow. A similar effect can be seen with ice particles in clouds around the Moon at night - since it's ice, the way the light bounces is different so you'll see the ring around the Moon instead of in the opposite direction.

The statement "This cannot be natural, it didn't happen 20 years ago," is simply an indication that 20 years ago she was not as observant as she is now, and in fact if she had been listening in school 30 years ago, she might even know "what the hell is going on".

The Moon is Broken

What's happening to the Moon in this video is known as earthshine. The Moon appears bright because light from the Sun bounces off the Moon and into our eyes. If you were standing on that part of the Moon you'd see a bright Sun in the sky. The other side appears dark usually b/c no light is bouncing off of it. Sometimes we can actually see the "dark" side due to reflected light from the Earth - light from the Sun bounces off the Earth, then off the Moon and into our eyes. If you were standing on the Moon there you'd see a bright Earth in the sky, much like the Full Moon looks bright to us here.

As for her last comment in the video ("The Moon seems awfully low for this time of year"), it's not actually the time of year that matters, it's the phase of the Moon. The crescent Moon is never far from the Sun in the sky, so it makes perfect sense for the waxing crescent Moon to set right after sunset.

While this woman's conclusions are entirely bizarre, I have to applaud her observational skills, and her desire to learn what caused these various effects. There are many more people out there with even more bizarre ideas in their heads, but they never bother to look up or around themselves, and thus have no hope of ever leaving their strange little worlds. This woman at least has a chance.

Judge says UC can deny religious course credit

(08-12) 17:25 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal judge says the University of California can deny course credit to applicants from Christian high schools whose textbooks declare the Bible infallible and reject evolution.

Rejecting claims of religious discrimination and stifling of free expression, U.S. District Judge James Otero of Los Angeles said UC's review committees cited legitimate reasons for rejecting the texts - not because they contained religious viewpoints, but because they omitted important topics in science and history and failed to teach critical thinking.

(Bob Egelko, SF Chronicle)

This is excellent news for science and history, for universities, and for students. For science and history because it promotes fact-based and logic-based teaching, saying that making assumptions before performing the research is NOT an acceptable method of analysis. For universities because we can continue to defend our rigorous standards without government or religious interference. And for students because students will continue to be delivered quality higher education requiring them to learn critical thinking skills which will serve them well in life, and hopefully parochial K-12 schools will begin to reconsider their courses which do not teach such skills.

12 August 2008

Partial Lunar Eclipse: Aug 16

On the heels of last week's total solar eclipse, this Saturday night, August 16, there will be a partial lunar eclipse, visible in New England, South America, Africa, Europe, and parts of Asia. Sorry rest of the US, you don't get to see it.

Lunar eclipses often precede or follow solar eclipses because a solar eclipse requires the Earth, Moon, and Sun to be very precisely lined up, with the Moon in the middle. This precise condition doesn't last very long, maybe a couple weeks, but fortunately that's how long it takes for the Moon to go around to the other side, so we now have Moon, Earth, Sun.

I also mentioned this phenomena here, or you can Google on eclipse season or line of nodes for more info.