Florida Citizens for Science

September 10, 2006

We’re moving!

by @ 4:48 pm. Filed under Alert


Ladies and gentlemen, we have packed our bags and moved to new digs over at www.flascience.org. We have a general website and a new blog over there now open for business.

Please change all general links you may have for Florida Citizens for Science to the new location.

This old blog will probably hang out here for a while, so any links to specific posts will probably be fine. But any new links need to go over to the new site.

Thanks! See ya there.

September 7, 2006

More bad news in Florida

by @ 7:13 am. Filed under Education


Uneducated kids imperil state growth, report says

A generation of poorly educated children unlikely to get college degrees threatens Florida’s ability to create a competitive work force and may weaken the state’s economy, a new report being released today says.

Many Florida students are not academically prepared for college, most will not attend and many who do will struggle to pay, says the nonpartisan National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education in Washington.

Florida also is cited as one of only two states where the proportion of high-school students taking upper-level science courses has declined in the past 12 years, the study found. Black students in ninth and 12th grades are only three-quarters as likely as whites to take upper-level math and science courses, the report says.

September 1, 2006

Taking the lake bug census

by @ 5:16 pm. Filed under Science in Action


Scientists dig bugs to help lakes’ health

TAVARES — Like a fortune-teller poring over leaves in a tea cup, Sandi Hanlon-Breuer studies the worms and insect larvae living in the bottom of lakes to see the future.

The Lake County Water Authority biologist has a giant collection of creepy-crawlers she has culled from the bottom of two of Central Florida’s biggest lake systems, the Clermont and Harris chains, during the past year.

They tell her what has been going on in the lakes and offer clues about whether they should continue to stay healthy. It’s all part of a biological checkup of the two chains — the latest weapon the environmental scientists can use to protect water quality.

If the lake is healthy and has good water quality, the samples will have relatively few bugs to pick through. But the healthy lakes usually have a wide diversity of species — often including larvae of mayflies, caddisflies and dragonflies in addition to snails, crayfish, leeches and other species.

Lakes with poor water quality tend to be home mostly to aquatic worms and midge larvae and have little diversity.

It’s not a job for the squeamish.

Most of the bugs are dead by the time she gets around to studying them, but a few are still moving.

“You get some that are still crawling around, and that’s a problem,” said Hanlon-Breuer, who has a master’s degree in lake science. “This isn’t anything I learned in college.”

August 30, 2006

Tackling Evolution Challenges at Museums and Parks

by @ 9:11 am. Filed under News, Uncategorized


Here’s a good story that shows the fight to defend science happens in places beside the classroom and politics.

The vast majority of scientists agree that intelligent design (ID) — the belief that the complexity of life is evidence that something intelligent must have designed it — is not a scientific theory. But the rising popularity of the belief has led museums and national parks to rethink how they present information to visitors. Both groups are working to further educate staff and volunteers, and also to present clear information about why evolution is accepted among most scientists.

“The bottom line is that intelligent design is a threat to the credibility of science in our culture,” says Kirk Johnson, chief curator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. “Since science ought to be in a museum, we realized that as a museum, we could do a better job of educating people about what science is, and how we know what we know.”

The mission of natural history museums is always to explain how science works so that people can understand it, “but clearly there are individuals who are tempted to conflate what science is and make it confusing,” he says. “It makes us more inspired to make it understandable.”

… the new Thomas Condon Paleontology Center is much larger, dedicated to paleontology, and filled with text and graphic displays about the fossil record. At first, Fremd says, he worried that the new displays would be too complex, but he is now pleased by how many people spend hours reading the fine print. Prior to visiting the park’s center, Fremd says that it is easy for people to think that bones in one layer of a fossil bed could have been the result of Noah’s biblical flood. But with the rigorous explanations in the museum, visitors can begin to put the data together and understand the complexity of evolution.

Part of the problem, which can lead to nonscientific ideas such as ID, is that some museums, rangers and docents are apologizing for how complex the story is, Fremd says. “But it is the very complexity that makes it interesting. Don’t apologize for making it complex.”

Interesting opinion column

by @ 9:02 am. Filed under Analysis/Commentary


Here’s an interesting opinion piece that ran in a Naples paper. It mentions some other article supposedly published in the same paper about an opposing view, but I couldn’t find that other piece.

Stay safe out there, folks!

by @ 8:51 am. Filed under Education, News


It turns out that even the simplest of experiments and science classroom projects can be dangerous in some way.

A few months back, the fifth-graders at Franklin’s Jefferson Elementary contracted salmonella, a nasty bacterial infection, from owl pellets, grayish, hardened clumps of regurgitated material that students dissect to figure out what the bird ate.

The packages they arrived in indicated they were sterile.

“People sincerely thought these were risk-free,” said Dr. Bela Matyas, a state disease sleuth who tracked the outbreak, which caused illness but no permanent health problems. “They thought this was no different than making a Mother’s Day present.”

But it was different. The pellets, it turned out, harbored salmonella. It was easy enough for the germs to make the leap from pellet to student, especially because the project extended over several days.

“There could easily have been a situation where a child would prod the pellet with their pencil and then put the pencil in their mouth,” Matyas said.

At an Illinois school nearly five years ago, a chemistry teacher was demonstrating how the color of a flame can indicate the presence of sodium chloride, potassium chloride, or some other salt. It is a staple of high school chemistry.

Suddenly, a fireball erupted, lunging at three students and burning them severely. It wasn’t the first time such an accident had happened.

Even material used in basic experiments has changed. In the past, when teachers wanted to demonstrate how food contains energy, they used nuts.

“But we don’t want to do that now because we have so many students who may have peanut allergies,” Decker said.

Instead, they substitute cheese puffs in the calorie-burning experiment.

“If you do that experiment, though, you’ll never want to eat a cheese puff again,” Decker said. “Because the stuff that comes out - oh my God, the grease, everything.

“But that’s science.”

August 29, 2006

Mind of the Manatee

by @ 5:24 pm. Filed under Learning Something New, Science in Action


Research on the manatee shows that it’s no dummy. I especially loved the part about not liking fish and so being hard to motivate. Does that make them smarter than dolphins since they can’t be bribed so easily?

The manatee, sluggish, squinty-eyed and bewhiskered, is more likely to have its rotund bulk compared to “a sweet potato,” its homely, almost fetal looks deemed “prehistoric” — terms applied by startled New Yorkers this month to a Florida manatee that made an unexpected appearance in the Hudson River.

Cleverness is unhesitatingly ascribed to the dolphin. But the manatee is not seen leaping through hoops or performing somersaults on command, and even scientists have suspected it may not be the smartest mammal in the sea. Writing in 1902, a British anatomist, Grafton Elliot Smith, groused that manatee brains — tiny in proportion to the animals’ bodies and smooth as a baby’s cheek — resembled “the brains of idiots.”

Far from being slow learners, manatees, it turns out, are as adept at experimental tasks as dolphins, though they are slower-moving and, having no taste for fish, more difficult to motivate. They have a highly developed sense of touch, mediated by thick hairs called vibrissae that adorn not just the face, as in other mammals, but the entire body, according to the researchers’ recent work.

And where earlier scientists saw in the manatee’s brain the evidence of deficient intelligence, Dr. Reep sees evolution’s shaping of an animal perfectly adapted to its environment.

But he also suspects that rather than the manatee’s brain being unusually small for its body, the situation may be the other way around: that its body, for sound evolutionary reasons, has grown unusually large in proportion to its brain.

For now, the question of how intertwined the sensory abilities of manatees might be remains unanswered. Yet even what is known reveals a degree of complexity that argues against labeling them as sweet but dumb — peaceable simpletons.

Dr. Domning of Howard could not agree more.

“They’re too smart to jump through hoops the way those dumb dolphins do,” he said.

August 28, 2006


by @ 9:16 pm. Filed under Analysis/Commentary


FlCfS board member Pete Dunkelburg submitted this for posting here.

Creationism Now

A new book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (PIGDID) provides a very good catalog of current creationist arguments. The author, Jonathan Wells, is a Discovery Institute (DI) Fellow who has dedicated his life to destroying Darwinism. The DI is throwing a party for the book, so PIGDID is as authoritative and strong as this sort of thing gets.

PIGDID is being reviewed chapter by chapter at The Panda’s Thumb. Reading the book along side the reviews will be a revelation to anyone who doesn’t know how creationism works. I can’t think of any better way for School Board members and candidates and the press to come up to speed on the subject.

Does Wells succeed in destroying evolutionary biology? Or does PIGDID turn out to show that ID creationism, despite first appearances, has virtually no scientific content and 21st century creationism amounts to propaganda against science? If Wells or the DI or any creationist authority could have established the claims in PIGDID under oath at the recent Dover trial, it would have been a resounding victory for creationism. Did they simply forget all these devastating claims, or are there other reasons why the claims were not made under oath?

Read the book along with the reviews and you will learn the answers. The review process is just starting, and chapters may not be done in the same order as they appear in the book. Chapters one and three are already done.

The review so far is really good and insightful. Be sure to check it out! I think a review of chapter 9 is now up.

A lifelong love affair

by @ 5:14 pm. Filed under Education


The West Palm Beach library is offereing science seminars for kids.

West Palm Beach· The building blocks of science were laid out on the table. Baking soda, vinegar, a two-liter soda bottle, apple juice and Alka-Seltzer tablets. A half-dozen children gathered around in wide-eyed anticipation.

“Everything in your life is science,” ocean scientist Mark Fischer told them. “That makes every one of you a scientist.”

“The key is making science less intimidating for kids,” scientist Trish Fischer said. “Get them interested early so you can create a lifelong love affair with science and how the world works.”

August 25, 2006

I don’t think Pluto really cares

by @ 5:40 pm. Filed under Education, News


I just love how newspaper stories about the demotion of Pluto from planet to dwarf play up the whole personification of the solar system thing. It’s as if there is some seismic shift in planet hierarchy and the planets’ feelings have been hurt. It’s just silly.

Anyway, I do like how the nature of science is highlighted in this CNN story.

Whitsett, who is the president-elect of the NSTA, emphasized that the refigured solar system can energize teaching the true meaning of science.

“It’s not a collection of facts. It’s a process. It’s a way of solving problems. As our understanding of these facts changes, then the science changes a little bit,” he said.

Science and understanding change, but this change is not so earth-shattering, he said.

“The solar system right now is exactly like it was 24 hours ago,” Whitsett pointed out. “Nothing’s changed in that time period — just the name by which we define each of these things.”

And I also like how we can possibly seize upon this story to give science education in general a boost.

Whitsett believes the change will focus attention back on science, which he thinks has been relegated to a supporting role in recent years.

“Ever since No Child Left Behind was passed, there’s been a tremendous emphasis on reading and math, and as a result, especially in elementary schools, science has taken a back seat,” he said.

“What we have is something that’s been making a lot of press. Students are going to be asking questions, and I’ve always found that the best time to teach is when kids are asking questions, ” Whitsett said. “Anything that gets kids engaged and thinking about science has got to be a good thing.”

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