Florida Citizens for Science

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.”

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 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.”

Nation’s top young scientists

by @ 5:18 pm. Filed under Education, News


The countdown to choosing the nation’s top young scientist has begun, as Discovery Communications announced 400 students from around the country selected as semifinalists in the 2006 Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge.

Florida’s semifinalists include Anne Moenning of Punta Gorda, a sixth-grade student at Canterbury School of Florida, and Ashley Krueger of North Port, who attends fifth grade at Cranberry Elementary School. Anne’s project was “How a New Cervical Collar Affects Healthcare Worker Acceptance,” and Ashley’s entry was “How to Remove Fingerprints from Unusual Places.”

Also see the main website at Discovery Communication.

August 21, 2006

Volusia joins the fray

by @ 7:09 am. Filed under News


I have to admit to being shocked over how much intelligent design is cropping up in Florida school board races. I would think candidates would want to avoid that albatross what with all the times intelligent design has gone down in flames lately. Citrus, Escambia … and now Volusia county have it as an issue.

[James Brown] and [Stan] Schmidt also split over the idea of teaching “intelligent design” in public schools, an issue that’s expected to be discussed as part of an upcoming revision of state science standards. Supporters say the belief that biological life is so complex that it must have been designed by an intelligent source fills in gaps in the theory of evolution that’s already covered in science classes.

Brown believes public school students should be allowed to learn about intelligent design, as part of an elective course, in addition to learning about evolution. Schmidt thinks it’s inappropriate and divisive to teach intelligent design in public schools. Denys declined to comment, saying that’s a debate that belongs at the state level.

But wait, there’s more. That’s just one of the races in Volusia. Check out this other district race. You might want to swallow whatever you are drinking so that you don’t spray it all over your keyboard once you read the final quote.

The two candidates are clearly split when it comes to some larger education issues, such as whether “intelligent design”– the belief that biological life is so complex that it must have been designed by an intelligent source — should be taught alongside the theory of evolution in public schools.

That’s expected to be an issue as Florida revises its academic standards for science next year.

“I really don’t think intelligent design has a place in our curriculum,” [Diane] Smith said. “It’s more of a philosophical belief than something that can be proven through the scientific method.”

[Eugene] Stump has a different solution for defusing the controversial issue. “They took prayer out of school, let’s take evolution out of the school.”

August 18, 2006

Et tu, Escambia?

by @ 5:05 pm. Filed under Education, News


There’s an open seat on the Escambia County School Board. Guess what one candidate has in mind … 

Todd Leonard, a school textbook salesman whose desire to instill Christian values in the school system includes adding the teaching of intelligent design to the curriculum.

He supports “intelligent design” being taught in the classroom alongside evolution. He said he does so for the sake of academic freedom rather than religious indoctrination.

Leonard said he has a large reform agenda for the school system, and his views on intelligent design and evolution are not the most important parts of that agenda.

“To suggest that they are front and center would be misleading at best and disingenuous at worst,” he said on his Web site.

Read what he has to say about the issue here on his site. And then he links to another site that says more of the same.

August 17, 2006

A bit more about Citrus school board race

by @ 9:16 pm. Filed under News


Mr White, who owns a landscaping business, is running for a seat on the school board. As mentioned before, he’s wanting to push intelligent design.

White has said he supports public schools teaching intelligent design in addition to the theory of evolution. Miele, on the other hand, has said that religion, including the concept of intelligent design, has no place in the public school system.

Earnheart said he is a religious man, but would not support schools teaching intelligent design.

There are bios of the candidates at the end of the article.

Dr. Dino recap

by @ 9:10 pm. Filed under News


Here’s a Dr. Dino recap for those keeping score.

Hovind is claiming that, under false pretenses, he is forcibly being called into service as a member of a group to which he does not rightfully belong – namely those subject to paying taxes – for the sole purpose of then being wrongly prosecuted.

But here’s the kicker: Kent Hovind and his wife are being represented by a public defender, at taxpayers’ expense.

August 14, 2006

Citrus County school board elections forum

by @ 5:21 pm. Filed under Education, News


In the first of the election year’s large public candidate forums, residents got to hear from candidates who will appear on the ballot Sept. 5, including School Board and County Commission hopefuls …

District 1 candidate Michael “Joey” White said Citrus schools should be allowed to teach intelligent design as an alternative to the theory of evolution.

“There’s certainly room for both of them at the schools,” White said to scattered applause from the crowd.

Incumbent Lou Miele responded that intelligent design should not be taught in Citrus public schools. The school district recently adopted a new science textbook for the secondary schools.

“As much as I believe in my faith,” he said, “there’s no place for that in school.”

Schools “need to teach facts to our children,” he said. “Our parents and churches can teach religion. It’s that simple.”

The third candidate, Paul Earnheart, said he also is a religious man but thinks teaching intelligent design in public schools would violate the separation of church and state.

Miele has been criticized for seeking a seat on the School Board even though his two children attend private Catholic school. White’s daughter is a kindergartener at a public school in Citrus. Earnheart has two sons enrolled in Citrus schools.

August 11, 2006

Another evolution survey

by @ 11:39 am. Filed under News


A comparison of peoples’ views in 34 countries finds that the United States ranks near the bottom when it comes to public acceptance of evolution. Only Turkey ranked lower.

Among the factors contributing to America’s low score are poor understanding of biology, especially genetics, the politicization of science and the literal interpretation of the Bible by a small but vocal group of American Christians, the researchers say.

The study found that over the past 20 years:

– The percentage of U.S. adults who accept evolution declined from 45 to 40 percent.
– The percentage overtly rejecting evolution declined from 48 to 39 percent, however.
– And the percentage of adults who were unsure increased, from 7 to 21 percent.

Of the other countries surveyed, only Turkey ranked lower, with about 25 percent of the population accepting evolution and 75 percent rejecting it. In Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and France, 80 percent or more of adults accepted evolution; in Japan, 78 percent of adults did.

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