Posts Tagged ‘science’

I Can Has Literacy?!

November 12, 2010

If ever want to lose your faith in humanity, all you have to do is read through the comments section for any story on any news organization’s web site. Every once in a while, though, you’ll come across a piece of news with a comment section that ends up being slightly more comical than it is purely depressing. A great example of this can be found in today’s MSNBC Cosmic Log piece about a recently completed study of the physics of how cats lap water.

While fascinating, it’s an admittedly frivolous endeavor, as one of its investigators, MIT engineering professor Roman Stocker, said. However, here’s the important sentence from the article which an astonishing number of conservatively-inclined commenters clearly failed to either read or comprehend:

Stocker admitted that there’s not an immediate practical application to the research, which was conducted with borrowed equipment and no outside funding.

I decided to italicize and bold the key part of that key sentence just then, in case anybody reading this right now also failed to absorb that pertinent detail.

Anyhow, here are some of the gems of dim-witted comments this article produced. To highlight the stupid, the screen names have not been changed:

  • JustPhil-2336414: “It doesn’t lead to anything that wasn’t already known. It was just a way for a group of scientists to get a big federal grant to study this.”
  • DT-2238463: “Did somebody pay for this research?”
  • Pat-506741: “And this cost how much? Seriously. I’m watching TV talk about the proposed cuts on Social Security, Medicare, Farm subsidies, cutting the mortgage interest deduction, taxing employer paid health benefits. And now, cat lapping? I can tell you where I’d start cutting….”
  • Hammy the Cat: “What life changing research this was. I wonder how much tuition funding this wasted.”
  • mipak: “This is exactly why America is losing it’s edge in research: pork barrel research on stupid projects like this.”
  • wb52: “I’m sure this was funded by a government grant……..”
  • OnTheRoad-1943197: “I am so so happy that this has finally been figured out!!! Yea! How many of my tax dollars did this require?”

Go back to flinging feces at one another in trees, folks.


All of Our Problems Are Solved

August 30, 2010

It’s clear that the answers to all of the world’s problems can be found in random status updates on Facebook:

i just dont understand y we overpopulatet, we got space ships. we should move people 2 another planet. there are like 14 other ones to liv on


I’m not sure what makes a more dramatic demonstration of the failure of science education in this country: statements like the above, or polling data on evolution.

Why Botanists Aren’t Writers

August 26, 2010

In common parlance, the difference between a “spore” and a “gamete” (both together called gonites) is that a spore will germinate and develop into a sporeling, while a gamete needs to combine with another gamete before developing further.

— From

I don’t believe that’s “common parlance” anywhere on this planet.

I Can Only Shake My Head

March 26, 2010

In the past, I’ve highlighted here some of the letters to the editor that show up in our local newspaper for their unintentional comedic value and/or downright scariness. Here’s one from today’s paper that makes me wonder whether its writer ever passed ninth grade physical science:

Several letter writers have ridiculed those of us who believe in divine creation of life on Earth, as opposed to purely natural evolution. My question is, from where would life evolve?

It cannot come from the inorganic minerals which, along with air and water, were the only elements on Earth prior to the creation of life. It is impossible for any organic matter; carbon, for instance; to come from anything inorganic.

Carl Sagan, Ph.D., worked for years in a laboratory attempting to create organic life from the inorganic. The best he could do was an amino acid, which is a precursor to protein. As he wrote though, it was not life.

My advice to those who cannot accept the reality that someday they will have to stand before a sovereign God, who created everything, is that they begin to read his words to us in his book.

I’m not sure where to even begin with this one. Maybe I should start with the writer’s total ignorance of what an “element” even is, as this author seems to believe that air, water, and all minerals are found on the periodic table. Or, maybe I should start with the fact that stars produce carbon (which, unlike air, water, quartz, feldspar, etc., actually is an element) from inorganic material all the time, and that carbon is the basis of organic chemistry and is found in abundance throughout the universe. In fact, all organic compounds contain carbon, so carbon isn’t just one “instance” of organic matter. Or, maybe I should start with the fact that astronomers don’t spend their lives trying to create homunculi in chemistry labs. Neither do chemists, for that matter.

At any rate, I can only shake my head in shame for my locale. This kind of willful stupidity and deliberate ignorance is all too common.

The Scum Rises to the Top

March 15, 2010

Unsurprising newsflash of the day: the most successful and powerful people tend to be pathological liars.

My only contention with the research is the conclusion drawn that “holding power over others might make it easier for people to tell lies.” I’d guess that it’s actually the other way around, that our cutthroat business and political culture encourages the success of sociopaths and the failure of decent human beings. The old saying, “the scum rises to the top,” exists for a reason.

Well, Duh . . .

December 23, 2009

Captain Obvious, also known as Dr. Brian Primack, says, “Students who listen to music with the most references to marijuana are almost twice as likely to have used the drug than their peers whose musical tastes favor songs less focused on substance use,” following a study funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

What is not yet known is the following: “Although it may be that heavy exposure to music about marijuana causes marijuana smoking, it may also be that those who smoke marijuana seek out music with lyrics related to marijuana,” Primack said. So of course there will need to be more studies, for which I’m sure the NIH will gladly pony up more cash.

Your tax dollars hard at work.

Try To Wrap Your Brain Around This One

June 6, 2008

From the BBC News article “Hints of Time Before The Big Bang,” comes news of fluctuation found in cosmic microwave background radiation that may “contain hints that our Universe ‘bubbled off’ from a previous one.”

The article continues,

Their model suggests that new universes could be created spontaneously from apparently empty space. From inside the parent universe, the event would be surprisingly unspectacular.

Describing the team’s work at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in St Louis, Missouri, co-author Professor Sean Carroll explained that “a universe could form inside this room and we’d never know”.

. . .

In his presentation, the Caltech astronomer explained that by creating a Big Bang from the cold space of a previous universe, the new universe begins its life in . . . an ordered state.

The apparent direction of time – and the fact that it’s hard to put a broken egg back together – is the consequence.

Much work remains to be done on the theory: the researchers’ first priority will be to calculate the odds of a new universe appearing from a previous one.

In the meantime, the team have turned to the results from WMAP.

Detailed measurements made by the satellite have shown that the fluctuations in the microwave background are about 10% stronger on one side of the sky than those on the other.

Sean Carroll conceded that this might just be a coincidence, but pointed out that a natural explanation for this discrepancy would be if it represented a structure inherited from our universe’s parent.

Meanwhile, Professor Carroll urged cosmologists to broaden their horizons: “We’re trained to say there was no time before the Big Bang, when we should say that we don’t know whether there was anything – or if there was, what it was.”

If the Caltech team’s work is correct, we may already have the first information about what came before our own Universe.

In other words, that old stoner theory that our entire universe is some molecule in a purple piece of grass somewhere may just be accurate. To update Dr. L. Ron Bumquist from the film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the five states of being in drug culture must now be considered square, hip, groovy, cool, and cosmologist.

What would be really groovy, or, perhaps I should say, cosmologist, was if a new universe bubbled off every time somebody said, “We can’t stop here! This is bat country!”

Now These Are Just Plain Funny

March 28, 2008

Kansas Periodic Table

The Solar System

“And Yet It Moves”

February 22, 2008

Nearly 400 years after the persecution of Galileo Galilei by religious authorities for daring to publicize the discovery that the Earth orbits the sun, an endless parade of scientific discoveries and innovations have given humanity all sorts of gifts, among them the Internet, which ironically enables people to make sites like, dedicated to, among other things, exposing the “Copernican Myth.” The rationale here appears to be that the Bible says the Earth stands still, so whatever we’ve discovered that plainly contradicts that can’t possibly be right. After all, a book produced by a bunch of nomads several thousand years ago that says, among other things, that bats are birds and that some insects have four legs is obviously the final arbiter of all scientific investigation… I’d like to believe that the whole site is a joke, but I’m afraid that’s not the case.

Update: After writing this initial post and applying the tag “nutjobs” to it, I was curious to see who else on WordPress would use “nutjobs” as a tag. It turns out that at the moment the top post tagged “nutjobs” on WordPress is from a site called Blogs 4 Brownback titled, I kid you not, “Barack Obama Is A Homosexual Crackhead.” So much for elevating our national discourse. Even better, this site has a post called, I kid you not once more, “Heliocentrism Is An Atheist Doctrine,” along with a rambling diatribe about demons taking up snowboarding. Once again I find myself desperately wanting to believe this site is a joke. If it is a joke, its authors are satirical geniuses. If it isn’t a joke, I’m very, very afraid.

NOVA Droppin’ Science On Creationism

November 13, 2007

I just finished watching tonight’s NOVA documentary on Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 Dover, Pennsylvania evolution/intelligent design court case, called “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design On Trial” on PBS. It’s pretty spectacular. In two hours, the show laid it down as to why ID as a “scientific theory” is a crock and put together mounds of evidence on how the 150 year-old theory of evolution continues to be confirmed by ongoing discoveries in genetics, paleontology, molecular biology, and a partridge in a pear tree. The web site for the episode is located here, and the entire episode will be available online here starting November 16. In the meantime, there are video and audio clips related to the episode available here.

I’ve taken a little extra interest in it due to the fact that I live less than 25 miles away from Dover, so the whole twisted, sorry saga hits a little too close to home for me.

One of the clips currently available is of the show’s senior executive producer discussing why NOVA, a science show, did an episode devoted to a court case and hot-button political issue. She said:

The trial . . . was fascinating. It was like a primer, like a biology textbook. Some of the nation’s best biologists testified. When I began delving into the case, it was clear that both the trial and the issue were perfect subjects for NOVA.

This is not just any case; it’s an historic case as well as a critical science lesson. Through six weeks of expert testimony, the case provided a crash course in modern evolutionary science, and it really hit home just how firmly established evolutionary theory is. The case also explored the very nature of science—how science is defined. Perhaps most importantly, the trial had great potential for altering science education and the public understanding of science. . . .

At the end of the trial, Judge John Jones issued a 139-page verdict supporting the teaching of evolution and characterizing intelligent design as a religious idea with no place in the science classroom. It was a landmark decision, all the more so because Judge Jones was appointed by President Bush and nominated by Republican Senator Rick Santorum. . . .

Recent polls tells us that 48 percent—almost half of all Americans—still question evolution and still believe that some kind of alternative should be taught in the public schools. What happens when half of the population doesn’t accept one of the most fundamental underpinnings of the sciences? Evolution is the absolute bedrock of the biological sciences. It’s essential to medical science, agriculture, biotechnology. And it’s critical to understanding the natural world around us.

We’re a country built on our command of the sciences and technology. But we now face a crisis in science literacy that could threaten our progress in these areas and ultimately threaten our quality of life. So, at NOVA and at Vulcan, we feel that understanding the importance of evolution, and enhancing science literacy in general, are more crucial than ever.


I can see only one problem with all of this, and it’s a discouraging thought: Odds are the overwhelming majority of those 48% who still question evolution won’t ever bother watching NOVA, let alone this particular episode. On top of that, try to show it to their kids in school, and you’ll probably wind up with a lawsuit on your hands. Plus, good luck reaching anyone who either has their kids in a private, church-based school or who homeschools their kids specifically because of attempts to teach them about this sort of thing.

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