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CFI Skeptics of Eugene Message Board › Yet another science thread

Yet another science thread

Ruth M.
Nice, FR
Post #: 267­

Told You So: Texas Ed Board Chair Wants Science Textbooks to Teach ‘Another Side’ on Evolution

By Dan | Published February 5, 2013
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We told you this would happen.

In 2009, when the Texas State Board of Education adopted new science curriculum standards, we warned that creationists had inserted language they would later try to exploit to pressure publishers into including junk-science arguments against evolution in new textbooks. Barbara Cargill, the Republican state board chair from The Woodlands near Houston, showed last Thursday that we were right. Speaking at a Senate Education Committee hearing in Austin about CSCOPE, a curriculum management tool developed by Education Service Centers around the state and used by many school districts, Cargill said she thinks CSCOPE doesn't conform to the science standards because it doesn't teach “all sides” about evolution:

“Our intent, as far as theories with the [curriculum standards], was to teach all sides of scientific explanations…. But when I went on [to the CSCOPE website] last night, I couldn't see anything that might be seen as another side to the theory of evolution. Every link, every lesson, everything, you know, was taught as ‘this is how the origin of life happened, this is what the fossil record proves,’ and all that’s fine, but that’s only one side.”
Ruth M.
Nice, FR
Post #: 271
"Teach the Controversy" Comes to Climate Science

Multiple state legislatures are considering bills that would allow climate change denial to be taught in public schools.

The debate on whether evolution should be taught in America's classrooms is as old as the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. Recently, a similar effort has come under fire by education leaders and legislators: how to teach global warming.

A flurry of bills that critics say would allow climate change denial to be taught in public schools have been moving through state legislatures throughout the United States, with some success.

The legislation is promoted and often directly supported by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based nonprofit that promotes "intelligent design research" as part of its "Academic Freedom" campaign. The organization aims to prod educators to "teach the controversy" on a number of contentious issues, including climate change.

Kansas H.B. 2306 states that "certain scientific topics, such as climate science, may be controversial. The legislature encourages the teaching of such scientific controversies to be made in an objective manner in which both the strengths and weaknesses of such scientific theory or hypothesis are covered."

The Kansas bill was defeated Friday, and two similar bills in the Arizona and Colorado legislatures died in February. But H.B. 1674 in Oklahoma is still active, and a similar pair of bills became law in Louisiana and Tennessee last year.

"This has been a busy year for Academic Freedom," said Joshua Youngkin, the Discovery Institute's program officer of public policy and legal affairs, who appeared to testify in support of H.B. 13-1089 in Colorado on Feb. 4.

Youngkin said the Discovery Institute was instrumental in passing the Louisiana and Tennessee bills, and stressed that the legislation would not remove climate science from school curriculums. Rather, he said, it would "give teachers the right to teach both sides of a scientific controversy," providing legal protection for educators who might want to introduce "other sides of the topic" to students.

Critics say the legislation is a step back for climate science in the classroom.

"The bottom line is that these type of bills provide cover -- a Trojan horse, if you will -- for teachers to act as if there is controversy when there isn't, to present both sides in a way that makes them look equal," said Mark McCaffrey of the National Center for Science Education, a California nonprofit that has fought against the bills.

"In our minds, it points to the ongoing challenge of having an informed discussion about climate change," McCaffrey said.

Helping teachers 'step up to the plate'
Oklahoma's H.B. 1674, named the "Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act" by its author, Rep. Gus Blackwell (R), states that school boards and administrators "shall not prohibit any teacher in a school district in this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories."

Along with biological evolution, the chemical origins of life and human cloning, global warming is listed as one of the issues in question. The bill would also prevent students from being academically penalized for holding certain beliefs on these subjects.

"Let me be clear, this bill is not to introduce [creationism] or philosophical thought in science, but to stimulate students to explore, evaluate and understand different sides of peer-reviewed, scientific information," said Blackwell, adding that he believes this action will help "rejuvenate" students' interest in science.

Blackwell cited the Oregon Petition (disowned by the National Academy of Sciences in 1998) to support his belief that scientists have not yet agreed that climate change is caused by human activity.

Ruth M.
Nice, FR
Post #: 286
Atheist Prof. Peter Higgs:
Stop calling Higgs boson the ‘God particle’

Ruth M.
Nice, FR
Post #: 289
"Just a Theory": 7 Misused Science Words

From "significant" to "natural," here are seven scientific terms that can prove troublesome for the public and across research disciplines

"... though these words may be routinely misunderstood, the real problem, scientists say, is that people don't get rigorous science education in middle school and high school. As a result, the public doesn't understand how scientific explanations are formed, tested and accepted.

What's more, the human brain may not have evolved to intuitively understand key scientific concepts such as hypotheses or theories, Kruger said.

Most people tend to use mental shortcuts to make sense of the cacophony of information they're presented with every day.

One of those tendencies is to make a "binary distinction between something that is true in an absolute sense and something that's false or a lie," Kruger said. "With science, it's more of a continuum. We're continually building our understanding."

Ruth M.
Nice, FR
Post #: 298
Shocking Paper Claims That Microsoft Excel Coding Error Is Behind The Reinhart-Rogoff Study On Debt

In 2010, economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff released a paper, "Growth in a Time of Debt." Their "main result is that...median growth rates for countries with public debt over 90 percent of GDP are roughly one percent lower than otherwise; average (mean) growth rates are several percent lower." Countries with debt-to-GDP ratios above 90 percent have a slightly negative average growth rate, in fact.
This has been one of the most cited stats in the public debate during the Great Recession. Paul Ryan's Path to Prosperity budget states their study "found conclusive empirical evidence that [debt] exceeding 90 percent of the economy has a significant negative effect on economic growth." The Washington Post editorial board takes it as an economic consensus view, stating that "debt-to-GDP could keep rising — and stick dangerously near the 90 percent mark that economists regard as a threat to sustainable economic growth."
Is it conclusive? One response has been to argue that the causation is backwards, or that slower growth leads to higher debt-to-GDP ratios. Josh Bivens and John Irons made this case at the Economic Policy Institute. But this assumes that the data is correct. From the beginning there have been complaints that Reinhart and Rogoff weren't releasing the data for their results (e.g. Dean Baker). I knew of several people trying to replicate the results who were bumping into walls left and right - it couldn't be done.
In a new paper, "Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff," Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst successfully replicate the results. After trying to replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff results and failing, they reached out to Reinhart and Rogoff and they were willing to share their data spreadhseet. This allowed Herndon et al. to see how how Reinhart and Rogoff's data was constructed.
They find that three main issues stand out. First, Reinhart and Rogoff selectively exclude years of high debt and average growth. Second, they use a debatable method to weight the countries. Third, there also appears to be a coding error that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries. All three bias in favor of their result, and without them you don't get their controversial result. Let's investigate further:
Selective Exclusions. Reinhart-Rogoff use 1946-2009 as their period, with the main difference among countries being their starting year. In their data set, there are 110 years of data available for countries that have a debt/GDP over 90 percent, but they only use 96 of those years. The paper didn't disclose which years they excluded or why.
Herndon-Ash-Pollin find that they exclude Australia (1946-1950), New Zealand (1946-1949), and Canada (1946-1950). This has consequences, as these countries have high-debt and solid growth. Canada had debt-to-GDP over 90 percent during this period and 3 percent growth. New Zealand had a debt/GDP over 90 percent from 1946-1951. If you use the average growth rate across all those years it is 2.58 percent. If you only use the last year, as Reinhart-Rogoff does, it has a growth rate of -7.6 percent. That's a big difference, especially considering how they weigh the countries.
Unconventional Weighting. Reinhart-Rogoff divides country years into debt-to-GDP buckets. They then take the average real growth for each country within the buckets. So the growth rate of the 19 years that England is above 90 percent debt-to-GDP are averaged into one number. These country numbers are then averaged, equally by country, to calculate the average real GDP growth weight.
In case that didn't make sense let's look at an example. England has 19 years (1946-1964) above 90 percent debt-to-GDP with an average 2.4 percent growth rate. New Zealand has one year in their sample above 90 percent debt-to-GDP with a growth rate of -7.6. These two numbers, 2.4 and -7.6 percent, are given equal weight in the final calculation, as they average the countries equally. Even though there are 19 times as many data points for England.
Now maybe you don't want to give equal weighting to years (technical aside: Herndon-Ash-Pollin bring up serial correlation as a possibility). Perhaps you want to take episodes. But this weighting significantly reduces the average; if you weight by the number of years you find a higher growth rate above 90 percent. Reinhart-Rogoff don't discuss this methodology, either the fact that they are weighing this way or the justification for it, in their paper.
Coding Error. As Herndon-Ash-Pollin puts it: "A coding error in the RR working spreadsheet entirely excludes five countries, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, and Denmark, from the analysis. [Reinhart-Rogoff] averaged cells in lines 30 to 44 instead of lines 30 to 49...This spreadsheet responsible for a -0.3 percentage-point error in RR's published average real GDP growth in the highest public debt/GDP category." Belgium, in particular, has 26 years with debt-to-GDP above 90 percent, with an average growth rate of 2.6 percent (though this is only counted as one total point due to the weighting above).
Being a bit of a doubting Thomas on this coding error, I wouldn't believe unless I touched the digital Excel wound myself. One of the authors was able to show me that, and here it is. You can see the Excel blue-box for formulas missing some data:

This error is needed to get the results they published, and it would go a long way to explaining why it has been impossible for others to replicate these results. If this error turns out to be an actual mistake Reinhart-Rogoff made, well, all I can hope is that future historians note that one of the core empirical points providing the intellectual foundation for the global move to austerity in the early 2010s was based on someone accidentally not updating a row formula in Excel.
So what do Herndon-Ash-Pollin conclude? They find "the average real GDP growth rate for countries carrying a public debt-to-GDP ratio of over 90 percent is actually 2.2 percent, not -0.1 percent as [Reinhart-Rogoff claim]." Going further into the data, they are unable to find a breakpoint where growth falls quickly and significantly.
This is also good evidence for why you should release your data online, so it can be probably vetted. But beyond that, looking through the data and how much it can collapse because of this or that assumption, it becomes quite clear that there's no magic number out there. The debt needs to be thought of as a response to the contigent circumstances we find ourselves in, with mass unemployment, a Federal Reserve desperately trying to gain traction at the zero lower bound, and a gap between what we could be producing and what we are. The past guides us, but so far it has failed to provide an emergency cliff. In fact, it tells us that a larger deficit right now would help us greatly.

Ruth M.
Nice, FR
Post #: 304
Republican Congressman Introduces Bill To Require Political Approval Of Scientific Papers

NOTE - the text of the article is below. The reference links can be found in the full article.

Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas really does not understand science. Not scientific method, not scientific theories or laws, none of it. Which is why he submitted a bill draft titled the “High Quality Research Act” which would in effect add a politician into scientific studies.

The bill says that any research done using federal funds (which is the majority of research done in the United States) must have its results and finding approved by the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the House of Representatives. If the findings are not agreed to, the research is taken from the researchers and disposed of by Congress as it sees fit.

Congressman Smith has already landed himself in scientific hot water over his April 25th Letter to the National Science Foundation where he demanded that the NSF conduct an investigaton into five research programs which contradict policies his donors want passed. This is what was expected when the noted anti-science Texan was appointed to the Congressional Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

In response to Congressman Smith’s letter to the NSF, fellow committee member, and fellow Texan, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, had this to say according to the LA Times:

Politicians, even a distinguished chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, cannot be ‘peers’ in any meaningful sense.

Peer in this case referring to the peer review methodology employed by scientists to ensure that their papers are concise, clear, and accurate.

In response to the criticism, Congressman Smith issued his own statement in which he defended the bill by saying:

The draft bill maintains the current peer review process and improves on it by adding a layer of accountability. The intent of the draft legislation is to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent on the highest-quality research possible.

One must ask, how does making peer review accountable to politicians an “improvement?” The scientific method has proven itself over centuries. This “improvement” is nothing but a way to attempt and strong arm scientists into pushing political agendas, typically those held by whomever donates the most money to a politician during the campaign.

Congressman Lamar Smith is a leading example as to the disconnect within the Republican Party and reality. His “improvement” would compromise scientific research, and dismantle what little America has left for integrity. Despite how many other industries have fallen apart across the United States, we as a nation remain the gold standard of scientific research. It appears Lamar Smith will not rest until that too joins our other areas of once excellence, and we surrender to our national collapse.
Ruth M.
Nice, FR
Post #: 309
Ruth M.
Nice, FR
Post #: 313

Illinois Bans Abstinence-Only Sex Ed: ‘In Fantasy Land, We Teach Our Kids Abstinence’
By Tara Culp-Ressler on May 24, 2013 at 10:30 am

Illinois public schools will be required to include medically accurate information about birth control in their sex ed classes under a measure that the state legislature passed this week. HB 2675, which Gov. Pat Quinn (D) is expected to sign into law, will prohibit health classes from teaching abstinence-only curricula.

Illinois’ current law requires sex ed classes to emphasize abstinence as “the expected norm,” and stipulates that “course material and instruction shall stress that pupils should abstain from sexual intercourse until they are ready for marriage.” Public schools can choose between teaching abstinence-only education, using a mix of stressing abstinence while providing comprehensive information about birth control and condoms, or simply declining to provide any sex ed instruction. Under HB 2675, schools won’t be able to choose the abstinence-only option anymore — they’ll need to either offer comprehensive information about prevention methods, or decide not to offer any sex ed courses whatsoever.

State Sen. Linda Holmes (D) spearheaded the measure because she doesn’t believe that abstinence-only curricula adequately equips teens with the resources they need to safeguard their sexual health. “In fantasy land, we teach our kids abstinence — and they listen. But we know they don’t necessarily follow that advice,” Holmes explained. “They are going to be confronted with the issue of sex before they’re 21 years old, or 25, or whenever they decide to get married.”

Holmes is right. By their 19th birthday, seven in ten American teens will have had sex. And even the Americans who grow up in socially conservative communities aren’t delaying sex until marriage — by some estimates, 80 percent of unmarried evangelical Christians have had sex at least once. But when those young people become sexually active, they often don’t understand how to effectively protect themselves. Since abstinence-only classes often mislead students about the facts about contraception, 60 percent of young adults underestimate birth control’s effectiveness and are more likely to skip it because they don’t believe it will make a difference.

Abstinence education can also have lasting consequences for adolescents’ sense of self-worth. , Because messages emphasizing abstinence and sexual purity often teach students that sexual activity is something be ashamed of the youth who receive those messages may internalize those feelings of guilt and shame.

While banning abstinence-only education is a step in the right direction, HB 2675 still allows Illinois schools to opt out of providing any type of sexual health education. Luckily, some school districts in the state have already taken matters into their own hands to ensure their students will receive the information they need. Chicago’s public school system recently instituted a standardized policy for requiring age-appropriate comprehensive sexual health information in every grade.

Ruth M.
Nice, FR
Post #: 314

3-D Printed Windpipe Gives Infant Breath of Life

A flexible, absorbable tube helps a baby boy breathe, and heralds a future of body parts printed on command
Ruth M.
Nice, FR
Post #: 317
I wasn't sure whether to put this in the atheism topic or the science topic but it's VERY cool:

Leading neuroscientist: Religious fundamentalism may be a ‘mental illness’ that can be ‘cured’

By David Edwards
Thursday, May 30, 2013 16:17 EDT

A leading neurologist at the University of Oxford said this week that recent developments meant that science may one day be able to identify religious fundamentalism as a “mental illness” and a cure it.

During a talk at the Hay Literary Festival in Wales on Wednesday, Kathleen Taylor was asked what positive developments she anticipated in neuroscience in the next 60 years.

“One of the surprises may be to see people with certain beliefs as people who can be treated,” she explained, according to The Times of London. “Somebody who has for example become radicalised to a cult ideology – we might stop seeing that as a personal choice that they have chosen as a result of pure free will and may start treating it as some kind of mental disturbance.”

“I am not just talking about the obvious candidates like radical Islam or some of the more extreme cults,” she explained. “I am talking about things like the belief that it is OK to beat your children. These beliefs are very harmful but are not normally categorized as mental illness.”

“In many ways that could be a very positive thing because there are no doubt beliefs in our society that do a heck of a lot of damage, that really do a lot of harm.”

In the introduction to her book, The Brain Supremacy, Taylor noted that scientists needed “to be careful when it comes to developing technologies which can slip through the skull to directly manipulate the brain.”

“They cannot be morally neutral, these world-shaping tools; when the aspect of the world in question is a human being, morality inevitably rears its hydra heads,” she wrote. “Technologies which profoundly change our relationship with the world around us cannot simply be tools, to be used for good or evil, if they alter our basic perception of what good and evil are.”
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