Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Scientists Unravel Chimpanzee DNA Sequence

Very cool article at livescience

“We hope that elaborating how few differences separate our species will broaden recognition of our duty to these extraordinary primates that stand as our siblings in the family of life.”


Monday, August 29, 2005

Update: Joined the Skeptic Webring--Rejected

Rejected [If you know the Rancid song, hum along]:
I tried to join the Skeptic Webring. Although I had browsed through some of its linked sites many times, it took a recent "well, duh!" moment for me to realize that I can be just as pompous as the next skeptic, so why not put this blog on it? Well, as you can see from the reply below, my content is apparently not abundantly skeptical, or the reviewer was skeptical about the abundance of skepticism. Personally, I think it's because I took Michael Shermer to task in my review of How We Believe. If I were him, I would have rejected the site more for being abusively tedious. But, what are you gonna do?

Here's a contribution:
For any skeptics that stumble across me through the ring, here is yet another way to find cool web content:
  1. Get the Mozilla Firefox browser. You can use this button: Get Firefox!
  2. Get the StumbleUpon plugin. (Tools --> Extensions --> Get more Extensions) This requires you to restart your browser.
  3. Set up a Stumbler account.
  4. Set your preferences to include things like atheism, consciousness, etc
  5. Enjoy stumbling upon new sites with the "Stumble!" button.
Et viola, you can now find cool stuff that the serious web surfers with your interests have already stumbled upon.

Eventually, I may take off the webring link below. I leave it up for now, since I bear no hard feelings whatsoever about the heartless and cruelly cursory rejection I received. None at all.

Biology 101. Seriously, Biology 101

Maybe someday I will get a postgraduate degree. Maybe.

Unfortunately, my undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies (B.A., UCSC, 1991) did not involve enough actual science classes. Nice at the time, but now I see that as a serious shortcoming. So, I enrolled in Biology 101 at Utah Valley State College's Wasatch campus. I start class tomorrow night.

  • I registerred for class on the web. I paid for registration through the same. I browsed and selected my one class online. It was so convenient, but that only scratches the surface of how information technology has improved higher education.

  • Multimedia and the Internet has totally changed education. I read the first couple sections of my textbook, then reviewed them through on line tutorials and quizzes.

  • Textbooks have changed almost as dramatically.
    • Recently, I visited my friends Phil and Jane Horn in Long Beach, CA. At their house, I perused a Biology 101 text book from the late '80's--a big hard-bound volume densely packed with text. (It remains on their bookshelf. It's hard to part with a book for which you paid so dearly, in both dollars and sweat.)
    • My textbook is soft-bound, with breathtakingly well done full color diagrams on every page. The text is very straightforward, explaining the concepts in a direct yet conversational voice. Best of all is that it provides relevancy and provokes critical thinking by tying to current biological science-related issues, such as engineered food, heart attacks in teenagers and cholesterol, and so on.
    • Many of the diagrams appear to have been made using a CAD (Computer-Aided Design) program. For that reason, production of graphics is probably a lot cheaper. More importantly, diagrams can be corrected an updated to the latest scientific findings. For that reason, the book is no longer produced as a huge tome that will stand the test of time on the bookshelves of so many graduates. The quality is still there, but the book feels ephemeral, which (to me) works much better with the spirit of science. Things change. We learn and discover. Scientific knowledge will grow and change. What need is there for a textbook that feels so cannonical, so much like "the final word?"

  • I will attend this class with the class of 2009--making 1987 birth year for most of this freshman class. 1987 is the year I graduated highschool and subsequently entered college.
    I have talked a lot with Janice Patten, my stepmother, about how much students complained about the reading workloads in her literature clasess. (She specialized in literature for young adults.) I am eager to hear the first complaint, so that I can launch into my best "when I was your age" diatribe.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bush and the Grand Obfuscation

If God had meant for us to believe in Intelligent Design, he would have given us an actual theory to study for it. ID offers no theory other than "we don't know how it's possible, so only God could have done it."

Unfortunately, President Bush does not understand what a scientific theory is. Of course, the distinction is unimportant to the President. He got to where he is not by demonstrating worldly knowledge, but on being aligned with his voting constituency for his political support. Even if he knew the distinction, it would be politically unfavorable to clarify it. So, obfuscation it is.

Nevertheless, I think that we should teach Intelligent Design. It could be a great tool for teaching critical thinking. But to get this Darwinian's backing, we have to agree on these terms here.