No fun for you!

27 02 2009

Ok, so my high school’s a little “different” sometimes. A conga line was being organized during lunch, and it was to happen today. What happened? Well, you see, the organizers were called down to the main office when lunch started. They were informed that if they in fact followed through on their plan to have a conga line (let me repeat, at lunch, not during class), they would receive five day out of school suspensions.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that this seems just a tad excessive. I mean really, 5 days for organizing a conga line? Minilove anyone? What, were they going to gather a legion of conga minions and storm the principal’s office?

Of course, this is perhaps the best way to ensure that it happens. Without this, I doubt more than 5 or 6 people would have been bored enough to do it. But since there are subversive elements (not even just me!) who think our administration are full of it, they can now expect a huge event that will eventually happen threats or no.

And really, what was the point? I mean, OK, I can see not allowing it (the reasons are mostly bad, but I could at least see it) but five day suspensions? I just don’t get the reasoning behind it. It doesn’t surprise me greatly that they overreacted (“our administration are full of it”), but this is beyond even what I would expect of overly uptight school administrators.

I’ll be curious to see what silliness happens next in this little bit of high school drama. And since I’m narcissistic enough to have a blog, I’ll post it for your entertainment (you do enjoy my ramblings, I assume, or you wouldn’t be reading this). I strongly suspect that hilarity will ensue (*pointed look at seniors*), so it should be interesting.

Ignorance, thy name is… (2/25)

25 02 2009

Bobby Jindal.

Mr. Bobby Jindal, among other blunders in his speech, claimed that there was $140,000,000 in the stimulus bill for volcano monitoring. Not only is this not true (it’s much more general, it’s for seismic, volcanic, etc monitoring improvements and repairs), but even if it were, it would be a good thing.

You see, volcanos kill people. Monitoring them allows for early evacuation to escape. It even sometimes allows time to prepare ways to divert lava flows away from homes, saving huge sums of money. So Jindal’s argument is two pronged: saving large numbers of lives and large amounts of property are bad, and unstimulative.

I predict a bright future for him in far right American politics.

The religious right’s strategy revealed!

24 02 2009

Vaccines operate on the principals of inoculation. If you give a small amount of an inactivated or harmless version of an infection, you build up a resistance. Well, theology is a vaccine for reason! It has all the hallmarks of reason, without the reason. It allows one to hone one’s rationalization in a protected environment surrounded by other believers, so that it has its virulent effects like doubt and independent thought are removed!

(As a side note, this takes on a down the rabbit hole quality when you consider that nonreligious parents do exactly the opposite of this in allowing their children to believe in things like Santa)

Orac owns antivaxxers

23 02 2009


Inquiry based science class

22 02 2009

So, I noticed that the NJ Board of Ed is planning to add an “inquiry based” science class to the requirements for high school graduation, in addition to a year of bio and a year of chem, physics, or environmental science. This would be great, except, well, a science class is supposed to be “inquiry based” simpy by being a science class.

If you aren’t learning about and using the scientific method (or at least a close approximation of it) you aren’t learning science! A class without that is not a science class in any meaningful way. Adding an inquiry based science class further signlas to teachers that they can and should pull that out of their ordinary science classes. Why?

Sure, it’s a nice thought. They add the requirement to do this in case your other science teachers aren’t doing this. But like I said, if your other science teachers aren’t, their classes shouldn’t even be considered science!

And even beyond that, I get the distinct impression that an “inquiry based” science class would be meaningless. Since it sounds like it has to be a standalone course, it has no subject. So what exactly are you inquiring about? It isn’t biology or chemistry or physics or astronomy, so what exactly is it? By pulling it out of those classes, you lose any sort of focus for the class.

On top of that, it makes it harder to take all the science classes you want, because you effectively lose a year in which to take them. For instance, if you want to take both AP chem and AP physics, you have to either take summer courses or double sciences 2 years in a row. As of now, you can take biology as a freshman, chem as a sophomore, then AP chem and acc physics as a junior (or take a physics summer class) and then AP physics as a senior. With this, you lose either your junior or senior year’s main science slot. That’s not exactly fostering science, in my opinion.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and those involved in education seem to have a particular aptitude for laying concrete.

Martian Conservationism?

21 02 2009

I was reading a post at New Scientist about preserving Mars a while ago, and I thought it seemed pretty interesting.

When we start colonizing the moon, Mars, and beyond, what responsibility do we have to preserve them as they are?

For example, take Mars. Terraforming it (assuming we have the capability by then) will do more than just add life. Many of its most distinctive features would not exist in a terraformed world, or at least not for long. Its enormous canyons would be filled with water. Erosion would begin beyond the small amount caused by sandstorms. Many of its mountains and volcanoes would become islands or submerge completely.

As the planet heated, frozen water in the ground (permafrost mostly, I guess) would also melt, permenantly changing even landscapes not being flooded. Its polar caps would shrink greatly, too. Its soil would begin to change, no longer the distinctive rusted red we associate with the planet.

And what if there were life there? What if Mars had bacteria deep underground that spreading terrestrial bacteria outcompeted and eliminated? Not only would we lose an amazing scientific opportunity, but we would have destroyed the first alien life we ever encountered. Think about what that would mean, for a moment. What lengths are we obligated to go to in order to ensure that we don’t do such a thing?

Should the goal be to make a second Earth? Should we just change Mars to be a new haven for humankind? Or when we colonize Mars should we become, in some meaningful sense, Martian?

It’s not idle speculation, I don’t think, because it will happen, and probably not so far in the future as we think. But I also think that it’s something that’s very, very important, so it’s not something we should decide immediately. For now, I think, we continue to try to leave Mars as untouched as possible, because we can always start changing it, but once we do, we can never unchange it.

Happy posts!

18 02 2009

It seems like almost all blog posts are about something negative (I’m definitely guilty of this). And the more negative, the more likely it seems to be that the blog is widely read. Well, why? Why would we rather read about things we don’t like than things we do? Why would we rather read stories that make our blood boil than read about things that make us smile? And why is it so much easier to write the first type of post?

Except for a small number of the blogs I read, I’m more likely to be either annoyed, smug, or depressed after reading the day’s posts than before I read them. That’s bad. And since I’ve been (and probably will continue to be, since it’s so much easier to do posts of that sort) guilty of this sort of thing, I can’t help but be curious about why. And so now, forward the wild speculation!

I said I often feel smug after reading these posts. So maybe that’s the first reason right there: we get to feel superior to the subject of the post, rather than having to be sympathetic toward them, and even admitting that they might be perfectly nice, intelligent people who happen to disagree wtih us.

Another reason I could sort of see is related to that: we don’t have to think. Negative posts aren’t nuanced. They’re straight forward, black and white. Factual posts are nuanced, but even when dealing with complex ideas they aren’t as complex and difficult to deal with for most of us as ambiguous moral, emotional, and empathetical (is that a word?) topic. So we get to turn off our brains and just read. But this one is only applicable to why we like highly critical posts, not why we like post about things we don’t like.

More on topic, maybe we’re often more concerned with stopping the things we don’t like than with aiding the things we do? For instance, would you be more motivated to stop creationism from entering a school’s curriculum, or would you be more motivated to help improve an already ID-free but poorly done biology class?

And I guess this all makes writing happy, positive posts harder because the audience is generally tougher to please. Although I think there’s more to it than that, I’m not sure what exactly that might be.

But the strange thing is, despite the fact that I’m more drawn to negative posts, I personally at least enjoy positive posts more when I actually read them. So my advice to you, gentle readers, is to add a few positive blogs to your reading list. After you read Pharyngula, go read stuff like The Meming of Life. It’s fun! =)