Category Archives: Science

Official Leaves Post as Texas Prepares to Debate Science Education Standards – New York Times

Link: Official Leaves Post as Texas Prepares to Debate Science Education Standards

A Texas school administrator was forced out of her job after forwarding on some email links pertaining to the teaching of evolution. The puzzling thing about this is that the evolution curriculum is codified into Texas law (at least for the moment), which means that by disseminating this information, the administrator was literally just doing her job according to the law.

"Ms. Comer said that barely an hour after forwarding the e-mail message, she was called in and informed that Lizzette Reynolds, deputy commissioner for statewide policy and programs, had seen a copy and complained, calling it ‘an offense that calls for termination.’ Ms. Comer said she had no idea how Ms. Reynolds, a former federal education official who served as an adviser to George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas, had seen the message so quickly, and remembered thinking, ‘What is this, the thought police or what?’"

Sounds like a big set-up to me. This is taking place as Texas re-evaluates its curriculum on evolution vs. "intelligent design" quackery, a premise that has already gotten several school boards cross the country laughed out of court.

If you’re you’re okay with somebody being fired because God said so, you should have a problem with the amount of your tax dollars that are going to be spent to resolve this nonsense.

Toy Fair ’07: Is it cool to like science now?

Link: Toy Fair ’07: Is it cool to like science now?

"Just think about it: maybe the apparent lapse in American kids’ interest in science and engineering could be reversed by the popularity of online videos depicting wacky prank-experiments where kids blow things up, rewire gadgets and ‘pimp out’ vehicles. Clearly, science doesn’t have to be relevant for it to be cool."

The piece covers a surge in science toys being introduced at this year’s Toy Fair. I read this article thinking it would be good to link to over on Kid Scientist, but but the time I got to the end I wanted to slap somebody. The writer (Caroline McCarthy of CNET seems to imply that science education necessarily needs to be boring or else it’s not "relevant". Confidential to Caroline: making science seem cool to kids is an incredibly difficult job, most of our educators have been sucking mightily at it for a generation now, and "relevant" (whatever that means) versus "cool" is a totally false dichotomy.

If you’ve convinced yourself that something has to be boring or officially sanctioned to be intellectually rigorous, then you’ve lost the battle right there. If I have to buy my girl a "pimp my ride" engineering kit to get her interested in how engines work, then I’ll buy it for her, no question.

One of my triumphal moments as a curious kid scientist was when I was in seventh grade and we moved into a new house across town. Back in those days, we didn’t have the newfangled wireless telephones. Phones used to be connected to the house using wires, of all things, and you had to pay the phone company money to activate new phone extensions in your house.

But after we moved in, I noticed that in my new room, the phone wiring had already been done. I just needed to wire up the non-functional extension in the same way that the other extensions in the house were wired. A few turns of a screwdriver later, I had a diagram of the correct wiring, which I then took upstairs to activate the telephone extension in my room. (My parents were pretty surprised when I told them what I’d done, but it didn’t cost them anything, so they let me keep the phone.)

The point is, I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to take a screwdriver to a phone extension at age 13 if it weren’t for my sixth grade teacher (Mike Lichtman of Verdugo Woodlands elementary in Glendale CA), who had us wire up our own telephones so we could talk to friends across the classroom. There’s two parts to this: conveying the knowledge of scientific principles to kids, and giving them permission to be curious and to hack, even if it seems like what they are learning at the moment has no practical or "relevant" applications.

Anousheh Ansari

Link: Anousheh Ansari – Wikipedia

Anousheh Ansari is set to become the first female Muslim in space, first Iranian-born person in space, and the first female space tourist on September 18, 2006. Along with her brother-in-law Amir Ansari, she made a multi-million dollar contribution to the X-Prize foundation on May 5, 2004, the 43rd anniversary of Alan Shepard’s sub-orbital spaceflight. The X-Prize was officially renamed the Ansari X Prize in honour of their donation.

Born in 1966 in Mashhad, Iran, Ansari witnessed the Iranian revolution in 1979. She immigrated to the United States in 1984 as a teenager who did not speak English.

As the child of an immigrant, I’m always on the lookout for excellent immigrant success stories, and this is a terrific one. First Muslim woman in space seems like sort of a big deal to me, but this was buried near the end of a boring story about space shuttle astronauts doing mundane construction tasks today. I wonder if mainstream media will pick up on this when she blasts off next week?

Update: Anousheh has a blog and is posting photos on Flickr, sweet!

Wired News: What, Exactly, Is a Planet?

Link: Wired News: What, Exactly, Is a Planet?.

Among the possibilities at the 12-day meeting of the International Astronomical Union in the Czech Republic capital: Subtract Pluto or christen one more planet, and possibly dozens more.

But the decision won’t be an easy one. Scientists attending the conference are split over whether Pluto should be excluded from the list of planets, said Pavel Suchan of the meeting’s local organization committee.

"So far it looks like a stalemate," Suchan said. "One half wants Pluto to remain a planet, the other half says Pluto is not worth being called a planet."

Dear scientists: if you demote Pluto we will find you, kick you in the nads, and steal your lunch money.


Fans of Pluto.

Space Shot on eBay

From Slashdot: Got a payload you’d like to shoot into space? These dudes are auctioning a microsatellite launch on eBay. Opening bid, $250,000, pre-approved bidders only, so no fair putting your baby brother into orbit.