Mammoth created on sixth day–according to South Carolina

Ah, South Carolina. The Palmetto State. A lovely state, with beautiful beaches and forests. 

But also known as the Whoopee Cushion of the Nation. And they’ve blown up the cushion again, and the rest of the country is snickering.

south-carolina-mammoth

Through the persistence of an eight-year old third grade student, Olivia McConnell, the South Carolina House voted 94-3 on HB 4482 in February to specify that the Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi) as the official state fossil. Olivia wanted the mammoth as the state fossil because its teeth were one of the first vertebrate fossils found in North America, dug up by slaves on a South Carolina plantation in 1725. 

The bill was sent to the South Carolina Senate, where it got quick treatment from the Senate Judiciary committee, and sent to the full Senate for a vote in late March. 

So far, this is a great story. Young child, interested in fossils and history, trying to honor the fossil for her state. The bill to make this happens sails through the state House, and quickly moves through initial review in the Senate.

But this is South Carolina, and here comes that whoopee cushion.

On 25 March 2014, while HB 4482 was under discussion in the Senate, Kevin L. Bryant (R-District 3) sought to amend the bill to acknowledge Genesis 1:24-25, which describes the sixth day of creation, to recognize that some “god” was responsible for creating the Animal Kingdom. It was reported that Bryant explained on his website, “I attempted to recognize the creator.” Bryant’s amendment was ruled out of order based on parliamentary rules.

So did Bryant give up? Not when you have a whoopee cushion to make a great sound. So he doubled-down on his effort, and he sought to amend the bill to add “as created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field” after each instance of “mammoth.” This amended bill passed the South Carolina Senate by a vote of 35-0 (so that means progressive Democrats voted for it), and was sent back to the Senate, where they could change the Senate wording.

There you go. The South Carolina whoopee cushion just let out the best flatulence sound ever

Note. for those of you who actually accept science as the most accurate description of the age of the planet and evolution of organisms. The earth is 4.5 billion years old, and we have no evidence that it was created by anything other than the accretion of material from the early Solar System. Life on Earth arose 3.7 billion years and is described by the theory of abiogenesis, that is that life arose from organic compounds. The Columbian mammoth appears to evolved in North America around 126,000 years ago, dying out at the end of the last ice age, around 10,000 years ago. There are some unreliable information about Columbian mammoth remains dating to around 7600 years ago. In other words, the mammoth died out before it was even created in Christian religious myths.

A second note. See, no vaccines. Or Chili’s. But if Chili’s is making chili with vaccinated mammoth meat, I will certainly discuss it here. It would be an awesome story.

A third note. Because I was spending so much time on vaccines and Chili’s, I didn’t get to this article earlier. I’m like a week late, and on the internet that’s like 5 years late.

Antievolution legislation update–catching up on 2014

Bill Nye likes evidence. Ken Ham, like all creationists, ignores evidence.Nearly every year, at the start of the legislative season, Republicans in state legislatures think it’s their right to push their anti-science (and other right wing social engineering ideas). And 2014 is no different, with Republican legislatures trying to force anti-evolution (usually combined with anti-global warming) laws on the students of their state. In general, they haven’t been so successful, but when Republicans embrace a bad idea like anti-science laws, they try until they win.

The 2013 state legislative year was relatively successful for the pro-science forces, with all legislation offered in Republican dominated states failing to come to a vote or getting rejected in committee.This followed a relatively unsuccessful (for the anti-science Republicans) 2012 legislative year (with the notable exception of Tennessee’s Monkey Bill).

Conservative Republicans continue to attempt to bring unconstitutional anti-evolution (and pro-creationism) legislation to the top of their agenda in many states. The current forms of anti-science legislation attempt to allow teaching creationism (or more subtle forms, like intelligent design), usually combined with climate change denialism, and, strangely, anti-human cloning (which is not exactly a serious line of research today). But whatever the general anti-science bent of the legislation, it has always been clear that promoting creationism is the goal. Continue reading “Antievolution legislation update–catching up on 2014”

Republican governor Nikki Haley is anti-vaccine and pro-cancer

The Charleston (SC) Post and Courier reports that Republican South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley vetoed a bill that would have provided sixth- and seventh-graders with information about the HPV vaccine. The vaccine would have been provided at no cost to all seventh-graders whose parents allowed them to have the vaccination. The bill had strong support from both Democrats and Republicans in the South Carolina legislature.

The HPV vaccine provides immunity to men and women against several types of human papilloma virus which is associated with with over 20,000 cancers in women and 11,000 cancers in men every year. Governor Haley defended her veto by calling the bill unnecessary and a “precursor to another taxpayer-funded healthcare mandate,” the Charleston Post and Courier reports.

State Rep. Bakari Sellers (D-Bamberg, S.C.) sponsored the bill and blasted Haley’s move, calling her decision one that… 

puts her own selfish political ambitions ahead of the people of South Carolina. This bill had bipartisan support and gives optional education and preventative vaccines to adolescents in an effort to thwart cervical cancer. This is a common sense approach to a very serious problem. To call this measure unnecessary is demeaning and insulting to the heroic women who fight this cancer everyday. I am deeply disappointed that politics once again has prevailed over women’s health.

In 2007, Haley actually co-sponsored a bill that would provide mandatory HPV vaccinations. It failed to pass through the legislature because it failed to provide opt-outs, which was corrected in the 2012 version.

Let’s be clear here. Haley did not veto this bill because of bad medicine or bad science. She vetoed it purely for political expediency and by doing so, she stands firmly against a simple inoculation that would prevent a deadly cancer. This is not a political issue, it is an anti-cancer issue. 

Vaccines save lives. I guess Nikki Haley doesn’t understand that! Maybe she’ll provide cigarettes for free to the school children of South Carolina.

Science education in the USA–a critical report

Recently, the Thomas P Fordham Institute, a private think-tank focused on analyzing and critiquing the US public school system, issued a report regarding the state of each US state’s science education standards across a broad spectrum of qualitative measures from the clarity of the standards to content to rigor of the science.  It is an impressive and detailed report analyzing science education state-by-state with links to science education standards and other information.  It is worth reading, even just to find out how your state is doing.

[pullquote]Science is the foundation of engineering, biomedical research, and many other fields.  Without science, Intel cannot figure out how to make faster processors.  Without science, we don’t have better vaccines and cancer treatments.  Without science, we have people who think that homeopathy works, or that the world is only 6000 years old, or that acupuncture works.  The whole anti-vaccination lunacy requires a complete misunderstanding of science and research.[/pullquote]

The good news

  • California is one of two states (the other being DC)  to get an A on the science report card.  As a resident of the Golden State, I’m proud of this news, though I am somewhat concerned that the state of the economy and budget crisis is not going to help in the future.  It’s also amazing what DC has done given that it is tiny jurisdiction, and that it received a C in 2005.  But since I’m a California, here’s what the report says about my state:

❝The California science standards are truly excellent.  The standards themselves are  reasonably succinct yet quite comprehensive.  This is especially true in high school  chemistry, where topics are covered that are rarely seen in other K-12 standards  documents.  The continuity from grade to grade is superb, thanks in part to the  introductory commentary, and context that the state provides, which relate grade- pecific learning to standards that have been covered in earlier grades, and those that will be covered later.❞

  • Four other states, Virginia, Massachusetts, South Carolina (which surprises me), and Indiana (despite an ongoing unconstitutional attempt to push creationism on its students) received an A-.
  • Seven other states received B’s.  However, if we are to accept a B as an acceptable result for science education in the US, the one area of study that is critical to American economic and technical leadership, then US science education will fall further behind the booming economies in Europe and Asia.
The bad news
  • Given the above information, 38 states had a C or below grade.  In fact, the average “grade” for science education in the US is a C.  Average.  Mediocre.
  • Ten states had F grades, which must indicate that they occasionally use the word “science” in a spelling test.  Some of these states had F’s in the 2005 report, so they’re not even trying to improve.  Even Wisconsin, which has a top-rated university system, received an F for their students.  Maybe the University of Wisconsin’s science programs only accept out-of-staters and international students.
  • Many of the lower performing states don’t even lay out a basic curricula for science.
  • The variability in standards and implementation is inconsistent across the country.  Why should a California child be better trained than one from Alabama?  Of course, the result of that science education is that California has a world-class university system (3 of the top 100 universities in the world are UC-Berkley, UCLA, and UC-San Diego) and is the world leader in computer technology.  Alabama, of course, has good football teams.
The authors of the study gave a few reasons for the low quality of science education in the US.  They listed four reasons that should give us all a reason to worry about the falling science knowledge in this country:
  • An undermining of evolution. Many of us have been writing about the regular demand by conservative Republican state legislatures to foist creationism on their students.  In the famous words of  Theodosius Dobzhansky, “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”  Evolution is one of the four principles of biology (also including cell theory, genetics, and homeostasis), so without a deep and thorough understanding of evolution, medical research will fall apart.  How are we to save lives and treat diseases if students can’t even understand the essentials of biology?

❝Of course, most anti-evolution efforts are aimed more directly at the standards themselves.  And these tactics are.  far more subtle than they once were.  Missouri, for example, has asterisked all “controversial” evolution content in the.  standards and relegated it to a voluntary curriculum that.  will not be assessed.  (Sadly, this marks a step back from that state’s coverage of evolution in 2005.) Tennessee includes evolution only in an elective high school course (not the basic high school biology course).  And Maryland includes evolution content in its standards but explicitly excludes crucial points from its state assessment.  

Other states have undermined the teaching of evolution by singling it out as somehow not quite as “scientific” as other concepts of similar breadth.  A common technique—used to a greater or lesser extent by Colorado, Missouri, Montana, and West Virginia—is to direct students to study its “strengths and weaknesses.” 

Far too often, important evolution content is included, but minimally.  Some states mention evolution just once in their standards and never revisit it.  Others—including.  Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, and Nebraska— unnecessarily delay it until high school.

Even some of the nation’s best standards subtly undermine.  the teaching of evolution.  In California, for example, students are told to “understand science, not necessarily [to] accept everything taught.” In New York, students learn that “according to many scientists, biological evolution occurs through natural selection.” (This is not according to “many” but, in fact, all true scientists.)

Finally, conspicuously missing from the vast majority of states’ standards is mention of human evolution—implying that elements of biological evolution don’t pertain to human life.  This marks a subtle but important victory for creationists: even states with thorough and appropriate coverage of evolution (e.g., Massachusetts, Utah, and Washington) shy away from linking the controversial term with ourselves.  Only four states—Florida, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Rhode Island—openly embrace human evolution in their current science standards.  (Pennsylvania, which.  referenced human evolution in its previous standards, has omitted it from the more recent version.)❞

  • Propensity to be vague.  Some standards are so unclear and ill-defined that teachers actually have little guidance as to what to teach their students.  California, for example, lists out what students should “know” about electricity upon completion of a physics course.  Within that list, a good science teacher (like the one I had when I was in high school, who developed my interest in sciences) will create a lesson plan that is both invigorating and builds knowledge.  Maybe the intent of some school boards are vague guidelines to inspire independent teaching, but in a subject as critical as the sciences, strict standards are necessary–and good science teachers will use those strict standards to build exciting, challenging and inspiring curricula.
  • Poor integration of scientific inquiry.  Science isn’t all about memorizing muscles, organism names, or how to create the Kreb’s cycle given CO2, H2O and NH3 (my single question in a Biochemistry final exam many years ago).  It’s about the scientific method, the critical and analytical process that essentially leads an individual from observations to a scientific theory.  It’s how science works, it is what distinguishes it from all other forms of thinking.  Apparently, most states don’t guide the teacher on how to provide this type of teaching to their students, a major deficiency.
  • Where did the numbers go?  If evolution is one of the foundations of biology, then mathematics is the foundation of all sciences.  Students need algebra, at a minimum.  But calculus and statistics needs to be integrated into the teaching, as it is critical to analyzing data and understanding how the data makes sense.  Even if someone is going to forsake the sciences for business in college, algebra and calculus are also critical to accounting and finance.
The poor state of science education has effect on everything from the economy to bad medical choices.  Science is the foundation of engineering, biomedical research, and many other fields.  Without science, Intel cannot figure out how to make faster processors.  Without science, we don’t have better vaccines and cancer treatments.  Without science, we have people who think that homeopathy works, or that the world is only 6000 years old, or that acupuncture works.  The whole anti-vaccination lunacy requires a complete misunderstanding of science and research.
At least California is doing it right.

Source:  The State of State Science Standards in the US, a 2012 Report