Archive for May, 2012

May 31, 2012

The birther nonsense

“I have a very large Twitter,” – Donald Trump

I have very little patience for birthers and the incessant questions about Obama’s birth certificate, to the extent that I long ago devoted a facebook group to it. To me, being American is more than just a piece of paper, and I think Obama represents what it means to be an American, for the most part, and that should be enough. I would not stand for it, and I feel that Obama, let alone any other person choosing to identify themselves with American values, should not be subjected to it.
To me, the controversy over Obama’s birth certificate is nothing more than an outlet for birthers to publicize their rejection of Obama as President. While they are free to feel however they want, questioning his citizenship as an American should be off limits, because I bet that every single one of these birthers would be offended, even outraged, if some stranger were to deny that they were American unless they presented their actual birth certificate. Most people express that level of offense just for being carded for alcohol or tobacco. I know that I am not a supported of everything Obama, but to question his roots without any regard for who he is as an actual person is, to me, the lowest type of prejudice.
People who try to deny another person’s right to call themselves an American, need to take a long hard look at themselves, and ask what makes them more American.
May 29, 2012

The evidence for evolution

Recently, Richard Leakey made some interesting statements, mostly because despite appearing to be so intelligent, he sounds ridiculously out of touch with reality.

Evolution Skepticism Will Soon Be History

The Naive Mr. Leakey

A Top Scientist Ignores the Science of Why People Deny Science



Richard Leakey, son of Louis and Mary Leakey and himself one of the most important and famous paleontologists in the world, showed his naivete when he told the San Francisco Chronicle that reluctance to accept evolution will disappear in the next few decades.

Sometime in the next 15 to 30 years, the Kenyan-born paleoanthropologist expects scientific discoveries will have accelerated to the point that “even the skeptics can accept it.”


Why is it so naive? Well, one need only watch this episode of Futurama to understand.

The second thing that bothers me about his statements: It implies that there is not already enough evidence that supports evolution. Evolution already has enough evidence to support it in this day and age; so the people who still deny evolution do so without any regard for the scientific evidence.

The evidence for evolution extends further than Darwin’s Origin of Species, after all. In all the years since, scientifically supported evidence for evolution has been revealed and verified and re-verified. That is the power of science.

May 28, 2012

Posts That I’ve Read Today, 5/28/2012

I usually link posts I find worth sharing separately on facebook, but to try to reduce the facebook spam this causes I thought I’d try compiling them in a single post, in the style of Mike the Mad Biologist. For what it’s worth, I read the entirety of any post to which I link.

Mike Huckabee calls opponents “morally repugnant political whores,” then denies. H/T Mano Singham

A Realistic View of Deficit Spending

I worked for Reagan and wrote for National Review. But the new hysterical right cares nothing for truth or dignity.” H/T Ed Brayton

Opposition to gay marriage has hit a new low among Americans, weeks after President Barack Obama announced his support for it, according to a new poll Wednesday.”

Tomorrow, I attempt to get back to research.

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May 20, 2012

Guest Editorial: It’s Time To e-Volve: Taking Responsibility for Science Communication in a Digital Age

Guest Editorial: It’s Time To e-Volve: Taking Responsibility for Science Communication in a Digital Age

In 2009, Research!America polled the average American and asked them a very simple question: name a living scientist (ResearchAmerica. 2009. “Your Congress—Your Health”: Poll). About 18% got it wrong, but what is more sobering is that 65% of people didn’t even try to name anyone. The average American doesn’t know who we are.


Surveys have shown that Americans have a healthy respect for science. Eighty-four percent of Americans believe that science is having a mostly positive effect on society. This isn’t a matter of literacy, as 74% of people who score in the lowest third on science knowledge tests concur.

May 17, 2012

What does our government really represent? Racial Inequality


Since Reconstruction ended over 200 years ago, African-Americans have only been represented by:

In that same span, African-Americans have always represented at least 9.7% of the US population.

Taking the same approach for gender is undoubtedly worse.

If we truly want a government representative of the overall country, we need to work more toward reducing disparity between the demographics of the country and the representatives themselves.

May 15, 2012

the real question is why

Easter Island heads have bodies

There is controversy surrounding why the bodies are buried. Was it time and erosion, or were they buried on purpose?


My first guess: They thought dead people could still see and talk to each other, but not move.

My second guess: To fuck with people like us.

May 14, 2012

Today’s Goal

To not do anything on this computer unless it is research-related…besides this post.

May 13, 2012

Thoughts (That are too long for twitter)

It’s not sad that celebrities sign away their likenesses to endorse products they have no business endorsing. What’s sad are the people/children who buy these products based on these endorsements.

May 4, 2012

Why we should really work on improving education

When politicians want to show they support education, they often make claims along the lines that increasing the number of college graduates stimulates the economy. The most-used evidence for this are the statistics that show that, the more education you have, the more money you end up making, and the more likely you are to be employed.

First, while these two claims are generally true, they are far from the guarantee that politicians and educators make them sound.

Second, more education does not necessarily improve the economy, and I like the analogy that this guy uses:

Implicit in the first point is that a majority of working-age individuals don’t work because they choose not to (i.e. they are lazy scroungers), or because unemployment is caused by laziness or lack of training. The argument they often use is that “I can get a job, therefore all the unemployed could get jobs if only they tried harder, or got better education and training.”

The way I go about demonstrating that fallacy is a dogs-and-bones example. Say we have 10 dogs and we bury nine bones in the backyard. We send the dogs out to find bones. At least one dog will come back without a bone.

We decide that the problem is lack of training. We put that dog through rigorous training in the latest bone-finding techniques. We bury nine bones and send the 10 dogs out again. The trained dog ends up with a bone, but some other dog comes back without a bone (empty-mouthed, so to speak).

Third, it implies that the less educated are more of a burden on society/the economy. If only they would go get a higher degree, they would be doing better than they are now.

So, does that mean we shouldn’t encourage people to go to college and strive for higher educations?

Far from it. We should definitely encourage and invest in higher education for more people, but let’s end the canard that it pays off directly in employment and income, or we should encourage it because it helps the economy. It does, but that’s not why we want more people with high education.

The real reason we should be telling people to graduate from high school, college, or graduate school, is that, overall, people who are more educated are better for society.

The more educated you are:

1. The better you can take care of yourself. When you’re unemployed, it often requires several skills and qualities to find a job. Often these skills are only gained through practice, like the kind of practice that gaining a degree offers.

2. The better you can take care of others. Similar to number one.

3. The more opportunities you have. Someone with a general high school education will only be able to find certain jobs. Someone with an advanced degree with be able to find those same jobs, plus others. Have a degree in a scientific field? You also have the ability to find a job in a related field.

4. The better you are at choosing the people who govern over you. And you will be better at monitoring how well they do. And better at rewarding or punishing them for the job they do.

5. The better you are at handling anything life throws at you. Serious illness, loss of job, tricky legal battle? Having a good education better prepares you for any of these things.

If we want to live in a better society than we have now, having more educated people is practically a requirement.

In arguing that we should always seek to improve the education levels in our population, it may seem like I’m reinforcing the third issue I mentioned above, that the less educated are a burden. However, I am not making this claim.

For example, a person may be in a job that merely requires a high school education, such as a garbage collector. It would be a mistake to say they do not serve a role in our society; this job needs someone to do it, and he’s filling that need. However, if that person were to get a college education, it doesn’t mean they are suddenly going to be doing their job better, and at the same time, it does not necessarily mean that they are wasting their capabilities if they have this college degree but still collect garbage; this is still a needed role that they are filling. My argument is that the person should seek a college education for the way it improves their lives in areas other than employment/the economy.

Like health care, I think education should not be treated as a privilege, but as a basic need, and the government (us, as a society) should facilitate individual people raising their levels of education. Because education itself is a benefit to society.

May 3, 2012

Song for May