Link Dump for 26 April 2009

This will be my usual link dump.

One of the hardest things for a professor to accept is that

1. He or she loves their subject and is an expert in it and
2. Most of their students are far less interested in their subject and, to be frank, for the most part, have much less aptitude for it.

So, one often encounters students attempting to take the path of least resistance in their courses.
That just comes with the territory for those of us who mostly teach undergraduates for a living (as opposed to those who mostly research and direct graduate students)

Science teaching: I can see the point of this blogger: deities of any sort have zero place in a science class. But sometimes a science teacher gets put in a box (by dealing with the students that they have) and, well, sometimes great scientists mentioned “god” when writing about their work (e. g., Einstein wondering “how would I have designed the universe if I were god”).

Science and society
I am always interested in how scientists write about science when they are attempting to reach an “educated” but still, well, to be blunt, scientifically incompetent audience. Here scientist Jerry Coyne talks about how to explain evolutionary complexity to “the masses”.

Personally, I lack the patience to explain anything to the general public; but if no one did, I’d sure miss out on some great articles and books. So I am glad that many scientists have better attitudes than I do! 🙂

And yes, most of these science types have had much more professional success than I’ve had.

One of my favorite science bloggers is Larry Moran at Sandwalk. Yes, some of his stuff is over my head; I was a mediocre chemistry student and my last course was many, many years ago. But his writing is good enough to make me want to take an organic chemistry course! That will go on my “to do someday” list.

Here are a couple of his recent articles: he talks about the conjecture that humans evolved the ability to cover long distances on foot as a result of hunting game; the idea is that humans would wear their prey down by simply making it keep moving for too long of a a time.

Yes, as a lay person I find this to be an entertaining conjecture. But, as usual, Professor Moran finds the weakness in this argument and other such arguments:

I assume the wildebeests just didn’t evolve as quickly or they would have adapted as well.

The bison on the North American plains probably could run faster than the natives because, to the best of my knowledge, the North American natives didn’t run after buffalo in order to make them die of heat exhaustion. They used sneaky tricks like forcing them to charge over cliffs. They also sneakily used bows and arrows. The natives only started chasing buffalo when horses became available, which is very strange since humans are better at long-distance running than horses—or so the story goes.

One of the problems with evolutionary psychology is that the psychologists claim to know exactly what human societies were like one million years ago. That’s one of the problems with the endurance running hypothesis as well. It is based on the assumption that we know how primitive societies obtained food (by running after large animals on the savanna). In fact, we don’t know if this is true and we don’t even know what percentage of the species might have adopted this lifestyle.

The professional scientists have, ahem, well adapted “BS detectors”. 🙂 Sure, there might be a kernel of truth to this claim (that we evolved our long distance pedestrian abilities due to hunting) but scientists will be very skeptical until there is solid proof.

I wish that the general public understood that.

Yes, I find this conjecture to be interesting, and I’ve even blogged about it. But there are lots of interesting conjectures that haven’t panned out.

Professor Moran also talks about science writing. He doesn’t suffer fools well and is rather impatient with gimmicks that “sell science” at the expense of advancing inaccuracies.

Free Speech: The Legal Satyricon talks about an interesting free speech case in Florida: evidently a police chief is trying to get a website taken down because she claims that the website is portraying her in a false light.

In this article you will find the criteria for something to be defamation (in a legal sense) sets a very high bar for proof and why this is a good thing, especially when the person being attacked is a public figure.

Here is a talk on the evolution of religions (90 minutes long)

3-quarks daily Here is an interesting article which talks about how societies might win the battle of hearts and minds against those who kill in the name of religion.

“It is time,” Aslan writes in his introduction, “to strip this ideological conflict of its religious connotations, to reject the religiously polarizing rhetoric of our leaders and theirs, to focus on the material matters at stake, and to address the earthly issues that always lie behind the cosmic impulse.” Aslan goes on to devote much of his book to distinguishing the earthly grievances of Islamists from the cosmic grievances of Global Jihadists, and to detailing how the former are pressed into service of the latter. Islamists, like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, are “religious nationalists”; they seek specific domestic redress, through Islamic political parties, of political and economic deprivation. Global Jihadists, like Al Qaeda, are “religious trans-nationalists.” They plait together stories of specific injustice — Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, the corruption of decades of secular Egyptian and Saudi leaders, the dispossession of Muslim minorities in Europe — into a “master narrative” of universal Muslim humiliation. They are purists; they prefer the unspecific glory of the struggle to the disheveling imperatives of regency. For nationalists who despise some foreign patriotism, war is the health of the state. For religious trans-nationalists who despise all infidels, jihad is the bloom of the believers.

President Obama’s First 100 days: here his first 100 days are compared to those of Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson. This is entertaining, though I admit that I am skeptical at some of the comparisons.

Frank Rich: makes it clear that the torture issue is not one that we ought to let go of.

Time magazine: suggests that the GOP split over how to deal with the Harold Koh nomination (to be the top lawyer in the State Department) is hurting the GOP.

I don’t see it that way; this may well be a well orchestrated “good cop” (“ok, give the administration what they want”) “bad cop” (“let’s be a true opposition party”) situation.

April 26, 2009 - Posted by | 2008 Election, atheism, Barack Obama, creationism, education, evolution, free speech, obama, politics, politics/social, religion, republicans, science, superstition, world events


  1. Suggestion: Get rid of the “snap shots” pop ups. Makes it hard to read.

    Comment by marcorandazza | April 27, 2009 | Reply

  2. Done: in case anyone else on a WordPress blog wants to do this, go to “appearance” then “extras”.

    Comment by blueollie | April 27, 2009 | Reply

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