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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Photos from the AAPA (American Association of Physical Anthropology) Teachers' Workshop

Yes, I have been very busy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

You Miss Me! You Really, Really Miss Me!

Wow, you trolls! Do you come with your own bridge? :-D

Well, your Billie Goat Gruff here has seen through your teasing sarcasm and read the pleas that lurk beneath. You want me to resume posting? Okay, I shall! This is a good a place as any to park some of my new projects, and I never did finish my Galapagos Diary.

Since I last wrote, I have moved twice, finally into our permanent new home last year, and been a librarian and an archivist, working sub and contract, while holding down a steady part time job in eLearning development and APEX-ELM administration. I worked six days a week for nearly a year, ducks, and when I was not working I was throwing logs around and clearing Buckthorn on our new property. (Oh yes, I lost that "grad school thirty.")

I have also been involved in an internationally maintained online archive, and even been writing some fanfic. It's fun.

It is serendipity that a troll unleashed some snark here last week.


Friday, July 22, 2011

It's Time to Shut Down "Uncommon Descent," William Dembski!

Do you really want people like this writing curricula for schools? Barry Arrington at the Uncommon Descent blog writes:

A couple of months ago a young university student contacted my law office seeking help in a dispute she was having with a university here in Colorado. [To protect my client’s privacy, I am using neither her name nor the name of the university. ] The previous week she had voiced opposition to Darwinism to her biology professor, who proceeded to scream at her, denigrate her religious views, and generally demean and humiliate her in front of the rest of the class. After hearing her story I sent a demand letter to the university seeking redress. Good news. We resolved the matter on very favorable terms.

I have my doubts as to whether Mr. Arrington should be airing this story at all if it really happened; doing so could constitute an ethics violation. But if that were not troubling enough, he is holding a contest for the "best reply" to this alleged professor who supposedly dressed down a student for objecting to "Darwinism" (whatever that is).

Then, as if this were not enough navel-gazing, commenter and moderator KairosFocus proclaims this unnamed professor's actions to be rape. That's right - actual rape.

So a real rape victim replies, "As someone who has actually been raped before, I find your 'metaphor' despicable!" As do I. Well, the comment goes up...

...and gets a big dose of "You're a bad, bad girl!"

Oh, who isn't reminded of the actions of Jesse Ventura after Paul Wellstone's memorial? "Violated! *Sniff* I feel violated!"

But what truly pisses me off is that, in an earlier post, this same KairosFocus character claimed that how women dress should affect their rapist's guilt:

Oh yeah, right, KairosFocus.

Naturally, the pro-ID commenters have dug in about how this professor did in this supposedly true story committed "rape." One even found himself "laughing" at the objections to the rape metaphor. Well, do you know something? I do not find this funny at all, and neither would the most religious extremist who truly thought that someone had committed rape.

This blog is the most repulsive example of nihilism I have ever seen. After accusing PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins of "exhorting violence" and shitting repeatedly on the grave of Charles Darwin, they have the effrontery to equate an insult with rape a la Catherine McKinnon.

Intelligent Design cannot even differentiate between words and actions!

William Dembksi, it is time to shut down Uncommon Descent. You have lost the argument. You are done.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Zooniverse is Expanding

On Thursday, June 2, I attended a presentation to the Minnesota Astronomical Society by University of Minnesota professor Lucy Fortson, formerly of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. The topic of her presentation was, “Birth of the Zooniverse: How Citizen Scientists are Taking on Research from Galaxies to Climate Change.”

Galaxy Zoo

The Zooniverse grew out of Galaxy Zoo, a scholarly effort to get many pairs of eyes analyze and create a taxonomy for the “data flood” of deep field and ultra deep field galactic images taken by the Hubble observatory. In contrast to the thousands of bright galaxies photographed onto glass plates by the Palomar Sky Survey in the 1950s, the number of digital photographs of bright galaxies needing identification exceeded one million, much more than is possible for any graduate student to handle.

Human beings understand relationships via taxonomies. When a field is largely unknown, and the development of galaxies is still not understood, scientists first gather large amounts of data, then sort and classify it by carefully defined criteria. (Computers also do a wonderful job of storing data, and associating data in relationships that nevertheless must first be defined by human beings.)

Astronomers attempted to have algorithms identify and classify these galaxies, using color as a proxy for shape. Computers, however, are great at crunching numbers but still have only limited success at pattern recognition and matching. Meanwhile, this “data flood” was producing blue ellipticals and red spirals, creating contingencies that crossed the color proxy parameters set for the algorithms. Neural networking also had limited success, and duplicated the same problems. Therefore, the solution was to find volunteers without astronomical knowledge, who would provide fresh eyes, to identify spiral armed, spiral barred, and elliptical galaxies among the images.

In 2007 the astronomers launched a website, Galaxy Zoo, which they expected to gather a few thousand volunteers at most. The response from the public was overwhelming, and it crashed their servers. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people from around the world participated (the astronomers saw a marked dip in classifications when the Egyptian government shut down the internet for a while), and soon the questions were coming in from the volunteers. Unable to answer them all, the astronomers set up a forum for the volunteers.

Also, in order to eliminate empty clicks, false identifications, and practical jokers or random clicks by children, statistical analysis is applied to the results.

Known unknowns and unknown unknowns

Here is where the project truly becomes interesting for me: unable to get their specific questions answered, this increasingly astronomically literate community, which started out with very limited astronomical knowledge, began to do literature searches of refereed journals. They began to make discoveries celestial objects predicted but not yet observed. One of the volunteers, frustrated with the “hunt and peck” method of going through this “data deluge,” even wrote a query of the Sloan site’s spectral data.

The project has yielded 20 peer-reviewed scientific papers—including the MNRAS papers—and one comic book. (I can’t help but wonder what Guillermo Gonzalez was doing all this time if he was serious about attaining the qualifications for tenure.)

New research projects have been designed around these lessons learned, and thus the Zooniverse was born. New projects include an avian and entomological project with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, a study of ocean temperatures recorded in British ship logs during World War I (climate change is driven by the oceans, yet most of our data comes from land-based temperature sensors, yet the British recorded the ocean temperature faithfully every four hours), and the reconstruction and translation from the Greek of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri from Egypt.

The role of the citizen scientist

It must be stressed that, when one uses nonexperts as citizen scientists, it is imperative that their roles be clearly defined and coherently limited by a strict definition of “citizen science.” There were also strict parameters set (spiral versus elliptical, etc.). This is not a top-down agenda to employ vulnerable adults seeking assuagement of eschatological fears in a campaign to get “new” (fringe or pseudo-) science into high school curricula, or a one-stop shop for bullet points to provide “corroboration” for a foregone conclusion. For example, though there are an abundance of amateur astronomers, these volunteers were not solicited to gather images, but to identify them based on good faith eyeballing. Eyeballing identifies simple shapes and colors (not “complexity”) and should only be used for this. Naïve eyeballing by nonexperts was expressly sought after in this particular case for a particular reason: to eliminate the bias that experts would show in performing what for them would be considered a menial task.* To the public, however, looking at images of galaxies and identifying their shape was a meaningful exercise that led to open-ended inquiry and, importantly, greater information literacy.

*For example, my eye doctor apologized to me for putting me through glaucoma tests after seeing an abnormal cup size on my optic nerve. He admitted that he had just attended a conference on glaucoma and had been viewing so many abnormal optic nerves that that may have influenced the false positive that he saw in my case.

It happens: despite the fact that the word “archive” [sic] is used many different ways in the vernacular, the second I see that word I focus immediately on it. (Actually, use of the word "archive" is a giveaway, as professionals use "archives" even in the singular.)

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Saturday, May 07, 2011

The Synthese Flap, and the Sound of Silence

By now, many of you are aware of the controversy surrounding the disclaimer that was inserted, in the print copy only, of the issue number two of Synthese 178, which Glenn Branch and James Fetzer had guest edited. To Branch's and Fetzer's surprise, and to the utter surprise of the contributors to this journal (Barbara Forrest, John Wilkins, and Wesley Elsberry among them), the editors-in-chief included the following disclaimer in the print edition:

Statement from the Editors-in-Chief of SYNTHESE
This special issue addresses a topic of lively current debate with often strongly expressed views. We have observed that some of the papers in this issue employ a tone that may make it hard to distinguish between dispassionate intellectual discussion of other views and disqualification of a targeted author or group.

We believe that vigorous debate is clearly of the essence in intellectual communities, and that even strong disagreements can be an engine of progress. However, tone and prose should follow the usual academic standards of politeness and respect in phrasing. We recognize that these are not consistently met in this particular issue. These standards, especially toward people we deeply disagree with, are a common benefit to us all. We regret any deviation from our usual standards.

Johan van Benthem
Vincent F. Hendricks
John Symons
Editors-in-Chief / SYNTHESE

You can read more about the inappropriateness, and the unprofessionalism, of this clandestine inclusion here (Chronicle of Higher Education) and here (Inside Higher Ed), sources that hardly have an axe to grind when it comes to the evolution/creationism controversy.

The editors-in-chief have refused to respond, as they should, to the scholarly community as to why they would circumvent normal publishing ethics and transparency to include a disclaimer that indeed "poisons the well" against established scholars and writers of repute (or as it turns out, one particular scholar).

However, another and perhaps more alarming, question has arisen. Wesley outlines it here:

One piece of hard data is that Francis Beckwith, one of the third-party complainers, submitted his “response” to Barbara Forrest on February 7th, 2011, and the response includes in it explicit reference to the disclaimer in the print edition of Synthese 178:2. This sets the latest date at which Francis Beckwith could have been apprised of the disclaimer’s print status. I didn’t hear about it until Glenn Branch emailed me on March 9th, 2011, to say that a disclaimer had been printed. But I’d like to know exactly how much lead time Beckwith had. The Synthese Editors-in-Chief haven’t been very forthcoming when asked questions about this affair, so that leaves Beckwith to be asked about the situation.

Wesley has e-mailed Beckwith asking how he was informed about the disclaimer before anyone else, including the guest editors of and contributors to Synthese 178. The silence from Beckwith has been deafening - all the more disturbing because Beckwith takes Barbara Forrest to task for supposed "errors" in her article, claiming that "all she had to do was e-mail me." Indeed?

Time to answer your e-mail, Francis Beckwith! Quit blogging about how "awful" Barbara Forrest's writing is to show the forthright honesty and transparency that you expect from others.

As a budding scholar myself, still fresh out of grad school, I want to see the proper behavior modeled for me by my colleagues and mentors, especially those who make the extraordinary claim that there is a concerted effort to silence any evidence for design in scholarly communication.

Shimmies to The Austringer

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Dead or Alive

Gaddafi, you're next. Thus always to terrorists.

All my shimmies to the troops. (And I was not offended when President Bush said, "Dead or Alive." I supported the war in Afghanistan.)

UPDATED: He was killed, in a mansion not a cave, using a woman as a human shield (unfortunately she was killed, too), by a firefight close-hand with Navy SEALS, not a drone. And on the 100th anniversary of naval aviation, too. The Navy has done us proud!

SECOND UPDATE: Why They Cheered (from Inside Higher Education)

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fossils, Bones and Primates: Enriching High School Teaching

I attended the science teachers' workshop at the American Association of Physical Anthropology Annual Meeting, and met educators, graduate students, and other colleagues from around the area and from the Smithsonian (for which I have a special place in my heart). The half-day workshop focused on equipping educators with training modules that incorporated the latest research and discoveries in human evolutionary biology, paleoanthropology, primatology, and forensics.

I hope to turn this into a published article, like my article about the presentation on the Brooklyn Public Library's Human Genome Project Community Conversations curriculum at last year's American Library Association conference (to be published soon).

Much of the information was old news to me, and some of it revealed gaps in my knowledge, but the session focused on effective means of communicating scientific nuance to high school students, who can come away from their science classes looking for a neat linear succession of fossils ("This evolved from this, and this evolved from this," etc.) and who could reinforce rather than question their own assumptions about skin color variation and "race," since a person's so-called "race" is so immediately apparent to us.

An important point that can get lost in teaching human evolution is that other primates are not "failed humans," but evolved creatures in their own right. Our cousins have their own place in the ecosystem and evolved alongside us. Your cousin is not "striving" to become you! Evolution is messy, not a straight-line process, and not aiming for us; Homo sapiens got lucky, and we are the one human species left over. We did not "win" anything; if anything, other species of humans lasted longer than we likely will.

The teachers expressed particular concern about their difficulties in getting teenagers in particular to see that race is a social construct, whereas skin color variation is not an accurate indicator of ethnicity. There is greater skin color variation within so-called "races" than between them. Laying down skin color tones in a line visually reinforces the fact that skin color exists on a continuum, even within families. Unlike eye and hair color, skin color is not determined by a simple gene pairing but by an array of genes, and it is not the case that lighter-skinned indigenous people were always found in the higher latitudes, whereas darker-skinned indigenous people were clustered around the equator. Different ethnicities co-evolved with their ability to absorb and retain certain vitamins, with their diet, with their ability or not to tolerate heat or cold, and these factor into skin color.

It was particularly instructive to me that most of the questions in the Q&A focused on practical needs, such as ways for teachers to collaborate, to communicate effectively to their students, to find sources of funding, and to keep up with the latest research. Creationism was brought up only at the very end, and most of the people in the room seemed to have the resources that they needed to deal with classroom disruptions or upset parents. Actually, one educator stated that her time at a science table during a fair in Iowa was boring; farmers especially accept evolution and do not find it to be "controversial."

If anything, I have long suspected that ID has made inroads with youth who are estranged from the land and from animals, who see food as something that comes from the grocery store rather than from the land, who do not get the chance to observe that each animal is a genetic individual, and who cannot imagine how heredity works. I am not inspired by the idea that nature was "manufactured" in the same manner that the Coca-Cola Company manufactures soda pop. The idea of children seeing themselves as commodities of a manufacturer deity strikes me as compatible with the corporate agenda to turn them into consumers, to make them see themselves as people who wear this or that corporate brand, who root for this or that corporate sports team, and who are easily swayed by this or that corporate scare tactic.

Food for thought: creationism/ID remains a concern, but it is not the biggest concern in teaching evolution today; and cultivating media literacy--seeing through the clever tactics of advertisers and anyone else with an agenda--in young people is related to teaching science effectively. Certainly this has become more evident to me as the proponents of ID try to adopt a "hip, now, new generation" style of marketing. (Could little sayings on cans of Faygo be far behind?)

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