Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Science Links

Darren has been posting a series of utterly weird and alien cetacean skulls. Try here and here and especially here for my favorites, but they are all wonderful. He also weighs in on the "Montauk Monster". Despite the hysteria I though it was a canid; he convinces me that it is likely another small carnivore.

John Farrell links to an ominous essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education about how, through feel- good curricula and "self esteem", we are rapidly becoming a nation of scientific illiterates. Bill Gates wants more immigrant visas.

"Success in the sciences unquestionably takes a lot of hard work, sustained over many years. Students usually have to catch the science bug in grade school and stick with it to develop the competencies in math and the mastery of complex theories they need to progress up the ladder. Those who succeed at the level where they can eventually pursue graduate degrees must have not only abundant intellectual talent but also a powerful interest in sticking to a long course of cumulative study. A century ago, Max Weber wrote of "Science as a Vocation," and, indeed, students need to feel something like a calling for science to surmount the numerous obstacles on the way to an advanced degree.

"At least on the emotional level, contemporary American education sides with the obstacles. It begins by treating children as psychologically fragile beings who will fail to learn — and worse, fail to develop as "whole persons" — if not constantly praised. The self-esteem movement may have its merits, but preparing students for arduous intellectual ascents aren't among them. What the movement most commonly yields is a surfeit of college freshmen who "feel good" about themselves for no discernible reason and who grossly overrate their meager attainments.

"The intellectual lassitude we breed in students, their unearned and inflated self-confidence, undercuts both the self-discipline and the intellectual modesty that is needed for the apprentice years in the sciences. Modesty? Yes, for while talented scientists are often proud of their talent and accomplishments, they universally subscribe to the humbling need to prove themselves against the most-unyielding standards of inquiry. That willingness to play by nature's rules runs in contrast to the make-it-up-as-you-go-along insouciance that characterizes so many variants of postmodernism and that flatters itself as being a higher form of pragmatism.


"The antiscience agenda is visible as early as kindergarten, with its infantile versions of the diversity agenda and its early budding of self-esteem lessons. But it complicates and propagates all the way up through grade school and high school. In college it often drops the mask of diffuse benevolence and hardens into a fascination with "identity."


"The science "problems" we now ask students to think about aren't really science problems at all. Instead we have the National Science Foundation vexed about the need for more women and minorities in the sciences. President Lawrence H. Summers was pushed out of Harvard University for speculating (in league with a great deal of neurological evidence) that innate difference might have something to do with the disparity in numbers of men and women at the highest levels of those fields. In 2006 the National Academy of Sciences issued a report, "Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering." Officials of the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education are looking to use Title IX to force science graduate programs to admit more women. The big problem? As of 2001, 80 percent of engineering degrees and 72 percent of computer-science degrees have gone to men.

"A society that worries itself about which chromosomes scientists have isn't a society that takes science education seriously."

A serious RTWT piece.

Less seriously, Annie D had sent me a weird litle YouTube of the Pilobolus Ballet company which I have lost. But following the cyber back trails she came upon the lfe history of this fungal organism and its parasitic congeners. Parasite evolution is among the most fascinating things in nature.

This is the website of a wonderful new book showcasing the meeting point of art and science through the subject of birds. Artists include Vadim Gorbatov, Carel Brest van Kempen, Tom Quinn, Tony Angell, Lars Jonsson, and others who have been mentioned here. There are also iconic images of birds from the French caves to the 16th century portrait of Robert Cheseman with a (?) Gyr-- I am not convinced by the authors' argument that it is a Lanner unless Cheseman was four feet tall.

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