As sweet as any harmony …

• “Isn’t life great?” The final words, and final thoughts, of a scientist and “an amazing man.”

• A² + B² = C² … Here, I’ll show you.

• I suppose a new poll showing that “78 percent of Americans believe the earth’s temperatures are rising” is a positive sign. That’s up from  the same survey taken in 2009, so it’s an encouraging sign that climate denial can’t be sustainable.

But on the other hand, the results of the poll — and even the existence of the poll itself — show that even our own personal experience becomes “controversial” once it’s framed as a partisan political question. Yesterday’s weather has become a point of contention and dispute. And that dispute cannot be settled with a thermometer because thermometers are now regarded as politically biased.

“This object is an expanding cloud of gas rushing away from a dying star. So what’s with the huge backwards S-shape?”

• “Astonishingly, if given access to a small hoard of chocolate chips, the free rat would usually save at least one treat for the captive — which is a lot to expect of a rat.”

Giant squid.

Slinkies and Wile E. Coyote.

• The Discovery Institute’s theology and biblical interpretation are also done with a green screen instead of a real Bible.

Sunita Williams gives a video tour of her office — the International Space Station. The special effects in that video are amazing — it really looks like she can fly.

• “A solar powered coal-mining museum is a fantastic way to celebrate this national journey.”

• James McGrath looks at a “science” lesson for fundamentalist homeschoolers that is guaranteed to produce legions of future atheists.

• Ed Darrell shares “A slightly rude film with a powerful point” — as well as some helpful resource links for broader context — in response to the horrific ignorance and negligence of the anti-vaxxer movement.

• “13 must-see stargazing events in 2013

• “Top 10 skywatching events not to be missed this year” (via)

(Five items not shared between those two lists.)

• “The Top 10 Reasons Why We Know the Earth Is Round

CJR must-reads of 2012: Science.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    • A² + B² = C² … Here, I’ll show you.

    So I was wondering how that could be done, and it is so simple, so obvious once you see it, so elegant, that it is clearly brilliant. 

  • Vermic

    That “textbook” page on the James McGrath link made my head implode just looking at it.  It makes so many bad assumptions, it’s not even wrong, it’s just nonsense.  It would actually require extensive revision and correction to upgrade to “wrong”.

  • Magic_Cracker

    it’s not even wrong

    Oh, now you did it. Those text book publishers can now take your quote and say, “See? Even this secular evolutionist agrees with us!”

  • Münchner Kindl

    Astonishingly, if given access to a small hoard of chocolate chips, the free rat would usually save at least one treat for the captive — which is a lot to expect of a rat.

    I don’t quite understand the really big surprise about rats helping each other. I consider it a small surprise, since rats are not only mammals, but also social animals. All social animals have “help members of your group” hardwired as instinct, because that’s how groups work and why you have groups for long-term survival.

    It’s only when people fail biology by declaring social darwinism/ Randism to be “everybody for himself” that they are astonished that people/ animals help each other without direct rewards. Because rats (and people) don’t act in isolation, they act on their previous experiences and hopes for the future, where helping each other is the best longterm strategy for survival.

  • Münchner Kindl

    “A solar powered coal-mining museum is a fantastic way to celebrate this national journey.”

    That does surprise me – I didn’t know Wales (or any other part of the GB) had enough sun hours/ year to make this worthwhile, I thought it mainly rains there.

  • http://twitter.com/shay_guy Shay Guy

    I hadn’t even thought of that… but I’m still partial to the algebraic proofs I’ve seen.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Cooperation! It’s Nature’s way!

  • DorothyD

    That is so cool. Somehow I want to say “Eureka!”

  • The_L1985

    Yay, Fred is blinding us with SCIENCE! :D

    I’ll need to peruse these later today, when I’m not on my lunch break.

  • vsm

    That textbook is meant for a homeschooling course that will result in the student receiving a real high school diploma, right? Are there no standards they must fulfill, or is Christian Fundamentalism given a special pass? If not, could I teach a course about the pre-historic moon-based civilization that ruled the solar system before being brought down by a sun demon and a lovesick sorceress and have my kids graduate?

  • Magic_Cracker

    Are there no standards they must fulfill … ?

    Standards vary from state-to-state, and, of course, the enforcement of standards varies even more.

  • rrhersh

    That slinkie demonstration is way cool, completely counter-intuitive, yet makes perfect sense once one is forced to think about it.

  • Jenny Islander

    Alaska: Homeschooled students are typically enrolled through a school district.  They must take the same standardized tests as anyone else, beginning in third grade.  Tests are proctored by school district staff, not parents.  In my school district, parents are expected to submit a summary of subjects to be taught with a list of textbooks or programs.  Three progress reports are expected each year, with a sample of the student’s work.

  • LL

    This. I mean, most people don’t have harsher opinions about humans and human nature than I do, but even I see that cooperation and altruism are “natural” in that they make more sense than the “I got mine, fuck everybody else” philosophy of life that so many rugged individualists seem to think should be our guiding principle. 

    Or maybe it’s rat prejudice. People let their revulsion towards rats color their thinking, believing that rats are just filthy eating and breeding machines. Apparently, they’re quite intelligent. 

  • Loki100

    I once got into a discussion with someone about the way historical temperature charts were constructed. I pointed out that tree rings as an indication of temperature were phased out around 1960 because they stopped being in correlation with recorded temperatures. Apparently I was wrong and we should trust tree rings over thermometers  No, seriously, I was told we can’t rely on thermometers and need to rely on tree rings.

  • MaryKaye

    First-hand personal experience can’t tell you that the planet is warming.  It can only tell you that your locale, or locales, are warming.  Some of us live in places that are not warmer, and it’s entirely appropriate to say “My personal experience of cooler temperatures in the last few years does not invalidate global warming.”  But then, others’ personal experience of warmer temperatures does not validate global warming.  You really can’t measure global events at a single locale.

    Put together measurements from a lot of locations–then you see the whole story.  But that will never be “personal experience” unless you are a globe-trotting climatologist.

    This doesn’t bother me–I work every day with data about molecules I have never seen, derived from people I have never met, by a lab technique I have never done.  Personal experience only gets us so far in science.

    (Incidentally, though it has been warm here the last few years, the global-warming prediction, as far as I know, is that Seattle will get cooler and wetter.  Which is a little alarming given that it already rains 152 days a year.)

  • P J Evans

    Apparently, they’re quite intelligent.

    Also warm and furry.
    (Lab rats make nice pets. Quiet, clean, small.)

  • Carstonio

    The backward S shape? Obviously the dying star’s solar system included Bizarro’s home planet, with him arriving here the same way as the original.

  • Albanaeon

     Yep.  You’d be amazed on how much caterwauling my in-laws made when they found that the local school district required standardized testing for homeschoolers.  “What about choice?!”  “What about supporting students?!”

    That a state might have an interest in its children being able to function in society was pure “evil socialism.”  And that it was brought on by their conviction that their non-mentally handicapped son couldn’t score in the bottom 13% in math and have to go to real school because of it, was particularly odd.

  • AnonymousSam

    It also ties into why they so desperately want Creationism to be real, since they want humans–specifically the ones who said the Magic Jesus Words–to be special creatures, and they have abhorrent views of animals and evolution. I’ve seen many, many, many people conflate evolution with the idea that every animal just wants to kill and eat every other animal so it alone will survive.

    To which I say, “No, that’s more a human thing. But only certain, special humans, like the ones who believe magic words make them a superior race to all the rest.”

  • Magic_Cracker

    And that it was brought on by their conviction that their non-mentally handicapped son couldn’t score in the bottom 13% in math

    What’s sad is I’ve heard lefties express similar sentiments, but rather than railing against “socialism,” they’d rail against “hegemony” or whatever. Special Snowflake Syndrome is an equal opportunity fallacy.

  • Kiba

    Oh cool. I get to see a comet around my birthday. Neat…if I can remember to watch for it.

  • OriginalExtraCrispy

    The ISS tour was so cool. Almost made me want to go out into space. Almost but not quite since I suspect my stomach couldn’t handle it.

  • The_L1985

    The idea that a bunch of Scantrons can determine a child’s destiny is equally fallacious.  I ACED every single standardized test I ever took.  Then, I flunked out of college my first semester.

    Standardized test scores measure one and only one thing: how well you can perform on a multiple-choice Scantron test in a controlled classroom environment.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon
    it’s not even wrong

    Oh, now you did it. Those text book publishers can now take your quote and say, “See? Even this secular evolutionist agrees with us!”

    Nah, “Not Even Wrong” refers to something else.  RationalWiki defines it as, “any statement, argument or explanation that can be neither correct nor incorrect, because it fails to meet the criteria by which correctness and incorrectness are determined.”

  • David Starner

     There’s a lot of problems with standardized tests, but I’m sure they correlate to a lot of intelligence and knowledge related things. I don’t know of a better way to take a mass group of people and check who is or isn’t learning about a subject.

    I strongly suspect that you didn’t flunk out of college because of a lack of intellectual knowledge. Standardized tests don’t and can’t test for maturity and the ability to handle the social pressures of college.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    This. I mean, most people don’t have harsher opinions about humans and human nature than I do, but even I see that cooperation and altruism are “natural” in that they make more sense than the “I got mine, fuck everybody else” philosophy of life that so many rugged individualists seem to think should be our guiding principle. 

    Yeah, but unfortunately there is a very small but significant subset of people who might be thought of as “social dominators”, people who genuinely do have a “I got mine, screw you,” kind of outlook.  Assuming that everyone else is working cooperatively and self-sacrificing for the collective good, a small number of dominators can be supported and can leverage the social structure gain themselves an advantage at the expense of others.  Generally such people define their own comfort in terms of a hierarchy  they are only satisfied if they are “above” someone else, equality is an impediment to them, and they would only contribute as much to the group as they need to in order to keep up appearances.  

    Objectivism is what happens when one of those dominator personalities (Rand) decides to give away the game and try to make a philosophy out of it.  Unfortunately, actually put into wide spread practice generally means that a few of the most ruthless people get their comforts, everyone else has it increasing degrees of worse.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    …I thought it mainly rains [in Wales].

    No, that would be the plain of Spain you’re thinking of.

  • arcseconds

     They do ‘correlate with a lot of intelligence and knowledge related things’, but, you know, intelligence tests are also about sitting at a desk answering pointless questions :]

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    This is one reason why I’m a big believer in the philosophy that if you create a multiple choice test, it should be able to be handed back to the student so they can see how well they did, as well as a written component to the exam so students can stretch themselves a little.

  • Ken

     Only in Louisiana.

    (Or maybe not. It will depend on how the state Supreme Court rules, and perhaps higher courts.)

  • depizan

    Standardized tests don’t and can’t test for maturity and the ability to handle the social pressures of college.

    However, at least based on the Standardized tests I’ve seen and taken, they only test math and reading comprehension.  (I hope by now the science and history tests actually, you know, test those subjects, but they didn’t when I was in school.)

  • BaseDeltaZero

    • Sunita Williams gives a video tour of her office — the International Space Station. The special effects in that video are amazing — it really looks like she can fly.

    *Makes incoherent Space Sphere noises*In other news, has nobody noticed this yet or what?http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/pentagon-to-remove-ban-on-women-in-combat/2013/01/23/6cba86f6-659e-11e2-85f5-a8a9228e55e7_story.html?tid=ts_carousel

  • The_L1985

    Well, first of all, why are students being tested on such a massive basis in the first place?  Authentic assessments include more than the test alone (naturally, tests are involved, but they shouldn’t be the only assessment tool used), and are best performed on as close to a one-on-one basis as is practical.  One of the reasons the US school system is falling behind Europe and Asia is because we’ve made everything contingent on students passing standardized tests since at least 2001 (possibly earlier; I didn’t go to public schools until high school so I’m not sure how far before NCLB the damage started).

    Teachers’ pay is based on standardized test scores.  Students are informally “tracked” based on standardized test scores.  Schools gain or lose funding based on standardized test scores being above or below a certain percentile (which guarantees that some schools will, definitely, lose funding–usually the ones with the most struggling students)!  Students are told that these tests will essentially determine their destiny (even though nobody after high school really cares what you made on the FCAT or the STaR or the ARMT or the OAA or whatever), and that contributes to high levels of test anxiety, which in turn make the assessments less valid.

    As for why I flunked out–I did not know how to study. I had never had to study a subject before–usually a Q&A drill with my mother the night before a test was all I’d needed in K-12, and I couldn’t understand how to study on my own, or that studying was something you did every day instead of right before a test.  Social pressures literally didn’t affect me–I was basically a hermit.

  • The_L1985

    I was always so angry when teachers would give a Scantron test, then later on hand just the Scantron sheet back.  Okay, so I got number 17 wrong–but what was the question about?  My long-answer question was wrong–but I can’t tell what it was asking me without the question sheet!

    Fortunately, most of my teachers had more sense than that, and would either give the whole test back or at least recite question-and-correct-answer in class so you could actually tell what you missed. Bonus points to the teachers who let you keep quizzes after they were put in the grade book so you could use them as a study tool for tests and the final.

  • The_L1985

    My class was used to scale the AHSGE in 2000.  Here is a sample question from the American history section:

    “Which of the following is most closely associated with the 1920′s?
    a. World War II
    b. The Jazz Age
    c. The Great Depression
    d. World War I”

    So, they do sort of test history.  In a very generic, oversimplified sort of way.  Nothing after 1960 or so was really mentioned in my history classes, except for who the President was and a bit about the Vietnam War in APUSH.

    I was 4 years old when the Berlin Wall came down, but when I was 15 they still weren’t discussing that in history class. 10 years is long enough for history books to decide what happened and its significance, surely?

  • The_L1985

    Ah, “My Fair Lady.”

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    One thing that appears to be true is that the ability to cram before an exam and pass on the strength of it seems to disappear by one’s late teens or early 20s.

    I suspect this is a side effect of the settling of the brain pathways as one approaches adulthood.

  • AnonymousSam

    I popped in about to comment on plasticity and synaptic pruning, but I see you beat me to it with an edit. :p

  • Madhabmatics

    Hahahaha, you’re referring to the Alabama High School Graduation Exam, right? I remember taking that as a kid.

    edit: there was actually a school in north alabama recently that got busted having a cheating ring for that test, IIRC. They were worried about funding cuts if they had the normal rate of students fail it, so they fed answers to the test during the test to make sure enough people would pass that they could keep their current funding,

  • depizan

    That’s marginally better.  Only because when I was a kid, the tests consisted of very short essays about history (or, on the science section, science) followed by a handful of questions that could be answered from the essay alone.  So…yay?

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    we’ve made everything contingent on students passing standardized tests since at least 2001 (possibly earlier; I didn’t go to public schools until high school so I’m not sure how far before NCLB the damage started).

    I don’t know whether promotion to the next grade depended on the scores or not (the only person who would have known that was my mom and she died in 2006), but I took a standardized test (math, reading comprehension, and vocabulary) every year for first through sixth grade.   I started first grade in 1971.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when the teachers are telling students how to cheat. :(

  • P J Evans

    I’ve heard of cases where it’s the administrators pushing the cheating. Because good test scores get them money.

  • arcseconds

    Hopefully one isn’t still doing high-school tests in one’s early twenties, and has moved on to the sorts of things that one shouldn’t be able to just cram and pass.

  • AnonymousSam

    My Anatomy and Physiology college class lab exams consisted of 95% rote memorization skills and would take place later in the same week as the terms that were demonstrated. Cramming was very much a thing for those, which is probably why I was a B- student there.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    “Which of the following is most closely associated with the 1920′s?a. World War IIb. The Jazz Agec. The Great Depressiond. World War I”

    That’s representative of history taught to 15-16 year olds? Jesus Christ.

    I was 4 years old when the Berlin Wall came down, but when I was 15 they still weren’t discussing that in history class. 10 years is long enough for history books to decide what happened and its significance, surely?

    I took Modern History as an elective in Year 11 and 12, which included a contemporary history unit. We studied the Arab-Israeli conflict–the genesis and evolution, but also as it played out in the newspapers each week. My brother, who took the same course a year before me, did his final exams the week after Rabin’s assassination, so his contemporary history essay incorported stuff that was still headline news.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Out of interest I pulled up the 2012 paper for Modern History in the HSC (the largest Australian end-of-school qualification, which around 75,000 kids got last year).

    The syllabus has a number of components, broadly: WWI; a 20th century national study (choice of Australia, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Russia/USSR, South Africa, USA); an international conflict area (choice of The Troubles, WWII Europe, Indochina, WWII and aftermath in the Pacific, Arab-Israeli conflict, Cold War, UN peacekeeping activities); and various 20th century personalities.

    Thought you guys might be interested in the essay questions on 20th century USA given to Aussie 17 year olds:

    To what extent were growing urbanisation and industrialisation the dominant influences on US society in the period 1919 to 1941?

    or

    To what extent was the New Deal effective in solving the problems created by the Great Depression

    No multiple choice.

    Man, I loved studying history in school.

  • Münchner Kindl

     Which is of course the completly wrong course – the failing kids in failing schools need money for extra tuition, special programs (or maybe just enough desks and textbooks for every student), if “no child left behind” isn’t an euphemism, but means what it looks it means.

  • EllieMurasaki

    If I’d had history courses where I was expected to be able to answer those questions, I think I would have loved history class. Instead we got a stack of names and dates and places, probably because that’s all that no political agenda was lobbying against teaching, or all that the school board feels can be taught without risking the lobbyists storming their meetings.