Festive Medical Myths

TOPIC: medical myths

Do you think that sugar makes kids hyperactive and late-night eating makes people fat?

You're not alone. Those are just two of many medical-related beliefs commonly held by people around the world.

But they're also FALSE, and so are many other commonly-believed health-related assertions, as discussed in the article Festive Medical Myths recently published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), by Rachel C. Vreeman (asst prof of paediatrics) and Aaron E. Carroll (assoc prof of paediatrics), both at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Among the medical myths Vreeman & Carroll address:
  • Sugar Causes Hyperactivity in Children? FALSE!

    According to Vreeman & Carroll,
    At least 12 double blind randomised controlled trials have examined how children react to diets containing different levels of sugar. None of these studies, not even studies looking specifically at children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, could detect any differences in behaviour between the children who had sugar and those who did not. [original text contained endnote citations of relevant articles]
    Scientists have even studied how parents react to the sugar myth. When parents think their children have been given a drink containing sugar (even if it is really sugar-free), they rate their children’s behaviour as more hyperactive. The differences in the children’s behaviour were all in the parents’ minds. [see Hoover & Milch, 1994, referenced below]
  • Suicides Increase Over the Holidays? FALSE!

    Vreeman & Carroll point out that "While the holidays might, indeed, be a difficult time for some, there is no good scientific evidence to suggest a holiday peak in suicides. [see the Annenburg Public Policy Center references below, as well as Bridges (2004)] … Indeed, people might actually experience increased emotional and social support during holidays. In the US, rates of psychiatric visits decrease before Christmas and increase again afterwards. [see Hillard, Holland, & Ramm, 1981] … Further debunking myths about suicide, people are not more likely to commit suicide during the dark winter months. Around the world, suicides peak in warmer months and are actually lowest in the winter.

  • Poinsettias are Toxic/Poisonous? FALSE! Vreeman & Carroll explain:
    In an analysis of 849,575 plant exposures reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, none of the 22,793 cases involving poinsettia resulted in considerable poisoning. No one died from exposure to or ingestion of poinsettia, and most (96%) did not even require medical treatment. In 92 of the cases, children ingested substantial quantities of poinsettias, but none needed medical treatment, and toxicologists concluded that poinsettia exposures and ingestions can be treated without referral to a healthcare facility. Another study, looking at poinsettia ingestion by rats, could not find a toxic amount of poinsettia, even at amounts that would be the equivalent of 500-600 poinsettia leaves or nearly a kilogram of sap. [citations can be found in original text]

Some other beliefs Vreeman & Carroll look at and expose as groundless or outright false involve heat loss from one's head, nocturnal feasting, and curing hangovers.

Makes for entertaining and educational reading, especially when combined with their earlier paper on Medical Myths [see full citation below], in which they discuss commonly-held (but baseless) beliefs involving: drinking 8 glasses of water per day, the sleep-inducing properties of turkey, using only 10% (or some other small fraction) of one's brain, etc.

Perhaps JUST as entertaining, educational, and … sobering (?) are some of the reader responses to the original Vreeman & Carroll article (back in 2007), several of which manage (by example) to illustrate the challenges inherent in communicating scientific findings to the general public …
see e.g.
"stupid and irresponsible" by david clarke [22 December 2007],
"unbelievable and shameful!" by Mikhail Vinin [23 December 2007],

but also the heartening responses exemplified by responses such as:
"Orders of magnitude?" by Andrew J Rees [24 December 2007]


Annenberg Public Policy Center. Media continue to perpetuate myth of winter holiday-suicide link. www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/Downloads/Adolescent_Risk/Suicide/myth_holiday_suicides20011204.PDF.

Annenberg Public Policy Center. Holiday-suicide link: newspapers turn the corner. www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/Downloads/Releases/Release_HolidaySuicide_111907/suicidereleasenov152007final.pdf.

Annenberg Public Policy Center. The Holiday-Suicide Myth: newspapers (and TV shows) return to old ways. Report accessed Wed 12/30/2008 at http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/Downloads/Releases/Release_HolidaySuicide/suiciderelease%202008%20with%20tables.pdf

Bridges, F. S. (2004). Rates of homicide and suicide on major national holidays. Psychol Rep, 94, 723-724.

Hillard, J. R., Holland, J. M., & Ramm, D. (1981). Christmas and psychopathology. Data from a psychiatric emergency room population. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 38, 1377-1381.

Hoover, D. W. & Milich, R. (1994). Effects of sugar ingestion expectancies on mother-child interactions. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 22, 501-15.

Vreeman, R. C. & Carroll, A. E. (2007). Medical myths. BMJ, 335, 1288-1289. Full text accessed Wed 12/30/2008 at http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/335/7633/1288

Vreeman, Rachel C. & Carroll, Aaron E. (2008). Festive medical myths. BMJ (British Medical Journal), 337(7684), doi: 10.1136/bmj.a2769. Full text article accessed online Wed 12/30/2008 at http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/337/dec17_2/a2769.


UniSudoku: For The Perfect Sudoku Experience

TOPIC: sudoku, logic puzzles

I've intended to post something on this for a long time: for the perfect sudoku puzzle experience on a Mac, try out UniSudoku (just $15 and downloadable at http://www.unisudoku.com/). David Ross is apparently a GUI-programming genius and has produced possibly the most perfect sudoku puzzle software/interface ever.

With a little practice you too can enter the beautiful heightened sudoku flash zone where the world seems to disappear and it's just you racing through an alternative sudoku universe. With a finely-tuned mouse the "flow" experience can be breath-taking and addictive.

Quick screen shot below. Let me know what you think!


If You Like Sudoku &hellip

TOPIC: games

So, I finally clicked on that KENKEN link on NYT's crossword puzzle site and found a great new puzzle. Here's Will Shortz to tell us all about it:

And here's the page to get daily doses at whatever challenge level you crave: http://www.nytimes.com/ref/crosswords/kenken.html. Seems quite addictive … sudoku with a bit more depth. Try it out and tell me what you think. Seems like a great combination of arithmetic and logic for kids — I'm going to see if my 7-yr-old likes it too. UPDATE [a few minutes later]: OK, this is structurally only superficially like the sudoku, but it is indeed quite addictive!

Relying on SCIENCE & REASON,
Judge Rules Against Florida's Ban on Adoptions by Gays

TOPICs: gay rights, adoption

A bit of good news on the civil liberties front: Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman [pictured at right] has ruled as UNCONSTITUTIONAL a strict Florida law blocking gay people from adopting children (see the original USA Today article here):

Miami judge rules against Fla. gay adoption ban

MIAMI (AP) — A judge on Tuesday ruled that a strict Florida law that blocks gay people from adopting children is unconstitutional, declaring there was no legal or scientific reason for sexual orientation alone to prohibit anyone from adopting.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman said the 31-year-old law violates equal protection rights for the children and their prospective gay parents, rejecting the state's arguments that there is "a supposed dark cloud hovering over homes of homosexuals and their children."

She noted that gay people are allowed to be foster parents in Florida. "There is no rational basis to prohibit gay parents from adopting," she wrote in a 53-page ruling. …

Later in the article, ACLU attorneys are quoted as saying "the case was the first in the nation in which numerous experts in child psychology, social work and other fields testified that there is no science to justify a gay adoption ban." In fact, according to the USA Today article, "Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association all support permitting same-sex couples to adopt."

The great state of Florida begs to differ, however — and in the form of one Florida Assistant Attorney General Valerie Martin, apparently plans "a swift appeal." Even attorney and same-sex marriage bigot crusader John Stemberger got into the act, being quoted as calling the ruling "classic judicial activism."

Go to the ACLU website and download the PDF doc version of the trial court final decision — makes for great reading: Judge Lederman offers a thorough review of the scientific evidence presented and a firm no-holds-barred dismissal of much of the state's so-called expert testimony. In fact, reading the decision in greater detail has made me feel less dread as the state of Florida "swiftly" files the appeal … the state's case really seems based largely on outdated bigotry and explicitly religion-affiliated dogma. Even if the appeal is eventually heard, the state will have to come up with much, much better support for its stand. And frankly, such support simply doesn't exist. Let's hope Lederman's great example of relying on science and reason inspires courts in any future litigation.


ACLU website: http://www.aclu.com/

American Medical Association (AMA) website: http://www.ama-assn.org/

American Psychiatric Association website: http://www.psych.org/

Family Equality Council website: http://www.familyequality.org/index_main.html

Florida Department of Children and Families website: http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/ess/ . The adoption program website is: http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/adoption/

Stemberger, John: professional website at http://www.orlandolawyer.tv/


A challenge to Florida's ban on adoption by gay parents. ACLU website for miscellaneous information related to the Gill case, including a link to a PodCast featuring Martin Gill. Accessed Wed 11/26/2008 at http://www.aclu.org/lgbt/parenting/37875res20081124.html

Florida Trial Court Opens Way For Lesbians And Gay Men To Adopt (11/25/2008). ACLU Press Release, accessed Wed 11/26/2008 at web address http://www.aclu.org/lgbt/parenting/37907prs20081125.html

Hudson, Waymon (10/23/2008). The insanity of John Stemberger: going down the rabbit hole in Florida. Blog commentary accessed Wed 11/26/2008 at http://www.bilerico.com/2008/10/the_insanity_of_john_stemberger_going_do.php

Miami judge rules against Fla. gay adoption ban. (11/25/2008). USA Today. Retrieved Wed 11/26/2008 at http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-11-25-gay-adoption_N.htm.

Trial Court Decision, available as PDF download at http://www.aclu.org/lgbt/parenting/37906lgl20081125.html


Congratulations to Heather Gillman!

TOPIC: free speech

Surfing around looking for recent news/updates on the recent litigation involving Florida's Okeechobee High School and its efforts to suppress student efforts to form a Gay-Straight Alliance club (efforts that eventually failed spectacularly, by the way — see earlier commentary here), and I was reminded of the related events involving Ponce de Leon High School, then-principal David Davis, and Ponce de Leon High School senior Heather Gillman, which then led to this pleasant discovery [for the original, click here]:

Florida High School Student Wins Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award (10/20/2008)

Senior Heather Gillman Honored for Fearlessness In Speaking Out For the Rights of Gay and Lesbian Students

CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

MIAMI - The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida announces that Heather Gillman has been selected by the Playboy Foundation to receive the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award for "her fearlessness in speaking out on behalf of the rights of gay students" at her Ponce de Leon high school, located in Florida's Panhandle.

Gillman sued her school after her high school principal discriminated against her gay and lesbian friends. At trial, the principal testified that he believed clothing or stickers featuring rainbows would make students automatically picture people having sex, and he forbade students from wearing any sort of clothing, stickers, buttons, or symbols to show her support of equal rights for gay people.

"Heather Gillman is a courageous young woman who is most deserving of this very prestigious First Amendment award," said Howard Simon, Executive Director, ACLU of Florida. That her actions have received accolades from the Playboy Foundation demonstrate that her actions go beyond the walls of her rural high school, she has in essence taken a stand for all students in America. She exercised leadership and honesty when she stood up to the school's principal and the school board on behalf of the rights of gay students and we congratulate her."

Tomorrow, Gillman and her Mother Ardena will travel to Washington D.C. to be honored at the October 21 awards ceremony where she will receive her $10,000 award to pursue education.

"I thank the Playboy Foundation for the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment award. With the support of my parents and family I chose to protect the First Amendment rights of my classmates who support equal rights for gay people. Standing up to my school was really hard to do, but I'm so happy that I did, because the First Amendment is a big deal to everyone. I am grateful to the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida for defending me," said Gillman.

The day after being reprimanded for defending a gay student who had been harassed she returned to school wearing symbols of support including the rainbow flag and the initials G P for "gay pride." She was told by her school principal that she was not allowed to express any support for gay rights because it would be "disruptive," and that the symbols were signs of a "secret/illegal organization."

Past recipients of the First Amendment Award include filmmaker Michael Moore, comedian Bill Maher, and the late columnist Molly Ivins.

Wow. Way to go, Heather!

The 9/24/2008 press release from the Playboy Foundation notes that the First Amendment Awards were bestowed this year on just three recipients from a record number of 60 nominees,

… ranging from law professors to website creators to student journalists and representing both traditional and digital means of expression. The winners were chosen by a panel of distinguished judges: David M. Rubin, Professor and former Dean of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University; Geoffrey Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at University of Chicago Law School, and Nadine Strossen, President of the American Civil Liberties Union and Professor of Law at New York Law School.

The Playboy Foundation praised Gillman for her "fearlessness in speaking out on behalf of the rights of gay students."

This puts 17-yr-old high school senior Heather Gillam in quite distinguished company. Former recipients include film-maker and activist Michael Moore and columnist Molly Ivins. This year's recipients also included New-York-based attorney Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), recognized for "his tireless efforts to defend First Amendment rights of students and faculty," and Mark Klein, a retired AT&T technician, recognized for his courage in speaking out against electronic surveillance of American citizens by our own government.


Florida High School Student Wins Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award (10/20/2008): Senior Heather Gillman Honored for Fearlessness In Speaking Out For the Rights of Gay and Lesbian Students. Accessed 10/24/2008 at http://www.aclu.org/freespeech/youth/37255prs20081020.html

Hudson, Waymon (10/23/2008). FL Student Heather Gillman Honored for Speaking Out for LGBT Rights. Accessed 10/24/2008 at http://florida.bilerico.com/2008/10/fl_student_heather_gillman_honored_for_s.php

The Playboy Foundation. Web site accessed 10/24/2008 at http://www.playboyenterprises.com/home/content.cfm?content=t_template&packet=0007B308-45F5-1C7D-9B578304E50A011A&artTypeID=0007B451-BB99-1C76-8FEA8304E50A010D

Ponce de Leon Senior Wins $10,000 Hugh Hefner Award. (10/16/2008). Accessed 10/24/2008 at http://www.wtvynews4.com/home/headlines/31126474.html.


Jacobsen v. Katzer: Apppeals Court Rules That The Terms In Artistic License Are Indeed Enforceable Copyright Conditions

TOPIC: open-source software, creative commons license

An apparent victory for Open-Source Software and Creative Commons licenses.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has vacated a District Court decision in the case of Robert Jacobsen v. Matthew Katzer and Kamind Associates, Inc. (dba KAM Industries) and eventually sent the case back to the District Court (Northern District of California) for further proceedings.

The Appeals Court summarized the case quite simply:

We consider here the ability of a copyright holder to dedicate certain work to free public use and yet enforce an "open source" copyright license to control the future distribution and modification of that work.

Indeed. So what's the problem? Jacobsen originally sued for copyright infringement and moved for a preliminary injunction when Katzer/Kamind used his code without following the conditions Jacobsen provided in the public license. The District Court apparently ruled that the open-source Artistic License was overly broad and did not create any liability for copyright infringement, only perhaps a breach of the nonexclusive license.

I'm only vaguely aware of some of the issues surrounding the open-source software movement, but I've benefitted from the movement in several ways (e.g. my current personal printer driver is open-source software and works much better than the driver supplied by the printer's manufacturer) and I've encountered related issues (e.g. working on b logs such as this and developing wiki sites for various class-related work). The Appeals Court ruling is actually quite informative/educational in terms of some of the reasoning behind, necessity, benefits, and incredible propagation of Creative Commons public licenses.

Open Source software projects invite computer programmers from around the world to view software code and make changes and improvements to it. Through such collaboration, software programs can often be written and debugged faster and at lower cost than if the copyright holder were required to do all of the work independently. In exchange and in consideration for this collaborative work, the copyright holder permits users to copy, modify and distribute the software code subject to conditions that serve to protect downstream users and to keep the code accessible.2 By requiring that users copy and restate the license and attribution information, a copyright holder can ensure that recipients of the redistributed computer code know the identity of the owner as well as the scope of the license granted by the original owner. The Artistic License in this case also requires that changes to the computer code be tracked so that downstream users know what part of the computer code is the original code created by the copyright holder and what part has been newly added or altered by another collaborator.

Traditionally, copyright owners sold their copyrighted material in exchange for money. The lack of money changing hands in open source licensing should not be presumed to mean that there is no economic consideration, however. There are substantial benefits, including economic benefits, to the creation and distribution of copyrighted works under public licenses that range far beyond traditional license royalties. For example, program creators may generate market share for their programs by providing certain components free of charge. Similarly, a programmer or company may increase its national or international reputation by incubating open source projects. Improvement to a product can come rapidly and free of charge from an expert not even known to the copyright holder. The Eleventh Circuit has recognized the economic motives inherent in public licenses, even where profit is not immediate. See Planetary Motion, Inc. v. Techsplosion, Inc., 261 F.3d 1188, 1200 (11th Cir. 2001) (Program creator "derived value from the distribution [under a public license] because he was able to improve his Software based on suggestions sent by end-users. . . . It is logical that as the Software improved, more end-users used his Software, thereby increasing [the programmer=s] recognition in his profession and the likelihood that the Software would be improved even further.").

Jacobsen originally sued because Katzer/Kamind used his code but didn't include the required attributions/notices. Katzer has argued that Katzer/Kamind cannot be liable for copyright infringement because Katzer/Kamind had a license to use the material. The District Court originally agreed, basically concluding that one cannot be liable for copyright infringement for something one has been granted a license to use.

The Appeals Court ultimately disagreed, however, noting that "The heart of the argument on appeal concerns whether the terms of the Artistic License are conditions of, or merely covenants to, the copyright license," [pg 9] and going on to explain:

… The District Court did not expressly state whether the limitations in the Artistic License are independent covenants or, rather, conditions to the scope; its analysis, however, clearly treated the license limitations as contractual covenants rather than conditions of the copyright license.

Jacobsen argues that the terms of the Artistic License define the scope of the license and that any use outside of these restrictions is copyright infringement. Katzer/Kamind argues that these terms do not limit the scope of the license and are merely covenants providing contractual terms for the use of the materials, and that his violation of them is neither compensable in damages nor subject to injunctive relief. Katzer/Kamind's argument is premised upon the assumption that Jacobsen's copyright gave him no economic rights because he made his computer code available to the public at no charge. From this assumption, Katzer/Kamind argues that copyright law does not recognize a cause of action for non-economic rights, relying on Gilliam v. ABC, 538 F.2d 14, 20-21 (2d Cir. 1976) ("American copyright law, as presently written, does not recognize moral rights or provide a cause of action for their violation, since the law seeks to vindicate the economic, rather than the personal rights of authors.").

The Appeals Court points out, however, that "The conditions set forth in the Artistic License are vital to enable the copyright holder to retain the ability to benefit from the work of downstream users," [pg 11] going on to point out that:

By requiring that users who modify or distribute the copyrighted material retain the reference to the original source files, downstream users are directed to Jacobsen's website. Thus, downstream users know about the collaborative effort to improve and expand the SourceForge project once they learn of the "upstream" project from a "downstream" distribution, and they may join in that effort.

The District Court interpreted the Artistic License to permit a user to "modify the material in any way" and did not find that any of the "provided that" limitations in the Artistic License served to limit this grant. The District Court"s interpretation of the conditions of the Artistic License does not credit the explicit restrictions in the license that govern a downloader's right to modify and distribute the copyrighted work. The copyright holder here expressly stated the terms upon which the right to modify and distribute the material depended and invited direct contact if a downloader wished to negotiate other terms. These restrictions were both clear and necessary to accomplish the objectives of the open source licensing collaboration, including economic benefit. Moreover, the District Court did not address the other restrictions of the license, such as the requirement that all modification from the original be clearly shown with a new name and a separate page for any such modification that shows how it differs from the original.

The Appeals Court concludes that

The clear language of the Artistic License creates conditions to protect the economic rights at issue in the granting of a public license. These conditions govern the rights to modify and distribute the computer programs and files included in the downloadable software package. The attribution and modification transparency requirements directly serve to drive traffic to the open source incubation page and to inform downstream users of the project, which is a significant economic goal of the copyright holder that the law will enforce.

and in the end determine that "the terms of the Artistic License are enforceable copyright conditions."

John Markoff has a nice summary article in The New York Times, titled Ruling Is a Victory for Supporters of Free Software.

A more informative summary is available at GPL JMRI Beats Patent Troll Matt Katzer in Court.

ADDENDUM (OMG!): apparently this case has a very interesting history not even whispered about in much of the news coverage of the Appeals case, with Katzer apparently copying Jacobsen's code THEN obtaining a patent on some model railroad technology that included the Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI) work already done by Jacobsen's group, THEN Katzer attempting to charge Jacobsen's group for the right to offer downloads … Katzer apparently went so far to even cybersquat — Jacobsen's group writes that "Katzer also improperly registered one of our trademarks, DecoderPro, as the domain name "decoderpro.com". The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has ordered it returned to us, and wrote an entire section of the order on "Katzer's bad faith"." (see http://jmri.sourceforge.net/k/index.html). It appears that Katzer is much more than he appears. It will be ironic if such duplicity on his part eventually leads to solid case support for the affirmation of the open-source licenses.


GPL JMRI Beats Patent Troll Matt Katzer in Court (8/15/2008). Slated, accessed 8/15/2008 at web address http://slated.org/jmri_beats_katzer_troll.

Jacobsen, Robert G. Website at the Department of Physics, University of California (Berkeley), accessed 8/15/2008 at web address http://physics.berkeley.edu/index.php?option=com_dept_management&act=people&Itemid=312&limitstart=0&task=view&id=363.

Jacobsen v. Katzer. (8/13/2008). Ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, accessed 8/15/2008 in pdf form at http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/opinions/08-1001.pdf.

Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI) website (accessed 8/15/2008) at http://jmri.sourceforge.net/.

KAMIND Associates, Inc. website, accessed 8/15/2008 at http://www.kamind.net/.

Markoff, John (8/13/2008). Ruling Is a Victory for Supporters of Free Software. New York Times (online). Accessed 8/14/2008 at web address http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/14/technology/14commons.html.

Open-source pact subject to copyrights law - US court. (8/15/2008). Reuters, accessed 8/15/2008 at web address http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/4657006a28.html.

Shiels, Maggie (8/14/2008). Legal milestone for open source. BBC News (online), accessed 8/15/2008 at web address http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7561943.stm.

Welcome to KAM Industries. Website (accessed 8/15/2008) for "The Conductor" software and related information at web address http://www.trainpriority.com/.


Secular Camp featured on NPR (8/7/2008)

TOPIC: religion, summer camp

Not long ago I posted on Summer Camp, Hold The Religion — prompted by an AP article by Valerie Bauman on the secular summer camp called Camp Quest. Barbara Bradley Hagerty of NPR has just run a segment this afternoon (8/7/2008) on a similar camp called Camp Inquiry, described on the Camp inquiry website as "one of many educational initiatives offered by the Center for Inquiry," and the following mission statement:

This is a place where kids can be themselves. We work toward helping youth confront the challenges of living a non-theistic/secular lifestyle in a world dominated by religious belief and pseudoscience. Grounded on the conviction that kids can begin establishing habits of the good and ethical life early on, Camp Inquiry 2008 adopts a three-part focus: The arts and sciences, the skeptical perspective, and ethical character development comprise an integrated approach to this “Age of Discovery.” Campers, counselors, and teachers will address key issues around individual identity, forging trusting relationships, establishing a sense of local and global community, and living with respect for the natural world.

Hagerty's NPR segment is available at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93174374 and will be available shortly in audio. The segment/article is a bit condescending, but she was dealing with relatively young kids and the attention itself was generally positive. It will be interesting to see the listener/reader reactions.

Angie McQuaid (one of the camp counselors, pictured above) spoke well in the segment:

"It's a brain spa," says Angie McQuaig, one of the counselors. McQuaig is an elementary school administrator in Georgia.

"As an educator, I like to teach critical thinking at a deep and erudite level, because it's not embedded in the curriculum as much as I'd like to see," McQuaig says. "And this provides a place for kids to talk about deep questions that many into adulthood don't even consider and contemplate."

Are they trying to create little atheists?

"Absolutely not!" McQuaig says. "We want to create little thinkers. Little thinkers that explore their own capacity and the external world, with all of the tools of science and humanity. That's why we're here."

Of course, the participants in any such summer camp will be uniquely self- or parent-selected. But the critical point for me is the opportunity for such kids.

Go visit the Camp Inquiry website. It's good reading.


Bauman, Valerie (updated 5/28/2008). Atheist, agnostic families opt for own sleep-away camp. Accessed 8/7/2008 at web address: http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2008-05-27-atheist-camp_N.htm.

Camp Inquiry website, accessed 8/7/2008 at web address: http://www.campinquiry.org/.

Camp Quest website, accessed 8/7/2008 at web address: http://camp-quest.org/.

Center for Inquiry website, accessed 8/7/2008 at web address: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/.

Craft, W. D. (5/27/2008). Summer camp, hold the religion. Available at web address: http://psychescientia.blogspot.com/2008/05/summer-camp-hold-religion.html.

Hagerty, Barbara Bradley (8/7/2008). Camp Offers Training Ground For Little Skeptics. Segment broadcast on All Things Considered, National Public Radio, with text (and related figures) available (8/7/2008) at web address: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93174374.


Federal Court Says Okeechobee High School
Must Allow Gay-Straight Alliance Club To Meet

TOPIC: gay rights, high school, freedom of speech

In an article titled "Judge: Gay club can meet at Okeechobee high school," the MiamiHerald.com reported Wednesday 7/30/2008 the ruling of federal judge K. Michael Moore:

Associated Press Writer

A school district in rural Florida must allow a Gay-Straight Alliance to meet on campus and must provide for the well-being of gay and straight students, a federal judge ruled, capping a nearly two-year legal battle over First Amendment rights.

Students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," Judge K. Michael Moore said in a written ruling issued Tuesday night, quoting another case.

Kennedy also alludes to the case involving (former) high school principal David Davis of Ponce de Leon High School:

Earlier this year, a Florida judge said a Panhandle principal led a "relentless crusade" against gay and lesbian students at Ponce de Leon High School and violated their First Amendment rights by trying to prevent them from wearing gay pride clothing, stickers and buttons.

By the way: former principal David Davis, who ended up costing his Holmes County School District more than $300,000 in damages and attorney fees, has now elected to return to the classroom to teach … American government and other classes! American Government?! OMG. (see "Ponce de Leon High School Principal Back to the Classroom," 7/24/2008, referenced below.) ANYWAY, Kennedy notes that:

Her lawsuit [against Okeechobee] cites the 1984 federal Equal Access Act, which was initially pushed by evangelical Christians after some public schools banned after-school prayer meetings and other religious gatherings. It says that if a public school allows any extracurricular activities to meet on campus it must allow all groups to do the same.

There's some great irony for you!

The actual ruling can be downloaded in pdf form from the ACLU site at: http://www.aclu.org/lgbt/youth/36195lgl20080729.html.

I'm looking forward to a detailed reading of that document. In the mean time, I notice that the Gay Straight Alliance is not mentioned on the Okeechobee High School website nor is any link provided to the GSA under the website's listing of "clubs."

I DID notice, however, that the school website included the picture of the school mascot "Bubba" shown above. The picture itself is ironic after you read about some of the supposed shenanigans the school went through to deny the Gay Straight Alliance club the right to meet.


Bubba the Brahman (picture of the Okeechobee High School mascot), accessed 8/2/2008 at web page http://www.okee.k12.fl.us/ohs/mascot/mascot.htm.

Gonzalez v. School Board of Okeechobee County - Case Profile (5/21/2008 ?). American Civil Liberties Union (online), article accessed Sat 8/2/2008 at web page http://www.aclu.org/lgbt/youth/35421res20080521.html.

Gonzalez v. School Board of Okeechobee County - Order Granting Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment; Denying Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (7/29/2008). PDF document available for downloading, accessed Sat 8/2/2008 at web address http://www.aclu.org/lgbt/youth/36195lgl20080729.html.

JUDGE REJECTS OKEECHOBEE SCHOOL BOARD'S ATTEMPT TO BLOCK GAY-STRAIGHT ALLIANCE'S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT (3/13/2007). American Civil Liberties Union (online), article accessed Sat 8/2/2008 at web page http://www.aclu.org/lgbt/youth/29025prs20070313.html.

Kennedy, Kelli (7/30/2008). Judge: Gay club can meet at Okeechobee high school. MiamiHerald.com, accessed 8/2/2008 at web address http://www.miamiherald.com/news/florida/AP/story/623334.html.

Okeechobee High School website: accessed Sat 8/2/2008 at web address: http://www.okee.k12.fl.us/ohs/index.html.

Ponce de Leon High School Principal Back to the Classroom (7/24/2008). wtvynews4.com, accessed 8/2/2008 at web page http://www.wtvynews4.com/news/headlines/25875264.html

Ponce de Leon High School website: accessed Sat 8/2/2008 at web address http://pdlhs.hdsb.org/


Cool News From NASA:
Phoenix Verifies Water On Mars

TOPIC: water on Mars

Image: full-circle panorama in approximately true color, combining more than 400 images taken during the first several weeks after NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander arrived on the Martian artic plane. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University Arizona/Texas A&M University. See http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/phoenix/images/press/15158.html for more details.

NASA's Phoenix spacecraft & Mars probe has confirmed the presence of ice in the polar soil:

NASA Spacecraft Confirms Martian Water, Mission Extended

The Mission News site at NASA.gov reports:

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Laboratory tests aboard NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander have identified water in a soil sample. The lander's robotic arm delivered the sample Wednesday to an instrument that identifies vapors produced by the heating of samples.

"We have water," said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA. "We've seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by Phoenix last month, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted."

Boyton went on to say that "From my standpoint, it tastes very fine." (Mars probe finds water. USA Today, 7/31/2008).


Mars probe finds water (7/31/2008). USA Today, accessed 7/31/2008 at http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/space/2008-07-31-mars-water_N.htm

NASA Spacecraft Confirms Martian Water, Mission Extended (7/31/2008). NASA website, accessed 7/31/2008 at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/phoenix/news/phoenix-20080731.html


Massachusetts Takes Another Step Toward Equal Rights

TOPIC: gay rights, gay marriage

The Massachusetts legislature has now voted to repeal a 1913 law that had been used to block gay marriages involving out-of-state couples, and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick indicates he will sign the bill.

So, now in addition to allowing residents of Massachusetts to participate in same-sex marriages (since 2004 under then governor Mitt Romney), out-of-state gay couples can go to Massachusetts to get married, even if their "home state" does not allow/recognize such unions.

Partly (ironically) driven by economic considerations, sure. But my less cynical side hopes that Massachusetts state Rep. Byron Rushing is sincere when he says that "This is question of fairness, and it is a question of equity" (Mass. House OKs out-of-state gay marriage, USA Today, 7/29/2008).


Braun, Stephen (7/16/2008). Massachusetts Senate votes to end gay marriage restriction. Los Angeles Times, accessed Tues 7/29/2008 at web address http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-gaymarry16-2008jul16,0,5071765.story .

Goodridge v. Mass. Department of Public Health, 440 Mass. 309, 798 NE2d 941 (Nov. 18, 2003).

Mass. House OKs out-of-state gay marriage. (7/29/2008). USA Today, accessed 7/29/2008 at web page http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-07-29-mass-gaymarriage_N.htm?loc=interstitialskip .

Massachusetts Law About Same-Sex Marriage. Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries (online), web page accessed Tues 7/29/2008 at http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/gaymarriage.html.

Viser, M. (7/10/2008). Gay-marriage advocates hope to repeal old law: Nonresidents now barred. The Boston Globe, accessed Tues 7/29/2008 online at web address http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/07/10/gay_marriage_advocates_hope_to_repeal_old_law/ .


Deroy Murdock Blasts "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" on National Review Online

TOPIC: gays in the military

Deroy Murdock (a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution) has authored a nice article on National Review Online pointing up the continuing absurdities of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" anti-gay military policy, and reporting particularly on the increased granting of "moral waivers" (through which the Army has evidently even inducted felony child molestors!):

… Pentagon officials evidently trust military inductees with felony rap sheets more than they do law-abiding gay GIs. Having relaxed academic, age, and weight restrictions to achieve recruitment goals, the Defense Department has granted “moral waivers” to criminal convicts. Simultaneously, it uses the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to jettison gays in uniform, usually for merely disclosing their sexuality. This policy deserves a dishonorable discharge.

… Between 2003 and 2006, U.C. Santa Barbara’s Michael D. Palm Center calculates, “106,768 individuals with serious criminal histories were admitted” to the armed forces.

Last year, the Army gave moral waivers to 106 applicants convicted of burglary, 15 of felonious break-ins, 11 of grand-theft-auto, and eight of arson. It also admitted five rape/sexual-assault convicts, two felony child molesters, two manslaughter convicts, and two felons condemned for “terrorist threats including bomb threats.”

Conversely, expelled military personnel include Arabic linguists and intelligence specialists who help crush America’s foes in the War on Terror. “Don’t Ask” has ousted at least 58 soldiers who speak Arabic, 50 Korean, 42 Russian, 20 Chinese, nine Farsi, and eight Serbo-Croatian — all trained at the prestigious Defense Language Institute. Al-Qaeda intercepts need translation, and Uncle Sam may need people who can walk around Tehran with open ears. Yet these dedicated gay citizens now are ex-GIs.

Murdock's take-home message is rationality itself:

“Don’t Ask” should yield to equality: Sexual orientation should be irrelevant while inappropriate sexual conduct — gay, straight, or otherwise — should be punished.


American Veterans for Equal Rights, http://aver.us/aver/

Freeman, Simon (7/02/2008). Pride & patriotism: The fight for the right to serve. Published online and accessed 7/03/2008 at web site http://atlanta.creativeloafing.com/gyrobase/pride_amp_patriotism/Content?oid=508559

Murdock, Deroy (7/23/2008). Don’t Make Sense: A policy that deserves a dishonorable discharge. National Review Online. Article accessed 7/28/2008 at web address http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=ODliYjkwN2RkNWExMWE5OGQxMzA2ODNlZTc5NTRhYjY=


Discovery Channel’s
I Love The Whole World (Boom-de-Ah-Dah)

TOPIC: Discovery Channel and the Whole World

OK, so I love to sing along with it (apparently like millions of others out there). And if you're one of the few who haven't had enough of it, here it is again:

I'm also a sentimental sap for feel-good songs with children singing:

And I really wish I had had someone like singingcera for one of my science teachers as a kid:

and then morbid me, I am thinking about the WHOLE world, with its violence and poverty and hunger and disease …


(Gay) Pride & Patriotism:
A Cover Story by Scott Freeman
At Creative Loafing

TOPIC: gay rights, don't-ask-don't-tell

Here's a terrific article on the US military’s painful "don't ask, don't tell" policy, by Scott Freeman at Creative Loafing (Atlanta), including some interview comments from Stephen Benjamin (recent former Arabic translator for the Navy, recent op-ed contributor to The New York Times: Don't Ask, Don't Translate, and recent guest on "The Colbert Report") and Danny Ingram (described as "one of the first gays kicked out of the Army under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' ").

Along with some important personal stories and history of gays in the military, Freeman also has some sobering number for us:

In the 15 years since the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law was put in place, an estimated 12,000 gay, lesbian and transgendered soldiers have been forcibly discharged.

"'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' has been an expensive proposition," says [Atlanta lawyer Jeff] Cleghorn, who sits on the board of directors of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. He points to a study by the University of California that determined the law has cost the military $363 million over the past 10 years. "Unfortunately, the military is not impressed by the numbers," he says.

Cleghorn's confident "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will soon be repealed. According to the Pew Research Center, 52 percent of Americans supported removing the ban on gays in 1994 and 45 percent thought the ban should be continued. A recent Gallup poll showed 79 percent now support allowing gays to openly serve. And numerous other countries – including Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Israel – no longer have bans.

Freeman's article is a worthwhile read.

Related References

American Veterans for Equal Rights, http://aver.us/aver/

American Veterans for Equal Rights (Georgia Chapter), http://www.avergeorgia.org/

Freeman, Simon (7/02/2008). Pride & patriotism: The fight for the right to serve. Published online and accessed 7/03/2008 at web site http://atlanta.creativeloafing.com/gyrobase/pride_amp_patriotism/Content?oid=508559

Graphical Analysis of Shakespearean Sonnet

TOPIC: humor, math, & poetry, from graphjam

song chart memes


Anti-Creationist OpEd from Lawrence Krauss
(in New Scientist, 6/18/2008)

TOPIC: anti-creationism

If you're worried about the teaching of science in our public schools, but the irony is not lost on you when scientists use ad hominem attacks and blogwrite smug anti-creationist rants that serve only to entertain the blogger's worshippers, you'll enjoy more considered commentaries like this one by Lawrence Krauss in the New Scientist:

Krauss doesn't rant. Instead, he points out quite reasonably that those making the decisions about school curriculum should have the credentials appropriate for the job:

When public committees appraise existing knowledge in order to set educational standards, or report on the status of scientific knowledge for use in the public domain, the people involved should be required to demonstrate independent, relevant expertise. School board members should not be beholden to those who have elected them, nor should they represent political constituencies. They should instead be appointed by elected officials following thorough vetting and peer review.

The health of a modern society depends on the opportunities it provides its children through education. That's too important to be left to amateurs, much less enemies of knowledge.

Of course, there is also another issue here I've only begun to ponder carefully: why do we have these so-called educational boards in the first place to establish statewide mandates on school system curricula?

Now, before you roll your eyes and blast me for being naive, realize I'm most definitely not suggesting that such curricula should be "anything goes." Far from it.

What I wonder is this: why is it that we allow our kids to be taught, and the schools to be locally administered, by individuals who don't already know what's appropriate to be taught in biology class, or chemistry class, or English class, etc? Who are the high school biology teachers we hire that have to be told, "oh, by the way, you need to teach them what a cell is, how plant cells are different from animal cells, … and, oh! by the way, teach them something about evolution, and oh! while you're at it remind them that there are still a few details about that evolution-thing that haven't been worked out yet."

Real Physics

TOPIC: real physics &mdash humor from wulfmorgenthaler.com



More Good News On Gay Rights: Marriage In California

TOPIC: gay rights, gay marriage

The news and pictures are heartwarming, and not without considerable irony when you think about the irrational objections of homophobes and gay bashers across the country. With ranting illogic about how gay rights threaten to destroy our society and eat away at so-called family values, gender-bigots across the country have smugly denied gays legal rights on par with heteros — often viciously attacking gays and gay rights groups for "living in sin" and (ignorantly) accusing gays of not being capable of long-term healthy, loving romantic relationships, then refusing to grant gays who want it the legal right to publicly dedicate themselves to and proclaim these long-term (healthy) relationships in the same way heteros everywhere are allowed.

So what do we as a society say to Del Martin (age 87) and Phyllis Lyon (age 84) who have been together for more than 50 years (!) but until now haven't been allowed to wed? As a society we've not only disallowed them a host of legal rights with numerous implications for their lives and the lives of their relatives, but as a society we've forcibly disallowed for them the basic sociocultural roles that we then criticize them for not being able to fulfill — the roles of functional, nurturing, embedded-in-society de facto families.

They do: First same-sex couple — women in their 80s — wed in California

Del Martin, 87, and Phyllis Lyon, 84, tied the knot at 5:01 p.m. PT in San Francisco City Hall, marking the first same-sex marriage in California.

Martin and Lyon, who have been together for more than 50 years, repeated the vows they said four years ago, when Mayor Gavin Newsom declared that gay and lesbian couples could get married in the city. His decision was later overturned, but the state Supreme Court ruled last month that same-sex marriages were constitutionally protected.

I fear the country isn't ready. Sexist and racist language and behavior are still pervasive, if not as explicit and openly condoned as it once was. Gender bigotry is still at full boil.

I admire the courage and passion I see in the gay couples taking advantage of this opportunity right now in the face of national and world attention and while the anonymous gender bigots swamp the web commentaries on the news articles with their hate and fear and bible thumping. Of course, these daring couples face more direct animosity as well:

They may face opponents such as protesters in San Francisco waving signs reading "Homo Sex is Sin" and similar warnings.

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, predicted "months of social chaos that could wreak havoc on every state in America."

He said California's new policy "threatens to undo thousands of years of natural marriage."

In such responses I see fear. I see outright hatred and intolerance. I see men and women moved by strong emotion to outrageous claims and offensive behavior.

But I don't see the logic. I certainly don't see compassionate humanity. In fact, I suspect when we lose the logic we quite often lose the compassionate humanity along with it.

I am hoping that California's newest effort in recognizing the rights of its gay citizens will hold … and eventually grow and spread.

Related References

Henderson, P. & Beck, A. (6/16/2008). California gays, lesbians marry legally. News Daily, accessed 6/17/2008 at website http://www.newsdaily.com/stories/n16257382-marriage-gays/

Henderson, P. & Chatterjee, S. (6/17/2008). California gay couples rush to wed as vote looms. News Daily, accessed 6/17/2008 at web site http://www.newsdaily.com/stories/n17360382-marriage-gay/

Winter, Michael (2008). They do: First same-sex couple — women in their 80s — wed in California. Accessed Tues 6/17/2008 at web site http://blogs.usatoday.com/ondeadline/2008/06/they-do-first-s.html


RAND Study:
Virginity Pledge Works (Sometimes),
But Only For Those Who've Already Pledged

TOPICS: adolescent sex & culture, misleading news releases

ResearchBlogging.org The news release picked up by Science Daily (among others) from RAND corp about a recent study of virginity pledges touts the potential effectiveness of such pledges:

Virginity Pledges May Help Postpone Intercourse Among Youth

Making a virginity pledge may help some young people postpone the start of sexual activity, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Researchers found that adolescents who made pledges to remain virgins until they are married were less likely to be sexually active over the three-year study period than other youth who were similar to them, but who did not make a virginity pledge, according to the study published online by the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Just two problems: (1) It's not quite true, and (2) The not-quite-true part is going to be lost in the mire of the popular press reporting and mindless copying of the news.

The actual research study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health (June 5, 2008), is actually titled: "Virginity Pledges Among the Willing: Delays in First Intercourse and Consistency of Condom Use," and unlike the news release being propagated by various consumers of headline-bites, includes the phrase "among the willing."

After careful statistical analysis to compensate for considerable pre-existing differences between pledgers and non-pledgers, the researchers

… estimate that in the absence of pledging 42.4% of virgins with characteristics indicating an inclination to pledge initiate intercourse within 3 years; in the presence of the pledge, 33.6% of such youth initiate intercourse.

The problem though here is that those who willingly made such a virginity pledge self-selected themselves into that action. Regardless of the propensity-score weighting process to reduce selection bias, ultimately the individuals with an "inclination to pledge" chose not to and those that did pledge selected themselves into the pledge group, making that group fundamentally different from the other group. In other words, this "actually pledged" vs. "inclination to pledge" characteristic is just as likely to be a characteristic of the personality or philosophy of people who would, or would not, have delayed sexual intercourse anyway, regardless of the actual commitment to a virginity pledge, and thus might just as well serve absolutely no causal effect in the chain of events leading to delayed sexual intercourse.

In fact, the lack of causal role for the pledge is suggested by the further result that

Among those who had sex during this period, pledging was unassociated with condom use. Among those who did not have sex during this period, pledging was unassociated with engagement in noncoital sexual behavior.

But even if we take the data at face value, we must remember that any such pledge-increased postponement of sex occurs only among the group of adolescents already willingly inclined to make such a pledge anyway, and within that group only by less than 10 percentage pts. As the authors themselves carefully note:

Our findings should not be taken as evidence that virginity pledges should be imposed upon adolescents. For youth who want to have sex and whose social environments support doing so, pledging is not likely to be an effective means of delaying sexual initiation (and it is doubtful that sincere pledges could be elicited from such youth). These youth need sex education that helps reduce sexual risk taking and unintended pregnancy, as do the substantial number of pledgers who eventually have sex [Santelli, Ott, Lyon, Rogers, & Summers (2006)]. Moreover, it is questionable whether being coerced into making a pledge will be effective even for teens who have characteristics like those of teens who pledge voluntarily. Psychological theory would suggest that pledging will have an effect on behavior to the extent that the pledger believes he or she freely chose to make a pledge [Festinger (1957)].

— Martino, et al. (2008)
emphasis mine

I am pessimistic that the authors' more careful conclusions and recommendations will be noticed. Instead I fear we're in for more naive calls for "abstinence education" and coerced virginity pledges.

A summary of the online article appears below.

Article Summary


Martino, S.C., Elliot, M.N., Collins, R.L., Kanouse, D.E., Berry, S.H. (2008). Virginity Pledges Among the Willing: Delays in First Intercourse and Consistency of Condom Use. Journal of Adolescent Health, In Press

General Methodology National telephone survey in 2001, with follow up 1 and 3 yrs later, using a purchsed national list of households with high prob of containing a 12–17 yr-old. Parents mailed explanation of the study in advance.

Participants and Sample Size(s) 1,461 12-17 yr-old participants in the 3-year follow-up (73% of the baseline sample), with notable attrition patterns. 47% female; 68% white; 14% African American; 12% Hispanic.

Conditions/Manipulationsno manipulations

Dependent Measures included Questions assessing sexual behavior with someone of the opposite sex, including the extent/nature of such encounter(s), and the use of condoms;
virginity pledge status: "Have you made a public or written promise to not have sex before marriage (yes/no)?";
various other covariates, such as age, sex, race, siblings, religiosity, self-esteem, sexual knowledge, etc.

Other Measures none


Of baseline sample of virgins, 23.8% reported having made a virginity pledge;
More generallly: 17% had intercourse by baseline; 29% at 1-yr; 53% at 3-yr;
Of teens reporting intercourse in year prior to 3-yr follow-up, 42% reported "less than consistent condom use."

ultimately, primary question addressed was whether "among adolescents who have characteristics associated with being inclined to make a virginity pledge, making a virginity pledge delays sexual initiation."

42.4% of 12-17 yr-old virgins who were the type inclined to make a virginity pledge init'd sexual intercourse within 3 yrs in the absence of making a pledge, whereas 33.6% initiated sexual intercourse in the presence of such a pledge.

also various correlates with pledgers vs. non-pledgers, including differences in relgiosity, monitoring by parents, peer pressures, etc.


The authors are careful to note that the "… findings should not be taken as evidence that virginity pledges should be imposed upon adolescents. For youth who want to have sex and whose social environments support doing so, pledging is not likely to be an effective means of delaying sexual initiation (and it is doubtful that sincere pledges could be elicited from such youth). These youth need sex education that helps reduce sexual risk taking and unintended pregnancy, as do the substantial number of pledgers who eventually have sex [Santelli, Ott, Lyon, Rogers, & Summers (2006)]. Moreover, it is questionable whether being coerced into making a pledge will be effective even for teens who have characteristics like those of teens who pledge voluntarily. Psychological theory would suggest that pledging will have an effect on behavior to the extent that the pledger believes he or she freely chose to make a pledge [Festinger (1957)]."

Related References

Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.

Martino, S. C., Elliott, M. N., Collins, R. L., Kanouse, D. E., & Berry, S. H. (2008). Virginity Pledges Among the Willing: Delays in First Intercourse and Consistency of Condom Use. Journal of Adolescent Health, Articles in Press, available online 6/5/2008. [doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2008.02.018]

Santelli, J., Ott, M. A., Lyon, M., Rogers, J., & Summers, D. (2006). Abstinence-only education policies and programs: a position paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicine. Journal of Adolescent Health, 38, 83–87.


Personal Data & Privacy Still Being Sacrificed On Facebook

TOPIC: facebook social network privacy risks

I've been consumed with class and lab preparations this first week of summer school, so haven't had the energy to blog for a few days.

But like so many (all?) of my undergraduate students here at Sewanee: The University of the South in Sewanee, TN, I have a facebook page and have tinkered with it some over the past year or two, enjoying some of the extra connectivity it gives me to students (and faculty). Some of my students and friends have impressive facebook pages — some impressive in creativity, others impressive with their own form of blogging about their everyday lives and concerns, still others impressive with their ability to capture so much in their amateur photography.

I've often warned some of them about sharing too much on their pages, reminding them that future employers (e.g.) will be searching such social networking sites. Stupid pictures and off-color remarks can develop a frightening life of their own. And of course, facebook stalking is a concern.

Now there's even more to worry about. Turns out all the crazy, lovable, weird, and hated widgets and add-on applications now available (over 24k of them !?) routinely expose users' personal information to strangers:

Like David Dixon (quoted in the article), I too wondered "Why does a Sudoku puzzle have to know I have two kids? Why does a postcard need to know where I went to college?" But I naively assumed there was some good (and safe) reason for the widgets to need access to my personal info … perhaps this was needed in some technical way generally for the widget to install itself … (I thought hopefully) ? Mostly what surprises me here is how gullible I still am. And now I am wondering just what the widget developers are doing with all that data.

I'm also still wondering what drives so many people to put their personal information out there. Why share information hourly about our moods? Why worry daily about updating friends on exactly what we're doing or where we're going to be? As much as the phenomenon of social networking itself, the underlying generally unexamined motivations for participating are ripe for research.

Related References

Hart, Kim (2008). A Flashy Facebook Page, at a Cost to Privacy: Add-Ons to Online Social Profiles Expose Personal Data to Strangers. WashingtonPost.com, Thursday 12 June 2008, accessed 6/12/2008 at website http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/11/AR2008061103759.html


World Science Festival

TOPIC: science for the masses?

A World Science Festival? Yep, the first World Science Festival took place recently in New York City. As reported in the New York Times, the 5-day festival drew large crowds, and most if not all events were sold out, even with multiple festival events running concurrently. Looking over the events and participants (see http://www.worldsciencefestival.com), perhaps that's not entirely surprising. The originators of the festival—Columbia physicist Brian Greene and his wife, Tracy Day, a former producer for ABC news—put together an fascinating and enticing collection of more than 30 events celebrating and exploring science, with a world-renowned cast of players. With an estimated 120,000 people in attendance, the inaugural event drew enthusiastic crowds and greater than anticipated interest; plans are already underway for another festival next May.

I'd be interested to know more about the demographics of the Festival attendees. Relative to the population of and tourism in New York City, 120,000 attendees is somewhat less remarkable. Or is it? Perhaps that depends not only on the number in attendance, but on other characteristics of those in attendance.

Regardless, it's intriguing to consider science festivals as an addition to our array of cultural events. As Brian Greene, physicist and co-founder of the World Science Festival states, "The World Science Festival aims to spark a movement where science shifts from the cultural outskirts to the cultural center."

In Texas: Two Systems of Science ?

TOPIC: creationism in Texas

Texas is not just a big state — it's also a huge consumer of public school textbooks, and the textbook publishers are understandably and entrepreneurally eager to meet the demand.

Thus many people are alarmed to see a confluence of events (further?) threatening the future of critical thinking in the Lone Star State:

(1) According to The New York Times, "Starting this summer, the [Texas] state education board will determine the curriculum for the next decade" (Beil, 2008).

A relatively innocuous event — education boards across the country are working on such things all the time. Realize, though, that

… the Board, the commissioner, and the Agency facilitate the operation of a vast public school system consisting of 1,227 school districts and charter schools, more than 7,900 campuses, more than 590,000 educators and other employees, and more than 4.5 million schoolchildren. [Texas Education Agency (TEA) website]

So the decisions being made here have huge and direct implications for a very large population, and indirect implications for millions of others (non-Texans) whose school systems will be influenced by the actions of the TEA.

(2) Texas governor Rick Perry, like all politicians, has a mixed record, with laudable efforts to increase access to health care and increase school funding, to reform the state's juvenile justice system, to divest state pension funds of companies doing business with Iran, and to encourage the wide-spread adoption of the human papillomavirus vaccine. Serious causes for concern, though, are: the governor's stance on Texan anti-sodomy laws (Perry called them "appropriate"), homosexuality and gays in the Boy Scouts (he's against both), and gay marriage (he supported the Defense of Marriage act; see http://christiannews.christianet.com/1098362715.htm).

In particular, however, the Texas governor has trouble separating his religious practices from his governmental office, and claims to believe in the literal truth of the bible. For example, in a recent interview for ChristiaNet, Perry said "that it was not out of the ordinary for him to pray throughout the day - even in the midst of official meetings." (Texas Governor Rick Perry, http://christiannews.christianet.com/1098362715.htm). In The Dallas Morning News, Perry also confirmed that

… he believes in the inerrancy of the Bible and that those who don't accept Jesus as their savior will go to hell.

Mr. Perry said Sunday that the acceptance of Christ is what his faith teaches, and he could not abandon that any more than anyone can pick which of the 10 Commandments they chose to follow. He would not argue with God's wisdom, he said.

"I doubt if any one human being can grasp all of his wisdom … " (Hoppe, 2006).

And lest you think Perry's deeply-held religious beliefs will not translate into political action, he recently appointed Don McLeroy as chair of the Texas State Board of Education (Stutz, 2007) (see item (3) below). (3) The current chair of the State Board of Education is Don McLeroy. According to his bio on the TEA website, McLeroy is a dentist in Bryan-College Station, Tx., holds a BS in electrical engineering from Texas A & M University and a Doctor of Dental Science degree from The University of Texas Dental Branch in Houston, is a fourth-grade Sunday school teacher at Grace Bible Church in College Station and has been active in youth soccer and Boy Scouts.

McLeroy is also a young-earth creationist, and thinks of creationism as an alternative scientific "system:"

Dr. McLeroy, the board chairman, sees the debate as being between “two systems of science.”

“You’ve got a creationist system and a naturalist system,” he said.

Dr. McLeroy believes that Earth’s appearance is a recent geologic event — thousands of years old, not 4.5 billion. “I believe a lot of incredible things,” he said, “The most incredible thing I believe is the Christmas story. That little baby born in the manger was the god that created the universe.”

But Dr. McLeroy says his rejection of evolution — “I just don’t think it’s true or it’s ever happened” — is not based on religious grounds. Courts have clearly ruled that teachings of faith are not allowed in a science classroom, but when he considers the case for evolution, Dr. McLeroy said, “it’s just not there.” (Beil, 2008).

Of course, in the same interview, McLeroy assures us that "My personal religious beliefs are going to make no difference in how well our students are going to learn science" (Beil, 2008).

But how can his religious beliefs not affect this process?

In this interview by Evan Smith on Texas Monthly Talks, originally broadcast 5/1/2008, McLeroy appears in many ways to be an intelligent, well-meaning man, earnest in his desire to safeguard the Texas public school system:

But the interview is alarming in a number of ways.

For example, in an interview ostensibly about McLeroy in his service as chair of the State Board of Education, McLeroy almost immediately interjects his religious convictions into the conversation. As he recites a brief biography, McLeroy notes that he “met this wonderful gal, became a Christian at that point …" He goes on say that he has "40 yrs experience with public education, 12 in Texas public education," a notably disingenuous and misleading claim based on not just serving on school boards but also based on his "own time in public schools, [and] the time my sons spent"! According to McLeroy’s bio on the TEA website, he began his "experience" in Texas public education when he was first elected to the Bryan Independent School District Board of Trustees in 1997. So in the first minute or so of this interview, we know (a) McLeroy is a Christian, (b) he wants to inject his religious beliefs into his public service (why raise the issue otherwise?), and (c) he likes to mislead and exaggerate.

After discussing aspects of the board's current work on English standards, McLeroy makes the offhand comment that “soon will take on the science standards," and then goes on to talk about issues in the teaching of evolution, characterizing the debate as one about "teaching the strengths and weaknesses." But it becomes painfully clear that he's not talking about "weaknesses" of evolutionary theory so much as what he personally sees as fatal flaws for which alternative theories must be provided, citing as so-called weaknesses some of the standard creationist topics of (1) gaps in the fossil record; (2) the Cambrian explosion; (3) the complexity of living organisms; and (4) a critique (I'm not yet familiar with) based on some concept of information and design. About this time he condenscendingly mentions Eugenie Scott and disingenuously (or perhaps just confusedly) equates his own criticisms of evolutionary theory with Scott's encouragement that students should be able to explain how (for example) the Cambrian explosion poses challenges for our current understanding of evolutionary processes.


So … to summarize: (1) we have major curriculum decisions looming in one of the largest states in the union; (2) whose governor prays during meetings, thinks the bible is a source of inerrant truth, and thinks all non-Christians will go to hell, and has appointed a young-earth creationist as chair of the Stated Board of Education; and (3) said chair makes a point of interjecting his religious beliefs into the public arena and feels that evolution and creationism are just two different "systems" of science.


Can't wait to see what happens next.

Related References

Beil, Laura (2008). Opponents of evolution adopting a new strategy. The New York Times, accessed 6/4/2008 at website http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/04/us/04evolution.html.

Hoppe, C. (2006). Perry believes non-Christians doomed: Governor shares views following sermon; rivals pounce. The Dallas Morning News, 11/06/2006, accessed 6/4/2008 at website http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/110606dnTSWperry.351c57c.html.

Smith, E. (2008) Interview with Don McLeroy on klru: Texas Monthly Talks, accessed 6/4/2008 at website http://www.klru.org/texasmonthlytalks/archives/mcleroy/movies/mcleroy_hi.html

Stutz, T. (2007). Conservative to lead state education board: Perry picks chairman as panel prepares to revisit several course standards. The Dallas Morning News, 7/18/2007, accessed 6/4/2006 at website http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/DN-sboe_18tex.ART.State.Edition1.3bba4d6.html

Texas Education Agency (TEA) website, accessed 6/4/2008 at website http://www.tea.state.tx.us/.

Texas Governor Rick Perry (interview published on Christiannews.Christianet.com, no date supplied). Accessed 6/4/2008 at website http://christiannews.christianet.com/1098362715.htm