I gave two talks yesterday. The first was at a luncheon for ASU’s chapter of Sigma Xi. A small crowd of largely retired scientists and engineers heard me give the same talk I gave in Norman last week. Naturally, given the comparative size of the audience (400+ versus 16) the dynamic was different and I’m not sure folks really got what I was saying.
I spent the early evening at Science Cafe over at the Arizona Science Center discussing "Evolution and Faith Revisited: Can the two be reconciled?" After presenting a brief set of talking points (which I had hoped the audience would pick up on), and having a colleague who is a philosopher of religion do the same, the floor was opened up for 30 minutes of questions which unfortunately largely ignored what I had been saying and concentrated instead on (what I felt to be) tangential points addressed to my colleague. A somewhat unsatisfying experience overall.
Next up is a conference here at ASU discussing “Unchallengeable Orthodoxy in Academia and Science” where I’ll be discussing creationism. At least that is a month off.
Saturday was the last full day of the OSLEP course and we had the students thinking about religious and other reactions to Darwin’s ideas; three hours on St George Jackson Mivart, Alfred Russel Wallace, Ernst Haeckel, and Charles Kingsley, followed by another three hours on American anti-evolutionism. The students really seemed to get into the material and I’ve been very impressed with what they’ve been able to accomplish since Wednesday. For those that may be interested, on Wednesday we discussed natural theology (Paley & Hume) and Darwin’s life. Thursday was devoted to discussions of Origin and Descent, while Friday was spent at a symposium examining Darwin’s influence across the disciplines. I’m fairly confident that the students can now distinguish what Darwin really said from the assertions made by many anti-evolutionists – it’s amazing what a reading of the original texts can accomplish!
After the day’s work, we went for a beer and a bite with the wonderful Abbie who in meat-space is charming, funny and oh-so passionate about science (not that she is not that online!). It was a pleasure to finally get to sit down and chat with her about creationism, HIV research, our sciblings (yup, that’s why your ears were burning!), grad school, lab safety, life, the universe, and everything.
Tomorrow there’s a short wrap-up session to take care of the students research papers and, beyond that, I intend to relax until I return home on Monday when my mind will have to turn to other talks and my regular classes.
Thinking about it, this past week has been filled with Darwin, good friends, new friends, great students, tornadoes, crazies on campus, creationist shenanigans, really old books, discussion, and collaboration. In short, it was great.
Not a bad article in the Norman Transcript which is apparently a fairly conservative paper. It will be interesting to see what happens in the comment thread over the next few hours.
Abbie (of ERV fame) and I after my talk at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Natural History Museum. It went well, I think. About 350 folks in the audience and the local NPR and PBS stations will apparently be offering audio and video at some stage. No questions from creationists (surprisingly) and, while the theme was the Darwinian Revolution, I got to get in a few comments regarding SB 320 and science education, and managed to plug Oklahomans for Excellence for Science Education.
Abbie tells me that she’ll blog something about the talk at some stage. We didn’t get to chat much, but will be getting together before the end of the week.
(Thanks to Ray for the photo!)
I’m in Oklahoma at the moment (more anon perhaps) but was dismayed, to put it mildly, to see the following announcement come from ASU’s Provost:
The funding lost in the recently revised FY09 state budget has forced Arizona State University to cap enrollment and to close applications to next year’s freshman class on March 1, five months earlier than usual. …
ASU is also closing about four dozen academic programs, many on the Tempe campus, and scaling down administrative operations at its Polytechnic and West campuses, in response to state budget reductions, which have totaled $88 million or 18% of the university’s base state budget since June 2008. …
Additional cuts in state funding in FY 10 would force ASU to consider additional staff layoffs, a substantial increase in tuition and fees, further limitations on student enrollment, and closing the Polytechnic and West campuses entirely…
The new FY09 budget, after a reduction of $88 million in state funding, reduces ASU’s per-student funding from the state general fund to what it was 10 years ago. ASU received $7,976 per student in 2008. The $6,500 per student the university receives for 2009 is only $4 more per student than it received in 1998…
In addition to these changes, another three dozen academic programs have stopped taking student applications and the process of disestablishing them has begun
There are going to be staff and contract faculty layoffs in many programs. Thankfully, my own unit – the Honors College – seems to have survived this round, though scrolling down the list of programs facing the axe was not a pleasant experience. I hope the Republicans in the State Senate are happy.
More info here.
February is going to be a busy month for me. Sunday I leave for Oklahoma where I will be giving the lead-off public lecture for their Darwin 2009 Celebration. I will be speaking on the 12th at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History on the topic of “Was There A Darwinian Revolution?” Any Sooner readers should feel free to come along and introduce themselves.
While in Norman, I’ll also be teaching a four-day intensive course on Darwin for the Oklahoma Scholar-Leadership Enrichment Program, the syllabus for which is here. While there will be some lectures, the meat and potatoes of the course will be seminar discussions of Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Paley’s Natural Theology, and Darwin’s two major works – Origin and Descent. I’ll also be lecturing in a mate’s class on the topic of professionalization in Victorian science. It will be a busy week.
No sooner that I get back, that I am giving the Darwinian Revolution lecture at a meeting of ASU Sigma Xi (20th) and later that evening addressing the issue of whether evolution and faith can be reconciled at the Arizona Science Museum (starts 5:30 pm).
Thankfully, the teachers workshop I mentioned previously has been shifted to a future date (probably in the Fall). If you are an Arizona middle or high school teacher interested in attending, please feel fee to contact me for further information.
I’m quoted in a press release regarding a teacher training workshop (the “Evolution Challenges Workshop”) we’re giving at ASU to help middle and high school teachers teach evolution. Money quotes:
Studies have shown that “16 percent of high school biology teachers are essentially young earth creationists who deny human evolution, with only 28 percent accepting unguided naturalistic evolution of humans,” says John Lynch, a lecturer in ASU’s School of Life Sciences and an Honors Faculty Fellow in Barrett, the Honors College. “While this latter number is higher than the general public’s 13 percent, it is still very low.” …
Lynch believes that at a time where state and local school boards are being pressured by creationist groups to “teach the controversy” over “Darwinism,” teachers and their students need to be clearly aware of the scientific nature of evolutionary biology and how scientists frame and test claims about the evolution of life’s diversity.
“Evolutionary biology is no different than any other scientific field,” Lynch points out. “And modern evolutionary biology - while having its roots in Darwin’s ideas formulated over 150 years ago – is not ‘Darwinism,’ but rather a rich field of inquiry that Darwin himself would perhaps not clearly recognize.”
“We at ASU are committed to helping Arizona’s high school biology teachers develop lessons that clearly show evolutionary biology for what it is – an exciting, engaging, and fascinating field, one that shares all the characteristics of modern scientific inquiry.”
I’ll be leading a section on evolution and common creationist talking points. Yes another thing I’m doing in February! For more on ASU’s Darwinfest, see here.
Apparently I have to take
12 9 days of unpaid furlough before May 15th. And it can’t be days I teach on, i.e. it has to be Monday or Friday. All because the Republicans in the state senate want to gut K-16 education in Arizona. Seriously, in a state that hasn’t raised state taxes in 20 years, we’re having to do this to keep education afloat. A read somewhere that a 1c sales tax on alcohol would keep the K-16 system afloat, but no … that would be raising taxes.
What galls is simply this. Staff on furlough will go home and rest. Sure, they’re not being paid, but they will at least rest. Faculty will do what faculty do – prepare classes, read, grade, maintain labs; all the usual stuff we do, except for twelve days we’ll be working for free. We’d love to have the balls to take those days off but it’s not like we can say to our students, “Sorry, yesterday I was on furlough so I didn’t prepare the class … so talk among yourselves.” We have a commitment to the students that we made when they signed up for our classes … so we don’t get to take days off.
Don’t get me wrong … I’d rather have this than lose my job, but I cant help but feel that the administration realizes that the faculty will keep on trucking because, hey, that’s what we do. Do they save money? Yes. Do we work any less? No.
Update: Looks like it is only nine days altough I’ve had no official confirmation. What makes everything better. Yeah, right!
A few days ago I highlighted the current state of the Natural History Museum in Dublin. Nigel Monaghan, the Keeper of the museum, contacted me and has kindly allowed me to repost a piece he wrote for Museum Ireland on the past and future of the museum. Enjoy!
Arizona Republicans have proposed that education – from kindergarten through university – should be the first thing to get the chop in a proposed budget. They are looking to cut $1.5 billion from education over the next 18 months with the K-12 system being hit for nearly $1 billion of that. I agree with our Board of Regents that the proposed $500,000 cut to the universities would be “cataclysmic in the depth and breadth of devastation they will cause to our higher-education system in Arizona.” Even a short-term cut in funding will have serious implications for the competitiveness of Arizona. ASU alone pumps approximately $3.2 billion dollars each year into the state’s economy and creates tens of thousands of jobs. We have taken more than $37 million in state funding cuts in the last 18 months, leading to the loss of 500 staff positions and over 200 faculty associates, the disestablishment of two schools and a reduction in the number of nursing students. And that is just ASU.
(As an aside, one of the two proposers of the cuts – Russell Pearce – has featured here before. He had no problem making universities pay for flags in every classroom.)
As I’ve mentioned before, I spent a good part of my graduate years working on specimens in the collections of the Natural History Museum in Dublin. Some readers may have read of the museum through the essay “Cabinet Museums: Alive, Alive O!” in Stephen Jay Gould’s Dinosaur in a Haystack. Gould was a fan of the museum and he felt it represented the majesty of the old-style Victorian museum. This story would therefore have brought Gould much sadness. Following closure in 2007 due to the collapse of a staircase, plans to renovate the museum are now on hold and it appears the future of the museum at its current site is a little murkier than is desirable.
As a young boy, I remember spending hours in the Museum with my father. It was dark and mysterious. You entered to encounter the skeleton of a Giant Irish Deer surrounded by those of Ireland’s extant cervids. Megaloceros was awe-inspiring to me as a kid (it still is, just in different ways!). As you moved down the entrance hall, case after case of vertebrates yielded to cases of insects. These were shielded from the light with covers that had to be removed almost ceremoniously to reveal the jewels within. Staircases lead to a second floor (see below, much brighter than it was was when I was a kid) where specimen after specimen were packed on top of each other in glass cabinets. The floorboards creaked. Higher galleries revealed birds and, on the top-most gallery, hand-blown glass models of medusae and other marine organisms created by the famed Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. It was a magical place for an aspiring naturalist.
The museum got even more magical when I got access to the study collections beyond the big doors at the back of the museum. As the natural history museum of the second city of the British Empire, many unique specimens ended up in the collections, and the strong Irish tradition of natural history kept them growing (to an eventual two-million specimens). Visiting academics from Europe and America would come to study Ireland’s unique fauna. While measuring skulls in my office, I could hear schoolchildren in the galleries. I couldn’t believe my luck in being part of such a cabinet of curiosities.
The staircase that collapsed is actually behind the scenes (near where the skulls of mustelid carnivores were stored, if I remember correctly). The real problem is that the upper floors of the museum were not wheelchair-accessible. Renovations planned included a new extension, elevators, a shop & cafe. Total cost was €15 million and work was to take from 2007 until 2010/11. That work is now on hold with little hope of completion given the current economic climate. Whether the essential repair work is on-hold is unknown.
It would be a shame if the museum were not to re-open in its current location. It would be even more of a shame if a re-opened museum turned its back on the past and became yet another Disneyified amusement park masquerading as a museum.
There’s a Facebook group for those who care.
It’s the week before teaching starts again and I’m staring at a “to do” list that somehow managed to increase in size over the winter break. That’s never good, especially when that list includes a few book reviews and a short article. I had hoped that the coming semester would be a relatively quiet one, but that looks unlikely. Teaching-wise, I have my usual seminar course and my lecture course on Origins, Evolution & Creation, so there shouldn’t be a huge amount of preparation involved there. It’s the other stuff – particularly talks and conferences – that are going to be time-consuming. Onward!
Jim Lippard is organizing SkeptiCamp Phoenix 2009. A SkeptiCamp is “a conference whose content is provided by attendees. Where BarCamp is focused on technology, SkeptiCamp instead focuses on topics of interest to skeptics, including science, critical thinking and skeptical inquiry.” The event is planned for February 21st and I’ve already agreed to talk on “Academic Freedom” and the Intelligent Design movement. If you are an Arizona skeptic, or even from further afield, wander on over to the Camp Wiki and sign-up either to attend or present.
There’s a FaceBook group as well, by the way.
The coming year should be fairly productive. Here are what I hope to be the highlights for 2009:
- Finish and submit three book reviews over the next few weeks
- Finish some work for the History of Science Society’s Committee on Education
- Have a paper accepted by Pediatrics (more of that anon)
- Teach my Origins, Evolution and Creation course for what must be the eleventh time (Spring)
- Give a talk at the University of Oklahoma for their Darwin celebrations (February). This was the first of a number of invites I got to give a talk on February 12th and thus the one I accepted.
- Give a four day seminar on Darwin (also at Oklahoma in February; syllabus is here)
- Give a talk on Darwin for the ASU chapter of Sigma Xi (February)
- Perhaps attend the ISHPSSB meeting in Australia (July)
- Present a paper at the next History of Science Society meeting on St. George Jackson Mivart as part of a session on Victorian responses to Origin (November)
- Submit a book proposal for a monograph on Mivart. I have a few leads for a publisher and I’m hoping this will be the big task for the Summer.
- Teach my History of Science since 1700 class for the second time (Fall)
- Begin transcriptions at ASU for the Tyndall Correspondence Project (Fall, funding permitting)
- Get promoted to Principal Lecturer. My paperwork is sitting on a desk somewhere and has been for a few months now.
- Hopefully get a few new grad students
Let’s see what of all of this comes to pass.
The Tyndall Correspondence Project (of which I am a participant) has now gone online. Our aim is to follow in the footsteps of the Darwin Correspondence Project and transcribe the letters of the Irish physicist, John Tyndall. The site is a little bare at the moment, but more information and resources will be forthcoming.