Keep your eye on the prize

I want to write a quick post on why I teach.  Not just why I teach, but why I enjoy teaching at a small liberal arts university (at least as liberal as it can be in NW Oklahoma, which isn’t very ;-)).

The story starts about a year ago when I got an email from the Oklahoma EPSCoR office announcing a small grant opportunity for undergraduates.  I read the announcement and it said that preference would go to projects at primarily research institutions working on problems in energy, but that all were welcome to apply.  I asked a student of mine who I knew would be around over the summer and would be interested in getting some research experience.  We tossed around a couple of ideas and decided we would test an hypothesis about mimicry in a little studied snake of Woods County, Oklahoma called the long-nosed snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei).  It was definitely a long shot, but we wrote up a short proposal and submitted to the program.  I had my doubts given the nature of the work and our low standing among research institutions in Oklahoma.  Amazingly we were awarded the grant

Now, Long-nosed snakes look somewhat like coral snakes in that they are black, red, and yellow banded.  The weird thing is that there are no coral snakes in Northwestern Oklahoma, so we wondered if the banding pattern afforded the snakes any protection from potential avian predators since many birds migrate to tropical habitats in the winter that are home to venomous tri-colored coral snakes.  To test the hypothesis, we created 400 clay models of tri-colored brown snakes and placed them around east central Woods County.  If birds pecked or grabbed the models they would leave behind tell-tale marks in the clay.  We later discovered that mammal teeth marks are also preserved in the clay.

The student worked all summer fashioning models, placing them in the field, collecting them and looking them over for evidence of depredation.  She learned field work is not always glamorous, especially when it’s 98 degrees and your clay models are melting.   Preliminary analysis showed the colored models were avoided by birds, but we were not sure if they were avoided because of the warning coloration, or because the banded pattern served as a disruptive pattern on the grass background.  To find out the student created 100 more models and laid them out on white backgrounds so that they banding was not disruptive on the grass background.  This would tell us if was avoidance or camouflage.  Unfortunately, this stage of the project was thwarted by a plague of locusts that literally ate most of the clay models.  Who knew locusts ate clay!

Undaunted the student wrote up a paper detailing the project.  I tightened it up a bit and made some suggestions and it looked to be a decent little paper on the protective coloration of R. lecontei.  I asked her if she wanted to submit it as a short paper to a peer-reviewed journal.  She agreed and formatted the paper herself according to the journals Guide to Authors.  We submitted the paper together last week and waiting with crossed fingers to hear back from the editors.

Long-nosed snakes resemble venomous coral snakes.

Long-nosed snakes resemble venomous coral snakes.

I know this is getting to be a long post, but for those of you not in science, this is a pretty big deal for an undergraduate to submit a paper for publication.  Personally, I am proud of the experience I was able to provide this student.  She “did science” from start to finish.  She assisted in writing the grant, collected the data, assisted in data analysis, wrote parts of the manuscript, and submitted the paper.  She presented the results of the research at our campus research day and won second place (the student who won did her research at one of the state’s R1 schools).

Things don’t always go your way, but if you give it your best shot and keep your eye on the prize, Nothing can stop you.  Not R1 universities nor swarms of locusts.


Politics and money equal bad science

This is worth a read. I have always said politics and money corrupt everything (not just science)


Jerry Coyne blogged yesterday about the trend in articles pointing out the flaws in science, noting that most of the observed problems are in medical studies, most notably in drug studies, and that generalizing these problems to all of science isn’t really accurate or fair.

I agree, but I have an observation about why some fields have problems, and other don’t.  The natural sciences, such as physics, chemistry, biology, and geology don’t seem to be having particular problems.  Physicists are having a debate about whether certain theoretical concepts are really science, but that is a minor and relatively healthy debate, compared to the issues that these articles are discussing.

Issues such as unrepeatable results, shoddy methodologies, selective publication of data, and ideologically driven interpretations seem to predominate in certain fields, but not others.  Initially, I thought maybe it was just that fields with politically sensitive topics were the problem ones…

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Hell is kinda like Santa Claus

Before I get started on this topic let me apologize in advance. I am posting for the first time using the WordPress app on my smartphone.  I am attempting to shed my Luddite persona.  This may be a mistake, but I’m not really known for good judgment so here goes nothing.

I’m sure if you have spent any time on any of the atheism websites or read the God Delusion by Richard Dawkins you have come across this notion of religious indoctrination as a form of child abuse.  I, like many agnostics and atheists, grew up in a church.  I was baptized, confirmed, and married in a church. Granted it was a moderate mainstream church (ELCA Lutheran), but I don’t feel like the teachings of that church somehow scarred me for life.  Things are probably different in a more fundamentalist tradition to be sure, but I think its unfair to paint all religions with the same broad brush strokes. 

How many people are actually scarred by the teaching that if you sin (whatever that is) you go to hell?  What is hell anyway? Is it really like it was portrayed on the South park movie? Doesn’t even matter?  I tend to think of hell as a metaphor or little white lie adults use to get kids to behave and do the right thing.  Hell is kinda like Santa only without presents and a little hotter. But hell is eternal…. Sure, but can a child wrap his head around eternal?  Most adults can’t even grasp the 4.6 billion year history of the Earth, yet we expect a child to grasp forever?  Think about it.

For most, when they shed the idea of God, the notion of Hell goes with it.  I suppose you could argue that the very idea of hell would prevent someone from considering the absence of God. But I would argue the two are so tightly linked that questions about one lead to questions about the other.  And again, I’ve never experienced the intense indoctrination of a fundamentalist faith so I could be full of ¢®@¶.

I personally don’t think the ideas of hell and eternal damnation are as damaging to a kids psyche as many people want to think.  But I may be wrong. And if I am, I guess I’ll see you in Hell (metaphorically, of course)

Ain’t that a kick in the @$$

I am sure you have probably heard by now of Ryan Bell, the Seventh  Day Adventist Pastor and teacher who recently embarked on an intellectual experiment to “try Atheism” for a year.  This sounds  like a worthwhile endeavor.  Try something new, see what it’s all about.  Unfortunately Bell was promptly fired from two positions, one at Fuller Theological Seminary as a Doctoral adviser and as a consultant for  the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Glendale, CA.  How’s that for a kick in the Rear?! Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. Some suggest it s a popularity stunt to gain more Christian followers (as one comment on the Thinking Atheist suggests).  Others are saying he is seeing real Christianity.  It is also noteworthy that the Thinking Atheist, Hemant Mehta, encouraged atheists to donate money to a fund to support the now unemployed spiritual experimentalist. I applaud Bell for his bold action, and lament that it is considered a bold action. Everyone should confront their spiritual beliefs head-on as Ryan Bell is doing.  Far too many people are willing to be spiritual sheep, following in their parents and grandparents footsteps without considering why they are following that path.  I would guess most folks do this because its easy and the alternative is frightening.  If you are a Christian reading this, think about it.  Life without God…  What does that even mean?  Or more importantly what is a Life with God, exactly?  What do you gain by believing in a God or Gods that a non-believer does not? Most Christians will answer, “Spiritual fulfillment.”  Can’t there be more than one way to fill your spirit?  I think there is.  In fact, I would bet there are more than 100 ways to achieve spiritual fulfillment. Atheists are likely equally quick to criticize, “How can someone honestly believe in a supernatural, omniscient, omnipotent, being that cares for us, though leaves no incontrovertible, unambiguous evidence of its existence?”  The answer is the same as it is to the Christian’s question, “There is more than one way to spiritual fulfillment.”  Instead of looking at the differences between atheism and Theism, we should be highlighting the common ground.  All people (at least all decent people) want to see the hungry fed, the poor clothed, and justice for all regardless of what they believe or do not believe. So, I urge you to reach out and attempt to understand  why others believe differently and help them understand why you believe differently.  There is a good chance both of you will learn something about yourself.

More on the Nye/Ham “debate”

Alright, As promised I have a bit more intel for you regarding the Nye/Ham smackdown in the primordial ooze (What else can you call a creation museum?).  The event press release can be seen here.

The event is scheduled for February 4th at 7:00 pm in the Legacy Hall (and that’s one hell of a legacy!). The topic of the “debate” is, “Is Creation a Viable Model of Origins?” According to, the $25 tickets sold out in less than 20 minutes. Personally I think buying fossilized dinosaur poop would have been a better way to spend the $25 bucks.

I forced my self to visit the answers in genesis website (I kept one eye closed and held my Darwin fish emblem to my heart). Apparently this is being billed as an “historic event.” Since Monkey trial has already been used, Kentuckians will need to come up with something different.  Let’s help them out.  Post your suggestions in the comments below.

The folks at AiG af fantastic marketers (NSF and AAAS needs needs to recruit these masterminds).  According to their website you can purchase a live stream of the event for $5 bucks, a DVD  and stream for $20, or the Stream, DVD, and video download for $25. Though I did see on their website that they were scuttling the live stream  because of demand and that they were looking into other exciting opportunities for people to watch the event live.

I still think this is a bad idea.  As I said before there is nothing to debate since creationism is not science.  There is nothing to be gained from debating creationist.  Their minds are made up.  In the worst case scenario Nye can come off looking like a fool and those folks still on the fence about the issue fall over on to the otherside.

What are your thoughts on the event.  Is it a good idea to get the issue out in to the open so it can be discussed or is this a huge mistake?


Unlucky in Kentucky

I just discovered a few days ago that Bill Nye “The Science Guy” is going to debate Uber-creationist Ken Hamm at the Kentucky Creation Museum on February 4th at 7:00 PM.

I have mixed feelings about this. I think this is a bad idea because there isn’t really anything to debate. Evolution is Science, Creationism is not. What’s the point. Second, according to Greg Laden’s Science Blog, the event is a fund raiser for the Creation Museum. What evolutionist would knowingly pay money to support this farce of a “museum”? Not I!

I think it is good that someone as recognizable as Bill Nye is bringing attention to the issue. I mean, who doesn’t know of Bill Nye. I for one want him to thoroughly trounce Hamm if that is possible. I really don’t know what they will talk about since Hamm doesn’t recognize scientific evidence and Nye is a Humanist who considers most of the Bible malarkey.

I will keep you updated over the next couple of weeks and give your more information as I get it. In the meantime I would bet dollars to donuts that a quick Google search will sate your curiosity.


New Years Resolution

It has been some time since I last made a blog post.  I got busy, a little put off by some comments on my last post, and just sort of let life get in the way .  While I am no less busy than i was the better part of a year ago, I have resolved this year to make a concerted effort to post more regularly.  I am going to give it my best shot to post twice each week.  I have not completely ironed out my schedule for the spring semester, but I should be able to carve out a couple of hours each week to  post some insightful observations, update you on the status of my dog training (I am hoping to train my pointer to find rattlesnakes), and keep you abreast of a few projects my students are working on (of course they are snake related! That’s what I do)

So with this as my first post of the New Year and my first post of the week, I will have more for you later this week.  Now back to preparing syllabi for the spring semester.


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