Splish, Splash, Draw Me an Extrasolar Bath

With all of the hoopla this week surrounding the announcement of the discovery of Gliese 581e (the smallest exoplanet yet discovered at 1.9 Earth-masses) and the refinement of the orbit of Gliese 581d (placing it firmly in the habitable zone of the Gliese 581 stellar system – meaning it may have liquid water at the surface), I thought I’d offer an engineering perspective. A number of sites have discussed the theoretically possible means of getting there. But what about realistic means of getting there?

Read the rest of this entry »

Sign the Petition!

As many of you may be aware, the Florida Science Standards are up for final review this month.  Many school districts have been passing resolutions in opposition to the proposed standards, because the standards are forthright about the role evolution and Big Bang cosmology play in biology and astronomy, respectively.  The Florida Citizens for Science have created an online petition in support of the standards.  You can view it here.  One good thing about the petition is that you can add your comments.  Note that the donations are requested only after your signature has been added – close the page if you do not wish to donate.  The following are my comments:

Many Florida school boards are crafting resolutions in oppostion to the proposed standards.  The opposition takes form in three major arguments.  The first is that evolution is no longer being taught as theory, but rather as “the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence.”  However, according to Benchmark SC.6.N.3.1, that is the definition of a scientific theory.  In fact, these school boards are promulgating the very misconception that benchmark is trying to avoid when it continues on to explain that “the use of the term theory in science is very different than how it is used in everyday life.”

The second argument is that if we are to teach evolution and Big Bang theory, we should teach other theories as well.  To which I respond, “Go ahead.”  But we must use only teach theories that meet the definition given in the standards – that is, scientific theories.  When pressed, these school boards either can’t provide alternate scientific theories, or else provide “theories” that do not meet the criteria set forth in the standards, but rather are theories only in the sense used in everyday life.  How do you teach a non-existent theory?  These alternate “theories” would be quickly exposed under Benchmarks SC.912.N.2.1-3 – imagine the hue and cry if they were included under those benchmarks!  It should also be pointed out that several benchmarks require students to understand the role alternative explanations play in developing science (e.g., SC.912.N.1.3).

The final argument is that we should “teach both the strengths and weaknesses” of the challenged theories, with thte implication that only the strengths are taught.  But the standards already do that.  The weaknesses of the challenged theories are no different than the weaknesses of the other theories in the standards that haven’t been challenged.  All one has to do is read through the Nature of Science standards to find these weaknesses.  Even within the Life Science standards, specific examples are given (e.g., SC.912.L.15.12).

It is apparent that these school boards are either not familiar with the standards they are purporting to improve, or that they are ignoring them in pursuit of an ideological goal.  This shows a disturbing contempt for the educational standards of Florida.  I urge the BoE to treat these resolutions with the same respect shown by the school boards – none at all.

I am also posting this as a comment at Panda’s Thumb.