Posted on July 31, 2014 * Comments

H. L. Mencken in 1935

Let’s face it. When you think of journalists covering the Scopes trial, you don’t think of Joseph Wood Krutch writing for The Nation, you don’t think of Frank Kent writing for the Baltimore Sun, you don’t think of Westbrook Pegler writing for the Chicago Tribune. You think of H. L. Mencken, writing for the Baltimore Evening Sun and for The American Mercury, the monthly magazine that he and George Jean Nathan founded in 1924, the year before the Scopes trial. And that’s not surprising: by 1925, Mencken enjoyed a national reputation as a fiery iconoclast: “the most powerful influence on this whole generation of educated people,” as Walter Lippmann called him in 1926. He reveled in the opportunity afforded by the Scopes trial to revile the mores of the South. So prolific was he in covering the trial, and so compelling were his stories, that as late as 2006 a 206-page collection consisting of his Scopes coverage was published.

Posted on July 30, 2014 * Comments

Chances are, if you’ve been in the same house or apartment for many years, you’ve probably accumulated stuff that you don’t need. NCSE is like that, so before I retired, I promised to return to help sort out archival materials—helping to decide what to keep and what we no longer need. This is turning out to be a rather fun project as I am going through old files that neither I or anyone else has looked at for a long time.

Posted on July 30, 2014 * Comments

Recently I found myself around the corner from Buckingham Palace in the boardroom of Rolls-Royce, maker of airplane engines and wind turbines (they spun off the luxury car division years ago), sitting across the table from the renowned climatologist Jean Jouzel, listening to his passionate plea to for us to educate society to prepare for changing climate and limit its impacts.

Posted on July 29, 2014 * Comments

Harold Morowitz

As habitués of the Science League of America may have by now gathered, I have a taste for historical trivia and for unusual words. A few months ago, a member of NCSE offered me the chance to indulge both.

Posted on July 28, 2014 * Comments

I did a fair amount of photo research when
Photo by newlow via Wikimedia Commons I worked for an educational publishing company. On one occasion, I needed a nice photograph of a scientist “at work” to decorate our introductory chapter on science methods. You know what I found? Photo after photo of people in lab coats looking at or holding flasks or test tubes of colored liquids. It was almost comical, but not unexpected. I have a friend who works for a pharmaceutical company, and he once told me that when the board of directors came in for a visit, the staff members were told to fill up some containers with colored water so they’d look busy—apparently, their incredibly scientific jobs weren’t showy and sciency-looking enough! This stereotypical idea of what science looks like embodies this week’s misconception:

All science is done via experimentation.

Posted on July 28, 2014 * Comments

This past week on the Fossil Friday, I gave you what looked to me like a turkey leg. But actually it was a dino femur. Who was it that it belonged to? It was a Diplodocus

From Live Science:

Posted on July 25, 2014 * Comments

I’ve just returned from NCSE’s annual rafting trip down Grand Canyon, where Josh Rosenau, Genie Scott, and I regaled our fellow rafters with our unique “two model” approach.

nankoweap

There are all kinds of Grand Canyon rafting charters that specialize in everything you can think of: yoga, en plein air painting, bluegrass music, nudism—and, I imagine, trips combining all of these.

Posted on July 25, 2014 * Comments

This week on Fossil Friday, I bring you the world's largest turkey leg! Well, no, not really, though the animal once attached could have tasted like chicken. This came from a pretty well-known dinosaur from the Jurassic, so I will give you no clues.

What is this fossil and what animal is it from? Can you identify where it is now being displayed? And how did it taste with mint jelly?

Posted on July 24, 2014 * Comments

I don’t know who put it on the Netflix queue, but a copy of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) arrived in my mailbox recently. That, of course, is the mockumentary starring Sacha Baron Cohen as the eponymous Borat Sagdiyev, a Kazakh journalist touring the United States. Much of the film, as I understand it, consists of unscripted interactions in which Baron Cohen behaves badly with unsuspecting Americans on the pretext of not understanding American customs and/or adhering to fictitious (and frequently repulsive) Kazakh customs. Frankly, it doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, and I don’t know that I’m going to bother to watch it. Maybe I’m too tenderhearted, but I felt sorry even for the young-earth creationist Kent Hovind when he was similarly treated by Ali G—also a character played by Baron Cohen. But receiving Borat in the mail reminded me that I’ve been meaning to discuss public opinion about evolution in Kazakhstan. (My to-do list is as eclectic as it is extensive.)

Posted on July 24, 2014 * Comments

Don’t get me wrong; I love it when fossils make the news. Paleontology is my first intellectual love—frustrating, illuminating, amazing, and did I mention frustrating? Seriously, you don’t know frustration until you spend weeks chipping sandstone away from a rock, grain by grain under a microscope. It’s excruciating. If I ever meet Steven Spielberg, I’m going to give him a piece of my mind regarding that Jurassic Park scene where the scientists, like, blow gently and expose a perfectly preserved dinosaur. If only! But I digress…