Posted on October 19, 2015 * Comments

Let’s continue the game of Twenty Questions I started on Friday regarding this strange fossil.

Is it a plant? No.

Is it an animal? Yes.

Is it bigger than a breadbox? This one, no. Some others? You bet.

Hat size? No true head. The answer is moot.

Is it still alive today? This one, no. Some others? Yes.

Posted on October 16, 2015 * Comments

First evolve a duck, then teach it to read Here are some of the stories that caught NCSE’s eye this week. Feel free to share articles that crossed your screen in the comment section, or e-mail us directly during the week with things that caught your eye. We’ll add the best to our weekly posts.

Posted on October 16, 2015 * Comments

Unlike my last specimen, this one does not give me the willies. However, fossils of this thing can be fairly creepy, perhaps because it’s so alien-looking.

But what is it? Plant? Animal? It’s definitely made of minerals. Is it bigger than a breadbox? Or, my grandfather’s favorite Twenty Questions question, what size hat would it wear? (He never really got the yes/no aspect of Twenty Questions.)

Sound off below.

Posted on October 15, 2015 * Comments

Alabama state coat of arms, via Wikimedia CommonsIn September 2015, something amazing happened. It isn’t what we traditionally think of as ground-breaking or life-changing, but to millions of young people in one southern state, this will be the first step toward a new lens on science. What was it? That Alabama adopted a new set of science standards in which evolution is described as “substantiated with much direct and indirect evidence.”

Posted on October 15, 2015 * Comments

John R. Neill, illustration from The Lost Princess of Oz (1917)Can language help you tell the difference between scientists and science deniers? That’s what researchers Srdan Medimorec and Gordon Pennycook sought to test in the article summarized here, which presents some analysis about the language used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Heartland Institute’s Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). Specifically, the researchers wanted to see how these organizations’ reports, both of which were really long and highly technical, used emotion and certainty. I’m all about the language of science, from the ways it can add clarity to the ways it can raise barriers and create misunderstandings. This article reminded me that scientific language has other distinctive characteristics: its caution and lack of emotion.

Posted on October 14, 2015 * Comments

Version 1 of the Alabama disclaimer (1996)

When the Alabama state board of education voted to approve a new set of science standards on September 10, 2015, in which evolution was described—correctly—as “substantiated with much direct and indirect evidence,” I immediately wondered what would become of the evolution disclaimers that textbooks in the state have been required to carry through the last nineteen years. There have been three versions of the disclaimer, in 1996, 2001, and 2005. The 1996 version (right) was the most egregious, describing evolution as “a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things.” There was a fair amount of coverage of the prospective fate of the disclaimer, including articles in the Washington Post and Newsweek, but I didn’t see anything about the genesis—if you will—of the original disclaimer.

Posted on October 13, 2015 * Comments

A recent study published in Environmental Research Letters, “The climate change consensus extends beyond climate scientists,” offers encouraging data, while at the same time perpetuating many of the errors that plague the public understanding of climate science.

First, the good news. The paper reports the results of university science faculty polling:

Posted on October 13, 2015 * Comments

In honor of National Fossil Day (yep, it’s a thing), there’s going to be a live twitter Q&A, October 14, 2015, 2–3 p.m. EST* with me and a couple all-star paleos**:

Posted on October 12, 2015 * Comments

Scott Hatfield was one of NCSE’s Grand Canyon Teacher Scholarship winners. He teaches biology at Bullard High School, in Fresno, California. Teachers can apply for a scholarship on next year's trip, and you can donate to the scholarship fund or sign up for the trip now.

Posted on October 12, 2015 * Comments

Here’s a look at our specimen from last Friday with scale:

This fossil was collected from the Niobrara of Kansas. This wonderful American fossil site was first explored in the 1870s, and has yielded many excellent and dramatic vertebrate specimens: everything from mosasaurs to pterosaurs. This particular specimen is the humerus of a Pteranodon, species unknown.