Most students have heard of, or perhaps used, ratemyprofessors.com which is a popular website for most people attending college. I haven’t used the site much, mostly because the courses I am required to take for my degree are taught by only one faculty member, and as such, it’s not really going to do me much good to look up said professor’s ratings since I can’t avoid him or her anyway. I find that in this case, going in knowing next to nothing about how a professor is allows me to form my own opinions rather than labelling the professor as “bad” before I even set foot in the room. Nonetheless, if I were at a larger school in a different program where one could choose the professor one took a class with, I would probably use the site.
I believe that the site is a great playing field-leveler. While most students at my school fill out course/professor review scantrons at the end of the semester, no one really knows what happens to them. I believe that the professor who teaches the class decides what to do with them. I’m fairly certain the administration doesn’t touch them simply because of their attitude towards students in general. Anyway, I digress. Back to what I was saying — services like ratemyprofessors.com force the administration to deal with the problem of bad teachers. Most everyone that I know of in higher education has had some professors who just don’t care about teaching — they’re there for the grant money and research opportunities. As a result you end up with some truly awful professors who are well-regarded by the school because of the prestige and money that they bring in, despite the fact that they should never, ever step foot inside a classroom.
If a site like ratemyprofessors.com can change how professors are vieed in the eyes of the school administration, this can only be a good thing. But these school administrators, rather than embrace the service, are understandably irritated. In face, quite a few schools have threatened to sue the site for publishing defamatory comments.
Westhues finds that professors and administrations are “deeply threatened” by the site in part because work with students has generally been a very minor part of a faculty member’s evaluation. When doling out grants of tenure, promotions and raises, universities look mainly at a professor’s scholarship and publications. But RateMyProfessors, Westhues said, is forcing administrations to take a professor’s teaching capability more seriously.
“Here’s this tenured professor with high rank and high salary and students say he’s a disaster in the classroom,” he said. “RateMyProfessors gets that information out into the open.”
But the trouble with that, critics say, is there’s no guarantee it’s accurate.
And this last sentence is quite true. My only personal experience with ratemyprofessors.com is from almost 3 years ago when a professor came into class in tears because she had looked at her rating on ratemyprofessors.com. Someone had written something negative about her, and she took it to heart. And the comment, I’m sorry to say was inaccurate — clearly written by someone who expected to have a good grade handed to them on a silver platter. I understand this student’s frustration though, because our particular section of the class was much harder than the other professors’ sections who allowed open-book and take-home exams. By taking her class, we got no extra credit; it was not considered an “honors-level” section, though it should have been because everyone worked much harder for her than they would have in another section. I am a firm believer in parity among class sections. Regardless, I felt bad for that professor simply because she truly cared about the students as people as well as future professionals.
So one malicious comment against one otherwise good teacher can leave them with what amounts to a black eye for their self-esteem, because as always extreme opinions elicit extreme responses: those that love a prof or hate a prof are that much more likely to rate or write a review of said professor. More neutral (some would say “more accurate”) views tend to go unpublished because the students that hold those views have no motivation to act. So while the system isn’t perfect, it is certainly better than no system at all: it is forcing schools to look more closely at who they allow to teach students. Perhaps with time and a little luck, experiences like this guy’s won’t happen as often. I won’t hold my breath, though.
Color me skeptical, but this story on Discovery Channel News suggests that a supernova was the ultimate cause for many of the large animals that are extinct today: mammoths, mastodons, sabre-toothed tigers, etc. Apparently the key piece indicating the explosion is a set of 34,000-year-old mammoth tusks riddled with tiny craters.
The researchers believe that in the sequence of events following the supernova, first, the iron-rich grains emitted from the explosion shot into the tusks. Whatever caused the craters had to have been traveling around 6,214 miles per second, and no other natural phenomenon explains the damage, they said.
They think the supernova exploded 250 light-years away from Earth, which would account for the 7,000-year delay before the tusk grain pelting. It would have taken that long for the supernova materials to have showered Earth.
These iron grains were traveling at exactly 6,214 miles per second, I’m sure. Somehow the leap from tiny craters in mammoth tusks to a supernova to iron grains traveling at exactly 6,214 miles per second seems a little… I dunno… HUGE to me.
Then there were storms similar to those in The Day After Tomorrow caused by a comet-like shower of debris (similar to a nuclear winter, I would suspect) which caused superheated hurricanal winds in the atmosphere that then rolled across North America
The debris is supposed to have killed all the large animals but saved the small animals who escaped by going underground.
In addition to the tusk evidence, the scientists said arrowheads from North America’s prehistoric Clovis culture, which went extinct around 13,500-13,000 years ago, Icelandic marine sediment, as well as sediment from nine 13,000-year-old sites in North America, contain higher-than-normal amounts of radiation in the form of potassium-40 levels.
Magnetic particles also were unearthed at the sites. Analysis of these particles revealed they are rich in titanium, iron, manganese, vanadium, rare-earth elements, thorium and uranium.
These elements all are common in moon rocks and lunar meteorites, so the researchers think the materials provide additional evidence that North America was bombarded 13,000 years ago by material originating from space.
I buy the space-bombardment, but I have difficulty making the leap from tiny tusk craters to superheated hurricanes destroying North America. A lot of scientists seem excited about the idea, so maybe I’m the only one having this difficulty. I would think that looking at the night sky would show up a location 250 light years from Earth where a supernova could have occurred. A black hole, perhaps. I’d like to hear from the astrophysicists now, I think, because frankly, this theory sounds a little like an Ice Age sequel than a solid scientific theory.
Research comparing samples of HIV-1 from 1986-89 to samples from 2002-03 have found the virus weakening. The new samples do not multiply as well and they appear more susceptible to drugs. This, of course, flies in the face of other research showing that HIV is actually becoming more drug-resistant and virulent. What is actually the case is still up for grabs, but the new findings suggest that in several (human) generations, HIV may not be lethal.
Traditionally, it has been thought that the more hosts HIV passes through, the more lethal it would become. The new study contradicts this, suggesting evolutionary forces at work: if a virus becomes more efficient, it’s going to wipe out hosts quicker and more effectively. In the short-run, this may be beneficial, but in the long run, it will wipe out what is effectively its environment, leading to extinction of the species itself.
“There is a natural trend to reach an ‘equilibrium’ between the agent and the host interests, in order to guarantee concomitant survival for a longer time,” he said.
It makes sense, then, that the virus would adapt to decrease in virulence which ensures its survival for a long time to come. While it’s too early to say one way or the other, this latest study affords new hope in the search for a cure for HIV and AIDS. In the meantime, caution is urged in being lulled into a false sense of security, despite the fact that other infectious diseases have shown the same tendencies in weakening. Among these are smallpox, TB, and syphilis.
Obviously it goes without saying that this doesn’t mean that crazy people like Christine Maggiore are correct and/or have the moral high ground, however.
Tsunemi Kubodera and Kyoichi Mori have caught a giant squid on camera for the first time ever. Using a set of dangled hooks coupled with a Japanese common squid and chopped shrimp as bait, the duo was able to catch an Architeuthis when it wrapped its tentacles around the bait, catching one of its tentacles on the jig.
Over the next four hours, they took more than 550 pictures of the squid as it tried to free itself. The squid was finally able to break free, but only after leaving a 5.5m tentacle attached to the hook. When it was retrieved, it was still functioning, sticking to the deck of the boat and Dr. Kubodera’s fingers.
This is the first time a giant squid has been caught on camera, and it shows that Architeuthis is not a sluggish hunter as had been thought. The 13m giant squid is not the largest type squid. Larger “Colossal squid” are thought to exist that are perhaps twice as large, though none have ever been seen.
I have written extensively on evolution here on polyscience, and yesterday began what seems to be a redux of the Scopes Monkey Trial. The Dover Area School Board in Pennsylvania requires that teachers instruct their students that evolution is “merely” one unproven theory. The teachers are required to state that intelligent design is a possible alternative. Furthermore, the teachers are required to refer students to an intelligent design textbook for more information.
The parents taking the school board to court have asserted that this violates the separation of church and state. And they’re absolutely right. I’ve stated in the past that ID is okay to teach (even in public schools) so long as it’s not taught in the science classroom. ID lacks the most basic tenets of what constitutes “science” — testability and falsifiability.
The first witness on behalf of the parents was Kenneth Miller a professor at Brown University who lectured the courtroom on a variety of topics, but his basic theme was that there was no controversy in science about the validity of evolution; the only controversy over the topic comes from outside science, from the lay public.
Much of the confusion over evolution and intelligent design comes from the definition of “theory” itself. When used in the context of science, it implicitly has a different meaning than it does when applied to almost anything else. Therefore, dismissing evolution as “merely a theory” is an egregious misuse of the implied meaning. Not everything can become a scientific theory — it must first undergo scrutiny, testing, and revision. While the mechanisms and explanations behind evolution have changed since Darwin, his overarching themes of natural selection and “survival of the fittest” have withstood scientific scrutiny for well over 100 years. The school board of a public school system should not be so easily able to toss it aside like so much garbage, regardless of local public opinion.
According to a CBS poll one year ago, 65% of Americans want creationism to be taught along with evolution; 37% would want it to be taught instead of evolution.
Fifty-five per cent believe God created humans as we know them today.
Unfortunately for the public, public opinion is meaningless when it comes to what is correct and what is not. Should we teach probability as common sense dictates, simply because most people believe wrong information? Certainly not. And there is no reason that the origins of life should be taught to the whim of public opinion either. Because the public in this case is ignorant, and therefore, wrong.
Science is about understanding and explaining phenomena, not about what “feels good” and makes people happy. As I’ve said in the past, no matter how far back science pushes the boundaries of human understanding, intelligent design can add one more layer of abstraction, thereby rendering it effectively impossible to prove one way or the other. For this simple reason alone it belongs in a religion or philosophy class, not a science class.
“On the other hand,” Miller said, “intelligent design is not a testable theory in any sense and as such it is not accepted by the scientific community.”
During his cross-examination of Miller, Robert Muise, another attorney for the law center, repeatedly asked whether he questioned the completeness of Darwin’s theory.
“Would you agree that Darwin’s theory is not the absolute truth?” Muise said.
“We don’t regard any scientific theory as the absolute truth,” Miller responded.
Miller is absolutely right, even though it would seem as though he’s avoiding the question to those that would choose to read it that way. Even a “simple” theory like the Theory of Gravity has undergone massive revision in the last 50 years, and it stands to reason that it will be further modified over the course of the next 50 years. Tossing it out as “incomplete” is ridiculous. If there’s anything that science has taught mankind it’s this: just when you think you’ve got almost a complete understanding of something, a new development or discovery will come along and turn your world upside-down. It happened to physics with the discovery of subatomic particles, and it will happen again. No matter how well-established and understood your theory may be, something new could come along and blow it out of the water. What matters is that the overarching themes remain consistent though the underlying explanation for the theme may be altered.
I’ll be following this case with great interest in the coming weeks. (And I will endeavor to avoid ranting.)
Lakes Nyos and Monoun in Cameroon are building towards releasing toxic gases again. In the 1980s, the two lakes vented their payload and killed nearly 1800 people. Primarily carbon dioxide, the concentrations in the lake are building again, despite having a ventilation pipes installed in 2001 to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. The gas is created by volcanic activity beneath the lakes, and although the pipes are working, scientists fear that they are not working fast enough.
They speculate that adding more pipes could help alleviate the problem, and that current pipes will only remove an estimated 10% of the total gas in the next year.
“This slow removal extends the present risk to local populations,” says Kling. “Our model indicates that 75-99% of the gas remaining would be removed by 2010 with two pipes in Monoun and five pipes in Nyos, substantially reducing the risks.”
There are two ways of de-gassing the lakes, the current method in place at the two lakes is the “autonomous soda fountain” method which consists of a vertical pipe between the lake bottom and the surface. A small pump raises the water in the pipe up to a level where it becomes saturated with gas, which lightens the water column. The saturated water rises to the surface creating a spectacular 68-foot water fountain which can be turned on and off at will via radio from shore. Once the process is primed, there is no need for the pump to operate because the process perpetuates itself.
There are three “killer lakes” in the world that release gases: lakes Nyos and Monoun, and Lake Kivu in Rwanda. Lake Kivu differs in that its killer gas is made up of carbon dioxide and methane. Because methane is valuable, several commercial enterprises have undertaken harvesting the methane from the lake to make some money as well as prevent deadly “overturn” which seems to occur once every 1,000 years or so, which kills all of the wildlife in the lake, and around the lake. Lake Kivu is much larger than Nyos and Monoun, but its circumstances are a little bit different in that harvesting the gas is a profitable — as well as life-saving — enterprise.
Once again, the civilian sector is moving into space. Several months ago saw Burt Rutan & Co. win the X-Prize, and now another private group is working on constructing a space elevator. Their proof of concept model successfully tested a robot climber which climbed up a ribbon simulating a future nanowire space elevator.
The test, which was conducted in a secret location (for privacy and safety’s sake) in Eastern Washington, involved a 12′ diameter balloon, a 23lb robot climber, and a long foot ribbon made of composite fiberglass. The lifter is the LiftPort Group’s 18th version(!), and its best altitude was 1,000 feet
Laine said that the Federal Aviation Administration has been very supportive and helpful in orchestrating their test flights.
“We are cleared up to 1 mile high, off of a tethered helium balloon,” Laine said. “Our series of tests are designed to gain in altitude as we go, as we test our communications, range sensors, global positioning system satellite gear, along with temperature and camera systems.”
The company has also created LiftPort Nanotech in New Jersey focusing on mass production of nanotubes to eventually create the super-strong thread of a space elevator.
Along the same lines, the Spaceward Foundation of Mountain View, CA has announced a competition in two parts: the Tether Challenge to create strong nanotube-based materials and the Beam Power Challenge which is a competition to create a climber that can climb 200 feet powered by a high-intensity light source. The competition is sponsored by the NASA Centennial Challenges program.