Where’s the Discovery Institute when you need a defender of academic freedom?

So, after all the kvetching the Discovery Institute did over the Guillermo Gonzalez tenure denial case, why aren’t they rushing to the defense of one Steve Bitterman, a community college professor at Southwest Community College here in Iowa. The case is still developing, but what is known is that Bitterman was fired last week–apparently for teaching that Genesis isn’t literal:
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My hometown…

…is underwater.

FINDLAY, Ohio – Hundreds of Ohio residents remained flooded out of their homes Thursday as some rivers continued to rise, while forecasters had bad news for the state and other parts of the Midwest: expect more storms and even a taste of the heat wave baking the South.


In Findlay, Ohio, firefighters and a volunteer armada navigated boats and canoes through streets waist-deep in water on Wednesday, plucking neighbors and their pets from porches. Every downtown street and many neighborhoods were under water as the Blanchard River topped 7 feet above flood stage, its highest level since a 1913 flood.

Though northwest Ohio has been the focus of many of these stories, cities around the midwest are flooded, including a few here in Iowa. Luckily we’re just soggy here in my neck of the woods, although if we go much longer without a rainless day, my poor dogs are going to be lost in the tall grass in my yard that I’ve been unable to mow with the rain and travel…

Well, this doesn’t happen every day…

Just a quick post from the “weird happenings in Iowa” file: Mysterious chunks of ice pelt Iowa town.

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — Large chunks of ice, one of them reportedly about 50 pounds, fell from the sky in this northeast Iowa city, smashing through a woman’s roof and tearing through nearby trees.

Authorities were unsure of the ice’s origin but have theorized the chunks either fell from an airplane or naturally accumulated high in the atmosphere — both rare occurrences.

“It sounded like a bomb!” 78-year-old Jan Kenkel said. She said she was standing in her kitchen when an ice chunk crashed through her roof at about 5:30 a.m. Thursday. “I jumped about a foot!”

The CNN story has pictures of the hole left in her roof. Bizarre.

Elizabeth Cory, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said investigators would contact Kenkel to try to determine the source of the ice.

“It is very uncommon for something like this to come from an aircraft,” Cory said. “That is really unusual if it is pure white ice, especially at this time of year.”

The moisture involved in such a scenario could have come from the tops of strong thunderstorms. However, Dubuque had clear skies at the time the ice fell, said Andy Ervin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Davenport. “There was nothing unusual going on,” he said.

Religion and Science symposium: Iowa, 2007

A looong time ago, I mentioned that I spent St. Patrick’s Day weekend in Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, at a symposium I helped to plan (but neglected to blog! Oops). Along with other scientists, theologians, philosophers, and generally interested persons, we worked for a bit over a year to put this symposium together. Why?

The principal aim of the conference is to clarify the causes of the conflict between science educators and those who wish to have Intelligent Design taught in public schools. We do not claim to be neutral on this issue. We are convinced that ID is not good science and should not be presented as such. Our position is consonant with that of the National Center for Science Education and the Iowa Academy of Science. We believe that the polarization of opinion on this issue has created misunderstanding and confusion and that a clarification of terminology and concepts is essential for productive dialogue and decision making.

How did it turn out? Find out more below…

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University of Iowa selects a new president

Sally Mason Named University Of Iowa’s 20th President.

Interesting. A female biologist, currently Provost at Purdue:

During her tenure at Purdue, Mason invested both professionally and personally in diversity and innovative research and education.

She raised funds for and implemented a number of major diversity initiatives at Purdue, including creation of a Native American education and cultural center and a Latino Cultural Center, joining a black cultural center already on campus. She started two programs funded by the National Science Foundation that work to increase retention and graduation rates among students in science fields, especially minorities. And she recently implemented a new initiative that focuses on recruitment, including more minority faculty appointments, professional development programs, and incentives for teaching and research on diversity.

In 2004, Mason and her husband, Kenneth, gave a $2 million gift to create the Sally K. and Kenneth A. Mason Fund in support of Purdue’s Discovery Learning Center (DLC). The DLC, one of 10 interdisciplinary research centers in Purdue’s new Discovery Park, was created to advance research that revolutionizes learning in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and math). Through externally funded research projects, innovative programs, and collaborative partnerships, the DLC is seeks to redesign educational practices and create innovative learning environments that, according to the DLC’s Web site, “have immediate impact and nurture lifelong learning for students and citizens of a global community.”

Nothing to do this weekend?

Just a reminder that there will be a symposium this weekend discussing evolution and intelligent design at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. The event is geared toward those interested in matters of faith or science; teachers; principals; college students majoring in education, science and religion/philosophy; clergy; and parish educators. Scholarships are available for the first 200 K-12 educators, board of education members, school administrators, etc. who apply–still plenty of those left, so if you know anyone who’d be interested, point them in our direction. I’m including the text of one press release below the jump; all the information (including registration and hotel) can be found at the symposium website.
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Skiff: long on rhetoric, short on light

Our local “Dissenter from Darwinism,” Fred Skiff, gave a talk last Friday. Prior to the talk, I predicted:

One, that Skiff will provide a strawman version of evolutionary theory (heck, and science itself) as he did last time I saw him speak… Two, that Skiff will assert or imply that evolution implies atheism, and that if one accepts methodological naturalism, one therefore must also accept philosophical naturalism, and choose between evolutionary theory and their religious beliefs. Three, that he will assert that “intelligent design” is the sensible alternative to “orthodox” science, but its study is being repressed by “Darwinists” or something of that nature.

All I gotta say is: damn, I’m good. In a bit of what I assume was unintended irony, Skiff was introduced with a comment noting that discussions about intelligent design frequently generated “heat” but not a lot of “light,” after which Skiff spent much of his time railing against “Darwinists” and “Darwinism,” creating a strawman presentation of evolutionary biology, misinforming about the Richard Sternberg case, claiming that supporters of evolution were out to make it “illegal to question Darwinism” and that the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has said to “destroy intelligent design by ruining reputations.” Is it any wonder Skiff receives a lot of heat after inflammatory rhetoric such as that? A summary of the rest of the talk is after the jump.
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Iowa professor again poised to defend “intelligent design”

Via From Right 2 Left, I see that U of Iowa physics professor. Fred Skiff, will be speaking on intelligent design next week:

At the next “Finding God at Iowa” Lunch Forum, Fred Skiff, University of Iowa professor of physics and astronomy, will speak on the theory of intelligent design. The forum will be held from noon to 1 p.m. March 2, in the Ohio State Room (Room 343) on the third floor of the Iowa Memorial Union.

Skiff will offer “A ‘Fireside Chat’ on Intelligent Design.” He will discuss some of the questions underlying the debate over intelligent design in nature, such as: What are the appropriate assumptions, methods, and limits of science? Can the intelligent design argument be properly made within the realm of science?

Why am I so dismayed (well, besides the obvious)? More after the jump.
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Influenza virologist Robert Webster stops by to talk shop

Readers who are regulars at Effect Measure or Deltoid will be familiar with the opinions of attorney and author Michael Fumento. Fumento considers himself an avian flu “skeptic,” and recently issued a “challenge” (the title, “My avian flu challenge to the leftist bird-brained squawkers”, might give you some clue as to its scientific value) to bloggers, in response to one blogger’s comment that “… there was a “50%/50%” chance of [an influenza] pandemic in the next year”:

I took advantage of Mr. Paramedic’s oversight to bet him 10-1, with him picking the dollar amount, that there would be no such pandemic in the next 365 days. Odds of 2-1 would be even, so this is an offer you’d think he’d snap up. So far no reply. Now I’m extending the challenge to all bloggers who’ve ignored my flawless track record on disease scares dating back 20 years and who have said in no uncertain terms that I’ve been grossly irresponsible and a total idiot on the subject of pandemic flu.

…Okay guys, put your bucks where your blogs are! Ten to one odds for each of you; each gets to pick the amount in question. I say the year 2008 will roll around and there will be plenty of terrible problems in the world, but pandemic avian flu won’t be among them.

Revere, Mike, Tim, and Revere especially have already ripped much of Fumento’s argument apart, so I’m not going to focus on that.* Rather, what people like Fumento do is almost a form of quote-mining. In Fumento’s case, he takes the worst case scenario that influenza virologists and epidemiologists have noted–that is, a highly deadly pandemic occurring at any moment–and suggesting that’s the consensus opinion, and that anyone who voices any concern about pandemic influenza is a “chicken little.”

One target of this ire has been virologist Robert Webster of St. Jude’s (photo to the left). He recently visited us here in Iowa, and his message was much more tempered than what’s been reported in the media. More after the jump.
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Strange natural phenomenon observed in Iowa

Well, we missed the ice storms that hit a few other Sciencebloggers, but we did get a bit of this:

My kids, of course, were clamoring to play in it this morning as I rudely shipped them off to school (the nerve!); meanwhile, I’m realizing I don’t even have snowpants and boots that fit them this year, and I haven’t thought about it because this is the first snowfall that’s been more than a dusting (and even this is only a few inches). Maybe tonight we’ll make the tiniest snowman ever.