Summer reading 1: Lauri Lebo’s “Devil in Dover”

Many of you probably followed the 2005 “Kitzmiller vs. Dover” trial in Dover, Pennsylvania closely. From its early days, with daily updates at the Panda’s Thumb to the publication of the ruling–“Kitzmas”— in late December, the trial was filled with drama and moments right out of the movies. From the defendants’ remarkable lying on the stand to Behe’s admission that his definition of a scientific theory included astrology, it seemed that each day was better than the last for the pro-science side, culminating in the stinging tongue-lashing doled out by Judge Jones in his decision in favor of the plaintiffs.

However, what was reported was only a small slice of the larger story, and Lauri Lebo’s new book, The Devil in Dover, brings us the rest. A journalist for the York Daily Record, Lebo grew up in the Dover area and has an intimate understanding of the local history and culture–and the personalities involved on both sides of the case, making “Devil in Dover” far more than just another recounting of the trial. (More after the jump…)
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The “Skinny Shot” and Media Accountability

This is the third of 6 guest posts on infectious causes of chronic disease.

By Whitney Baker

While working out at the gym last night, I was perusing the latest SHAPE magazine to help pass the time. In it, I read a small article about researchers finding an association between Adenovirus-36 and human obesity. Since I am in the infectious disease field, I was already aware of this proposed link- an infectious cause (or contributor) for obesity. But for the millions of health-conscious readers hearing of this for the first time, what would they make of it? Would they have visions of medicines or vaccines that make them skinny? Would they think that diet and exercise no longer matter? Luckily mainstream media hasn’t started a commotion over this. But it did get me to wondering, that if there really is a link, what accountability is then transferred to the media? Reports of a looming “skinny shot” could have a detrimental affect by spawning false impressions of health and fitness, especially for those most vulnerable to obesity.

(More after the jump…)
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…my grad students.

My spring semester course is on infectious causes of chronic disease, looking at the role various infections play in cancer, autoimmune disease, mental illness, and other chronic conditions. Since I’ve often discussed the importance of having scientists communicate with the public, I decided to assign each of them to write 2 blog posts for the course, discussing anything of relevance to the course. Their first round of assignments was due last week, and I’ll be posting them beginning on Monday. Constructive comments on their posts are appreciated, but keep in mind that they’re students doing this as an assignment and still learning. Finally, these posts are the students’ own; I’m formatting them for publication here, but beyond that their words (and opinions!) are their own.

Progeria researchers, anyone?

I received a very nice email from a high school student looking for a mentor for a research project on progeria:

Currently, I’m in a science research program at school where we choose a topic of interest and study it for a period of three years, as well as design an experiment and carry it out based on this topic. Eventually, students are able to present their work for competition purposes or just to share their knowledge in symposia or other forums, such as the Intel Science Competition, or the Siemens Competition.

I am studying Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome for my project and have been researching it intensively for the past five months. During the next couple months or so, I need to gather as much information as I can regarding the disorder to give myself insight into potential experimental designs. At this point, I also need to locate a mentor in this field of study. Hopefully, with the guidance of my mentor, I can carry out an experiment and eventually present my results at a variety of symposia.

So, she’s looking for a mentor. If anyone out there works on progeria, or knows a colleague who does (and would be willing to help out a HS student), it would be appreciated if you’d drop me an email so I can pass along that information.

The Discovery Institute’s a-comin’ to Iowa

Like the gift that never stops giving, the Discovery Institute is taking its dog and pony show on the road, and heading right here to Iowa in order to plead (via press conference) Discovery Institute fellow Guillermo Gonzalez‘s case for tenure. You may recall the Iowa State assistant professor of astronomy was denied tenure there this past May, and he and the DI have contended that this was due to his support for intelligent design, rather than any other issues with his performance or scholarship.

Not content to simply leave it at that, Gonzalez has appealed his tenure denial, and is continuing to do so all the way to the Board of Regents, which will visit the issue in February. However, as PZ and Wes highlight, the DI is kick-starting their “Gonzalez as martyr” case a bit early. More after the jump…
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Donors Choose: final standing

While I’m taking care of some housekeeping, I’ll mention the final numbers for the Scienceblogs Donors Choose 2007 challenge. In 2006, we raised collectively just over $34,000 (which included $10K from Seed media). This year, we extended the drive a bit, upped our individual blog goals, and Janet has the final tally: just a hair shy of $73,000 (which included $15K from Seed this year). I want to send out a final thanks to readers here who donated, no matter what amount. I also encourage everyone to take a look at some of Janet’s suggestions on how to keep momentum going, and work for good education even if your own personal bank account isn’t overflowing. I think we have an amazing community here at Scienceblogs, and your help in pulling this off just reaffirms that notion–thanks again.

DonorsChoose 2007–final call!

Edited to add: we’ve reached our goal! Thank you so much to all who participated; if others would still like to donate, Janet has a list of other blogger challenges–and remember that every completed challenge gets a 10% completion bonus from DonorsChoose, stretching your donation farther. Finally, donors–don’t forget to register for prizes!

The Scienceblogs DonorsChoose challenge is wrapping up–the contest officially ends at the end of the month. So far readers here have donated $1,590 to help out teachers and students, largely in districts with high poverty levels. I want to first send out a hearty thank you to those of you who’ve donated, whether it was a few dollars or a much larger chunk of change. We’ve already exceeded the amount raised here last year, but we’re not quite finished yet. If we make it to the $2000 mark (just another $410 to go), DonorsChoose will donate an extra 10% to fund additional projects as a completion bonus.

5 of the projects I selected are already fully funded, but 2 of the original ones still need help. These are “The Human Body: Learning by Heart!”, requesting stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs (only needs $68 to be fully funded), and “Putting the “Why?” in Science”, which needs an additional $318 to purchase basic science supplies–graduated cylinders, petri dishes, beakers, etc. Since these together don’t quite equal my fundraising goal, I added one additional project as well:

“Scope It Out!”

Needs: $347 (50% funded)
Asking for: Microscope and slide collection (district is 50% low income)

Science is very popular among this eager group…always exploring and asking questions. A dependable, high quality microscope would be the perfect companion for most of our scientific inquiries. We would like to see the world up close and magnified. Prepared slides would enable us to look at different Kingdoms in the classification system, flora and fauna. We look forward to preparing our own slides too! This will be an integral part of all of our life science studies in biology and botany.

I know many of you read multiple blogs here and may have donated elsewhere, but for those of you who’ve not kicked in a few dollars yet, any amount you can give will make an impact. As I mentioned, the one project only needs $68 to be fully funded, and if we raise the $490 to meet the original challenge goal, we can fund additional projects with the extra $200 from DonorsChoose. Plus, I already mentioned I have copies of Arthur Allen’s “Vaccine” to give away to donors, and Seed is kicking in some loot as well, including T-shirts, mugs, and an iPod Nano.

Thanks again for your generosity so far, and look for the final donations tally later in the week! More science coming up tomorrow…

DonorsChoose: over the halfway mark

The DonorsChoose drive here at ScienceBlogs is just over halfway finished. My challenge is almost 50% funded, with $952 raised so far as I write this and donations from 10 of you out there (and thank you very much for that). There’s still quite a ways to go, however, and many incentives to get there. For one, DonorsChoose will kick in additional money for anyone who meets their challenge goal, so that’s great for the kids; and second, Seed is offering a number of prizes for donors (and especially for donors to my challenge, copies of “Vaccine” by Arthur Allen). If you’ve donated already and haven’t registered for any prizes, send along your receipt to for the Seed prizes, or to for a copy of “Vaccine.”

I’ve highlighted several of the projects I’m supporting here already (and 3 of them are now fully funded!), so I’ll take today to describe the last two.

Putting the “Why?” in Science

Needs: $341 (27% funded)
Asking for: Basic supplies for an 8th grade class: graduated cylinders, beakers, filter paper, eye droppers, proto-slo solution, petri dishes, markers, and paper.

The curriculum we study is so exciting and includes geologic history, the hydrosphere, chemistry and microbiology, however, I need the resources to help me teach these subjects and I’m missing the basics right now. I’ve done my best to buy what I can afford for my classroom, but would love to have some real science equipment for my students to use.

The Human Body: Learning by Heart!

Needs: $165 (0% funded)
Asking for: stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs for middle school class

As part of a unit on the circulatory system, I would love to have my students be able to listen to their heartbeat and determine their blood pressure under different conditions. Students learn science best when it is hands-on and personal, and what could be more personal than actually hearing their own circulatory system in action?

Funding these projects would impact 340 students this year, and more in years to come. There are also additional projects still in need of funding at my challenge if those don’t interest you; again, no amount is too small, and they all add up.

DonorsChoose–meet more of the projects

Monday’s post highlighting a few of the DonorsChoose projects brought in a few more donations, so check out another round of teacher-initiated projects, and throw in a few dollars if you’re able (or more than a few–I still have almost $1700 to go to reach my goal, or even another $900 to reach the total I raised last year).

Genetic Research for Immigrants

Needs: $324 (33% funded)
Asking for: Gel electrophoresis equipment (district is 94% low income, large immigrant population)

Students would have an opportunity to extract, observe and compare their own DNA with classmates in the process of learning about our common genetic heritage.
By obtaining a reasonably priced gel electrophoresis apparatus suitable for classroom use, students will come to a personal understanding of DNA by working with their own cells. This apparatus is a durable piece of equipment which would serve students for years to come. Your support can make cutting edge science accessible to a disadvantaged population of students struggling to learn new content, a new language and a new way of life in the United States.

Investigating DNA technology

Needs: $446 (18% funded)
Asking for: DNA extraction kit and electrophoresis supplies, blood/saliva typing kit (district is 86% low income)

This project will allow students to experience Gel Electrophoresis first-hand and help them to better understand how DNA can be used in solving criminal cases, and paternity cases. Students will also be able to see that all living organisms have DNA, even the fruit they eat.

After judging science fairs for several years, I’ve seen first-hand how simple techniques like the ones described in the above projects can really bring home an understanding of molecular biology to the students. Collectively these projects, if funded, would impact 270 students in the first year, and many more in years to come. Again, please consider donating a few bucks to help out these kids–it’s appreciated by all of them, and by anyone who wants to have a more science-literate population.