The hard-to-kill lie that low-fat diets are good for you

In 1980, health authorities in the US and the UK issued food guidelines that urged people to eat less fat, less protein, less cholesterol, and more grains and other carbohydrate-rich foods.

People in general (including me) followed that advice, even though in hindsight it has become clear that there was absolutely no evidence that it would work. If you’ve been paying attention, 1980 was about the year that the problem of obesity became an epidemic in the US and in Great Britain. Proponents of a low-carb, higher-protein, low-sugar diet like John Yudkin or Robert Atkins were called all sorts of names by powerful figures in the American and British health establishments, in particular by Ancel Keys and his many acolytes. Yudkin in particular had is reputation besmirched, and Atkins was called a fraud.

Gary Taubes, Nina Teicholz, and Robert Lustig are some of the researchers and writers who have recently pointed out that the familiar low-fat hypothesis has no evidence whatsoever backing it up, and that there is lots of evidence contradicting it.

A few paragraphs from a recent article on this in the Guardian, which I urge you to read in its entirety:

Only in the last few years has it become acceptable to study the effects of Atkins-type diets. In 2014, in a trial funded by the US National Institutes of Health, 150 men and women were assigned a diet for one year which limited either the amount of fat or carbs they could eat, but not the calories. By the end of the year, the people on the low carbohydrate, high fat diet had lost about 8 lb more on average than the low-fat group. They were also more likely to lose weight from fat tissue; the low-fat group lost some weight too, but it came from the muscles. The NIH study is the latest of more than 50 similar studies, which together suggest that low-carbohydrate diets are better than low-fat diets for achieving weight loss and controlling type 2 diabetes. As a body of evidence, it is far from conclusive, but it is as consistent as any in the literature.

…..

In 2008, researchers from Oxford University undertook a Europe-wide study of the causes of heart disease. Its data shows an inverse correlation between saturated fat and heart disease, across the continent. France, the country with the highest intake of saturated fat, has the lowest rate of heart disease; Ukraine, the country with the lowest intake of saturated fat, has the highest. When the British obesity researcher Zoë Harcombe performed an analysis of the data on cholesterol levels for 192 countries around the world, she found that lower cholesterol correlated with higher rates of death from heart disease.

In the last 10 years, a theory that had somehow held up unsupported for nearly half a century has been rejected by several comprehensive evidence reviews, even as it staggers on, zombie-like, in our dietary guidelines and medical advice.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, in a 2008 analysis of all studies of the low-fat diet, found “no probable or convincing evidence” that a high level of dietary fat causes heart disease or cancer. Another landmark review, published in 2010, in the American Society for Nutrition, and authored by, among others, Ronald Krauss, a highly respected researcher and physician at the University of California, stated “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD [coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease]”.

Many nutritionists refused to accept these conclusions. The journal that published Krauss’s review, wary of outrage among its readers, prefaced it with a rebuttal by a former right-hand man of Ancel Keys, which implied that since Krauss’s findings contradicted every national and international dietary recommendation, they must be flawed. The circular logic is symptomatic of a field with an unusually high propensity for ignoring evidence that does not fit its conventional wisdom.

Published in: on April 10, 2016 at 12:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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Shortage of US STEM workers? High-Tech Companies Think Otherwise

In fact,

“Although employers often claim in public statements that shortages of domestic talent prevent them from finding workers, they tell a different story in filings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Salzman noted. “Accenture states that restrictions on guest worker supply would result in ‘new or higher minimum salary requirements and increased costs.’ Another firm says they would have to ‘replace existing offshore resources with local resources, namely U.S. workers, at higher wages.’ That is, without the congressional discount for guest workers, the highly profitable IT industry would have to hire more U.S. workers and pay them more than guest workers.”

Read this article in the prestigious magazine Science:

http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2016/03/displaced-american-stem-workers-spur-senate-hearing?utm_campaign=email-news-latest&et_rid=17050347&et_cid=316517

Published in: on March 5, 2016 at 8:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Demeaning treatment of a Texas science teacher

(From Nov 2014; this somehow never made it out to the blogosphere… It’s not original from me)

What this teacher is going through is the sort of mindless edumalarkey that is driving many excellent teachers out of the classroom. She has asked that her story be publicized.

The Educational Delusional Scheme by Dr. Denise Gordon November 22, 2014

I write this short essay to disclose what is happening within my own science classroom, I write to expose the demeaning work environment that I and my fellow colleagues must endure, and I write to give purpose to my years of acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge in teaching science for the secondary student. I am not a failure; however, by the Texas STAAR standard assessment test, I am since this past year I had a 32% failure rate from my 8th grade students in April, 2014. The year before, my students had an 82% passing rate.

What happened in one school year? It does not matter that 2/3 of the student population speaks Spanish in their home. It does not matter their reading capability could be on a 4th grade level. It does not matter homework never gets turned in and parent phone calls bring little results.

What does matter was that my students were required to develop a yearlong research project by stating a problem, thinking of a solution, designing the experimental set up, collecting the required data, and formulating a conclusion. Some of the projects were good enough to enter into the regional science fair. From a selection of thirty-five projects, twenty-four were sent to the regional science fair. Some of these projects won ribbons and a chance to go to the state science fair competition. Five of my students were invited to participate in the elite Broadcom Master Science Competition. No other 8th grader in my school district achieved this accomplishment. Other yearlong projects involved entering the Future City Competition sponsored by the IEEE.

My eighth graders had seven teams to compete and three came back with special awards. Another science competition for secondary students is eCybermission sponsored by the NSTA and the U.S. Army. My only team of girls who competed in this program won first place for the entire southern region of the eCybermission Competition.

Did any of my students get a thank you or congratulations from our school principal or the district about their science achievements? Sadly, the answer is a no. All I got was a call into the principal’s office at the end of the school year for the purpose of being pulled from teaching the 8th grade for the next school year due to my high failure rate on the state test. My students and I did receive two thank you letters from two community partnerships.

The Potters Water Action Group, represented by Richard Wukich and Steve Carpenter were thankful for our educational brochure that my students helped design for their water filtration project. Krista Dunham, Project Director of Special Olympics in Fort Worth, sent a thank you to my students for donating the soap box derby race money that my students organized and who built three scrap box cars for this worthy affair.

I am now being monitored on a weekly basis within my 6th grade classes and their posted grades. I am required to have a 15% failure rate. All assignments must be pulled from the district’s online teaching schedule; therefore, no soap box races or water brochures this year. I am not allowed to take any of my students off campus for data collecting.

Student project development does not flow well in the district school calendar, so I am being questioned by the principal about my scientific teaching philosophy. Action science with real world data is not on the district’s curriculum website. It does not matter that I have a Ph.D. in curriculum development. I must teach to the test since every three weeks all students will be taking a mandated district test. This means all teachers must review for the test, students take the test, and then we go over the test. That is three days out of fifteen teaching days dedicated to a test every three weeks.

Testing and retesting with documented lesson plans from the scheduled curriculum is what the district wants, but is it what the students need really to enjoy science?

Our test scores are posted online and evaluated by the administration. Our performance on these tests weighs heavily into our yearly professional evaluation. I have been placed on a “growth plan” due to the fact that I teach what my students should know rather than what the district has posted. I am somewhat a rebel or just set in my ways; however, this growth plan gives the new principal her leverage to remove me from this school. If I do not meet her standards on the growth plan at the end of the year, then I must be relocated to another school.

I teach my students math skills, writing skills, and research skills. I document this growth instead of monitoring their district test scores. I have been ordered to submit weekly announcements to the parent newsletter, but my submissions are deleted by the principal. I have been ordered to attend professional development at the level three tier within our district, but there is no level three offered because level three does not exist.

I have been documented that 100% of my students do not understand my lessons when I teach because I use “big” words. The 100% came from asking two or three students in the classroom by the principal when she did her bimonthly walk throughs. I have been pulled out of teaching class to be reprimanded on my poor teaching practices rather than wait for my planning time. I must lower my standards and give less work if I am to maintain a 15% failure rate. Is this what the parents want? Will this prepare the students for high school?

I can no longer incorporate the arts within my assignments since my activities do not come from the district’s website. The current push for STEM should be the banner to wave inside my classroom since I have been a secondary science teacher for the past thirty years; however, I could not and we should not trade the arts and music for pure technical science and math course work. Creative problem solving with visual displays or performing arts can be demonstrated instead of just technology and engineering skills. Language arts would implement the importance of writing and research instead of just writing a basic lab report.

When a student is allowed to decide on what he/she would like to study for their research project so many necessary skills are required. The student must speak and “sell” their project by presenting to outside judges at the regional science fair, designing skills are needed for the backboard, mathematical and technological skills are used for the data collection. The actual meaning of “science” comes from the Latin verb, scire, “to know” via knowledge gained by a study or a particular branch of study (Ayto, 1990). To know encompasses all topics of interest and that is why I teach science bringing in all areas of skills and interests for the student to develop. This is not found on the district curriculum website.

I want the student to be creative, to write, to sing, to explore, to draw, to decipher, and to act in order to gain “knowledge” through the sciences.
I firmly believe students should have a choice in their own curriculum of study, final assessment should come from a variety of skills displaying the student’s individual growth, and what is taught inside the classroom should be applied to help the local community and school partnerships.

My principal has cut my fifteen year commitment with community partnerships for the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens, Botanical Research Institute of Texas, and the Fort Worth Science & History Museum by not approving any of my bus requests. Action science does not exist. Science education lies only in the classroom and on the district’s website. This is the educational delusion I must work in; a science classroom that is data driven to the point of paralysis and where students no longer experience real world problem solving projects.

Retirement is my ticket out of this madness, but what will be the student’s ticket out?

Is there really a STEM shortage? And do we want to emulate China or Korea?

You have all heard the mantra that we don’t have enough young people studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and that is the reason that so many Americans are doing poorly.  If you agree with this call, this article in the New York Review of Books might make you think about the subject differently.

A few important points:

(1) The United States graduates way more engineers and scientists every year than can ever hope to get a job in their fields.

(2) As a result, large percentages of STEM graduates do not work in their chosen field

(3) As part of their profit-maximization strategy, tech giants like Microsoft nonetheless encourage this glut of STEM applicants while at the same time complaining that they need to hire foreigners on H1B visas, who earn on average about 57% of what a similarly-qualified American worker makes.

(4) While many, many American high school students fully plan to go into a STEM field in college, many are discouraged by poor teaching at the college level — even the instructors at elite STEM universities like CalTech get low marks from their students. And many of the instructors are, in fact, themselves temporary workers, neither full professors nor having any hope of tenure…

(5) The article also looks at Korean and Chinese school systems. It is true that they are producing tremendous test-takers and lots of engineers. But do we really want our children attending day and night classes every night until 10 pm, and what would we do with all of those unemployed future engineers anyway?

A few excerpts from the article, which reviews several books and documents:

“A 2014 study by the National Science Board found that of 19.5 million holders of degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, only 5.4 million were working in those fields, and a good question is what they do instead. The Center for Economic Policy and Research, tracing graduates from 2010 through 2014, discovered that 28 percent of engineers and 38 percent of computer scientists were either unemployed or holding jobs that did not need their training

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in its latest Occupational Outlook Handbook, forecasts that by 2022 the economy will have 22,700 nonacademic openings for physicists. Yet during the preceding decade 49,700 people will have graduated with physics degrees. The anomaly is that those urging students toward STEM studies are not pressing employers to ensure that the jobs will be there. And as we shall see, the employers often turn to foreign workers for the jobs they have to fill.

“Among the high school seniors who took the ACT and SAT tests last year, fully 23 percent said that they intended to major in mathematics, computer science, engineering, or a physical or natural science. And those contemplating programs related to health made up another 19 percent. But something evidently happens between their freshman and senior years. By graduation, the number of students who start in STEM fields falls by a third and in health by a half. In engineering, of every one hundred who start, only fifty-five make it to a degree.

Published in: on June 28, 2015 at 10:44 pm  Comments (3)  
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Is it inequity, or poverty, that causes the educational problems we see in the US?

Someone posted this question to me. I think it’s inequity, since poverty is a relative thing. Our ancestors who hunted and gathered 10,000 years ago in the cold or hot and dangerous oceans, rivers, jungles, steppes and meadows of the day, armed only with animal bones, sharpened sticks, rocks and nets they made themselves, mostly didn’t think of themselves as poor. Here in the US we can all see on TV video footage of the most opulent mansions and life-styles the world has ever seen, bar none (not even the Roman or Chinese empires!). If your family only earns a few thousand dollars per year, you are going to live in utter squalor, even though such an income 200 years ago would have seemed amazing.

I’m going to coin a slogan: “It’s the differences, stupid.”

If you see that some kids go to schools where they get to learn horseback riding, soccer, lacrosse, and clay sculpture after school, AND learn foreign languages and have actual physics or biology labs with up-to-date equipment with teachers who are trusted to choose what to learn and experiment with, and your school just gives you multiple-choice worksheets all day in math and reading, with none of that other extracurricular stuff and no classes outside of math, reading, basic science, and ‘social studies’ becomes more worksheets, you will feel like crap.  Especially since the never-ending revolving door of teachers who start with high hopes but then are beaten into submission to Test Prep Above All and following idiotic curricula written by folks who never taught is going to condemn you to bad teaching.

Education should be one of a whole raft of methods used by all parts of our government that is used to end poverty. However, our judicial and police systems seem to be bent on promoting poverty for some while promoting rule over the entire universe for others. I could give many examples, such as judges routinely suspending drivers licenses for not paying small fines the person can’t pay. Then they get more tickets for driving on a suspended license, and eventually in jail or many thousands in debt. While the rich are allowed to buy elections, hire lawyers to evade state, local and federal taxes and don’t go to jail for almost any fraud committed. On the rare instances that a billionaire fraudster does go to jail, then it’s at a nice place and when they get out, they then get to set up lucrative ‘foundations’ that prey on the poor. (Think Michael Milken)

One excellent proposal from Ras Baraka, the new Newark mayor, during his campaign is that school house other agencies that help fight the effects of poverty: have free, good dental and optical and medical clinics in evrery single school, as well as free cafeterias on weekends.

Why?

So kids won’t have to miss school if they have toothaches, can’t see, or need a shot or a medical test or a wound bandaged, or psychiatric help for those suffering from acute mental illness attacks – a substantial fraction of the kids in any high-poverty school anywhere in the USA.

Plus, many families and kids actually don’t have food to eat on weekends, snow days, and holidays. Also, if well done, it would let kids know that someone was looking out for them. I thought it sounded like a great idea. I hope he’s managed to put it into effect. Unfortunately, the elected officials of Newark have for over 10 years not been permitted to run their own schools. Instead, Kami Anderson, an administrator appointed by Governor Chris Christie, runs things. She refuses to go to any hearings or meetings in Newark, IIRC.

 

Marion Brady on How to Fix American Eduction

This is insanely brilliant. Brady explains quite clearly  how people like Bill Gates have really perverted everything about education in America by turning the entire motivation schemata upside down — and he also explains how to fix it in a very humane manner. Here is an excerpt:

Read the whole thing. and don’t let the title convince you it’s just a rant, because it’s not.

A part of this essay that I would like to highlight is how Brady thinks we educators (and other citizens) should be approaching the entire question of school:

There’s a now-familiar ancient Chinese proverb which, loosely translated, says, “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I’ll remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.”

When I made that radical switch, I began a search that continues, a search for experience-creating activities

   (a) so interesting, the teacher can leave the room and nobody notices,

   (b) so useful, the activity’s relevance is self-evident,

   (c) so complex, the smartest kid in the class is intellectually challenged,

    (d) so real-world, perceptions of who’s smartest constantly shift,

   (e) so theoretically sound, the systemically integrated nature of all knowledge is obvious,

    (f) so wide-ranging, the activities cover the core curriculum (and much more),

   (g) so varied, every critical thinking skill is exercised,

   (h) so scalable, concepts developed on a micro level adequately model macro phenomena

  , (j) so effective, when the activities themselves are forgotten, their benefits are fixed permanently in memory.

The raw material for creating a near-infinite number of activities that meet those nine criteria isn’t hard to find. It lies within the property boundaries of every school or randomly chosen slice of real life. Finding it is mostly a matter of looking at the too-familiar and the taken-for-granted until it becomes “strange enough” to see.

Entire URL: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/08/01/what-do-standardized-tests-actually-test/

which means this was published in the column of Valerie Strauss, at the Washington Post, who continues to be a great resource for all the rest of teachers and parents (not corporate executives). The only greater publicist for our cause that I know of is Diane Ravitch. I am glad that Valerie continues to be gainfully employed at WaPo even as her editorial writers consistently had a set of policies that were either at cross-purposes or diametrically opposed. I don’t know how she does it.

 

Unfortunately, Answer Sheet very seldom actually reaches the printed edition. It’s almost strictly online.

Then again, maybe that matters less, given publishing trends.

While obviously nothing is perfect I think that all of us members of the public who are concerned about schools* owe Valerie, whom’s I’ve never met in person, and the Washington Post itself, a debt for VS being able to continue being such a resource for so long!

 

 

Suggestions for Improving the Remake of Cosmos – A Different View of Giordano Bruno

If you haven’t looked at any news about the intersection of science and popular culture recently, you may have missed the fact that astronomer and popularizer of science Neal Degrasse Tyson  is starring as the replacement for the late astronomer and popularizer of science, Carl Sagan, in an updated remake of the series COSMOS, about, uh, the cosmos we live in.

(I got to see a preview of the film a week or so ago at the National Geographic HQ in DC; email notices were sent to probably every single amateur astronomy group in the US.)

I thought it was pretty good, and particularly liked the way that Tyson explained what the scientific method really is — using not a single word in the various definitions of “scientific method” that students are often expected to memorize in their middle-school science courses.

Unfortunately, even though I have a full set of the original Cosmos VHS tapes, I’ve only watched bits and pieces of the original. So I’m not one to compare them. Again, I liked it, and am looking forward to the rest of them.

But I do have some criticisms or comments about this remake:

1. Looking back, I think there were probably too many special effects, but I’m probably in the minority on this one.

2. I think that Rupert Murdoch and Fox “News” are despicable, and that they actively promote anti-scientific hogwash of all sorts. I was really surprised that the Fox network co-sponsored these shows. (I realize that fox ‘news’ and network are 2 different groups, but they have mostly common ownership, right?

3. I was surprised that they spent so much time on Giordano Bruno. I thought I remembered he was a minor, dissident priest burned at the stake by the Catholic Inquisition for believing that there were other solar systems with people in them, among (most likely) other heresies. In the first episode, Tyson points out that Bruno wasn’t a scientist and that his theories about other solar systems, while recently proved to be correct,  was merely a lucky guess.

So if Bruno wasn’t an astronomer or a scientist, then why spend so much time on him?

A Jesuit friend gave me additional background on Bruno; apparently he was very fond of making enemies. If you read the Wikipedia entry, you’ll probably find out that he had a famously prodigious memory, and that he made money teaching important and wealthy people how to memorize things.

My attention has also been drawn to another article, making suggestions about how they could have improved the episode, by putting in the person from whom Bruno may have originally learned about infinite space:  Thomas Digges.

Here’s why Digges’ ideas were important: if the earth is the center of the solar system, as it is in the Ptolemaic system, and everything rotates around the earth exactly once a day, then the stars simply can’t be spread out into infinite space, because their rotation would be faster and faster the farther away from the earth that they happened to be located, which didn’t make sense. So Ptolemy and Aristotle and the Roman Catholic Church believed the stars were all located on more or less of a sphere — one that was larger than the rest of the solar system, but not too far away, on a cosmic scale. So there couldn’t also be solar systems around those stars.

digges_universe-259x300

(zame source)

However, when Copernicus worked out the details of a sun-centered solar system, then it was just the earth that was spinning on its own axis once a day, and revolving aroudn the sun once a year, just as the other planets did in their turn. And with this new system, there was no need for the stars to be located along an invisible black sphere – they could certainly be other suns, and the universe could well be infinite, just like the mind of God .

The second article makes it clear that Digges, about whom I knew nothing at all, could have profitably been the cartoon hero of the first Cosmos episode.

The relationship between science religion gets interesting. While the Catholic church continues to condemn basic things like birth control or divorce, it has abandoned the idea that you can calculate the exact beginning of the universe by adding up all the phrases like this:”And Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah begot Shem, Ham, and Japheth” — a method that is a lot less reliable than going out, taking cross-sections from old and young trees, comparing them and lining them up by comparing relative sizes to known climate events, and cross-referencing that with sediments in ponds and lakes, and to layers of ice in Greenland and other places. You know, doing it scientifically. Unfortunately for us, there still are some people who claim that the ONLY evidence they believe comes from certain sections of the Bible (but in fact they discount the rest).  Some of these people hold their hands over the ears of their children when they visit the Grand Canyon if an actual geologist is giving a talk explaining how the various layers of rock were laid down over the past few billion years. Fortunately, the Catholic Church has actual scientists and astronomers on staff. Even Galileo thought he was a good Roman Catholic Christian until his dying day…

universe-and-man-larger-300x253(apparently this drawing was made in the 19th century, hundreds of years after Diggs, Bruno, Galileo or Copernicus)

In any case, I’m skeptical of all accounts of the beginning of time — we just don’t have a tremendous amount of evidence. Yet. A case can certainly be made that there was a Big Bang about 14 billion years ago, and it seems to me quite clear that the Earth was formed over 4 billion years ago (we even have zircons and other rocks and minerals that seem to prove it), but what on earth caused that Big Bang? Are there other universes, as was illustrated in the movie? We can make a case for dark matter, but there might be other explanations for the effects that lead astronomers to believe that there is some sort of unknown, invisible substance in and around our galaxy that causes things to rotate in ways that they shouldn’t, otherwise.

(If you didn’t know, celebrated astronomer Vera Rubin, who lives in the DC area, was one of those who discovered those strange rotational speed anomalies back when I was a kid by taking very careful measurements of redshifts and blueshifts of stars orbiting in spiral galaxies. Last time I asked her, a couple of years ago, she said she thought it was entirely up in the air whether the best explanation for this phenomenon was dark matter or that we simply don’t understand the laws of gravitation fully in the first place.)

When certain cosmologists tell us precisely what happened “Between 10–43 second and 10–36 second after the Big Bang”,  we should keep in mind that we weren’t there to witness it. Sure, those accounts are in accord with a very complex physical model that right now is the most=accepted standard model. I won’t do a John Dobson and accuse those cosmologists of dishonesty; this is the best model we have right now, according to people who have studied his stuff very hard and very carefully. Is there actually ‘dark energy’? I am more skeptical about that. Perhaps; but the evidence is built on such a long string of extrapolations from very difficult observations and calculations that we should keep in mind that it very well may be that future observations with better instruments of some sort will change that model. In fact, every single time scientists have devised and used new instruments to look at and examine the universe (under our fingernails or up in the sky or in the center of the earth), all of humanityy learns new things that we never imagined could possibly be.

Who could have dreamed of paramecia, amoebas, viruses, or the genetic code of DNA before the microscope — at first very crude ones, but now of the electron or x-ray diffraction or scanning tunneling varieties? Each improved microscope showed us much more than the previous ones and are responsible for the fact that we no longer have a third of our newborn children dying of diseases before they reach their fifth birthday.

Galileo’s first, crude telescope showed us the moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus,  the rings of Saturn, craters on the Moon, and clouds of stars in the Milky Way — all complete and utter surprises. The 60-inch and 100-inch and 200-inch telescopes at Mt. Wilson and Palomar first showed us that many of those mysterious ‘nebulae’ in the night sky were actually other galaxies, millions or billions of light-years away.

I’m sure all of this will be illustrated quite well in this series. I need to figure out how to record it — just changed to a cable service bundle after getting rid of separate DSL, telephone, and satellite dish services…

Read the articles and let me know what you think.

A Cold View of Jupiter

I helped out at a Think Tank at Maury Elementary School in DC by setting up a telescope I built and letting kids and parents and staff look at Jupiter.

me freezing at Maury Elementary

I am glad I was prepared with warm clothing, otherwise I would have had to give up, because it was not only cold (what, 15 degrees or so?) but also windy. That white stuff on the ground is snow. But it was quite clear, and Jupiter and its moons put on a nice, symmetrical show. It was a lot of fun for me, and it seemed to be a hit among kids and adults whose expressions of pleasure and amazement I should have recorded.

Jupiter was putting on a nice show as usual, with two moons on one side and two moons on the other.

This is a picture I stole from the ‘Hill Rag’ which shows a couple of female staff members checking out the view of Jupiter before the lines of kids and adults got going. I’m the bearded guy with the brown overalls in the back. The scope is a Dobsonian truss-tube alt-az-mounted Newtonian scope that I built, with a 12.5″-diameter f/5 mirror that I traded some glass for. I did NOT grind and polish this one, for a change. I did a good bit of the work at the amateur telescope-making workshop of the National Capital Astronomers, which I was representing.

Turns out that Maury ES is a bit over 3 miles directly south of my house in NE DC. (Appears to be a gentrifying public school.)

Towards the end of the evening, a kid informed me that I had frozen snot on my mustache!

Published in: on January 26, 2014 at 9:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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An Astronomer Looks at the Zodiac

Or, has your “sun sign” changed after 2000 years?

And did you know that the Zodiac has at least 15 constellations?

This is a little presentation I did last week on the Zodiac for something called the “Encyclopedia Show“. Out of eight ‘acts’ in this cabaret show on “The ZODIACalypse!!!”at a place called The Dunes in Columbia Heights in DC, there were two musical selections, a few poems, a stand-up comic, an interview with a professional astrologer, and some rants and skits.

Most of the presenters (but not all) seemed to be quite skeptical about the many claims made by proponents of, shall I say, ‘traditional’ astrology. At some point the organizers will post a video of the night’s affair, as they have for other ones. Past shows seem pretty good and I may come back to watch more of them, in the future.

My role was as straight man, I guess, narrating a little powerpoint presentation using slides I gathered from many places, including a bunch of beautiful images from NASA’s wonderful  Astronomy Picture of the Day and other places. I actually got a lot of laughs and applause, and a bunch of folks came up and told me they really enjoyed my part. Some of my fellow-astronomer friends came and didn’t regret it either.  It was actually a lot of fun.

Here is the link to the PPT itself on Google Drive. Feel free to use or modify it as you like, and enjoy. And here is a link to a YouTube video of my talk.

NOTE: I see that I got the terms “equatorial plane” and “ecliptic” confused in my talk. “Ecliptic” is the apparent path of the sun through the heavens, i.e. along the Zodiac. The equatorial plane of the Earth is just that, a projection of the Earth’s equator into space. (These two planes are different, as I correctly noted; they form an angle of about 23.4 degrees to each other.) My bad.

image

Here is a slide so you can cut to the chase: what is your sign, really?

traditional and modern zodiacJust for fun, I did a search of the sun-signs of the 44 US presidents. You would think they would all be rather similar, right? Nope. Look for yourself:

presidents and sun signsHowever, that had to be cut from my presentation because it was already too long.

I also wanted to show a short video by magician James Randi where he debunks astrology 100%, but it, too, had to be cut. Here is the link:

Published in: on January 21, 2014 at 6:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Trends in DC on the NAEP for 4th grade reading, black students only: regular DCPS, charter schools, and pre- and post-Rhee

Here is a graph showing how African-American 4th students have been doing over time in Washington DC public schools and charter schools. I have drawn a clear dividing line at year 2008, because the scores before that were under the influence of DC’s former school board and superintendents. After that time, DC has been under a chancellor answerable only to the mayor.

dc, dcps, dc charter, and national naep trends, 4th grade reading to 2013You may notice that the blue, black and purple lines separate after 2007. That’s because NAEP began reporting separate scores for DC’s regular public schools and for all publicly-supported schools, though not for the charter schools as a bloc. As a result, you have to do a little bit of linear algebra to calculate what the average scales were for the charter schools from 2009 onwards. (I used essentially the same equation that I did in the previous post. Please write me a note if you think I made an error.)

As usual, we can see that since the late 1990s and up until Rhee took over, the overall trend in all large cities, in the nation’s public schools, and in DC’s publicly-supported schools was upwards on this test. (Yes, I know, these are not scores that follow the same kids year after year, but for whatever reason, the group of kids answering these tests are in general getting more answers right every two years.) Before that, i.e. from 1992 to 1998, scores bounced around or went down.

After Rhee took over, those scores seem to have entered another bouncy period. In fact, in DCPS, the scores on this test in 2013 were only back up to the level of 2007. There is a clear demarcation between the scores in the charter schools (blue line) and the regular public schools. The line for the charter schools seems to follow the trend from 1998 to 2007.

If I knew nothing about the politics of EduDeform, I would wonder why the WaPo editorial board is claiming victory.

 

 

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