Recently in Metatalk Category

ScienceBlogs migration problem


As most here know, ScienceBlogs has moved to National Geographic (well, not literally moved, but is now somehow affiliated with NatGeo), and also just migrated to WordPress. That has caused some problems. One problem I found today was that Google Reader no longer recognizes new posts on Jason Rosenhouse’s EvolutionBlog. I had to resubscribe in the reader to get the new posts.

The problem appears to be general across ScienceBlogs–it’s the same in Aardvarchaeology and Greg Laden’s Blog.

Commenting is still screwed up over there, too, and they are aware of it. But to get new ScienceBlogs posts it looks like you’ll have to resubscribe in Google Reader.

Since January 10, 2012, I’ve been unable to connect to my email or any of the web applications serving,, and from my Verizon FIOS residential internet service account. The servers hosting those are on a Verizon FIOS Business service account.

This isn’t a problem with the servers. I’m able to access everything fine via my smartphone or from other ISPs.

This isn’t a problem just at my house. My parents’ ISP is Verizon FIOS, and they’ve been unable to access the Austringer blog since January 10th, too.

This limits my efficiency on dealing with things if my home internet doesn’t actually get me to the sites I do system administration on and the email where various lists are handled. I’m using AnonymoX just to be able to hit various sites in my browser, which is a real pain.

The favor: If you have Verizon FIOS, try pulling up the Austringer blog. If you have the same problem, your browser will timeout rather than display anything. Please leave a comment saying whether you were successful or unsuccessful in getting the blog. If you are unsuccessful, I’d really appreciate it if you could enter a ticket with Verizon technical support. Reference ticket numbers TXP08R8CY and FLCP08R8EN if you put in your own ticket. I’ve had tickets in since January 10th, but no solution has turned up, and a high-level Verizon network person tonight seemed to be on the verge of cancelling the tickets that are currently active without fixing the problem.

Please Vote if You Haven’t Yet

We need your vote on the third edition of our Photography Contest. Voting ends this weekend.

Just go here to view the finalists and vote.

You have to sign in to vote, but it’s easy. We accept local accounts and Facebook, Google, Yahoo, etc. accounts.

Yesterday, we migrated PT to its new server: Proteus. Proteus is a beast of a machine: FreeBSD 8.2, AMD Phenom II X6 1090T processor, 16GB of memory, and 5 2TB drives in a ZFS raidz2 array. Most of the hardware was provided by the Talk Origins Archive Foundation. If you want to support PT, you can donate to TOAF.

The server migration is the first step in a series of improvements that will hopefully make PT better. The second step has also been completed: requiring registration to comment. Hopefully, registration will go smoothly, but if you are having problems email us at [Enable javascript to see this email address.].

You many need to clear your cache if you are having problems commenting.

A week ago, physicist Mark Perakh posted a short attack on Michael Ruse. He prefaced it with the following:

I dare to claim that the sole value of philosophy of science is its entertaining ability. I doubt that all the multiple opuses debating various aspects of the philosophy of science have ever produced even a minute amount of anything that could be helpful for a scientist, be he/she physicist, biologist, geologist, you name it. It can, though, be harmful, as the case of Ruse seems to illustrate.

This struck a few of us involved with PT as being a profoundly nonsensical statement. Now, philosopher John Wilkins offers a defense of philosophy.

Freshwater: The defense goes fishing


And it’s not Freshwater or Hamilton holding the rod and reel.

The defense in Freshwater v. Mount Vernon Board of Education, the federal suit John Freshwater brought against the Board of Education, several administrators, and several Board members, recently issued a series of subpoenas to people ranging from Nancy Freshwater’s physicians to a couple of private citizens. While the former is arguably relevant to the case, the latter are not. Part of Freshwater’s claim in his suit is the adverse effect on his wife and loss of consortium, so her medical records are potentially pertinent. However, in at least two cases, the defense is clearly on a fishing expedition that among other things has chilling implications for the First Amendment rights of the recipients.

More below the fold

Marion, OH, Science Cafe Reminder


OSU-Marion’s first Science Cafe of the season is Tuesday, October 5, at 7:00 pm in the historic Harding Hotel at 267 West Center Street in downtown Marion. I’ve reproduced the University press release below the fold. The session features Mike Elzinga, a regular Thumb commenter, presenting on “Order, Disorder, and Entropy: Misconceptions and Misuses of Thermodynamics.” I’ll be there early to have dinner at the Harding before Mike’s presentation: come early too, if you can.

Columbus (Ohio) Science Pub inaugural event


Dan Siegal-Gaskins (pdf; scroll to page 8), a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Mathematical Biosciences Institute at The Ohio State University, is starting up a Science Pub in Columbus. Science pubs are a kind of Science Cafe. They’re “live events that involve a face-to-face conversation with a scientist about current science topics. They are open to everyone, and take place in casual settings like pubs and coffeehouses.”

The Columbus Science Pub will hold its inaugural event Tuesday September 7 at 7:00 pm in the basement of (what else?) a bar, Hampton’s on King right by the OSU campus in Columbus. (It is a Science Pub, right?)

The speaker will be Tara C. Smith, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology in the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa, Deputy Director of the University of Iowa Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, founder of Iowa Citizens for Science, author of the Scienceblog Aetiology, and a participant in the Panda’s Thumb field trip to the Creomuseum. Be warned: The announcement on Facebook says “7:00 pm to 2:30 am”!

I’m going to try hard to make it down to Columbus for (some of) the festivities and other Central Ahia folks are cordially invited to join us, so mark your calendars now. I’ll post a reminder a few days before the meeting.

So long, Carrie!


The National Center for Science Education has a slew of resources to support efforts to keep honest science in classrooms. It has articles, databases, and a great archive. But most important, it has people, smart caring people who are ready to help those of us out in the field with information, advice, and encouragement.

One of those people has been Carrie Sager. I don’t know all her duties, but one of them was maintaining the database devoted to the various legal cases around the country. For me, of course, that means Freshwater. Two federal cases are under way in that matter, and Carrie has been assiduous in sweeping PACER daily for the latest legal documents and court filings and updating the database, notifying me as soon as new docs went up and occasionally commenting on them, giving me ideas for treatment of them. Equally important, she has been unfailingly cheerful in the face of my documentation OCD.

But now she’s leaving NCSE to go to law school. I hate to see her leave, but I wish her all good fortune. ‘Bye, Carrie. And many many thanks.

And to those who haven’t joined NCSE: what are you waiting for?

It’s a surprise: Evolution: E&O Issue for Genie


The new issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach, now online and with a few of the articles free (the rest are behind an accursed paywall), is dedicated to Genie Scott, who will soon be on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon on the annual trip that I have never made. It’s a surprise, and I wish I could see her face. From Niles and Greg Eldredge’s Editorial:

Which brings us to our second happy task of this editorial: our pride and pleasure in presenting a (Surprise!) Special Issue in honor of Eugenie Scott, Founding Director of the National Center for Science Education (and a founding member of our own editorial board!). Genie and her organization have long been in the front of the line helping to ensure quality science education in the United States by developing resources–and by standing by beleaguered teachers whenever creationists threaten the integrity of science education in communities everywhere. This terrific issue, edited by Glenn Branch, NCSE’s Deputy Director, tells the tale of Genie and her multifaceted career–a “must-read” for all of us who value quality science education in the United States. Thank you, Genie–you are wonderful!

Yes, she is.

Via Greg Laden.

Creationist Financing


Todd Wood, a young earth creationist at Bryan College, provides summary data on YEC organizations’ finances over the 2003-2008 period. There are several interesting things about those data.

First, as Wood points out, AIG’s share of the creationist dollar grew over that period, from 61.6% ($9M) of the market in 2003 to 68.2% ($22.7M) in 2008. AIG’s growth in market share came at the expense of all the other YEC organizations, with the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and and the Creation Research Society (CRS), the two elder U.S. creationist organizations, contributing most of the change. While ICR’s revenues also increased over those years, from $4,5M to $8.7M, as a percentage of the total creationist dollar it decreased from 30.6% to 26.2% and CRS’s percentage declined from 1.7% to 1.0% as its dollar revenues declined from $250K to $230K. The smaller YEC organizations also lost share.

Second, Eric Hovind, offspring of jailed tax evader Kent Hovind, entered the list in third place in 2008 with his “GodQuest” (DBA Creation Science Evangelism) at $930K for 2.8% of the creationism market, far behind ICR’s $8.7M but well ahead of CRS’s $230K.

Third (and pretty depressing to see), NCSE’s gross revenue as a percentage of AIG’s gross revenue has steadily declined over those years, dropping from 7.8% in 2003 to just 5.7% in 2008. In 2008, 85% of NCSE’s revenues ($1.1M of $1.3M) came from direct public support–memberships and donations from you and me. While the amount has increased in absolute terms over those years, as a proportion of creationist revenues it has dropped significantly. C’mon, people. Let’s put our money where our mouths are.

Hat tip to Wood for doing the digging in form 990s.

Martin Gardner has died


Though most in the community that reads PT have undoubtedly already heard, I’ll repeat here that Martin Gardner, a central figure in recreational mathematics, skepticism, and the testing of claims of the paranormal, died at age 95 on May 22, 2010, in Norman, Oklahoma, where his son Jim is on the faculty of the University of Oklahoma.

I had the great pleasure of meeting him once at his son’s graduation from the college where I taught. He was a gracious and gentle man, and he suffered hero worship with nearly invisible discomfort. One of the highlights of my career was to achieve passing mention in one of his Scientific American columns for a statistical note I sent him on the misuse of p-values as indices of effect size in psi “research.”

Jim Lippard has links to memorial tributes by Richard Dawkins, Douglas Hofstadter, James Randi, Wendy Grossman, and Phil Plait, and also has a link to a documentary on Gardner from December 2008. I recommend it highly. It captures the man well. Would that we all could live as full and fruitful a life as he did.

We’ll Be Back


The server for PT will be physically moving to a new location later today. Along with the new place is a new service account that promises higher upstream bandwidth. But it does mean that PT and other domains served here will be off the air for a while. The DNS entries for all those have to be entered and propagate. Some may see PT again in a couple of hours after it initially goes offline, but DNS changes may not fully propagate for up to 48 hours.

Science blogs: ur doin it wrong.


An open access paper just out looks at science blogging. According to the abstract, the paper

… focuses on one of the ICTs [Information and Communication Technologies] that have already been adopted in science communication, on science blogging. The findings from the analysis of eleven blogs are presented in an attempt to understand current practices of science blogging and to provide insight into the role of blogging in the promotion of more interactive forms of science communication.

Bora has a critical look at it, as does Cosmic Variance. Panda’s Thumb is one of the 11 blogs examined in the paper.

One of the main conclusions of the (pretty chancy) analysis is that

To become a tool for non-scientist participation, science blogs need to stabilize as a genre or as a set of subgenres where smaller conversations may facilitate more meaningful participation from members of the public. Science bloggers need to become more aware of their audience, welcome non-scientists, and focus on explanatory, interpretative, and critical modes of communication rather than on reporting and opinionating.

The author goes on to suggest that

An interesting practical experiment would also be to reverse the roles of writers and readers and invite the so called “ordinary persons” to create and publish science blogs, i.e., to engage them in the practices of science blog writing rather than reading or commenting.

Hm? Why would that be interesting? And, for that matter, “ordinary persons” have the same access to blogging software as do scientists; nothing (except disinclination or disinterest) is stopping “ordinary persons” from blogging about anything they wish.

The author clearly has a particular model in mind as a referent, implicit in the title of the paper: “Science blogs and public engagement with science: practices, challenges, and opportunities.” That’s tantamount to “blogs as an extension of science education.” But while many of us are interested in science education, that’s an institutional goal while blogs are, by and large, personal vehicles. It seems to me that institutionalization is not a state to be desired. (After writing this paragraph, I found that Scholarly Kitchen made much the same point.)

(I invite my PT colleagues to comment. This post is based on a fast read-through with contractors waiting to abduct me to force a decision on the color of house siding.)

Butterstick Goes Wild


Tai “Butterstick” Shan, the panda born at the National Zoo in Washington DC and displayed up above, is going back to China. CNN has a report on his farewell party.

Comment Failures?


I updated the comment system this weekend. If you are seeing comment failures, try clearing your web cache. That should allow you to download updated javascript files. Still having problems, post them here.

Firefox 3.5


Firefox 3.5 is out. To celebrate, I’m going to try out the new video tag.

And all the peasants rejoiced!

Another anniversary missed


Well, shoot. We missed the 5th anniversary of the founding of Panda’s Thumb. Belated happy blogiversary to us! :)



Comments are broken due to a system upgrade. I’ll fix them later today.



Coding Help


I’m working on a little education project for this site that requires a good binomial random number generator written in javascript. I’m having a hard time finding a library written and would rather not write one myself. So I’m wondering if any of the tech-savvy people who read this blog are willing to port the code for generating a binomial random variable from GSL to javascript. You can depend on the jQuery library if it helps.

Any takers?

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