Religion confuses children about factual vs. fictional

image014Here’s an interesting study: Children exposed to religion have trouble telling fact from fiction.

…children who went to church or were enrolled in a parochial school were significantly less able than secular children to identify supernatural elements, such as talking animals, as fictional.

In other words, they are gullible. That’s not what we want for our children before we send them out into a sometimes cruel world. Unless they can evaluate who is likely telling the truth and who is telling a comfortable lie, they are in for some rude shocks.

Electricity–only a theory?

Lest we forget: science was denounced from the pulpit when it advanced a theory of the physical nature of electricity.

little girl using a hair dryer

Electricity: Goddidit!

Electricity: According to this religious textbook, no one has ever observed it.

Except for sparks. And lightning. And in Tesla machines. And as measured by voltmeters, ammeters, and ohmmeters. And as cathode rays and in cathode ray tubes, the screens of your televisions and video display monitors. And making heating elements glow in your stoves and electric heaters. And lighting up neon signs. And directly in plasma globes. But remember, children–Goddiddit!

Anti-Semitism and preference at Harvard

James Traub first points out that he was a beneficiary of preferential treatment because his father had attended Harvard:

…in the late 1960s and early 1970s, supposedly a time when the admissions process had at last been freed of archaic bias, “legacies” were two-and-a-half to three times likelier to be admitted than was the average applicant; that admitted legacies ranked lower than average admits on everything Harvard cared about—personal attributes, extracurricular activities, academic achievement, recommendations, and so forth; and that the degree of preference granted legacies was only slightly less than that given to black candidates, who in turn received less of a thumb on the scale than did athletes. I was, in short, an affirmative-action baby.

The “well-rounded” requirements at Harvard were devised to keep out bright, urban Jewish intellectuals. James Traub reviews Jerome Karabel’s book The Chosen,  which describes the history of  Harvard’s unpublicized affirmative action program for WASPs.

…the admissions systems at the Big Three were built expressly to keep out people like my father—smart, driven Jewish kids from gigantic New York City public high schools. Until 1920 or so, anyone could gain admission to Harvard, Yale, or Princeton by passing a battery of subject-matter exams.

By 1920, the Big Three presidents were looking on in horror as Columbia, the Ivy League school situated in the midst of the melting pot, became 40 percent Jewish.

In 1922, [Harvard president Lawrence] Lowell was reckless enough to think that he could solve “the Jew problem,” as he was wont to call it, with a straightforward quota. This provoked a mighty uproar among faculty members and outsiders with more tender consciences; instead, Lowell agreed to limit the size of the entering class and to institute recommendation letters and personal interviews. Yale and Princeton followed suit; and soon came the whole panoply familiar to this day: lengthy applications, personal essays, descriptions of extracurricular activities. This cumbersome and expensive process served two central functions. It allowed the universities to select for an attribute the disfavored class was thought to lack—i.e., “character”—and it shrouded the admissions process in impenetrable layers of subjectivity and opacity, thus rendering it effectively impervious to criticism. The swift drop in admission of Jews could thus be explained as the byproduct of the application of neutral principles…
The willingness of these universities to suffer real harms rather than admit more Jews is astonishing. Having long distinguished itself as a “national” and “democratic” institution, Yale by 1930 had become more insular, more parochial, and less intellectual as a consequence of the new admissions system. During World War II, with the size of the entering class size [sic] seriously depleted, Yale turned away qualified Jewish students rather than increase the proportion of Jews.

Things are changing but it doesn’t always work out well:

the Big Three ramped up the admission of black students almost overnight owing not to some midnight conversion but to terror at the rising tide of black anger and violence—owing, that is, to racial blackmail. And because the elite universities began admitting large numbers of black students with sub-par academic records at precisely the moment they were becoming more “meritocratic”—i.e, more academically selective—affirmative action felt more like a violation of meritocratic principle than a recalibration of it. This painful fact continues to haunt affirmative action

Racial paranoia, I’d call it.

“How It’s Made” on the Discovery Channel

“How It’s Made” appeals to my Inner Nerd and natural curiosity. How do factories make fibreglas boats? What’s the recipe for latex paint? Who invented artificial ice? How much hand work is there in a hockey stick? How do they get the lead into a pencil? the flanges onto a carburettor? the filling into a chocolate?  Stay tuned.

Feeling that you matter matters

Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science reports on a simple writing exercise that raises academic performance of poor & marginalized students.

Toronto tech writers offer seminars for managers


The Toronto Society for Technical Communication is offering a day of seminars on Wednesday, April 22nd, for those who manage technical communication issues.

As writers and managers, we often hear what should be done, but how to do it and do it correctly, can be tough. This one–day workshop has four excellent topics teaching you how to improve your team, how to identify the right translation vendor to work with, how to promote yourself and your team internally, and how to manage during transitions of key staff. Leave with clear action items to get results from your team, and get work done on time and within budget.

The day includes a hot, catered lunch, morning and afternoon snacks, and speaker handouts
With the tough economic times we are facing it is more important than ever to ensure you have the right team, the right partners, the right image, and the right management.seneca-college-allstate-parkway

LOCATION:  Seneca College, Markham Campus, 10 Allstate Parkway near Highways 404 and 7  (Google Map)

SCHEDULE: 08:00 –16:15 plus as long as people want to ask questions.

8:00 Breakfast, networking, & check in (please arrive by 8:30 a.m.)
8:45 Promotion from Within:  During tough times it can be difficult to find the resources to hire new members for your team. One solution is to promote from within. However, finding the right team members, and identifying the key habits that make a technical communicator great, can make all the difference in team building. Visnja discusses these traits and teaches you how to identify them and promote the right people from within your current ranks.

vijsna-begVisnja Beg is the Project Manager overseeing all deliverables for the IBM Rational Software family of User Assistance products. She has worked in technical communications for 20 years and is a past president of STC Ottawa and has presented at several STC conferences.

10:15 Coffee, tea, snacks, & social networking
10:30 Choosing the Right Translation Vendor: When content must be translated, it is crucial to choose the right vendor. To find the right vendor, you need to ask the right questions. You also need to evaluate bids beyond the cost per word. What are best practices for making this important decision? Learn how to select a vendor based on lessons learned by those who have gone through the process. Save yourself both money and time.

vivian-aschwanden2Vivian Aschwanden has over 11 years of experience in information development in both writing and leadership roles. She has been a lone writer for a startup, led a doc team in a broadcast engineering firm, and now fills a part-time project management role at Platform Computing in conjunction with her full-time writing.

12:00 Networking lunch
13:00 Internal Consulting: Selling Tech Comm Inside Your Organization: Learn how to expand your network inside your organization, increase the services you offer, and boost the value of you and your team in the eyes of your employer. Told as a true  story about the growth of a tech writing team, this session teaches techniques and tools for developing relationships in your company and turning those relationships into lines of business.

mark-pepperMark Pepper is a communicator with 14 years of experience. He has been the lead technical writing consultant at Deloitte & Touche, an elearning writer and project manager, worked in journalism, business analysis, and at the help desk. He presently runs his own company, Crimson Sage Softworks Inc.

14:30 Coffee, tea, snacks, & social networking
14:45 Managing Management Change: how do you manage the abrupt departure of management? Learn how an interim manager steered a department through change and brought in a new ID manager (promoted from within the team) with minimal damage to productivity or morale. Effective change management strategies eased the transition. Learn key things you need to do to ensure change “sticks”, and strategies to help a team grow through the change.

jim-smithJim Smith is Manager of Information Development and User Experience at Platform Computing. Jim has been an information developer for over 20 years, including 7 years at IBM’s Toronto Lab. He has enjoyed 10 years at Platform, where he now manages a dynamic team of information developers and usability experts.

16:15 Wrap-up & Questions for the panel


REGISTER: Email or phone 416-460-5845.

We must receive your payment to confirm your registration. If you cancel, you must let us know 5 business days before the event. However, you can send someone else at any time.

See you there!

Random selection?

We hear a lot from evolution skeptics and ordinary people who’ve been confused by them about, “how could all that happen by chance? Isn’t that just random selection? But it’s not. It’s random variation, then non-random selection.

Variation is random but selection depends on the conditions – from both the external environment and competition from fellow organisms.

Think of a sieve. Suppose you have a mixture of dry sand with dried peas and you want to eat the peas without sand. You can pick out the individual peas, which is slow and effortful. Or you can dump the whole lot into a colander and shake it. The motions of the peas and sand grains are effectively random. A grain of sand is able to go through a small hole and is less likely to hit another grain of sand and be bounced back up. You can’t predict which sand grain will strike the sieve where or whether it will strike a hole or a solid part. But after a minute, the sand has fallen through and the peas remain.

The motions of the peas and sand are random variation; the colander is the environment.

I do this to separate bite-sized bits from chaff when I get to the bottom of a box of cereal or to get rid of excess salt on salted nuts. If all the small pieces in a box of mixed snacks have sunk to the bottom, I turn the box over and shake it to re-distribute them. It’s a random process: but on average, the small pieces ar more likely to fall through a gap.

It would be instructive for domestic scenes in fiction to include an example like this.

PZ Myers in Toronto

I declined a trip to the Florida Ironman this week, so that I could go to a long-awaited event. Last night I went to a lecture by biology professor PZ Myers on “The war between science and religion in U.S. education.” Professor Myers explained that, so far, the courts have prevented creationism from officially being classed as science, but the scientific method and scientific literacy are losing the cultural war.

PZ Myers in Toronto

PZ Myers in Toronto

After the lecture, about thirty people wandered over to a local pub for conversation.

It was a pleasure to meet the famous science blogger after several years of online conversation.

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