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Tim Minchin is this week's Rational Hero from "Do Ya Think? Blog" headquarters. More information is available from his Wiki entry and many of his songs are can be enjoyed on his youtube channel. I'm still kicking myself for not seeing Tim Minchin when he visited Seattle a few months ago. After all, if this Australian can come and visit me from halfway around the world, it seems that the least I can do is drive across town and pony up twenty bucks to see him. If he comes to your town, please promise me blog-fans that you won't make the same mistake. And Tim, if you return, I promise you I won't make the same error twice. Tim has a theater and music background, and the man with the wild hair, wilder eyes, and even wilder performance, is a well-know skeptic and atheist. Highly critical of the Catholic Church and quack-science of any sort, his performances are getting the word out in a very entertaining way. Below, I have selected a short piano piece and a fabulous beat poem that are powerful commentaries about so-called "alternative" medicine. Thank you Tim!
Rational Hero of the Week: Zack Kopplin--Justin Bieber with Brain. Fighting the Fight Against Anti-Science Ignorance
Zack Kopplin is a 19 year old Rhodes scholar and activist for scientific freedom. He has been working hard to overturn the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act allowing the teaching of creationism in the science classroom as an alternative to evolution. Frankly, this blogger is amazed that anyone can deny evolution. Paleontology, comparative anatomy, genetics, molecular biology, geology--none of these fields make any sense in the absence of evolutionary theory. But, I'm embarrassed to say that millions of Americans still live a life of denial and believe that the world was created in six days and that the planet is less than ten thousand years old. If you have this opinion, you can believe what you like, but don't victimize our youth with your ridiculous ideas. Mr. Kopplin was recently interviewed by Bill Moyers (another bastion of common sense). I do have one quibble with many other evolution proponents. I DO believe that creationism should be taught in the schools. In fact, when I was in high school I took a course entitled "Religions of the World" which compared the myths (including creation myths) of many different religions. What is completely improper is to allow these stories to be taught in the science classroom. "Scientific Creationism" or "Intelligent Design" are neither scientific nor intelligent. They are simply religious propaganda that, like tap dancing or finger painting, have no place in the science curriculum. So, keep going Zack and congratulations to you.
This week's Rational Hero is Edward Osborne Wilson, possibly the most prominent American evolutionary biologist alive. E.O. Wilson is widely recognized as a leading (if not THE leading) authority on myrmecology, i.e. the study of ants. His 1990 book The Ants, co-authored by Bert Hölldobler, won a Pulitzer Prize--a rare achievement for such a scholarly book. His contributions are much too numerous to do justice in this blog, so I recommend his wikipedia entry as a launch point for further study. In 1998 Wilson published Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge which examines synergies between disparate fields of knowledge such as art and biology; something of great interest to the "Do Ya Think?" blog. Wilson's in-depth understanding of ants figures in prominently with his interest in altruism. Charles Darwin considered altruism an important challenge to the theory of natural selection. After all, how can self-sacrifice without regard to selective advantage be explained in evolutionary terms? There have been numerous books and treatises on this subject and I recommend this link for an overview. Part of the controversy stems from the question of what is the "basic unit" of natural selection. Past theories have included selection at the "gene" level as championed by Richard Dawkins in his in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, to individual selection (which includes such concepts as kin selection and reciprocal altruism), and, group selection. Previously, Wilson was a proponent of kin selection, but his observations of animal behavior did not fit into that neat hypothetical box, and, like every good scientist, since the facts did not fit the theory, he changed his theories to account for the new-found reality. This led to the development of his concept of a form of group selection, described as "eusociality," which Wilson explores in his book The Social Conquest of Earth. Wilson's book, in my view, is a deeply profound and revelatory description of how the expansion of some of the most successful planetary species, including the social insects (bees, wasps and ants), naked mole rats, a species of beetle, and possibly humans, can be explained by the theory of eusociality. This blog cannot possibly do justice to this fascinating field, but I strongly recommend The Social Conquest of Earth to interested readers. Congratulations is extended to E.O Wilson as this week's Do Ya Think? Blog champion for rational thought.
This week's Rational Hero is the incomparable James Randi. AKA the Amazing Randi, MacArthur Award Recipient, professional magician, debunker of pseudoscience, TV star...the list goes on. If you want a more complete description I suggest his Wiki entry. James Randi is also the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). From the JREF website: "Our mission is to promote critical thinking by reaching out to the public and media with reliable information about paranormal and supernatural ideas so widespread in our society today." They also provide scholarships, publish books, and organize major conferences, notably "The Amazing Meeting," meets annually in Las Vegas, is a gathering of fellow skeptics. A couple of my favorite highlights of Randi's illustrious career are his work to expose the fraudulent spoon-bending trick of Uri Geller and uncovering the quackery of the religious charlatan Peter Popoff. One of James Randi's more-important offerings is a one million dollar prize to anyone who could demonstrate paranormal activity. The challenge started in 1964 with a thousand dollars of James Randi's own money and has since grown to a cool million. If you think you can pass his challenge, good luck, no one has even passed the prelims. I really could type all day about the accomplishments of this great Rational Hero--but I won't, that's why we have Google. Below, I have posted three videos: 1) the exposure of James Hydrick as a fraud (Which Hydrick later admitted); 2) The exposure of Peter Popoff; and, 3) A trailer of "The Honest Liar" a documentary about the Amazing One. Please contribute if you can help in the completion of this important film. Thank you Randi, and may you continue to grace us with your magical life--even if it is just a trick.
Scot Bastian Ph.D. is a scientist and artist who lives in Seattle WA.