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I had a wonderful time meeting so many of my fellow science bloggers in Las Vegas last week. Thursday evening we had a science bloggers caucus. I really expected only a dozen or so people to attend. But when I walked into a medium sized conference room at the appointed hour, it was overflowing to standing room only! The format I chose for the caucus was to give participants the floor and only act as a moderator. Naturally, the conflict between the religious-right and science dominated the conversation, usually in the context of evolution Vs creationism. In retrospect, I probably should have provided a more structured approach. Any suggestions or ideas for next year's format are welcome.

Friday morning I moderated the Science Panel. I want to thank Mozh who generously lent us her laptop as a back up for one of the presentations. Turned out we needed it! Also, Professor Sean Carroll from Cosmic Variance greatly relieved my stress by graciously willing to serve on standby in case we were short a speaker. Next year, I'd love to hear Sean talk a bit about his field.

In reverse speaking order, Wendy Northcutt of the Darwin Awards had to cut her presentation painfully short, but had the crowd laughing in what little time she had. One story was of a researcher who investigated the deadly Irukandji jellyfish (Carukia barnesi) by letting it sting him. Looking for confirmation of his 'data', he sent his son into the ocean to be stung: Both survived and later earned a Darwin Award Honorable Mention.

It's sort of a tradition in the science blogging community to affectionately tease DR. PZ Myers of Pharyngula for being a fire-breathing, secular rationalist. But the truth is Professor Myers and his wife Mary are some of the nicest, most soft-spoken people I've ever met. PZ also had to adjust the length of his talk and pulled off a great presentation anyway, including some practical advice: If you care about science education, consider running for local office, school board, or becoming a library volunteer. I especially liked these parts:

Full text--Some like to say America is a Christian nation. I think that misses the point: we have been and are a science and engineering nation. The riches we enjoy right now arose from invention and discovery and industry. [...] Imagine being an electrical engineer and hearing that a third of the country doesn't believe all that stuff about electricity and radio waves, but thinks there actually are little people moving about inside their televisions. That's how biologists feel about the state of knowledge about biology here ... This is the pool from which we have to draw our students, and that worries us.

I knew Chris Mooney's presentation would be excellent, but he knocked the cover off the ball at YK. He spoke about a few of the issues he writes about on his blog The Intersection and in The Republican War on Science. His presentation is so professional, and his speaking style so polished and personable, there's no way I could do it justice even if it was available online. To appreciate it, you'll have to see him in person when he comes to your town. All I can say is it's worth it! This guy is good. You can hear Chris defend science later today on NPR:

General Wesley Clark is a genuine champion for science. Both the General and members of the The Clark Community Network blog regularly on science and policy. I chatted briefly with him just before the panel. I saw his notes--he had a few bullet points and Chris Mooney's bio written out. That was it.

So I was blown away when he confidently took the podium and spoke eloquently for half an hour, basically off the top of his head! Gen. Clark not only underscored the vital role of science in our nation's history and future, he also mentioned that he wanted to become a physicist at one point. Clark didn't hold back or skirt any issues, choosing instead to talk about the misuse of faith by religious opportunists and other related topics that many potential candidates would evade at all cost. Here's a few excepts:

Full text & audio--You know, science is the lifeblood of our civilization. It's what has made the modern world possible.  I was in the eighth grade when Sputnik was launched, and I remember this incredible outpouring of fear and concern. And so the United States government got very serious about science and technology. I'm sorry to tell you, all that is at risk today. [...] It is shocking that the political party that professed to believe in freedom and liberty is trying to impose it's political will on the province of science. I find teachers throughout the area who cannot use the dreaded 'E' word. I'm not talking about e-mail.

I think this is an artificial, it's an artificial, manufactured crisis ... I believe there are incredible mysteries in the universe ... And I see in no way in which the advancement of science and the pursuit of knowledge by mankind is in any way threatening to the idea of a supreme being or a greater creator ... If you believe like I do, you got to fight back on this. You've got to seek more improvements in the quality of education. You've got to write in to your newspapers. You've got to speak out on talk radio. You've got to have the nerve to call up and argue, and I know you do. (laughter)

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Fri Jun 16, 2006 at 03:50 AM PDT.

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