I “Heart” Well Child Check Ups

September 14, 2011

When the children were small I made sure to get them to each well-child checkup. This was especially important because Big Boy had started out badly with seizures and was being watched closely for developmental issues that did require him to get early intervention services. I am not going to explain what to expect at a well-child checkup because that is covered quite nicely here. This is a personal story on why I think they are important. Read the rest of this entry »


Review: Ankylosaur Attack

August 15, 2011

It’s hopeless for me to write an unbiased review about the book Ankylosaur Attack. Primarily, because it’s written by one of my favorite skeptics, Daniel Loxton, but also because it features my favorite dinosaur, the durable battle-armored ankylosaurus.

For those who are unfamiliar with Daniel Loxton, he’s the author/editor of the Junior Skeptic column in the back of Skeptic magazine. Junior Skeptic really stands out as a brilliant, gorgeously illustrated introduction to the scientific analysis of fringe ideas such as psychics, fairies, and mythical monsters. I can’t imagine anyone else that I would trust to be as accurate about relaying scientific information to children as Daniel Loxton, and I certainly can’t imagine anyone else who could translate that accuracy into such clever illustrations.

Daniel Loxton is also the author of the truly awesome book Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came To Be, a primer for kids on the subject of natural selection. There was a bit of a pseudo-controversy surrounding Daniel’s advice to young readers that questions about religion be directed toward pastors and parents, but I firmly agree with Daniel that the topic deserved to be addressed in a respectful way. Often, non-believers shoot themselves in the foot by insinuating that atheism be the key to opening the door to science; that kind of hard-lined attitude makes people of faith feel unwelcome in the wonderful world of natural discovery and scientific knowledge. Kudos to Loxton for making science accessible to EVERYONE, as it should be.

Ankylosaur Attack is a deviation from Daniel Loxton’s previous books because it is prehistoric fiction. It offers the story of a young ankylosaur being attacked by a hungry t-rex looking for a snack. The rendered graphics are phenomenal and really help stimulate the imagination with attention to detail and lighting. The plot is simple enough for younger readers, but also helps stimulate discussion for older readers about defensive and offensive genetic traits that have evolved in dinosaurs. What do ankylosaurs and turtles have in common? If you were a predator how would you try to eat them? Isn’t awesome that this extinct animal had an armored back to defend against attacks and also a cannonball whip for a tail?

Ankylosaur Attack is the first of a series of prehistoric fiction. I look forward to the rest in the Tales of Prehistoric Life series.

As an added aside, in honor of our local museum’s life-sized model ankylosaur, I decided to donate a copy of Ankylosaur Attack to the dinosaur library at Cincinnati Museum Center. It was tempting to keep the book for my daughters (pictured above), but I thought that it would be better served as a resource for other kids visiting the museum. So, here’s a photo of the book at Cincinnati Museum Center’s dinosaur library. Hope the museum visitors enjoy it as much as my kids!


Chemical Chaos

August 2, 2011

Sometimes when I read a book I will find myself attracted to other books on the same topic. This time my latest readings have been on chemistry and the periodic table. The one that started it was The Disappearing Spoon, which is a history of chemistry, the hunt for elements and the creation of the periodic table (check out the extras, especially the videos). This romp into chemistry and the personalities involved is accessible to everyone, including students in upper elementary school. Read the rest of this entry »


Communicating Skepticism With Your Friends

July 29, 2011

This is a category that can be difficult for all skeptics, especially those of us who are outspoken about our science-based ideals. Should we speak up and debate our friends or should we lay low and avoid being known as the know-it-all jerk. I often wonder if I have a reputation among my circle of friends of being arrogant or self-righteous. Even the most innocent comments or links posted on Facebook can be unwelcome to friends, especially if they strongly believe in that particular thing you are criticizing.

A good example of positive skeptical communication would be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, who were friends for a time, despite their differences in belief. I wrongly stated in the parenting workshop that they remained friends until their death, but despite that justifiable correction, it’s generally true that Houdini was very diplomatic about communicating to Doyle his skepticism of the paranormal. Eventually, Houdini’s diplomacy was unsustainable due to his very public activism against the paranormal (and Doyle’s very public belief), and even in their falling out, we can learn that some friendships may be to challenging to save. It just depends whether both sides can communicate with each other respectfully and without too much judgement (or perception of judgement). I was interested to read this excerpt from a letter between Doyle and Houdini’s wife Bess after Houdini died…

“He was deeply hurt whenever any journalistic arguments arose between you and would have been the happiest man in the world had he been able to agree with your views on Spiritism. He admired and respected you –two remarkable men with different views.”

Ultimately, we must remember that there’s a difference between respecting the friend and respecting the friend’s ideas. A true friend can distinguish between the two.

To help bring this point home, I invited Mike Meraz to offer his advice on the best way to “be a skeptic and still have friends”. Mike produced the Actually Speaking podcast, a short-lived series on the theme of balancing skepticism with personal relationships. There were many good nuggets of advice in the Actually Speaking podcast, but Mike has moved on to producing the ever-more-popular Aaron’s World dinosaur podcast hosted by his seven year old son.

Anyway, Mike’s advice on communicating skepticism with your friends is below…

It’s important to remember that we can’t “make” people think, feel, believe, or behave in ways they haven’t freely chosen for themselves. Our friends need to be free to make their own decisions in order for those choices to have an impact in their lives. Assuming a person is happy, healthy and doing no harm to themselves or others, the promotion of skepticism is most effective when based on education, not confrontation. With that in mind, here are 5 tips for sharing skepticism with friends.

Share Without Judging – Don’t set out to change minds or win arguments. Instead seek to share information and inform decisions. Your friend’s choices are their own.

Be A Skeptical Example – Be an model of skepticism for friends. Demonstrate it by sharing your own decision making process as well as how you handle being wrong.

Notice and Praise – Identify and acknowledge areas where friends are already thinking skeptically and encourage them to apply that process in new areas.

Be Supportive – Remember, for growth to occur, people need a balanced amount of both challenge and support. Skepticism is challenging enough… so focus on support!

Accept Your Friends and Choose Your Battles – Allow friends to make mistakes and don’t fight every battle. A strained friendship stops the flow of communication and benefits no one.

-Mike Meraz (and family)


Science Books and Chick-Fil-A

March 30, 2011

I’ve noticed that my daughter’s kindergarten class seems to be ignoring science in favor of literacy. Of course, with a nerd like me as a father, she’s been exposed to basic concepts, but it’s the principle of the matter that bothers me. Why aren’t these kids being introduced to the type of simple science found in Sid The Science Kid? It genuinely bothers me.

In an effort to rectify the problem, I offered to Sasha’s teacher that I would be happy to donate some science books to her classroom. We really like the “Let’s Read-And-Find-Out Science” books because they offer simple explanations to complex scientific topics. Many of them have clever content and beautiful illustrations, but they’re written and illustrated by different people so the individual quality can be a mixed bag.

One of my personal favorites is the beautifully illustrated “Why Do Leaves Change Color” by Betsy Maestro.

While I’m making recommendations, you might want to stop by Chick-Fil-A soon and buy a kid’s meal for your children. Unlike other fast food chains, Chick-Fil-A makes an extra effort to offer educational toys instead of useless plastic movie advertisements. They have a series of books out now called “Science Kids”. We came home with a book about “Birds” by Nicola Davies, but there are also ones on “Weather”, “Animal Homes”, “Planet Earth”, and “Polar Lands”.  This follows up their last prize give-away, which were games by “Think Fun”, a board game manufacturer that we have voluntarily endorsed in the past. So, well done Chick-Fil-A! Keep it up!


My Marriage: In The Eye of the Storm

March 8, 2011

The holidays were not particularly fun for me. My marriage went through some heavy turbulence and was headed for the rocks. Amazingly, I pulled out of the nose dive and things have stabilized to the point that I feel comfortable writing about it.

I encourage anyone who is experiencing marriage conflict to look deep inside themselves and make the necessary steps to internalize permanent change. When I looked at the research, I saw that my marriage had multiple statistical risk factors for divorce. Basically, I was living in the eye of the storm.

On an upcoming episode of Parenting Within Reason, I will interview marriage expert Stephanie Coontz. Her book A Strange Stirring contained a science-based chapter that really reflected the problems I was experiencing. I thought I’d share these warning signs (borrowed straight from Stephanie’s book) as a cautionary tale.

  • Marital quality suffers when wives who do not want to work are forced into employment.
  • Marital quality suffers when either spouse is not satisfied with their job.
  • Couples in which the wife works solely because of financial constraints but would rather stay at home have experienced declining marital satisfaction since the 1980s.
  • When wives hold high standards for equality of housework and their husbands do not meet their expectations, they report worse than average marital satisfaction.
  • Marriages in which one partner earns all the income and the other stays home are now more likely to split up than marriages where each partner works.

It was really depressing to read those risk factors for low marriage satisfaction and to realize that circumstances had put me on the path to danger, but I also saw some hope in the science. It dawned on me that I could recover from my situation if I were willing to commit to lasting change. So, I weathered the storm, put in the effort to find a job (after five years of being an at-home parent), made it my duty to be a better house husband, and uncharacteristically crossed my fingers that my marriage would stay intact.

It speaks a lot to our progress that I’m willing to even write this article. I understand that it’s difficult to make fundamental permanent changes in behavior, and I acknowledge that, despite our apparent progress, my wife and I will need to work on recovery. But for now, I feel like the storm has passed and that sunnier skies are in our future.


Brain Awareness Week!

March 2, 2011

Coming up later this month is Brain Awareness Week. Started in 1996 by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives to educate kids and their families about the brain and brain science.

If you are near Washington, DC check out the exhibits and activities at the National Museum of Health and Medicine. If you can’t (like most of us) see what activities there are for kids at the Neuroscience for Kids website.

Also, download this week’s Parenting Within Reason podcast where Colin interviews Dr. Joanne Deak about her book Your Fantastic Elastic Brain.


Diversity and Engineering Week… A Bit of Rambling

February 20, 2011

Last week I decided to visit my daughter’s high school to check out the food options that were being offered on the last day of “Diversity Week.”  The various student groups were selling food to help finance their activities and I wanted to try it out!  I got there at about the time lunch was supposed to start, but it turned out that was delayed due to the assembly, which highlighted the various groups and clubs in the school (I heard some, but did not go in since it was ending).

So I sat in the cafeteria/commons area trying to read a book, but was distracted by the activity around me.  There was the table of PTSA moms of seniors who were going sell tickets for the prom and graduation parties, then there were the pair of kids who were signing (the school has a deaf ed program), plus the various groups setting up for food. Read the rest of this entry »


Life Lesson: Be Prepared (Against Creationists)

December 12, 2010

I recently held my first Science Cafe event in Cincinnati. The topic of the night was astronomical pseudosciences, such as the 2012 apocalypse myths, aliens, and the star of Bethlehem. So, I was woefully unprepared to handle the creationist in the audience who spoke up to challenge our guest astronomer on issues of evolution and biology. I mean, who would expect those questions to come up at a presentation on astronomy?

The gentleman, who claimed to be trained in biological sciences, was sitting right next to me. I had my first clue that he was up to no good when he started talking about “entropy” in the first few minutes of our casual conversation. I knew that creationists consider “entropy” to be their best argument against evolution, but I wasn’t familiar enough with the topic to have a solid answer. So, I had to nod my head and listen to him spread the typical creationist propaganda without a proper rebuttal.

Always be prepared for a creationist!

The idea of “entropy” is that things in our universe generally break down from order to disorder over time, rather than become more complex.  Except that the second law of thermodynamics only applies in a closed system. The Earth is not a closed system because of the sun. And, in the words of biologist PZ Myers…

it’s obvious that the second law does not state that nothing can ever increase in order, but only that an decrease in one part must be accompanied by a greater increase in entropy in another. Two gametes, for instance, can fuse and begin a complicated process in development that represents a long-term local decrease in entropy, but at the same time that embryo is pumping heat out into its environment and increasing the entropy of the surrounding bit of the world.

This guy’s arguments would have been nullified if I had previously researched and understood the preceding points. But, I’m not a scientist, and the speaker was an astronomer (not a ‘squishy scientist’ as Phil Plait says), so this creationist was purposefully dropping bombs in a room where they couldn’t adequately be defended. Why?

I have no idea. The lesson I learned is to be prepared. Be ready to face any argument that challenges evolution. Not only did I not have an answer for this gentleman, but neither did the guests, the majority of whom who supported evolution,

The other argument that this guy made was that E. coli bacteria has never undergone speciation, despite years of experimentation.  I knew this was wrong and was able to quickly counter his argument by googling “bacteria citrate” on my phone. That’s because I remembered that the scientist Richard Lenski had conducted long-term experiments with bacteria, and was able to prove that two subsequent generations of E. coli had two completely different biological skills of whether or not they could absorb citrate. Again, I did’t know the details, but I knew enough to throw a name at him and ask him if he was prepared to admit that he might be wrong.

The creationist described E. coli as having no significant biological variation after many experimental generations, despite Dr. Lenski’s proof to the contrary. Rather than admit his error, he denied that the absorption of citrate was significant enough to be considered “speciation”. Whatever. I’m not a biologist, but the sudden ability of a species to absorb a nutrient seems like a VERY big deal, and as I pointed out to this gentleman, his unstated premise is that the alternative option is that God intervened with a miracle… for something as small and insignificant as a bacteria. That doesn’t seem logical, considering the millions of bacteria that have been discovered.

You might think that having a creationist heckler at my first science cafe would be a downer, but I truly enjoy the thrill of being challenged. There was a point when I thought this creationist might completely derail the evening’s topic, and when that was about to happen, I called for everyone to let the speaker bring things back to astronomy. This was very well received by all, and our creationist friend was able to follow up with his questions during Q&A.

I’m not a scientist. I’m a science advocate. But still, it’s important that I be comfortable with standard creationist canards, so that I’m not blindsided again. Let this be a lesson to me… and to you.


Science-Based Gift Giving Guide 2010

November 2, 2010

If you’re looking for the best gifts to give your science-loving family this holiday season, we have the perfect guide for you. Listed below, are all of the authors, artists, and products that have been featured on Parenting Within Reason (and Podcast Beyond Belief), including some book recommendations by Dale McGowan and Jim Randolph from our soon-to-be-released latest episode. Plus, you’ll find some brain boosting games recommended by Nurture Shock author, Ashley Merryman in our interview with her.

If there’s a product that you think our readers would enjoy, please list it in the comments section. And if there are some products on here that you really enjoyed, let us know, and be sure to click the link and review it on amazon too.

Books for Parents

Books for Kids

Music

Toys

Miscellaneous

*Recommended by Dale McGowan

**Recommended by Jim Randolph

***Recommended by Ashley Merryman