Entries in education (4)


Teaching Intelligent Design in Public Schools

This is a reprint of my original article on fgd135.com:

By Kyle Gibson

Scientists cringe upon hearing people say they don’t “believe” in evolution.  You should, too.  Not believing in evolution is akin to not believing that germs transmit disease or that the earth is round.  I can say this without a touch of hyperbole because our understandings of all these things were developed using the same scientific method.

Why is it, then, that New Earth Creationism – the idea that God created the earth in six days 6,000 years ago – is presented in classrooms as science when there is absolutely no scientific evidence for it?

It is likely that some of the ideals that make our society great also lead us to tolerate, even encourage, such irrationality.  Americans hold dear the idea that people can choose to believe whatever they want, even if we personally may disagree.  The famous Voltaire quote, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” nicely summarizes this sentiment.

The issue, however, is that science never has been a democracy, nor will it ever be.  Incorrect hypotheses, bad ideas and fraud are exposed and vetted by the very nature of the scientific method.  Let’s imagine that 75% of of the world’s scientists band together to proclaim the earth now rests at the center of the solar system.  If they failed to produce evidence for this, their new “geocentric theory” would fall flat.  If they did produce it, peer-review would expose the truth, one way or another.  Now, in this  example, would the actual arrangement of the sun and earth be influenced by the number of scientists who believed either way?  Of course not.  Science is not “The Secret” and empirical reality is not contingent on belief.

Does the fact that nearly 100% of scientists believe the theory of evolution mean it’s true?  Surprisingly, no.  What makes it true is the massive amount of evidence for it, not the opinion of any individual.  So why do we need scientists?  Because exposing facts takes takes training and skill.  Just as you should hire a general if you need an army or a mechanic if you need a fix, you should hire a PhD if you need a theory.

We need not “teach the controversy” between evolution and creationism in our science classrooms because there is no controversy to be taught.  The same methods that rid the world of smallpox, put men on the moon and made possible the computer on my desk also gave us the key to understanding earth’s amazing biological and cultural diversity.  In the undemocratic, “unfair” world of science, creationism simply has no say.


Google Scholar Exports EndNote References

I'm a big fan of both Endnote and Google Scholar.  They make research so much less tedious, allowing me to focus on more important things, like thinking.  After all these years of using the two services independently, I just discovered an amazing new feature - Google Scholar allows you to export any of its results straight to EndNote (or RefWorks / BibTeX).  To start using this feature, visit Google Scholar and log in with your Google credentials, then under the "Scholar Preferences" tab, enable the option to show the EndNote export function with your search results.


The Basics: A Quick and Dirty Guide to Digital SLR Photography

Kyle Gibson

I wrote this guide to teach my friend some of the basics of working with his new Canon 7D.  While cameras differ, the information and instructions that follow are applicable for most modern cameras, be they Nikon, Pentax, Olympus, etc.


Basically, as you move the dial clockwise, the camera becomes less automatic.

Green box - fully automatic, the camera will do everyting for you just like a point and shoot.

CA - automatic with LCD display showing settings.

P – Program mode where you set the film speed (ISO) and the camera sets the shutter speed and aperture.

Tv – Shutter Priority mode (Tv = Time value) is where you set the shutter speed and ISO and the camera sets the aperture.  This is especially useful for sports when you want to freeze action.  To stop an athlete in motion, you’ll want to use a shutter speed of at least 1/200 of a second.

Av – Aperture priority mode where you set the ISO and aperture and the camera sets the shutter speed.  This mode is very common among pros.  It gives you complete control over the image’s depth of field.  The word “aperture” is synonymous with “hole.”  Bigger holes let in more light, but they result in a shallower depth of field.  Smaller apertures do the opposite.  A lot of professional photos are taken using large apertures which blur the background and isolate the subject.  In the studio, you’ll generally want a deep depth of field because you’re trying to represent the product as faithfully as possible, so use a small aperture.  Counterintuitively, the smaller the aperture value, the bigger the hole, so f/2.8 is a big hole and f/22 is a small one.

M – Manual mode where you set the ISO, shutter speed and aperture.

C1 – C3 – Custom settings - can mix and match all of the camera’s functions with these.



Autofocus priority – This tells the camera to give more or less weight to focusing on different regions of the scene.  Spot focus is the simplest; the camera will only use the focus sensor at the center of the display to gauge autofocus.  You use this center point to make focus, recompose the shot, and then snap the picture.  Full frame autofocus is the most complex; it uses a matrix of 15 or so sensors to determine focus and then guesses what you’re shooting at (and it does so surprisingly well).  Center weighted focusing is sort of a mix of the previous two.

White balance – This sets the white balance to one of ten or so presets.  Since you’re shooting in RAW and know your way around Photoshop, I won’t need to explain this further.

AF – This changes the type of autofocus from AI Single, where the camera locks focus on something once, then lets you snap the picture to AI Servo, where the camera continuously tracks the subject it’s locked onto.  AI Servo mode is hand for sports, racing, animals, kids, and so on.  The AI Focus mode lets the camera chose the best of the preceding settings for you.

DRIVE – This sets the camera to shoot one shot when you hold the shutter release, to keep on shooting many shots continuously, or to snap the shot after a time delay.

ISO – This changes the ISO setting.

Exposure Compensation – This button allows you to quickly compensate for overly bright or dim exposures.  This is especially useful in high contrast scenes.  For example, if you’re shooting a picture of some friends outside on a sunny day, you might find that they’re properly exposed, but the background is overexposed and too bright.  Use the exposure compensation setting to underexpose the picture a little so you see what’s in the background.  You could also do this on your own in manual mode, but exposure compensation works in all shooting modes except for fully automatic and CA.



Getting a good photograph is all about getting the correct exposure.  Hypothetically, say a proper exposure means hitting your camera’s sensor with 100 units of light.  Several things will come into play to influence proper exposure including ISO, the brightness of the scene, shutter speed and aperture.  Aside from using a filter or lighting, you can’t control the brightness of the scene, but you can everything else.

Let’s say you set up the camera and took a picture that lets in only 80 units of light instead of 100, resulting in an underexposed picture.  What can you do? Luckily, a lot.  First, you can increase the ISO of the sensor, making it more sensitive to light.  This is much like turning up the gain on a microphone.  The downside for both is more noise.  Second, you can decrease the shutter speed.  If you’re in a well-lit area, this shouldn’t be a problem, but if you slow things down too much, you won’t be able to capture your subject in action or you’ll get blur from camera shake.  Third, you can increase the size of the aperture.  The downside of this is that it decreases depth of field.  Of course, a lot of us like the shallow depth of field look, but as I mentioned above, it’s not always appropriate.  Your job as a photographer is to figure out how to best manipulate these variables to get the proper exposure and the visual characteristics you want.

One last note:  try to get it right in the camera.  Relying on Photoshop is a pain and takes a lot longer than getting the shot in the first place.  Also, even the best Photoshop guru can’t get rid of blur.



Banning Laptops in College Classrooms

I don’t want to sound like a luddite, but as both a teacher and a student, I think this is a good idea.  It’s just too easy to get distracted in class with a computer on your desk.  I generally take notes on paper then transcribe them to my computer, giving myself some extra time to go over them in the process.  Apparently a lot of colleges and universities feel the same as me and are starting to clamp down on computers in the classroom.  Here’s an interesting overview from Slate’s Big Money blog and a quote from said article.

Two years ago, Carrie B. Fried, a psychology professor at Winona State University in Minnesota studied the effect of laptops on learning. She discovered that computers were a significant distraction in class, and that using laptops negatively affected students. The students admitted that they learned less and performed poorly in comparison with those who didn’t use them during class.