Ron Wetherington, Anthropology, standards for teaching evolution still a battle

My Statesman

Originally Posted: September 26, 2016

A state committee has drafted preliminary recommendations that would no longer require Texas public high school biology teachers to teach theories that challenge the scientific understanding of evolution.

The State Board of Education has tasked a 10-member committee of school district officials and scholars to whittle down the state’s biology curriculum standards, also called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. The streamlining comes as teachers have long complained that the amount of material the state requires them to teach in all subjects is too voluminous to cover in a school year.

At its July meeting, a majority of the biology committee took a preliminary vote to remove, among others, four curriculum standards that some members say challenge the theory of evolution.

Skeptics of evolution say the standards in question — out of 58 total biology standards — are meant to spur students’ critical thinking on scientific evidence that evolution can’t readily explain. Evolution proponents say the four standards promote the teaching of creationism and intelligent design.

“I don’t advocate for any kind of creationism to be taught in the school. That does not belong in the TEKS. I’m simply concerned about the fair representation of the evidence for evolution,” said Ray Bohlin, one of two committee members who opposed removing the four standards. Bohlin works for Probe Ministries in Plano and holds a doctorate in cell and molecular biology.

Fellow committee member Ron Wetherington, an anthropology professor at Southern Methodist University, said he and others voted to remove the standards because they are redundant and irrelevant.

“How can we improve the TEKS by paring it down and giving you more time to teach what you need to teach? For the most part, we were looking at duplications, non sequitur and grammatical problems, and other structural problems in the TEKS that made it difficult to interpret,” Wetherington said.

He said he believes the standards he wants to remove promote creationism and intelligent design, but that wasn’t the primary reason he’s in favor of striking them. READ MORE

Cal Jillson, Political Science, Campus carry in Texas: At what cost?

The Star Telegram

Originally Posted: September 18, 2016

The predictions last year were ominous.

Allowing concealed handguns on Texas college campuses could create conflict and cost around $50 million over the next few years.

But now, more than a month since campus carry became law, the only real cost — just a fraction of the original projections — has been to put up signs on college campuses statewide letting people know where licensed Texans may not carry concealed guns.

“This has been much ado about nothing,” said state Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Tomball, who authored campus carry. “When I laid the bill out, one of my arguments was that there’s no justification that this could cost that much money.”

Officials say there haven’t been any problems with campus carry, which went into effect Aug. 1, although there was one incident recently where a gun accidentally discharged in a Tarleton State University dorm. There were no injuries.

As for the overall cost, statewide totals aren’t available.

But a Star-Telegram survey of colleges in Tarrant County shows that officials spent less than $20,000 putting the new law in place locally.

“With campus carry costs, it was a policy debate,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “Each side gave the furthest edge number that would support their position.

“Those who had reservations about campus carry in general estimated high on the cost,” he said. “It was an attempt to get the Legislature to think seriously about this and back off or give campuses more flexibility.” READ MORE

Looking back and moving ahead with SMU’s Willard Spiegelman

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: September 16, 2016

Every day he taught a class at Southern Methodist University, Willard Spiegelman wore a bow tie and a jacket. Every day in every class he taught, students were expect to write. For 45 years, it was this way.

On a Friday afternoon in early September, Spiegelman wears just khakis and a button down shirt, sleeves rolled to his elbows. He’s spent the past few months packing up his office, giving away volumes of poetry to students and colleagues from his bookshelves, preparing for his move to Manhattan, where he will spend his retirement. For decades he’s split his time between Dallas and the East Coast, where his partner of many years resides.

But before he goes, he’s making appearances to celebrate a new collection of essays, Senior Moments (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24), which reflects on the life that made him an icon on campus and respected nationally for his wit and insight.

A native of Philadelphia, Spiegelman arrived in Dallas via undergraduate studies at Williams College and doctorate work at Harvard University. He says his original selling point to academia was as an English Romanticist who built much of his career on poets like Keats and Shelley. Poetry, which became his vocation, was his second love. In childhood, he says, he “took to books.”

Spiegelman grew up in a suburban Jewish household without a lot of books. Education and learning, while valued, were not necessarily tied to the liberal arts. His father grew up in the Depression and studied to become a physician. His mother stocked the house with   Reader’s Digest Condensed Books , but as Spiegelman writes in the first essay from Senior Moments, the house was a place of raucous conversation, not silent reflection. READ MORE

Questions of health and trustworthiness, removing moderators from debates, and the ‘deplorables’

SMU News

Originally Posted: September 13, 2016

Below is an excerpt from an SMU press release. READ MORE

Jeffrey A. Engel

TRUMP’S QUESTIONING OF CLINTON’S HEALTH HAS SHADES OF 1988

JEFFREY ENGEL
jaengel@mail.smu.edu

On the history of candidate health as an issue in presidential politics…

  • “It’s really interesting to me as a historian that it doesn’t take much, as we’ve seen from Trump’s campaign, to make an insinuation into a story. We saw that in particular in 1988 when the George H.W. Bush campaign basically floated the idea that Michael Dukakis was mentally unstable, with no evidence – Reagan even said ‘I’m not going to pick on an invalid.’ And all the issues occurred with John McCain in the 2000 primary against George W. Bush, when a whisper campaign asked, ‘Do you really want a man who’s been tortured five years in charge of nukes?’ Health is the perfect embodiment of an issue that can be raised without any evidence and, as long as it’s in people’s minds, you have to defend against it, and there’s no defense against an issue that’s not real.”

On the impact that questions about a candidate’s health can have on an election…

  • “I think it had a tremendous impact in 1988. The (George H.W.) Bush campaign did a remarkable job painting Dukakis as weak, out of touch politically with the mainstream and, over time, as out of touch with reality. Those were things Dukakis was unable to contend with. What’s important to note from 1988 is that was also a race that got way down into the mud, like this one, and it produced remarkably low voter turnout. One lesson you can draw is that you can drive voters away from the polls, but that doesn’t mean you’re driving up enthusiasm for your own presidency.”

Engel is director of the SMU Center for Presidential History. He can discuss:

  • comparisons to past presidential races
  • foreign policy
  • presidential rhetoric

 

———————————————————————————–

Matthew Wilson

HEALTH A VALID CONCERN, BUT TRUSTWORTHINESS A GREATHER ISSUE FOR CLINTON

MATTHEW WILSON:
jmwilson@smu.edu

On the impact questions of a candidate’s health can have on an election…

  • “The presidency is a high-stress, demanding job. For that reason, voters put fair scrutiny on whether the candidates are up to the physical and mental stamina requirements. Questions of the health of a candidate also put more focus on the running mate, and whether that person is seen as a capable and palatable person to assume the office if necessary. Both Clinton and Trump are fortunate that they picked solid people for their running mates.”
  • “One thing to keep in mind: Hillary and Trump are two of the oldest candidates to ever seek the presidency. For that reason, there will be more focus on their health.”

On what’s the bigger issue, Clinton’s health, or her breach of trust in being honest about it…

  • “This episode serves to reinforce the notion that Clinton’s natural instincts are not to be open and transparent. Her natural instinct is to conceal, obfuscate, deceive and to only come clean when her hand is forced. If, in fact, it’s true that she has pneumonia, it’s just mind boggling she didn’t come forward and say that. Particularly with this question about her health. Not revealing she has pneumonia until she has to because she collapsed at an event reinforces the idea she’s not forthcoming.”

Wilson is an SMU associate professor of Political Science. He can discuss:

  • religion and politics
  • political psychology
  • voting behavior of religious voters
  • public opinion and politics

 

John Ubelaker, Biology, native plants on the Rio Grande

TAOS news

Originally Posted: September 9, 2016

Below is an excerpt from Taos News.

Hike to Williams Lake

Nineteen people joined Dr. John Ubelaker, professor of biology at the Southern Methodist University, on a great hike to Williams Lake Aug. 20. Interesting ferns, trees and flowering plants were discussed all along the way. Ubelaker has a wealth of knowledge on plants, their uses both today and historically – and he shares freely. We learned a great deal about the “Canadian Zone,” which is one of six zones in the state and that extends all the way up to Canada. It is comprised predominantly of three types of trees — spruce, fir and aspen. Above this zone is the arctic-alpine zone, which was beyond our reach on this trip.

To someone newly transplanted from Florida, where Spanish moss abounds — the dripping gray-green hanging from the trees is not a simple air plant like Spanish moss, but a hanging lichen. Ubelaker explained that a lichen is a relationship between an algae and a fungus. The long, grayish green strings are fungus on the outside, with algae cells inside. Fungi are not photosynthetic, therefore they often feed on things like algae. But through photosynthesis, the algae cells make sugars — which they allow to leak out so that the fungus can feed — while the fungus provides a necessary aquatic environment in which the algae cells can live and grow.

It is a unique relationship which enables algae, one of the first forms of life on earth, to live up in a tree. Fungus is the ultimate decomposer in our environment, but now it doesn’t have to feed on the algae. Instead, they exist in a symbiotic relationship — not harming the tree or each other. The fungus will occasionally release spores, which have one algae cell inside, and it will find a new tree. Not only is this fascinating, but since some 50 bird species use lichen as nest material, and elk and other deer eat it, both hanging and rock lichen are an important part of the circle of life in New Mexico.

This fascinating bit of information was given us in the parking lot, before even getting onto the trail. You will not want to miss future field trips with Ubelaker. READ MORE

Follow Geothermal Lab researchers as they collect heat flow and seismic chirp data in Alaska

SMU Geothermal Lab

Originally Posted: September 8, 2016

mattrobcaseybenalaska-300x200SMU Geothermal Lab researchers Dr. Matt Hornbach, Madie Jones, and Casey Brokaw along with OSU researchers Dr. Rob Harris and Dr. Ben Phrampus are collecting heat flow and seismic chirp data in Alaska. READ MORE

Watch: SMU geophysics professor discusses earthquake

FOX 4

Originally Posted: September 4, 2016

A 5.6 magnitude earthquake hit Oklahoma Saturday morning, prompting officials to shut down dozens of waste water disposal wells within a 500-square-mile area of the quake’s epicenter.

The earthquake tied the record for the strongest ever recorded in Oklahoma. The earthquake epicenter was about 9 miles northwest of Pawnee. One surveillance video from a public school in North Central Oklahoma shows the moment the tremors started.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission ordered that 35 wells be shut down due to evidence that links earthquakes to the underground disposal of wastewater from oil and gas production. WATCH

SMU biochemists and students probe biochemistry of membrane proteins that thwart cancer chemotherapies

SMU RESEARCH NEWS
Originally Posted: August, 31, 2016

“Recurring cancers have ‘learned’ how to evade chemotherapy by pumping it out of the cancer cells so that only sub-therapeutic concentrations remain in the cell, making the drug useless.” — SMU biochemist Pia Vogel

 

Each semester, SMU biology professors Pia Vogel and John Wise welcome a handful of dedicated and curious students to their lab in the SMU Dedman Life Sciences building.

The SMU undergraduate students and Dallas-area high school students get hands-on experience working on cancer research in the combined SMU Department of Biological Sciences laboratories of Wise and Vogel.

The researchers and students are working to find ways to treat cancer patients whose cancer has either returned after initial chemotherapy or was initially hard to treat using chemotherapeutics. The research is funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

Students recently in the lab included Victoria Bennet, Hockaday School, and Shaffin Siddiqui and Robert Luo, both from Highland Park High School. SMU undergraduates included Alexis Sunshine, Clinton Osifo, Stefanie Lohse, Brianna Ramirez, Henry Thornton, Shirely Liu, Justin Musser, Jake Oien and Michael Fowler. Also currently working in the lab are M.S. student Collette Marchesseau (2016 SMU graduate), and Ph.D. students Amila Nanayakkara, Mike Chen, Courtney Follit, Maisa Oliveira and James McCormick.

“Often, recurring cancers have ‘learned’ how to evade chemotherapy by pumping the therapeutic out of the cancer cells so that only sub-therapeutic concentrations remain in the cell, making the drug useless,” said Vogel, a professor and director of the SMU interdisciplinary research institute, the Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery.

The pumps that do the work are proteins that span the cell membranes and use the biological fuel ATP to actively pump chemotherapeutics and other toxins out of the cells. “We like to compare these proteins to biological sump pumps,” said Wise, associate professor.

Wise and Vogel use a combination of computational, biochemical and human cell-based techniques to find new drug-like compounds that inhibit the action of the pumps. If successful, the novel drugs — or derivatives of them — will be given to patients with therapy-resistant cancer together with the chemotherapeutic.

“Since our novel compounds block the pumps, the chemotherapeutic will remain in the cell and kill the cancer that had not been treatable previously,” Vogel said.

The researchers have discovered drug-like compounds that can be modified and developed into medicines that target the protein, called P-glycoprotein.

The SMU researchers discovered the compounds after virtually screening more than 10 million small drug-like compounds made publically available in digital form from the pharmacology database Zinc at the University of California, San Francisco.

Using SMU’s Maneframe high performance computer, Wise ran the compounds through a computer-generated model of the protein. The virtual model, designed and built by Wise, is the first computational microscope of its kind to simulate the actual behavior of P-glycoprotein in the human body, including interactions with drug-like compounds while taking on different shapes.

The promising compounds were then tested in the lab.

“We have been quite successful and already have identified close to 20 novel compounds that block the pumps in our cell-based assays,” said Wise. “In these experiments we culture therapy-resistant prostate or ovarian or colon cancer cells in the lab and then show that we can kill these cancer cells using normal amounts of commonly available therapeutics in the presence of our novel compounds — even though in the absence of our novel compounds, the cancer cells would not be treatable.”

SMU undergraduates and high school students experience world-class research
SMU undergraduate and high school students have been involved in different aspects of the research. Typically the beginning students work together with graduate or advanced undergraduate students to learn techniques used in the lab.

Some perform small research projects. Others have simply learned state-of-the-art techniques and “how science works” in the context of critical human health problems.

“High school student Robert Luo was interested in the computational side of our work, so he’s worked with senior SMU Ph.D. candidate James McCormick on trying to evaluate how strongly one of the therapy-sensitizing compounds we found potentially interacts with the pump protein at different proposed binding sites,” said Wise. “It is actually a significant project and will help with our research.”

The opportunities available for students to learn how science works using high performance computing, biochemistry and cell biology can be valuable even for those who won’t necessarily become practicing scientists, said Wise, citing as an example a recent SMU graduate who previously worked in the lab.

Ketetha Olengue (SMU ’15) is a good example,” he said. “She is now in her second year at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, where she is pursuing her M.D. degree in a novel program with USC Engineering.” Watch Video

Chill Out. Political History has Never Been Better.

Lawyers, Guns and Money 

Originally Posted: September 1, 2016

This is a guest post by Gabriel Rosenberg and Ariel Ron. Gabriel N. Rosenberg is assistant professor of gender, sexuality, and feminist Studies at Duke University and the author of The 4-H Harvest: Sexuality and the State in Rural America. Ariel Ron is assistant professor of history at Southern Methodist University and working on a book tentatively titled, Grassroots Leviathan: Northern Agrarian Nationalism in the Slaveholding Republic.

If you hang around history professors, you’ll inevitably hear some carping: They sure don’t write history like they used to! Plumbers and insurance agents probably do something similar when they get together. But it’s weird for a profession premised on historical context to indulge such a naively nostalgic narrative of its own development. The latest entry is a New York Times Op-Ed by Frederik Logevall and Kenneth Osgood titled, “Why Did We Stop Teaching Political History?”

Trick question! We never stopped. Political history is fine. In fact, it’s never been better. (It’s American politics that stinks.)

The Logevall and Osgood editorial pushes a narrative of decline for political history. Once upon a time, American historians foregrounded “the doings of governing elites” and, thus, fostered general civic literacy and understanding of the political process. Some political historians, they contend, even wielded influence over policy makers. But historians in the 1970s turned their attention to charting the influence of social movements—laborers, women, non-whites, and gays—and to “recovering the lost experiences of these groups.” As a result, “the study of America’s political past is being marginalized.” Universities neglected history concerned with the hows and whys of governance, and now they fail to educate students adequately on “the importance that compromise has played in America’s past, of the vital role of mutual give-and-take in the democratic process.”

Indeed, Logevall and Osgood claim political history as a “field of study has cratered.” The anchor for this claim? The purported paucity of job ads dedicated to “political history.”

It’s true that US historians were once (overly) focused on political elites. But what about the rest of the story? READ MORE

Six Dedman College faculty members recommended for tenure and promotion

Congratulations to the faculty members who are newly tenured or have been promoted to full professorships to begin the 2016-17 academic year.

Recommended for tenure and promotion to Full Professor:

Recommended for promotion to Full Professor:

For the full SMU faculty list READ MORE