Archive for the 'Do Something' category

I'm getting greener - but there's still a long way to go.

Oct 15 2007 Published by under Do Something, Environment, For the environment, Science

Since today is Blog Action Day, it seems like a good day for a post I've been meaning to write for a while now - what my family is doing to reduce our impact on the environment, and what else we can (and should) add to the mix. Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

I should probably admit right off the bat that I'm not doing enough to minimize my effect on the environment. I tend to suffer from inertia sometimes, and if something hasn't been made easy for me to do, I tend to not do it. That might not make me all that different from many (most) Americans, but it's still not good. While we were living in Honolulu, we didn't do much more for the environment than participate in our local curbside recycling program. We sat down and talked about that as a family before we left Hawaii, and decided that we'd try to do more when we got to Texas.

Here's what we've managed to do so far:

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7 responses so far

The Income Gap and the Education Gap - and how to stop leaving children behind.

Oct 14 2007 Published by under Do Something, Education, Philanthropy, Science

Late last week, the IRS released figures showing that the income gap in the United States is larger now than at any time since they began tracking that data in 1986, and may be worse now than at any time since the 1920s. The figures, which are based on 2005 tax returns, reveal that the richest 1% of Americans accounted for 21.2% of income, up from about 20.8% in 2000. The bottom 50% of families earned 12.8%, which is a drop from the 13% that they took home in 2000.

When the Wall Street Journal asked President Bush about the widening income gap, he said:

First of all, our society has had income inequality for a long time. Secondly, skills gaps yield income gaps. And what needs to be done about the inequality of income is to make sure people have got good education, starting with young kids. That's why No Child Left Behind is such an important component of making sure that America is competitive in the 21st century.

Amazingly enough, he got most of that right. Skill gaps do yield income gaps. Providing everyone with a quality education is a good way to make sure that everyone has a chance to get into a career that will let them bridge that gap. Right now, though, that's not happening. In part - in large part - that's because we're funding education locally. Rich people tend to live in areas inhabited by other rich people. Poor people tend to live in areas inhabited by other poor people. When the tax base for your area is made up primarily of rich people, it's easy for the local government to come up with enough money to run a quality school system. When the tax base for your area is mostly made up of people who don't have much money, it's very hard to come up with the funds to run adequate schools.

If you don't believe that money makes a difference in education, take a look at this story:

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2 responses so far

DonorsChoose update:

Oct 12 2007 Published by under Do Something, Philanthropy

This week's DonorsChoose update is a short one. We're still doing well here - $2278 has been donated, which puts us well on our way to meeting our goal for the third time. I've added new proposals, again mostly from the Bronx, most of which are looking to fill basic classroom needs. (One request is for a copy machine and toner, because the entire school currently has one machine and no service contract. Another is for play-dough for a kindergarten classroom. A third is another request for pencils, crayons, and markers.)

In related news, Seed Media Group (the parent company of Scienceblogs) announced earlier this week that they are starting a Science Literacy Grants program, and that as part of that program they will be matching the first $15,000 in contributions to the DonorsChoose campaign. itself - the folks who pay us - is also going to be kicking in some prizes for individual donors. These prizes include t-shirts, mugs, books, and the grand prize is a new iPod Nano. If you've donated to my challenge - or any of the others - email a copy of your receipt to

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Another DonorsChoose update.

Oct 04 2007 Published by under Do Something, Philanthropy

The response to my DonorsChoose challenge continues to be outstanding. Earlier today, we passed the $1,588 that I had set as my initial goal for the drive. Since there are still 27 days left in the challenge, I went back and increased the target to $2,000. If more of the projects are fully funded, I'll go back and add more to the challenge.

When I do add more proposals, I'm going to stick to the criteria that I used earlier today - schools with 85% or more of the students receiving free lunch, and proposals requesting very basic supplies. If you would prefer to fund proposals with a specific science component, there are a lot of other blogs here at that are running challenges of their own. They'd also welcome all the help that you can give the students they've picked.

Finally, keep the receipts. I've been told that there may be some incentives from outside this blog, and I'm still trying like crazy to think of something to offer from myself - beyond my gratitude, that is. I'm open to reasonable suggestions on that one.

One response so far

A DonorsChoose challenge update, some new proposals, and what those proposals say about our screwed-up national priorities.

I can't begin to thank the people who have donated to the DonorsChoose campaign enough. As of today - four days into the campaign - we've raised $1045. That's more than was contributed during all of last year's 15-day campaign. That's absolutely fantastic.

As of now, all four of the projects that I picked have been fully funded, but we haven't hit the goal yet. (Either someone donated to one of the projects through this campaign without receiving credit, or someone donated to one of the projects independently of the campaign.) At this point, we're still about $550 short of my goal for the campaign, so I've added a few more proposals. I'm doing something a little different with these, though.

When I picked my original proposals, I focused entirely on science education. I'm a scientist, I write about science (at least on occasion), I write at, and I firmly believe that it's critical for children to receive a good foundation in science. Given all of that, it seemed appropriate that I ask you to help fund projects that have some tangible science component.

The more time I spend browsing through just the Bronx proposals on the DonorsChoose website, the more I think that focusing this funding drive on science was the wrong decision. Science is good. Science is important. Science is critical. But it's not the only critical part of education. Focusing entirely on science is like giving kids nothing but citrus fruit. It's exactly what you need to do if their biggest problem is a vitamin C deficiency. But it's not the best solution if they're starving to death.

There are teachers - not to mention entire schools - that lack some of the most basic essentials needed for education. And when I say basic, I mean basic. I'm not even talking about things that are a basic part of any reasonable concept of a 21st century education. In many of these cases, we're talking about things that are a basic part of a reasonable 19th century education.

I've added a number of additional proposals to my drive. Some of them are still Bronx-based, but I'm no longer exclusively using that as a criteria, either. Leaving poor children behind is not a problem that's restricted to New York City. It's a national disgrace. The common elements behind this set of proposals are that the schools that submitted them are all rated by Donors Choose as having poverty levels of 85% or higher, and the proposals themselves request less than $400. Oh, and these proposals are all for things that these teachers should not, should not, should not have to beg for. These teachers are asking for the kinds of things that most people take for granted.

Even after restricting myself to proposals come from very poor areas, request little money, and are intended to provide things that teachers should already have, I still had a hard time narrowing down the list of proposals. There are just so many to choose from. I've picked a few, and if you folks are kind and generous enough to step up to the gap where our pitiful excuse for a government has gone unforgivably AWOL, I'll find and add more. Take a look at the things these teachers need:

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2 responses so far

Pelosi and paying for the Iraq war. With friends like her, who needs Republicans?

Several Democrats in the House of Representatives unveiled a revolutionary plan today that would radically change the way we are paying for the war in Iraq. Their shocking plan has been strongly condemned by Republicans around the country, and the Democratic leadership has responded - in classic fashion - by hiding under their desks and praying for it to go away. Their radical solution? We should do what we did during World War II and Vietnam, and add a surtax to the normal income tax to cover the (financial) costs.

Republicans were quick to attack the very concept of not making our children and grandchildren pay - with interest - for this war. Apparently, the concept of paying now for the war that we are fighting now is defeatest and an attempt to play politics with the troops. House Minority Leader John Boehner had this to say:

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12 responses so far

Great Start for the Donors Choose Campaign.

Oct 02 2007 Published by under Do Something, Education, Philanthropy, Science

For those of you who haven't looked over at the sidebar, the DonorsChoose campaign is off to a start that far exceeded my wildest expectations. Yesterday, five donors kicked in an outstanding $687.06. That's more in one day than I had targeted for the entire drive last year, and enough to bring us more than 40% of the way to the total. To everyone who's donated so far, thank you very much.

Some of the other blogs at scienceblogs are offering incentives to donors. I'm trying to think of something, and promise that I'll get some sort of idea up in the next day or two. There are also some rumors that there may be some incentives available from other sources - so hold onto your receipts if you've already given, and check back in a couple of days.

5 responses so far

Let's Make Science Happen: The 2007 Scienceblogs DonorsChoose Challenge

Oct 01 2007 Published by under Do Something, Education, Philanthropy, Science

DonorsChoose is a fantastic organization. Individual teachers submit proposals for things they'd like to do in their classroom, but can't afford to do. People can go to DonorsChoose, pick projects that they like, and donate money directly to those projects. You truly know where your money is going to go, and you can see what a big difference even a small donation can make.

Last year, we had a major Scienceblogs funding drive for DonorsChoose. Our readers - you - were absolutely fantastic. In just 15 days, we managed to raise more than 23,000 dollars - not counting the 10,000 dollars in matching funds that our benevolent overlords at Seed kicked in to sweeten the pot. Readers of this blog - and there weren't as many of you then - donated over $650, exceeding my goal for the drive. Today, we're launching another drive, and I hope you'll be every bit as generous this time as you were last year.

This year, I'm hoping that the readers of this blog will be kind enough to kick in $1588. That might seem like an odd number - it's definitely not a round number - there's a method to my madness. $1588 is the combined total that is needed to fully fund four projects that I know will really help make a difference in an area that could really, really use it.

The four schools are all located in The Bronx, and all four are within walking distance of where I grew up. All of the schools are in high poverty areas. 73% of students qualify for a free lunch (that's an annual pre-tax income of under $27,000 for a family of four) at one of these schools, and that's the one in the wealthiest area. At least 80% of students qualify at the other three. These children come from families who don't have much money, and go to schools that don't have much either. The buildings are often in incredibly poor shape. The classrooms have few of the resources that most of us take for granted. The kids do have at least one thing going for them, though. They've got teachers who care enough to go the extra mile, and aren't willing to let the lack of funds at their school stop them from trying to offer the best education that they can. Let's do what we can to make sure they get what they need. They certainly deserve no less.

Here are what the four teachers I picked are asking for:

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5 responses so far

Donors Choose - Thank You

Jul 03 2006 Published by under Do Something, Education, Philanthropy, Science

The ScienceBlogs Bloggers' Challenge was wildly successful, raising well over 30,000 dollars in 15 days to fund education projects at individual schools. The challenge here at The Questionable Authority was also successful, bringing in a bit over $650.00, meeting the goal that I set.

Thanks to all of the donors to both my own little contribution and to the broader challenge.

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Growing Science in the Bronx

Jun 15 2006 Published by under Do Something, Education, Philanthropy, Science

Pick a Scienceblogger - any Scienceblogger - and you'll find someone who loves science, and thinks that everyone should be exposed to it. That's one of the reasons that we spend time hammering out these posts. We also, as a group, have this funny belief about science education. We think it's important. We think that it's a good thing for children to learn about the way their world works, and we're all for anything that helps with that.

That's why there are, as you may have seen on the main Scienceblogs page, a whole bunch of us clamoring for your money right now. We're embarking on a Bloggers Challenge to raise money to help teachers teach science. provides a way for individual teachers to take their proposals for projects directly to the public. What we've done is to set up challenges at the DonorsChoose website, where we've selected proposals that particularly appeal to us, and set our fundraising goals. My own goal for the challenge is on the modest size - less than $1,000 - but I think that the proposals I've chosen have enormous potential benefits. All three are at schools located near where I grew up, in The Bronx, New York. All three, if funded, will expose the students to something that most have absolutely no experience with - nature.

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