Category Archives: Science

Is your school ready for measles?

I was wondering that, so I asked the school nurse what percentage of the students at our local high school were unvaccinated, and how many had non-medical exemptions. Here’s her response:

“We are unable to provide this information to you because it is in violation of the FERPA laws.”

FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) prohibits the release of any information that identifies students. For example, schools cannot release the names of students who are unvaccinated due to philosophical objections of parents. But an aggregate statistic like % unvaccinated does not identify the unvaccinated students, so FERPA is not a concern. Indeed, dozens of states put their vaccination statistics in searchable databases to make it easy for parents to see. And these databases don’t just show a % — the spreadsheet usually provides the numbers of students at each school with medical, religious, and personal exemptions. And for states that don’t publish these data on behalf of schools, parents can just contact their kids’ schools and ask for the information. Unfortunately, some schools use the FERPA card as a way to hide information that might generate criticism of the school’s readiness for, say, a measles outbreak. 

Here’s the thing: parents need to know this percentage. If measles were to come to a school next week, can parents still send their children into school? What if a student has a medical exemption — is the herd immunity strong (perhaps 96% vaccinated), or is it dismal (50%)? Only when the parents know these data can they assess whether the school is safe.

By the way, the school principal is ultimately responsible for granting vaccination exemptions to the parents who request them. For example, a principal can (and should) refuse medical exemptions if the reasoning is ignorant (“I don’t want my kid to get autism”). Similarly, religious and philosophical objections can be rejected if they are baseless or contrived. For example, a parent might write, “The Pope would be displeased if my kid was vaccinated”, and the principal is allowed to reject that claim because it’s demonstrably untrue. Low vaccination rates at a school, therefore, are not just a reflection of who lives in the area — they can reveal problems in how exemptions are granted.

I suspect there are millions of parents around the country asking for the same information and getting the same answer from their schools. So I’ve posted a list of where to get school vaccination data, organized by state, at “We need transparency of school vaccinations rates“. It’s a draft, so if you have suggestions on how I can fill in the many gaps, please get in touch with me.

Image of sign at public school announcing measles outbreak

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Stickers for Darwin fans

Come on, science fans, let’s stick together: all you need is a sheet of sticker paper, a printer, and a pair of scissors. Then stick these little Darwins on lunch boxes, laptops, and your friends’ backs. Or pass them out in science classes as geeky prizes for all the little barnacles. It’s his birthday. Show some love.

charles darwin, evolution, science, sticker, has a posse

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Survival of the fittest

In honor of Darwin’s birthday (February 12th), photographs of the Darwinning team during the Reach the Beach relay last year. Plus photographs of their team vans, Nature and Nurture. The team included two physicists, a chemist, a biomechanical engineer, an astronomer, and two earth scientists. A truly evolved bunch. Photographs courtesy Kacie Kefgen and Meredith Danowski (danke!).

Darwinners team photoSurvival of the fittest

Darwinners team caron-bumber

Charles Darwin tattoo on woman's armYou can spot ‘em in this YouTube video from the race organizers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VmD7wqj53A.

 

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Boxes of bling for scientific posters

I saw these poster add-ons at a local office supply store and just had to take a photograph. If you want to see my suggestions on better ways of blinging up a conference poster, please see “Adding pieces of flair” on my poster tips page. If you don’t get my silly “pieces of flair” reference, please watch this clip from the movie, Office Space. Actually, just rent the movie: it’s all good.

Colin Purrington Photography: Scientific posters &emdash; Sparkles and lights for posters

 

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Charles Darwin Has A Posse in Arabic

For all you Arabic-speaking science fans, here’s a rough translation of my Charles Darwin Has A Posse sticker for your lunch box. Sorry it’s so late … not sure you can order stickers in time for Darwin Day (February 12th), but there’s plenty of time for 2016 parties. If there’s an error in the translation, please let me know (I, um, only know how to say “hello” in Arabic).

Charles Darwin Has A Posse sticker in ArabicBy the way, if you’re interested in how Darwin and evolution were received in Arabic, get Reading Darwin in Arabic. Thanks to the Department of Modern Languages at Swarthmore College for the translation.

As a bonus, here’s an image courtesy the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. As part of its “Dialogues with Darwin” exhibit they had a huge wall of translations. The cover art variation was amazing.

Charles Darwin translated into Arabic

Charles Darwin Has A Posse in Arabic

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