Two weeks ago, I did a whirlwind 39-hour trip to the Bay Area to give two different talks (one to the Bay Area Skeptics in their Chilean restaurant hangout) and also to study some fossils at the University of California Museum of Paleontology for my ongoing peccary research. It was great hanging out in the People’s Republic of Berkeley again, enjoying the incredible ambiance of Telegraph Avenue, the colorful characters on Shattuck, the amazing array of ethnic restaurants block after block, the classic “woo” of all the Eastern mystic temples, and palmistry and naturopathy and New Age shops, the chirping cross-walk warnings, and PC reminders everywhere—and seeing all the homeless people rooting through the garbage. It’s like a time warp for me, reminding me of when I first visited as a student in the 1970s—except that the hippies are still here, a bit older and grayer, but now becoming psychedelic relics. Many parts of town still have the spirit of the “Summer of Love” while others are punk or goth or hip-hop. It’s eye-opening to see the sign at the city limits proclaiming Berkeley a “nuke-free zone”(not that it matters, since there are no nuclear reactors or military bases there, and the nuclear physics is done out at Lawrence-Livermore lab). Every time I go to one these college towns where the Sixties never ended and lots of hippies have gone to live (not only Berkeley, but also Eugene, Boulder, and Santa Cruz), I have an incredible rush of memories of that time, and the dreams my generation fought for. As a Boomer myself and child of the Sixties, it’s great to see that not every aspect of it has been forgotten or dismissed (especially not the music, of course, which has remarkable resilience).
After finishing my research on the fossils, I had a bit of spare time, so on invitation from Steve Newton and Josh Rosenau (who attended my Bay Area Skeptics talk), I decided to pay a visit to another cultural landmark: the headquarters of the National Center for Science Education. This is the chief non-profit organization in the U.S. that helps local school boards and scientists and teachers when creationism threatens their classrooms. If you read the creationists’ literature and the posts on the ID creationist Discovery Institute’s (DI) website, the NCSE is this monstrous organization which exerts mind-control over every scientist in the country, and forces them to robotically chant “I accept evolution.” According to the creationists, the NCSE is pure evil, suppressing the creationism message with its enormous staff and budget and power over all of U.S. science. In Ben Stein’s crappy little creationist propaganda film Expelled, Ben pays a visit to the gleaming headquarters of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which occupies a vast amount of floor space in a brand-new office building downtown, and has a huge staff. Over and over again the DI staffers complain about how they scientific establishment is against them, and how the NCSE has so much more power, money, and influence than they do.comments (22)