Monday, June 13, 2005

Massachusetts Eighth-Graders Told Science Project Involving BB Gun Too Dangerous

Massachusetts Eighth-Graders Told Science Project Involving BB Gun Too Dangerous

What IS it with these liberal air-head PC-based 'educators' today?

AMHERST, Mass. (AP) - Two eighth-graders who spent months working on a science project to prove how dangerous BB guns can be were disqualified from the state middle school science fair. The reason for the dismissal: BB guns are too dangerous.
Uh .... well, that was sort of the point of the project.

Nathan C. Woodard and Nathaniel A. Gorlin-Crenshaw spent seven months researching and testing their hypothesis that BB guns can be deadly and should not be used by children.
It's not as if their project was a simple matter of putting a couple of BB guns on a board for people to view. They actually tested the penetrating power of BBs as a means of demonstrating that they COULD cause harm. And they ponied up the money so they could perform scientific testing under controlled conditions to prove the point of their thesis.

The students spent about $200 on ballistics gelatin, which has the same density and consistency as human flesh, to use during their tests.

How can a display of tests results be dangerous?

Nancy G. Degon, vice president of Massachusetts State Science Fair Inc. and co-chair of the middle-school fair, said fair rules prohibit hazardous substances and devices.

"The scientific review committee does not consider science projects involving firearms to be safe for middle school students," Degon said.

Excuse me ... "firearms"? A BB gun isn't a firearm. Where's the fire? Don't these pedantic pedagogues understand the English Language?

<>

These are firearms:



This is a BB gun:




Or is it that they are so desperate to cleave to the letter of the law that they are willing to ignore the spirit of the event, which is to give young people the opportunity to learn by performing their own scientific research?

The boys were invited to present their findings to some judges and receive a certificate of accomplishment, but they rejected the offer because they were not allowed to compete.

"I was really disappointed," Woodard said. "We had a good point to prove.
I think they did, too. This is especially surprising in that the point is entirely in line with the political bias of the silly-putty education system.

I'm not the only one who was outraged by this news story.
Our friend Jeff sent me a copy of the letter which he sent to the Science Fair board and the editor of the largest paper in Massachusetts ... The Boston Globe. I'm not sure they'll recognize satire when they read it, but I thought Jeff made his point clear.


Massachusetts State Science Fair Folk:

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You for disqualifying those
two young miscreants, Nathan C. Woodard and Nathaniel A.
Gorlin-Crenshaw from the Massachusetts Middle School State
Science Fair!

As you know, in the 1960s (when I grew up), only 58% of
all elementary students and 31% of all Junior High
School students survived the dangerously permissive
official education policies of the day.

Several of my fellow students were killed daily from
shooting BB guns, carrying pocket knives, having photographs
of firearms in school, taking aspirins brought from home
without the supervision of a Board-certified Registered
Nurse, unsupervised play in woodlands, listening to radios
that plugged into the dangerous AC mains, and wearing
T-shirts expressing controversial ideas. The bodies
littered the gym floor. It's a miracle that any of us
lived to reproduce!

Thank God that today there are people like you to protect
the children from parent- and police-supervised study of
BB guns!

By the way, I see an oversight in your official rules.
While you state that the Middle Schoolers may not do a
project that involves "Nonhuman vertebrate animals", the
rules do not prohibit projects involving "Human (presumably
vertebrate) animals". I can see a project involving Human
Sexuality, in which two Middle-schoolers have sex in
alternate weeks and determine the exact moment of conception,
with video documentation. (A second pair of students will
use condoms, perhaps, as a control). This doesn't seem to
violate your published rules: perhaps a "no sex" rule is
called-for? Of course, you'll need to define what "sex" is,
in very explicit terms, so that the children will know what
you are prohibiting.

http://www.scifair.com/middle/manual.pdf

Please enhance your protection of the children, and keep
up the good work!


(By the way, please tell Nancy G. Degon that a BB gun is *not*
a firearm. She sounds stupid when she says that.)

Jeff M. [last name deleted by the Geek]
Powell OH

middleschool@scifair.com
mmroth@scifair.com
editor@boston.com

NOTE:
If you aren't convinced, you can read the Massachusetts State Science Fair rules.

The only mention of "firearms" is included in this section:

Controlled Substances

Controlled substances, including DEA-classed substances, prescription drugs, alcohol and tobacco, must be acquired and used according to existing local, state and federal laws. Student researchers must adhere to all regulations governing controlled substances. Production of alcohol is federally regulated and students must contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for regulations and permission. Students under 21 years of age are prohibited by federal laws from purchasing and or handling smokeless powder or black powder for science projects.

This obviously does not apply.

Why was this project rejected?

Could it be that the Ms Degon had her own political agenda?

We can only wonder what 'the children' learned from this, other than that people who have authority often abuse their authority.

12 comments:

Stan Penkala said...

I wrote my letter to the Tampa paper that carried the story. Copy below [I'd have said more, but they have a 150 word limit].

Massachusetts Science Fair VP Nancy G. Degon prohibited the BB gun project, despite prior approval of the students' Research Plan. But the equipment they used is specifically allowed. "The operation of pressure vessels and pressurized systems is permitted ...". A BB gun is a pressurized system. It's sold in Massachusetts, therefore conforms to applicable Safety Codes.]
Ms. Degan claims the Fair can prohibit hazardous substances or devices, and "firearms" are not a suitable subject. Neither statement is applicable. "Students must adhere to Federal and state regulations governing hazardous substances or devices" implicitly allows them to be used in the experimentation, with suitable supervision. And a BB gun is NOT a firearm, as it doesn't use explosive powder propellent [smokeless powder and black powder is prohibited in the rules].
So Ms. Degan abused her power in prohibiting the project. Anti-gun agenda, Ms. Degan?

Mark O'Shea said...

The seniors among us were lucky to have been educated in a time when we were expected to think. I make the joke that the nuns who taught me in elementary school taught me to think then were upset when I questioned their values, but it is true. Students are not taught to think on their own any more. Today's teachers are the product of this educational system that values conformity above all. Exacerbating this problem is the fact they are mostly politically correct; a philosophy which does not value independent thought. Each new generation of teachers turns out a little more politically correct and less able to tolerate diverse opinions.

Tyler D. said...

I received my Front Sight DVD in the mail a few days ago and I was astonished that there were .22 caliber shooting teams in most High Schools.

Then I read something like this and it really sinks in how far we, as a Nation, have fallen.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that you insist on interpreting the fair rules literally word by word, but you take such liberty in making your own inferences about the statements made by the science fair? I can’t find anyone from the science fair stating that a BB gun is a firearm, only that firearms are not allowed. Now, sure it’s fun to call someone an idiot because you know something that they don’t, but that is taking some liberty in interpreting what was said. Even so, do you really think you know every word in the dictionary? Puh-leez. Wait a minute, here, is it Degon or Degan? I guess some of you don’t even know the alphabet.

A more meaningful blunder of yours: the rules you quoted are not from the middle school fair. The actual rules are stated here:
http://www.scifair.com/middle/research-regulations.htm

Well, I think the students proved that BB guns are hazardous devices, so by their own conclusions their project is immediately ineligible. Maybe if they had rigged the results to show that they weren’t dangerous, they might have a case. But compressed gas is also prohibited, and last time I checked, air was a gas. By the way, the students should be commended for their scientific honesty in reporting results, even though it gave further support for the disqualification.

Now, personally, I have nothing against gun ownership. Many of my friends and relatives own guns, and I have even fired them from time to time, even when I was in middle school. I just don’t think that it is unreasonable that the project was banned. I mean, if a project had been banned because it used a laser, would you be causing such a stir? Would the National Association for the Free Use of Lasers be up in arms? I suspect not.

Finally, I think that any statement about the political agenda of the Massachusetts State Science Fair is purely speculative. Of course, I can understand why you would fear that any action like this is politically motivated, but there is not any factual evidence to support that fear.

Stan Penkala said...

Anonymous has a couple of valid points. The rules Jerry referenced were apparently for the high school level, versus middle school level, Science Fair. And, mea culpa, I referred to VP Degon as both Degon and Degan. That said, Anon does not address my first and foremost criticism, which is that the students had submitted a Research Plan that was approved, prior to beginning the project.

Second, Anon criticizes us for following the letter of the law in reading the rules, then turns around to claim that Ms Degon wasn't calling a BB gun a firearm, although she did say that firearms were prohibited in the context of explaining the reason for her disqualifying the student project that used a BB gun. Q.E.D., Anon. Even you would have to admit that any reasoning person would understand from that juxtapositioning of statements that Ms. Degon thinks a BB gun is a firearm.

Also, I would note that the middle school rules were changed as recently as January 18, 2005, according to the datestamp on the referenced document. Exactly what changes were made? I don't know. However, the titles of winning exhibits from 2004 indicate the use of pressurized gas, hazardous substances and hazardous equipment.

(1) "Effects of Ethylene Gas on Unripe Bananas" probably used a pressurized source of the ethylene gas. In addition, ethylene gas has essentially the same fuel heating value as propane, which makes it an explosive chemical and a hazardous substance as well.

(2) "Teaching an Old Weapon New Tricks" involves use of potentially hazardous equipment. Whatever the "Old Weapon" is, it wouldn't be a weapon without being hazardous to somebody.

(3) "Force Upon a Soccer Ball" involves the use of pressurized air in a flexible container that is subjected to additional forces, which would increase the internal pressure of the container. (OK, this is a stretch, but within the definition of pressurized gas. Soccer players are probably safe from the hazard of balls exploding during normal play).

(4)"Does the pH Level of the Solution Affect a Fuel Cell?"
(5)"pH and Rusting"
(6)"Acid Rain: Nature's Cruel Revenge?"
Potentially hazardous acid and base chemicals.

So given these winning projects that would technically violate the current rules, could it be that changes were made to the rules which allowed Ms. Degon to prohibit the BB gun research product retroactively? Or was it simply Ms. Degon's differing interpretation of the rules that led to the disqualification. Remember, someone had to approve the original project Researh Plan. Inquiring minds want to know.

I would also note that a comparison of the rules for middle school versus high school indicates that this BB gun project would be a suitable science fair project for High School students. It would be interesting to see what happens if these two students submit a comparable project next year, as freshmen in High School.

BTW, Anonymous appears very well informed about the controversy, and knew of the difference between the MA Science Fair rules for middle school and high school. Why hide behind the veil of anonymity?

I'd also comment that "hazardous devices" is a term that could be used to ban even the most innocuous project, if you really wanted to. An ordinary #2 pencil, in the hands of a trained individual, can be used to kill someone. Same goes for a rolled up section of newspaper, or even the bare hands of a karate practitioner. So in the application of any project, the materials and equipment must be treated with proper respect for their capabilities to do harm.

In the science fair context, I'd be a lot more worried about kids working with biological agents, ionizing radiation, and lasers than this BB gun project, even at the high school level.

Anonymous said...

First of all, I do believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion about whether or not BB guns are safe. I mean, some people think it is safer to drive without their seatbelt, and I say power to 'em (firmly disagreeing with legislation that mandates a seat belt, lest you think I am some sort of knee-jerk liberal). But I guess it just caught my attention that you were calling someone stupid for misspeaking (or, horrors, not knowing the textbook definition of a firearm) as a way to punish them for having the gall to think that guns are dangerous.

According to the Boston Globe:

"She said that she had not received a research plan from the boys, and that if she had, their project would have been rejected immediately."

So that is pretty much a he said/she said.

And about the “letter of the law” controversy, I wasn’t trying to say the she didn’t use the word firearm incorrectly, clearly she was referring to the BB gun when she said it. But I think it is just as clear that if the rules say that each project must not contain hazardous items, a reasoning person can understand how a BB gun could be viewed as dangerous. All I was saying is that if you read between the lines in what Ms Degon said, then you should also read between the lines on the policy.

But regardless of all the nitty-gritty details that I don't think we will ever know, I think the overall issue was of safety. As you point out quite correctly, there are all manner of potentially hazardous substances and objects, and you can't exclude all of them. But you can't include all of them either. Even though it is clearly fair to say that guns can be handled safely, I don't think you could say that they are not inherently dangerous. So why the great crime in excluding it? I can see if you said “Well, if I was running the Science Fair, I would have let it in.” But I don’t think that it was irrational. And I certainly don’t think that Einstein and Steven Hawking would agree on how to enumerate the projects according to their danger level, so clearly it is not an issue of intelligence.

I have been involved with various educational institutions here in Massachusetts for most of my life, which I guess is why I hide behind anonymity...I don't really want to get involved beyond what looks to me like a harmless blog, however, I love a good debate. But more importantly, I have worked with many of the teachers who get involved in these science fairs, and I can assure you of a few things. Most of them do not get involved in these side projects because of political agendas or aspirations...well, at least most surely never get into politics. But in my experience, this is all 100% volunteer work done because of a love of science and a sincere effort to get young people interested in science, ultimately helping our country remain competitive. It’s a shame that these people have to put up with name calling from gun-loving teacher-haters. (OK, no one here said that they hate all teachers, but I think that we agreed that reading between the lines is allowed.)

Finally, this whole discussion is illustrative of the danger of ordinary people confusing bloggers with journalists. Clearly you and I don’t have the time to perform the due diligence expected of *real* reporters. But it sure is good to exercise the gray muscle like this.

Jerry The Geek said...

As Stan P. observed, "Anonymous" made some valid points. Leaving for further discussion the question of the correct spelling of names, I'm grateful for his (?) link to the middle-school rules. This set of rules was not immediately available to me, and I am glad to see that someone who has a more intimate knowledge of the organization has come forward to increase our understanding. His choice to maintain his anonymity is not an issue.

It would appear that the middle-school rules refer to 'Hazardous substances or devices'
rather than firearms specifically. Considering that the entire thrust of the project was to prove the hazardous nature of BB guns, the project has apparently disqualified itself due to the "Catch-22" nature of the situation. That is, if the students had proved that BB guns are NOT hazardous, then the project would have been allowed.

Or would it?

I still wonder whether the original purpose of holding a Science Fair for middle-school students is best served by this unilateral decision.

I'm concerned about the "no-win" situation in which the students found themselves. Not knowing the specifics of the display, we can only guess that it didn't feature the actual exhibition nor demonstration of a BB gun at the science fair ... rather, one assumes that a BB gun was used during the experimentation, and the results of the experiment were catagorized and in some manner displayed.

As to whether the students had presented a research plan before beginning their expermintation; as Anonymous states, we have only anecdotal evidence from one source. It's difficult to evaluate the degree of objectivity which was involved in the decision to reject the project.

However, going by the original article, one can't help but focus on the use of the word 'firearm'. This is a term which is loaded (sorry!) with meaning for most people, as opposed to the term "hazardous substance(s) or devide" as is used in the rules. Apparently, the use of "pathogens" (another loaded term) is justifiable and definable. The term "firearms" seems not to be defined, but even so is reflexibly justifiable and problematic.


Incidently, most BB guns are not pneumatically powered; rather, they are spring-powered. Pellet guns, however, are typically air-powered. I'm not sure it makes a difference, but it is worth noting.

As to the question of "ordinary people confusing bloggers with journalists", and whether "you and I don't have the time to perform the due diligence expected of 'real' reporters", I submit that the comments and facts reported here are supported by the original source material and the links to supplemental source material available at the time. This was NOT a situation where the author accepted third-hand supposition and failed to follow up by checking the supporting information.

I draw your attention to the news stories of "real reporters" from the New York Times and the CBS newsroom ... Blair and Rather didn't do too well in either original reporting or fact checking. If this is the standard established by "real reporters", then Bloggers (who work for no pay, have no supportive research department, and whose motivation is an intrinsic desire to search for truth and fairness in reporting) don't look too bad by comparison.

This should not be interpreted as a rejection of the contribution of those who comment on the validity and accuracy of Bloggers. On the contrary, I appreciate the willingness of Anonymous to add value and perspective. I hope he will continue to bring more material to our attention in the future. I'm not the ultimate arbiter of the truth. You are. I can only present my reaction to the facts as they have been provided by reporting agencies. It's up to you to decide what you think is the Truth.

Please feel free to contribute perspective, argue an alternative opinion, or criticize anything you see here. I have no objection to alternative viewpoints.

I encourage them, and I respect them, especially when they are voiced as reasonably and as knowledgeably as we see here.

Anonymous said...

Because I would hate to see this discussion die, let me make a few additional comments.

First of all, I hope that my ridicule of the name-spelling didn't cheapen my contribution. I guess I thought it unreasonable to crucify the woman for misunderstanding the definition of "firearm." A quick survey around the office shows about 75% of us don't know the difference between a gun and a firearm. (Some of appear to be otherwise quite intelligent, though.) So I thought a parry and thrust was appropriate.

You are correct that we are left to speculate on the objectivity of the decision, and I suppose each of us would naturally speculate that the motivation was such that it would support our argument (i.e., you might think it is a politically motivated by an anti-gun agenda and I might think it was truly deemed as unsafe). But as far as the decision being unilateral, I think that most decisions are unilateral out of necessity. One couldn’t disqualify the project and allow it; it is an either-or. I am also confident that Ms. Degon didn’t act autocratically, this based on her status as CO-chair and my first-hand experience that everything in education is run by committee, even if there may not be a large diversity of opinion in said committee.

Also, it can’t be ignored that, in MA anyway, schools and guns are like oil and water. Or maybe they are more like Pop-Rocks and Pepsi: most people feel that they make a dangerous combination but have never taken the time to determine is that is actually true. So I can certainly why a committee would look at the project and say something like:

“OK, the project is done, so any potential hazard has lapsed without incident. Further, the students never actually brought the gun to school, so they didn’t break that rule. It also appears that they didn’t break the law in the use of the guns. But what are the consequences if we let the project in? Are we setting precedence that we condone the use of guns in a science fair project? Are we sending the message that as long as the research is carried out in advance and no one gets hurt, then any project is allowed in? Would we be violating the spirit of the no-guns-in-school policies? And besides, the project itself even verifies the dangerous nature of BB guns. What should we do?”

Well, you gotta come down on one side of the fence. It’s clear that individually we would come down on different sides. But it is not clear that the decision was made without reasonable consideration for both sides. I would be willing to bet that this isn’t the first project that was dismissed due to safety issues, even though some of them probably could have been carried out without incident.

Lastly addressing the subject that I brought up somewhat arbitrarily about bloggers vs. journalists, I see your point. I still feel pretty confident that the ratio of factual inaccuracies is higher in blogs than it is in the professional media (ignoring issues of presentation and non-reporting, which I think creates the need for blogs in the first place). My point was that you made some pretty compelling statements based on the MSSF rules when in fact those rules were irrelevant. I brought it up in the context of bloggers vs. journalists because that seems to be a hot talk-radio topic regardless of the host’s political bent, and this is the first time I understood why they were making a big deal out of it.

Stan Penkala said...

We seem to have reached some sort of tacit agreement that the project approval process was applied in arbitrary fashion, but we don't want to discuss possible reasons why. Anon quotes the Boston Globe account: "She [Ms. Degon] said that she had not received a research plan from the boys, and that if she had, their project would have been rejected immediately." From that Anon concludes: "So that is pretty much a he said/she said."
However, this is not the case. Paperwork to prepare a Project Research Plan is a requirement prior to undertaking the project. Then, from Research Plan approval through completion of the project, the researchers must use a bound journal [not loose-leaf] to record observations, etc. Did the Boston Globe ask the boys for a copy of their Research Plan? As "responsible journalists", that would be my first step upon hearing of the controversy. Of course, the possession of an Research Plan approved by one MSSF official, and the disapproval of the project by Ms. Degon, then produces the next obvious investigative reporter question, which is "What was the rationale for the original approval, if the subsequent rejection by Ms. Degon was so obvious?"
Also, Anon does not question my list of 2004 projects which appear to violate the middle school rules, other than to comment that "there are all manner of potentially hazardous substances and objects, and you can't exclude all of them."
And that admission pretty much makes the exclusion of this particular project an arbitrary decision by Ms. Degon, which was at odds with the decision by whoever approved the original Research Plan.
This line of reasoning assumes that Ms. Degon was not tasked with reviewing and approving the Research Proposal of each and every middle school research project in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I believe that is a reasonable assumption.
She might be tasked with judging whether questionable projects should receive approval. However, she claims she never saw a Research Plan for this project. So, that would indicate that (1) the project was not considered questionable at the original approval step, OR (2) Ms. Degon was not tasked with reviewing questionable Research Plans.
This brings up my scenario of what took place in this case.
(1) The students propose a Research Plan to study penetrating power of BB gun pellets.
(2) The Research Plan is routinely approved [or was initially deemed questionable, and was subsequently approved by a reviewer other than Ms. Degon].
(3) The research was performed, documented, and prepared for presentation.
(4) A compilation of projects including this one was prepared, prior to presentation at a regional science fair.
(5) Ms. Degon noted the title of the project in the program, list of projects to be presented, or whatever means by which the heirarchy of the MSSF are notified of these things.
(6) Ms. Degon latches on to the term "BB Gun" and goes ballistic [sorry Jerry, couldn't resist that one].
(7) Ms. Degon asserts her powers as Vice-President of the middle-school MSSF to arbitrarily reject the presentation of the project, figuring that nothing more would come of it.
(8) The students, or their adult representation, bring the story to the media, whereby we learn some of what went on.
(9) The Boston Globe fails to investigate the story to figure out what actually happened. They allow Ms. Degon to hide behind her statement that she didn't see a Research Plan, and her interpretation of the "hazardous substances or devices" statement in the rules. And they don't question why she took arbitrary action to disallow this particular project, out of the hundreds of projects using equally or more hazardous substances and/or devices.

P.S.: We are left to question the motivations of Ms. Degon to disallow the presentation of the project. The work was completed, safely and without harm to the students. The equipment (BB gun) would not be on display at the Fair, so there was no consideration of future hazard. The information that BB guns might be hazardous IF MISUSED will not be available to the Fair students, parents, and educators.

In light of the arbitrary actions she took, I am left with the firm conclusion that Ms. Degon has an anti-gun mindset. Anon is free to disagree, but I'd like to hear his reasoning that she is NOT anti-gun, given her actions.

P.P.S.: As Anon and I have both noted, just about anything could be considered "hazardous substances or devices". This then becomes a CYA statement that allows the MSSF to disallow essentially any project they don't want on display.

Stan Penkala said...

We seem to have reached some sort of tacit agreement that the project approval process was applied in arbitrary fashion, but we don't want to discuss possible reasons why. Anon quotes the Boston Globe account: "She [Ms. Degon] said that she had not received a research plan from the boys, and that if she had, their project would have been rejected immediately." From that Anon concludes: "So that is pretty much a he said/she said."
However, this is not the case. Paperwork to prepare a Project Research Plan is a requirement prior to undertaking the project. Then, from Research Plan approval through completion of the project, the researchers must use a bound journal [not loose-leaf] to record observations, etc. Did the Boston Globe ask the boys for a copy of their Research Plan? As "responsible journalists", that would be my first step upon hearing of the controversy. Of course, the possession of an Research Plan approved by one MSSF official, and the disapproval of the project by Ms. Degon, then produces the next obvious investigative reporter question, which is "What was the rationale for the original approval, if the subsequent rejection by Ms. Degon was so obvious?"
Also, Anon does not question my list of 2004 projects which appear to violate the middle school rules, other than to comment that "there are all manner of potentially hazardous substances and objects, and you can't exclude all of them."
And that admission pretty much makes the exclusion of this particular project an arbitrary decision by Ms. Degon, which was at odds with the decision by whoever approved the original Research Plan.
This line of reasoning assumes that Ms. Degon was not tasked with reviewing and approving the Research Proposal of each and every middle school research project in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I believe that is a reasonable assumption.
She might be tasked with judging whether questionable projects should receive approval. However, she claims she never saw a Research Plan for this project. So, that would indicate that (1) the project was not considered questionable at the original approval step, OR (2) Ms. Degon was not tasked with reviewing questionable Research Plans.
This brings up my scenario of what took place in this case.
(1) The students propose a Research Plan to study penetrating power of BB gun pellets.
(2) The Research Plan is routinely approved [or was initially deemed questionable, and was subsequently approved by a reviewer other than Ms. Degon].
(3) The research was performed, documented, and prepared for presentation.
(4) A compilation of projects including this one was prepared, prior to presentation at a regional science fair.
(5) Ms. Degon noted the title of the project in the program, list of projects to be presented, or whatever means by which the heirarchy of the MSSF are notified of these things.
(6) Ms. Degon latches on to the term "BB Gun" and goes ballistic [sorry Jerry, couldn't resist that one].
(7) Ms. Degon asserts her powers as Vice-President of the middle-school MSSF to arbitrarily reject the presentation of the project, figuring that nothing more would come of it.
(8) The students, or their adult representation, bring the story to the media, whereby we learn some of what went on.
(9) The Boston Globe fails to investigate the story to figure out what actually happened. They allow Ms. Degon to hide behind her statement that she didn't see a Research Plan, and her interpretation of the "hazardous substances or devices" statement in the rules. And they don't question why she took arbitrary action to disallow this particular project, out of the hundreds of projects using equally or more hazardous substances and/or devices.

P.S.: We are left to question the motivations of Ms. Degon to disallow the presentation of the project. The work was completed, safely and without harm to the students. The equipment (BB gun) would not be on display at the Fair, so there was no consideration of future hazard. The information that BB guns might be hazardous IF MISUSED will not be available to the Fair students, parents, and educators.

In light of the arbitrary actions she took, I am left with the firm conclusion that Ms. Degon has an anti-gun mindset. Anon is free to disagree, but I'd like to hear his reasoning that she is NOT anti-gun, given her actions.

P.P.S.: As Anon and I have both noted, just about anything could be considered "hazardous substances or devices". This then becomes a CYA statement that allows the MSSF to disallow essentially any project they don't want on display.

Jerry The Geek said...

Stan P. also makes some 'valid points', and I find myself acting in the role of a 'facilitator'. That's fine, I've already had my say and I'm pleased with the free exchange of ideas here. My thanks to both of you, and while I certainly won't take any action to close the topic I'm assuming that we've arrived at a contretemps resulting from a lack of further information from the original source.

I would like to make a few comments and observations.

First, Anon mentions that people 'around the office'didn't have a clear understanding of the term "firearm".

That's not surprising to me. Often, we see that the public forum is dominated by people who don't really understand the subject matter. Here, we're talking about the definition of the term "Firearm". In the press, we often see (for example) the term "Machine Gun" used to refer to firearms which are often merely semiautomatic weapons.

For anyone who is at all interested in understanding the terminology of the subject (which should, for "real" reporters, be the first step in the process of reporting the news), there is a useful document available on-line which addresses this specific. It's available on the blog of Kim duToit under the sidebar heading of "Gun Terminology and Glossary" and may be found at the following URL:

http://home.sprynet.com/%7Efrfrog/glossary.htm

You can order this information as a printed booklet. I urge you to do so, read it, and then pass it on ... hopefully to a "real" reporter, in hopes that the next time he writes about firearms-related subjects he will have the basic background necessary to speak knowledgably about the subject.

Second, Tyler D satirically mentions the proliferation of shooting teams (or clubs) in high schools.

Actually, this shocking situation has been an on-going extra-curricular activity (in a manner reminiscent of football, soccer, and dodge-ball) for years and years. I was a member of the rifle team in both junior-high school ('middle school' in other states) and high school, and lettered in Rifle Club for the entire six years. I've seen literally hundreds of young people, aged from 12 to 18, shooting tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition from real firearms and not one of them either suffered an injury or caused an injury to another living being. While firearms are inherently dangerous, they are not beyond the ability of the average person to control responsibly. This is what is being taught in these school-sponsored activities, and it is my personal opinion that they are providing a service to the community.

Third, the original source, consisting of "real" reporters did not follow up on the article.

Well, they wouldn't, would they?

They wrote an article based upon the most obvious, most readily available information, and never found reason to follow it up.

This is not a big issue to, for example, the Boston Globe. That it turns out to be a Big Issue to a harmless blog.

In point of fact, this is exactly the kind of issue which lends itself to more thorough exploration and discussion in a 'harmless blog' (and I certainly do NOT take exception to the term) than is likely to be receiven in a major metropolitan newspaper. The audience is indisputably smaller, but the chances of real communication is better in a blog than in a newspaper ... which exists solely to sell advertising space. Their motivation is neither to provide either factual evidence nor a forum to discuss the news of the day for a micro-niche readership (the best term I could come up with on the spur of the moment to describe this blog.)

If the Globe really cared about the issues, as Stan P. suggests, they would have dug deeper. They don't, they didn't, so we'll try to fill the nature-abhored vacuum here.

Fourth, Anon stated (early on in the discussion), that "Of course, I can understand why you would fear that any action like this is politically motivated, but there is not any factual evidence to support that fear."

On this point, I must take exception. Firearms are THE single most closely regulated product in the history of Civilization (with the possible of nuclear physics and "how to build an atomic bomb", which the Rosenbergs addressed in a singularly Draconian solution.) Firearms manufacturers are regularly sued by municipalities regardless of whether they have complied with all applicable federal, state and local ordnances.

The Bill of Rights acknowledges the right of citizens to own firearms without 'infringement', yet we see these infringement occurring on a daily basis and our own courts are unwilling to apply constitutional edicts relating to this right on the same basis of ANY other right.

And every 'infringement' is based on manufactured justification, because of purely politica reasons.

For those who don't care about firearms ownership, or (as is the case in this example) the enjoyment of the fruits of the exercise of these rights, it's entirely a non-issue and they are perfectly happy to ignore it. The only fly in the ointment is that a certain sub-class of citizens DO care about their right to own firearms, and this sub-class jealously objects to any denigration of that right no matter how petty such objection may seem.

Why?

Because the most egrigious restrictions on this right have historically resulted from petty points of contention. Witness the Assault Weapons Ban, which was based on a definition of an Assault Weapon which had nothing to do with what an Assault Weapon really was.

I think you will see, Anon, that people who are concerned with the protection of the original meaning of the Second Amendment have become extremely sensitive to ANY incident which might conceivably provide fodder to the most jaded plitical opponent.

This should explain why the reaction to ANY restriction upon "firearms" (even those objects which do not fall in this classification) is met with immediate and emphatic objection. It also explains why the definition of the term 'firearm' seems so important, in a political environment in which ... to certain non-involved people ... the term is so loosely and casually applied.

Anonymous said...

To Stan:

I guess we have degenerated to the point where the actual events are of no interest to us, as we have both made up our own stories about what might have happened. (Although I think that I provided a little bit more balanced hypothetical.)

By now I am sure we have all read all the reports on the subject, and they seem to have been sourced from the same AP piece, so there isn't much variation. Best I have been able to find regarding the project plan was the aforementioned quote from Ms. Degon and a reference that the students had "submitted" the project plan. Seeing as how it was surely the students or their parents who initiated the story in the media, it would be hard to believe that they would have a signed and approved plan and not mention it as their primary argument for unfair treatment.

Also, I am wondering why you seem to have ignored my suggestion that it is highly unlikely that Ms. Degon acted autocratically. I guess it is important for you to have a finger to point.

Finally, let's not forget that the students still learned just as much by doing the project, they just didn't have the chance to compete. Imagine a student who plagiarizes something in a paper; he gets an F for the offense, but very well may have learned quite a bit while preparing it. And another thing they may have learned is something I maybe wish I had learned as soon as they did. Once I was preparing a consulting project and I was so very sure that I would get the job, but didn’t have it in writing. I started the work, but one day before I was supposed to get the contract, the deal fell through. Lesson? Get it in writing. If they submitted a proposal and never heard back, they should have followed up.