13 to 16 percent, 13 to 16 percent. I’m going to let that number sink in of high school biology, teachers in the United States openly espouse the idea that life is created as it is right now on this planet 6000 years ago.
One out of seven or fewer. Yeah, it’s insane.
Let’s set the stage for today’s interview, as Bertha said in the teaser. Thirteen to 16 percent of the science teachers in America, the high school science teachers in America, are teaching creationism. The unscientific belief that the Earth began 6000 years ago and all the life forms on Earth today were also created 6000 years ago. Two hundred and sixty to three hundred and twenty thousand teachers are openly espousing creationism in our public schools. That is scary. The unscientific belief in creationism goes high into the ranks of our government officials. Here is Vice President Mike Pence addressing Congress in 2002 when he was still a representative from the state of Indiana.
The Bible tells us that God created man in his own image. Male and female. He created it. And I believe that.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that God created the known universe, the earth and everything in it, including man.
And I also believe that someday scientists will come to see that only the theory of intelligent design provides even a remotely rational explanation for the known universe. But until that day comes and I have no fear of science, I believe that the more we study the science, the more the truths of faith will become apparent. I just would humbly ask, as new theories of evolution find their ways into the newspapers and into the textbooks, let us demand that educators around America teach evolution not as fact, but as theory and an interesting theory to boot. But let’s also bring into the minds of all of our children all of the theories about the unknowable, that some bright day in the future, through science and perhaps through faith, we will find the truth from whence we come. And I yield back.
I would humbly point out to the vice president that science hasn’t been verifying religious beliefs for the last five hundred years. It’s been rendering them unnecessary. So this is where we’re at. We have elected officials pushing for nonscientific ideas to be taught right alongside of established, verifiable science. So what do we do about this? Well, today we’re going to talk to someone who is doing something about it. Bertha Vasquez was with me in October during Psychon, and we had a chat about what the Center for Inquiry is doing about creationism being taught in the public schools.
All right. We are here with Bertha Vasquez. Did I say your name right? You did. Thank you. All right. I love that you have two Zs.
Yes. Most people don’t know it’s people as S and Z. I’ve had diploma’s spelled wrong. Credit cards, you name it.
Yeah. I knew you would be. It would be a huge score. And Scrabble game was the proper name. That’s true.
But we are here in Las Vegas, Nevada at Psychon. And what is your topic going to be at?
It’s about tying up creationism in the classroom.
It’s about the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science and that and that’s what we’re going to talk to you today about the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science. But so do you have a title regarding that? What is your.
I’m the director of the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, which is part of the Center for Inquiry.
But you’re also a regular teacher at school.
I am a Full-Time classroom teacher in South Florida and I’ve been at it for 28 years. And what how old are the kids that you teach? I teach middle schoolers 12, 13, 14 years old.
And what is it, a particular subject or do you teach?
Right now, I teach honors physical science, which is a ninth grade course to really awesome seventh graders. And I teach honors biology, which is a 10th grade course through those same seventh graders when they get to eighth grade. So these kids are two years ahead in Florida.
Curriculum honors class, never experience that much.
How did it go? It’s that I don’t believe you. I don’t even think they had what they call AP classes.
And that’ll come. That’s later. These kids will be those types of students that are taking AP and things like that.
Yeah, no, I was. There are AP regular placement courses. Well, you’re a late bloomer there. Maybe.
You have a regular full time job and then you do this time job. Tell me the story about how Ty’s got started.
I love this story. I’m glad you asked me that question. So in 2013, I’m a lifelong fan of Richard Dawkins. And when I was in my early 20s, I read The Selfish Gene. It really shifted my paradigm. I read every book after that. And I found out that he was going to be a visiting professor at the University of Miami for one week. I have a lot of friends there. And I was able to get into some of the smaller lectures. He did huge lectures as well. But I was able to get into some of the smaller lectures. My students made him a beautiful card because I use a lot of his science videos. And I also wrote him a very heartfelt letter. And I got to meet him. And he invited me to stay for lunch with all of these college professors. And here I am, what we say, just a teacher. And the topic came up. Evolution, education. Some of the professors had students in schools where one particular school where one parent complained. This is a private school. One parent complained. Therefore, the school decided no more evolution. Education. Wow. Yeah. Based on one complaint, one complaint, Richard was appalled. And I left that lunch thinking I can do a little something. I mean, they encouraged teachers to present professional development for their colleagues. And I recently read Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin. It’s a terrific book. I read it. Yeah, it’s a great book. I have to tell you, I have a cast of Tiktaalik on my classroom. He sent it to me. She did. And I did put together a year long professional development based on your inner fish. And he did it with, you know, did it with my colleagues. The thing is, you know, middle school science teachers, we are what would you call the jack of all trades?
We have to teach everything. I mean, I teach physical science and I teach biology. You want me teaching your kids biology? That’s my degree. You don’t really want me teaching your kids physical science, but I’m teaching it. So I had to learn as I went along.
I’m better now than I was years ago. But when you start out, sometimes you don’t know anything. The worst thing I’m at is I’m terrible with rocks and geology. And I happen to be called teaching with a teacher who loved rocks and geology. And I learned so much from her. We learn the most from our fellow teachers. I’ve learned the most from teachers who have opened their file cabinets to me and shared their resources with me. And that’s what I wanted to do for my fellow teachers in evolutionary biology, because that’s what I love and that’s OK.
But it’s a massive thing they’re asking you to do.
It is to be able to cover whole regions of scientific experts in it and think about science, science, change.
Every week, so and this happens more at the middle school level, at high school level. I mean, you could get a teacher that has to teach chemistry and biology. But generally speaking, you start just specialize. But at the middle school level, you have people that really have to go out of their field or what they can understand. So I did this with my colleagues. And a year later, Richard’s back in Miami and I had the opportunity to speak with him again.
And I remember he goes, Oh, you’re that teacher. So he remembered. And I told them what I had done. And he.
Genuinely was quite pleased about it.
He called me at work and he said, you know, I love what you’re doing, how can I help? I’m not going to do the accent. I was good. I love what you’re doing. How can I help? I said, gosh, you know, you helped me a lot. I use your videos. I use your books. So much science education stuff. We think of him as the atheist guy, but he’s really got amazing ability to communicate science. And he goes, no, no, no, I don’t mean that you’ve already used my books or you’ve read his my videos. I mean, how can I help? I mean, can I come and speak to these teachers while I am in Miami Dade County? Miami Dade County saw the amazing offer that he was offering. And not only did they open it up to those six or seven teachers in my school, they opened it up to the whole school district. And Richard Dawkins came to my little middle school in Coconut Grove and presented to an auditorium full of science teachers, just the teachers. I had my students there. I mean, how can these eighth graders not. Come on, you got. Well, you you’re the insider. Got them there. Yes. And I had a young man introduce him. I had a young lady create create a thank you card for him. She painted his dogs on a thank you card. He was lovely. And then he and Robin asked me to do this nationally. Gave me pause. I am just a classroom teacher. But I have some background in professional development with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. And I thought, okay, I’ll take this on. I’ll try to do this. And I developed the ties program. Robyn and I came up with the name together. Robyn Blunder. Who is the executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation and CFO Center for Injury. We had our first workshop, April 4th, 2015, at the Miami Museum of Science. There’s a full day event. Robyn came. And today we are at three and a half years later this week. I just confirm the one hundred and sixteenth workshop nationally. Fantastic. Forty two states.
Fifty seven active presenters. All of our presenters are teachers. I’d say all of them, but one, their high school teachers. AP biology teachers. And then they’re presenting to middle school science teachers.
So you have teachers teaching other teacher yet how to do.
Yes. And I try my best. It’s not I can’t always do this, but if the conference is in Georgia, I’d like to teach her to be a teacher from Georgia. Doesn’t always work out that way. But generally, that’s how it works. And because teachers really know what’s going on and they understand what these they’re their colleagues need and the politics of the local school board. Exactly. Exactly. And I also know it’s a personal agenda of mine. Yes. This is about evolutionary biology. It’s a personal agenda of mine to make teachers, leaders and their locals education communities, because I think more often than not, that doesn’t happen.
Education is not run by teachers, run by politicians and attorneys.
So I am empowering teachers to be leaders in their communities and many of our presenters. They love evolutionary biology, but it’s also about teaching leadership.
How many what do you think the percentage of teachers at your level and say high school that are explicitly teaching evolution?
For sure. We don’t have data on middle school, but 13 to 16 percent, 13 to 16 percent are. I’m going to let that number sink in. Of high school biology, teachers in the United States openly espouse the idea that life is created as it is right now on this planet 6000 years ago.
One out of seven or fewer. Yeah, it’s insane.
And then there is there a middle group in that bunch that are sort of teaching?
Well, we call it the cautious middle. And so you have about I’m gonna get my math wrong. But about 20, 20 to 30 percent at the top. We call those effective teachers. They’re doing a good job. And then you have that 60 percent in the middle. We call them the cautious middle.
A century of political controversy in this country has left many Americans confused. Many teachers even confused about what they are allowed and not allowed to teach.
Ties the teachers to revolutionary signs. We target that middle. We target the cautious middle. What I’m trying to do is take those people at the top. Do it well and help and have them help. That cautious middle.
That do not reject evolution. They accept evolution.
But they might be nervous about teaching a subject that will most definitely raise the level of anxiety in the classroom.
So. So that’s part of it. You’re saying that there’s some worry about kickbacks from students and their parents for using the E word? Absolutely.
Are there other reasons, teacher? I mean, do you think some of it is just because they themselves didn’t get good training?
That is true as well. I think science education and evolution education has really improved maybe in the last decade, maybe in the last two decades. But a lot of these teachers don’t have the content, knowledge and disposition, especially at the middle school level. And that’s not. The criticism, I don’t have the content, knowledge to teach your child about rocks. And yet there I was. I have a degree in biology. So. What are you going to do? So first and foremost, Thai’s gives them content and resources and I make sure everything’s free and accessible and high quality.
It seems and correct me if I’m wrong about this, was there was there a time in American history where.
Evolution was being taught much more regularly and openly.
And then we sort of hit this period in the 70s and 80s, maybe one certain political factions got stronger and more organized and started doing all this anti and intelligent design stuff and putting stickers and books and all these things that cause it did.
I don’t know.
I mean, I’m not the expert on that, but I think it’s always been a problem. Evolution was evolution. Education was banned. All right. Banned till 1968. You could teach creationism along with evolution until 1970 thought and then. Yeah. And then in nineteen seventy five they just changed the name from creationism to creation science. And that lasted till eighty seven. I mean, I was out of high school. It’s crazy. And then that they just changed the name again to intelligent design.
And that was deemed unconstitutional and I believe 2005. So this is an ongoing issue in this country for sure, I think.
And that was part of what Eugenie Scott and the National Center for Science Education was showing.
And that gets Miller case. Yes. Dover, Pennsylvania. Yes. That there was this history of trying to cover up the fact that you’re just this is all creationism, that this guy it’s creationism in a tuxedo.
I’d like to say, and they’ve done a great job, the NSCLC.
I use some of their stuff.
Now, today, what we have is what’s called academic freedom laws. So they didn’t make it. The creationism, creation, science, whatever they wanted to call it, it didn’t make it in the court system.
So now they’re promoting academic freedom, which sounds good, sounds very good evidence for and against evolution and let the children decide and allow them to debate because the children are way smarter than my teacher. You know, there was a president who said, let the children decide.
Bush said that. He said, let the children decide. That sounds great. But we’re not asking chemistry teachers to teach alchemy, you know?
What do you want the children deciding the curriculum at any school for any subject?
I mean, isn’t that why we have presumably smarter teacher people teaching?
Yeah. Oh, yeah.
They keep looking for ways to get it and sneak it in and grim.
And these stickers just chap my hide too when they just say, you know, the content in this may be a controversial subject.
Yes. Now, Kenneth Miller, he’s at Brown University, is a cell biologist, the author of my textbook. He’s terrific. And when they called him about those stickers in his textbook. You know, the journalist was looking for this northern New England teacher to say something about the southern states. And he goes, oh, no, I love the stickers, except it shouldn’t just say the evolution chapter is just theory. It should say the whole book is just theory and should be looked upon, you know, looked at with a critical light. I think that was a terrific response.
And he was the chief, the main defender of evolution education in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case.
Well, is is there anything to that? I mean, is is evolution harder to teach in the South than it is?
I thought getting into this job as executive director of Ties, that it was going to be. But now I hesitate. There’s no question it’s harder. I mean, it’s hard, but I I’ve been heckled once and that was in Columbus, Ohio.
I’ve encountered teachers in Northern California. Once you get outside of the Bay Area that I have trouble with creationists or again.
Upstate New York. I’m a presenter there. And the teacher said, but are we allowed to teach this? Come on. This is upstate New York. So you would think it’s a southern US problem. But I don’t think it’s greater than that.
Could you. Would you say that it’s more of an urban suburban versus rural thing? I think so, yes. Or people just feel freer to object openly to. They feel. Is it I mean, do they feel they feel it’s a threat to their religious beliefs? Yes. Put it out there. You know, it is.
So what’s the toughest part of doing this?
I mean, because you are a year, you’re dealing with people, you’re dealing with teachers who are I’m sure some of them are worried about. If they’re not worried about losing their job, they’re at least worried about their job getting a lot more miserable if they throw all this out there.
Right. So for, you know, we mainly targeting public school teachers. So they have every right, they symptomless to teach this. I mean, there’s supposed to teach the laws of motion and they’re supposed to teach this. There’s lots of studies that say, of course, if all high school biology teachers and then I imagine middle school science teachers just took a course in evolutionary biology that would be make more of a positive impact than all of these court cases that we just discussed five minutes ago. I’m a true believer in what you love, you what you know, you teach with more passion and confidence. So my whole idea with the ties program is give teachers first and foremost content, give them fun resources, and they’ll go back to the classroom and teach it with more confidence and more passion. And that will translate that that will pass on to the students.
Honestly, this is a really cool subject.
I mean, it’s so amazing when you think about evolution and how we got here and all the many, you know, the famous Darwin code quote, at the end of the Origin of Species, we have a better product. We have a product that’s just amazing and just it’s just wonderful. And it’s not that hard if you have the confidence and the content knowledge to do it.
Yeah, I mean, it’s the unifying principle in all of biology. It ties everything together.
And for me, that’s a long term goal, to have teachers teach this more like the thread throughout their year. We teach it as a discrete unit oftentimes at the end of the year. And I’ll give you a personal story. I taught sixth grade for 25 years and I’m still standing. I taught sixth grade for twenty five years. There’s no in Florida evolution curriculum, evolution standards. Middle school evolution standards are in the seventh grade, so they’re not in the sixth grade. And I do this great lab with sixth graders. It’s called the Owl Pellet Lab. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it. Barn owls eat the mouse or whatever it is that they and they regurgitate what they cannot digest. So they regurgitate the fur and the bolts and makes this little pellet thing that kids in my class, they take it apart. Now they’ve learned the human skeleton and love. This is my favorite lab of the year. And they pull out a teeny tiny humerus and a teeny tiny femur and they are freaking out.
Looks like it’s an all. It’s a red.
A mandible. Twenty five years, Jim. And it never occurred to me. I could just I’m so upset at myself. It never occurred to me to go wait a second. That I never tortue the rat or Shrew skeleton. I taught you a human skeleton. How is it that you are identifying a femur that is one centimeter long? That’s how evolution should be taught. It should be the thread across the whole year.
And I it didn’t occur to me and that’s the long term goal of Tilles ties is, like you said, make it the underlying theme. More and more high school teachers are teaching it first thing beginning of the year.
I mentioned it, but then I wait till after genetics because genetics is so it’s really informing evolution today. But that’s the thing we got.
That’s the direction we have to take. It’s it’s a long way there. But the fact that we’re even talking, you and I, sitting here about evolution standards at a middle school level.
I have to be hopeful and optimistic.
That wasn’t around 30 years ago, although you were in the middle of another.
Yes. That it’s emboldening or empowering the other side as completely off their radar.
And, you know, a commander in chief who has probably no concept of what any of this matter.
And he wouldn’t care if he did. It really would. I agree.
Well, if he cared, it would be the other way around as he’s trying to please some constituents that believe the wrong thing.
Yeah. And that’s why we have to promote the idea.
I have a slide with two links to two genetics videos.
One is Dr. Kenneth Miller. And one is Richard Dawkins. And I tell the teachers in all these workshops, I say, look, Dr. Kenneth Miller is a devout Catholic. He wrote, Finding Darwin’s God is the greatest defender of evolution education in this country. Richard Dawkins is a nonbeliever, an atheist. If you are lucky enough to have one of these two amazing scientists come into your classroom and do the evolution unit for you. There should be no difference in the content delivered. The other teaching, they say they’re teaching the same thing. And so I guess the idea we have to promote is the idea that evolution is evolution, regardless of your religious beliefs and their National Center for Science Education has a whole list of religions and clergy, clergymen. I was gonna say, but I suppose there’s clergy people that accept evolution. It’s really just a small fraction that does. I was raised Catholic. I didn’t even realize that there was such an issue with this. I didn’t know there was micro versus macro evolution till I accepted this position with the Dawkins Foundation. Mm hmm. What’s that? That’s a creationist thing.
I didn’t know. Right. Yeah. I actually had my.
General practitioner, Dr. Challenge macro evolution to me, and it ruined it. It killed me to hear this man of science should be challenge of a basic part of evolution that this is in California.
Yeah. And right in Los Angeles.
And I’m hoping things are moving in the right direction. Well, there’s different polls and it really depends how you ask the question. But I think you can say that about 60 percent of the American adult population accept evolution. If you look at people under 30, that number rises to nearly 70 percent. That’s good. And I think it’s just your doctor probably really didn’t have a very good.
Right. Not explicitly. So, I mean, obviously had at least parts of a good biology adaption. Maybe they weren’t tying it together like you’re talking about, right?
Gosh, doctors should read your inner fish and Human Errors by Dr. Nathan Lentz. I’ll be at the Ty’s workshop next Friday, which is going to be filmed by a film crew from HBO Vice.
And his book is all about all of the errors in our bodies because fish were basically never meant to walk on two legs. You know, you’re a glorified lungfish. You think about it, right?
Every year I go to this high school in Ontario, California. That’s a young Earth creationist Christian high school. And I do the humanist atheist segment of their comparative religion.
And these kids always want to talk about evolution and where are the transitional good fossils. And I always mention Tiktaalik. Yeah.
Which we know is a great example of a transitional fossil. Yes. Fish with arms, swords, I mean.
The evidence is there.
The evidence is there and they just they don’t want to, I know, believe that. It’s an emotional response.
It’s not just about the evidence being there. It’s how do we make these young people realize, wow, this is really cool, how to make them realize that it may not necessarily contradict their religious beliefs? Approach with care. I mean, these are young people and you can have an argument with a 50 year old and yeah, do whatever you want, but with young people, especially as a teacher, I want them to feel comfortable in a classroom. You never want to disrespect the child, especially it’s not them. It’s this is what they were taught.
And yeah. And I try to throw some humor into it cause I say, you know, two guys are, what, 17 years old?
You’re just you have your body hasn’t even peaked yet. Wait till you had 50 or 60 or 70 and then talk about intelligent design.
Oh, goodness. Herniated disks. And, you know, I actually have a girl.
You you have had a girl. Can I see it? Yeah.
So I have this thing. I wish we were shooting video right now. That is called a Perry auricular fossa. And human embryos, like all vertebrate embryos, have gill arches, you know, in the embryo and in fish, it becomes your gills.
But in humans, it becomes, well, lots of parts of your lower jaw on these. This area here and one of my gill arches never closed. Now, come on. Yeah, know, that’s kind of evidence for evolution. I wish it worked.
If I was going to say if you good, bad or water for telling you.
I like that scene in the first Star Wars or they’re swimming under the water, that thing. I wish it worked, but alas, it does not. Yeah.
And there’s a lot of stuff like Neil Shubin points it all out. These bones migrated to different parts and they’re just not very useful or there’s so many examples.
There’s a great YouTube video that I show the teachers vestigial structures in humans. And I also say and while I don’t say it just is that evolution doesn’t like the new stuff, we just retools. And sometimes it’s not totally perfect.
I show students, people with hands that look like little webbed feet because really these are students. And then the lies systems kind of. ISIS kind of worked on that skin between the fingers and some child always as well.
They’d be a great Olympic swimmer. The Web fingers. And they had all these mistakes that could happen, herniated disks. This summer, I went to the Burgess Shale. I climbed to the Burgess Shale in Canada.
And we found a little.
Flosses, and I hope I’m pronouncing this right. The CIA and the CIA was one of the first organisms with the neuro cord on the dorsal side. And that’s great. Yeah. Because all the animals before that had bred ventral dorsal, ventral neuro. But yet we have dorsal neuro cords.
So these are great, great, great, great, great, great, great ancestor.
And that’s one of the great fossil deposits in North America.
So it was a real.
Goal for me to get up there. Did you find any other cool stuff he did?
There is one tiny. It was about half an eighth of an inch, and it’s called hallucinogenic. And picture a little stick walking on eyelashes. Oh, the size and the width of your pinky.
That was super cool.
And it was that lovely fossil. Yes.
We felt and we found what was the greatest predator at the time. Anomalocaris, which makes it great password. And Amala one carries smiley face. You know, you could use Effler, your Bank of America as what it it.
Eat it, eat everything and eat to try to like it.
I don’t think maximum, maybe a meter. And that was like the big predator at the time. King or the king of the Hill. Yeah.
We found a bunch of girls to see what I’m saying. This is fun stuff. You have to present it like this is amazing fun stuff. Like I’m telling you, we have a better product.
Yeah, well, and it’s right to know that the thrill.
There are some fun parts of this. You get to see teachers re energized. What else do you love about.
I love traveling and I love seeing teachers in different states. Everywhere you go is so different. And I love. I’m trying to work on real partnerships. Like I said, we’ve we have these workshops at museums, universities, zoos. And for the longer workshops, the workshops range from 60 Minutes to full days. If it’s at least a half day, I always bring in a scientist. And so I love teaching the content part or the standards part and the resources part and then have the the scientists come. So I’ll tell you my favorite Thai’s moment. Yeah. Favorite Thai’s moment, Florida International University, Miami, Florida. And I collaborated with a teacher. But Erik von Westbrooke, he’s not there anymore. If I you would call it. And so we pulled the teachers at 8:00 a.m. and one of them said, Yaddo, believe this stuff. I just teach it because they have to know it for the state exam. And he looked at me and I looked at him and nothing. We just kept right on going. I did my thing in the morning. And then he came on and this stuff, Professor, he studies chickpeas, and he did, you know, that chickpeas provide 20 percent of the world’s population with their primary source of protein, probably through hummus alone.
And climate change is really affecting chickpea populations, crops across the country, across the world, negatively, negatively, adversely. The problem is the chickpea crop is very genetically. It’s a monoculture. There’s no genetic diversity. So this guy goes to southern Turkey, northern Iraq. Wonderful place to go this time of year and takes wild chickpea, which literally grows out of rocks, brings it back to South Florida and crosses it with the crops to bring in to increase the diversity, the hybrid vigor and so forth. And he’s trying to save the agricultural chickpea crop. Well, it’s getting towards the end of the workshop. And the same teacher says, you know, I get it now. I get it. It’s current. It’s relevant.
I’m going to go back to my classroom and use your stuff. And I’m not going to tell kids it’s not real anymore.
Oh, fantastic. Yeah, that’s got to feel good.
The tubs of hummus in the world continue on. Yes. And that’s important. Maybe she has a better understanding of why and why a little diversity creates a more robust plant.
So she could teach it with a little bit more confidence now and passion. And that’s what Thai’s is about. And I mean it. Yeah, I mean it.
Fantastic. Well, thank you for all the work you’re doing.
We love having ties. Be a part of the Center for inquiry.
I know all of our people love threw you out there doing something positive like this.
Thank you. And I really have to thank the Center for Inquiry, the Dawkins Foundation. It’s it’s an honor that they just put some in front of me and said, we trust you. Go ahead. And Robyn, I have to hand it to her. She just. Gives me. She’s my cheerleader.
And that’s really nice and Richard, whenever I need anything, he did a webinar for me last spring, anything I need, he he does it. And everybody at the Center for Inquiry is so nice. So it’s been a great, great experience.
We’ll keep up the good work. Thank you, Jim.
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