On May 20th, Oklahoma City and its suburbs were hit by a devastating tornado. According to the latest news reports, the mega-tornado killed at least 24 people, nine of them children. My prayers go out to those whose lives have been affected by this terrible tragedy. While the situation is clearly an emotional one, we can’t let our emotions get away with us when it comes to understanding the science behind this tragedy.
This is climate change. We were warned about extreme weather. Not just hot weather. But extreme weather. When I had my hearings, when I had the gavel years ago. It’s been a while. The scientists all agreed that what we’d start to see was extreme weather. And people looked at one another and said “what do you mean? It’s gonna get hot?” Yeah, it’s gonna get hot. But you’re also going to see snow in the summer in some places. You’re gonna have terrible storms. You’re going to have tornadoes and all the rest. We need to protect our people. That’s our number one obligation and we have to deal with this threat that is upon us and that is gonna get worse and worse though the years.
She then went on to talk about a bill she has sponsored. It would put a tax on carbon in hopes of moving people to alternative sources of energy so as to reduce the effects of “climate change.” While Senator Boxer’s words are an emotional call-to-arms, they fly in the face of the scientific evidence.
Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chair and professor of microbiology and immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine (Click for credit)
Dr. Arturo Casadevall is the chair and professor of microbiology and immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is also the editor-in-chief of mBio, an open-access, online scientific journal that is sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology. Because of this latter position, he is very concerned about fraud in the scientific community. As a result, he and his colleagues decided to perform a study that would aid in our understanding of what causes scientific papers to be retracted and what kinds of people are doing the retracting. The results were not encouraging.
First, he and his colleagues studied all the retracted articles indexed by PubMed as of May 3, 2012. In all, there were 2,047 retracted papers, and according to their results, most of them were retracted because of some form of “misconduct.” Furthermore, the most likely form of misconduct was either fraud or suspected fraud. They also noted the following:1
…the incidence of retractions due to fraud is increasing, a trend that should be concerning to scientists and nonscientists alike.
So according to their analysis, fraud is the leading cause of scientific articles being retracted, and it is on the rise. As they note, this is a cause for great concern.
In order to understand more about the kinds of scientists who are committing fraud, the authors decided to do an extensive analysis of some individual cases. Specifically, they reviewed findings of misconduct that were published by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity. There were 228 individuals whose cases of misconduct had been filed, and nearly all of them (215 to be exact) were instances of fraud. When the authors of the study analyzed who was committing this fraud, they found some shocking results.
Using the wind to produce energy is considered by many to be an environmental panacea. Consider the words of Greg Vitali, a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives:
Wind energy is better for the environment than coal, natural gas or nuclear energy. Wind turbines operate pollution free, do not add to climate change and use very little water.
At first glance, this sounds reasonable. After all, wind turbines don’t emit carbon dioxide, so they are not contributing to the horrible “global warming” that is supposed to happen this century. They also don’t seem to consume much. They just sit there, twirling in the breeze, making electricity for us to use. It’s not surprising, then, that wind power is the fastest-growing source of new electrical power in the U.S.
As the video above shows, however, wind turbines do have an environmental impact – they can kill flying animals. Of course, a video of one or two birds being knocked out of the air by a wind turbine is no cause for alarm. The real question is, “How often does this happen?” If a few hundred birds are killed each year by wind turbines, you can legitimately say that their impact on bird populations is relatively low. However, a recent study indicates that more than just a few hundred birds are being killed each year by the turbines that produce wind power.
Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and we did a special drama at church to celebrate the occasion. I wrote the script many years ago, and the drama was well-received when we performed it. I generally don’t like to repeat dramas, but it had been so many years since we had performed this one, I assumed no one would remember it. I also think the drama is meaningful and touching, so it was worth doing again. The mothers obviously agreed, as several sniffles were heard once the drama finished.
The idea for the script came from an old Jimmy Dean piece I heard when I was young. He talks about going through his wallet and finding a bunch of IOU’s to his mother. I adapted that idea to a young lady packing up her dresser as she heads to college. I hope you enjoy it.
As always, feel free to use this script in any way you think will be meaningful to the body of Christ, but I would appreciate a credit.
Eurasian Jays like this one are monogamous, and the male gets his mate by offering her food (click for credit).
An old proverb says, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Some birds, like Eurasian Jays (Garrulus glandarius), have their own take on that proverb. These birds are monogamous,1 and they have an elaborate courtship ritual. Part of that ritual involves the male offering food to the female. For these birds, then, the way to the female’s heart is through her stomach. Obviously, the male wants to offer the female something appealing, but how does he know what she wants?
It has been generally assumed that the male simply offers the female food that he likes. After all, the ability to consider another individual’s feelings is rather advanced. There is some evidence that great apes are able to consider the feelings of human beings,2 but in general, it has been thought that most animals don’t have the intellectual ability to realize that a different individual might have different feelings or preferences. A recent experiment involving Eurasian Jays indicates that might not be correct.
In the experiment, a male was separated from a female by a wire fence. The male could watch the female as she ate large meals of either moth larvae or mealworm larvae. The male was then given a single mealworm larva and a single moth larva. Consistently, the male would pick up the food that was not in the female’s meal and offer it to her through the wire fence. The researchers concluded that this was because the male realized the female would be tired of what she had eaten in her large meal, and therefore the other food would be more appealing to her. This, of course, would mean that the male realized the female might have a different preference than he did, and he took that into account when deciding what to offer her.3
This past weekend, I spoke at the Sioux Empire Christian Home Educators (SECHE) convention. It was a small convention, but it was well-organized and full of enthusiasm. While I can understand the draw that large conventions have (lots of speakers, all manner of curriculum and resources in the vendor hall, etc.), there are a lot of advantages to small conventions as well. I got to spend a lot of time with each individual who wanted to speak with me personally, and there was plenty of time in each session for everyone to have their questions answered. The “personal touch” that is available at smaller conventions simply can’t be experienced at the larger ones.
I gave a total of five talks at the convention, including Homeschooling: Discovering How and Why It Works. In that talk, I give lots of statistics regarding students who are educated at home. For example, I discuss the Rudner study, which found that at every grade level, the average homeschooled student scored better on standardized tests than the average privately-schooled student, who in turn scored better than the average publicly-schooled student. It also shows that the average publicly-schooled student lags farther and farther behind the the older he or she gets. From an academic standpoint, then, it is more important to avoid public school in the junior high and high school years than it is in the elementary years.
In addition, I show Rudner’s comparison between students who are homeschooled every year of their K-12 education and those who are homeschooled for only some of those years. While there is no difference (on average) between the two groups in the elementary years, by the time the students are in junior high and high school, those who did not stay in homeschool lag behind those who are homeschooled every year. To me, this indicates that homeschoolers make the most academic gains in the junior high and high school years. I like the Rudner study, because the author was initially a skeptic of home education, thinking that home educators were a bunch of “conservative nuts.”
After I discuss the data related to homeschooled students, I switch to the data related to homeschool graduates. I show several studies that clearly demonstrate that homeschool graduates excel at the university level compared to their publicly- and privately-schooled peers (see here, here, and here, for example). This led to a very interesting question from an audience member.
Talal Younes (left) with Dr. Tyler Hodges of William Carey University (right), who presented Talal with the Senior Biology Award.
I became interested in home education because while I was on the faculty at Ball State University, my best chemistry and physics students were homeschool graduates. The more I studied home education, the more clear it became to me that for most students, it produces a superior education. As a result, I started working with home educators, and eventually, I started writing curriculum for them. Over the years, I have been truly blessed to hear from homeschool graduates who have gone on to do great things in their chosen fields of study. For example, not all that long ago, I met up with Joshua Russell, an amazing homeschool graduate from Alaska. His performance in a summer college program was so impressive that he was awarded a full-ride scholarship to any school in the University of Alaska system!
Well, I recently heard from a justifiably proud parent regarding her homeschool graduate’s success. His name is Talal Younes, and the picture above shows him with one of his professors at William Carey University. The picture was taken at the Honors Day Convocation held by the university, and it shows him with the Senior Biology Award he received. This means that he was the outstanding senior biology student over the entire year. Of course, one award wasn’t enough for Talal, so he also received the Senior Chemistry Award at the same event!
As if that’s not enough, Talal’s mother was kind enough to share with me the title of his Senior Honors Thesis: “Proposal of a Novel Mechanism for Alpha-synuclein Induced Neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s Disease.” In order to receive graduation honors at William Carey University, a student must complete an honors thesis in his or her area of study. However, a student can’t just decide to do an honors thesis on his or her own. The student must be invited to do so by a faculty member who wishes to supervise the thesis. Thus, the very fact that Talal can do a Senior Honors Thesis tells you he was so impressive that a professor wanted to spend extra time and energy working with him!
This past weekend, I spoke at the Southwest Home Education Ministry Convention in Springfield, Missouri. It was a well-organized, well-attended convention with many excellent speakers. I had a total of seven sessions, including two with Diana Waring. One of the things that I love about doing conventions is that I get a chance to speak with a lot of people one-on-one. I personally think that’s where I can help people the most. It’s also a chance for me to be incredibly blessed.
After my very first talk at this convention, for example, a young lady came up to me to tell me that she is a nurse today because of my courses. I thanked her and told her that I was very happy my courses prepared her for college so that she could become a nurse. She immediately stopped me and emphatically told me it was much more than that. She said that before she started using my courses, she hated science. After using my courses, she not only loved science, but she realized that God wanted her to use science to help others. She said she would never have even considered becoming a nurse had it not been for learning science from my courses. I kind of teared up right there and told her I had no idea how I could thank her for telling me that.
Usually, it’s conversations like that one which I enjoy most at these conventions. However, as much as my conversation with this young lady (and many other such conversations throughout the weekend) were a blessing to me, I have to say that the most enjoyable part of the convention was a session I did with the teens. The organizers of the convention wanted me to do something different from a normal presentation, and they actually suggested that I do something related to acting, since they knew I write and perform dramas for my church. However, I told them I had no idea what I would do for a drama workshop, so I suggested a question/answer session.
The organizers decided it was a good idea, so they put it on the schedule and then put out notices telling teens that they would have a chance to ask me any questions they wanted to ask. I had a “backup plan” in place in case there were few (or no) questions, but from the moment the session started, I knew there was no need for it. Not only were there an enormous number of questions (so many that I had to cut them off after an hour and 15 minutes so the next session could start), but the teens were incredibly enthusiastic! Below the fold, you will find three of the excellent questions they asked me, along with a rough approximation of my answers.
This Archaeopteryx fossil, known as the "Thermopolis specimen," was analyzed chemically. The results were surprising to those who think it is millions of years old (click for credit)
Archaeopteryx is an extinct bird that we know only from the fossils it left behind. There are eleven discovered fossils in existence, and the one that is generally considered the most well-preserved is called the “Thermopolis specimen.” It was found somewhere in the Solnhofen region of Germany and was part of a private collection until it was acquired by the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming.1 The Solnhofen Limestone formation, where it was probably preserved, is thought to be 150 million years old.2 Because the specimen is so well-preserved, geochemist Roy Wogelius and his colleagues wanted to analyze the specimen chemically, to see if there were any chemical remnants of the actual bird still in the fossil.
How do you chemically analyze a fossil without destroying it? One way is to use the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL). This instrument produces high-intensity X-rays which are used to illuminate the material being studied. The elements in the material absorb these X-rays, becoming “excited” with the extra energy. In order to “de-excite,” they release that energy with X-rays of their own. The released X-rays are different for each element, so when you analyze the X-rays being emitted by the illuminated fossil, you can determine what elements exist in the fossil, along with their concentrations.
So Roy Wogelius and his colleagues teamed up with some physicists at Stanford University to analyze this incredibly well-preserved Archaeopteryx fossil. The results were surprising, at least to those who think the fossil is 150 million years old.
This nematode's nervous system is perfectly wired for minimum use of materials. (click for credit)
I have been doing an “interstate book club” with one of the most brilliant people I know. She and I read the same book and call each other on a regular basis to discuss it. We are currently covering Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini’s book, What Darwin Got Wrong. I suspect that I will do a complete review of the book at some point, but I ran across something that I found so amazing, I had to write about it today. It has to do with the roundworm known as Caenorhabditis elegans, which is pictured above. This tiny (about 1 millimeter long), transparent worm has been studied extensively. In fact, it was the first multicellular organism to have its genome fully sequenced.1
Before that happened, however, Christopher Cherniak did a detailed analysis of the creature’s nervous system. Approximately one-third of the cells in the roundworm’s body are nerve cells, so the nervous system is obviously important to this tiny animal. The system is made of clumps of nerve cells (called ganglia) in the head, tail, and scattered throughout the main nerve cord, which runs along the bottom of the worm’s body. While this system is “simple” compared to the kind of nervous systems you find in many other animals, it has served as a model for helping scientists understand how nervous systems develop and function in general.
Of course, since the nervous system has to process sensory information and control various muscle movements, the ganglia must be connected to one another, to the receptors that sense the outside world, and to the muscles that the nervous system controls. Obviously, then, there is a lot of “wiring” involved. Cherniak wanted to know what determined how this wiring was done in the animal, so he computed all the possible ways that the worm’s nervous system could be wired, given its structure and the number of components it had. His computation indicated that there were 39,916,800 ways the wiring could have been done.
Now that’s a lot of possibilities, but even back in 1994, computers could easily analyze all of them, so he used 11 microcomputers to analyze all 39,916,800 ways the nervous system could be wired. It took them a total of 50 hours to churn through the analysis, but what they found was incredible!
You have stumbled across Dr. Jay L. Wile's Blog. Dr. Wile holds an earned PhD from the University of Rochester in Nuclear Chemistry. He is best known for the "Exploring Creation with..." series of textbooks written for junior high and high school students who are being educated at home.
Red Wagon Tutorials
This site is run by the most gifted teacher with whom I have ever worked. He has live classes that go with my books as well as recorded classes.
Answers in Genesis
While the theology leaves a lot to be desired, the science discussed on this website is pretty solid.
This website contains works from a good mix of young-earth creationists.
This is the blog of Dr. Todd Wood, one of the leaders in baraminology. He covers current topics of interest to young-earth creationists.
This is the blog of Kevin Nelstead, an old-earth creationist geologist. He covers many topics related to the age of the earth and offers a nice contrast to the young-earth writings listed above.
An interesting "think tank" that contains the major players in Intelligent Design