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Friday, April 18, 2014

Even Leaf Fossils Contain Original Remains After Sitting for Supposedly 50 Million Years!

Posted by jlwile on April 16, 2014

This fossil leaf is supposed to be 49 million years old.  Leaf fossils of similar supposed age have been shown to contain original leaf material.  (click for credit)

This fossil leaf is supposed to be 49 million years old. Leaf fossils of similar supposed age have been shown to contain original leaf material. (click for credit)

One of the many recent scientific discoveries that is best understood in a young-earth creationist framework is the preservation of original tissue in fossils thought to be millions of years old (see here, here, here, and here, for example). So far, all of the examples of such tissue come from animals, but recently, a study was published in the journal Metallomics that indicates at least some plant fossils also have remarkably well-preserved original remains in them!

The research team, which includes palaeontologists, physicists, and geochemists, used the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource and the UK’s Diamond Light Source to examine fossil leaves which are believed to be 50 million years old. These two facilities use fast-moving electrons to produce radiation that is very intense and very high energy. This radiation can be used to study various aspects of an object that are not possible to study using visible light. In particular, the research team used the radiation from the facilities to examine the distribution of chemicals found in the leaf fossils.

Why did they want to do this? Well, essentially the same team of scientists used a series of tests (including ones conducted at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource) on a reptile fossil that was also supposed to be 50 million years old. They found the chemicals you would expect to find in reptile tissue, and they found them in exactly the places you would expect to find them in living reptiles.1 As a result, they concluded that there was a remarkable level of chemical preservation in a reptile fossil that is supposed to be 50 million years old. They wanted to see if the same thing existed in plant fossils.

They found that it did!

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The SHEM Convention (and Why College Isn’t the Right Option for Most Students)

Posted by jlwile on April 14, 2014

This is the St Louis Gateway Arch, which indicates you are in the "Show Me State" of Missouri.  (click for credit)

This is the St. Louis Gateway Arch, which indicates you are in the “Show Me State” of Missouri.
(click for credit)

Friday and Saturday, I spoke at the Southwest Home Education Ministry (SHEM) Convention in Springfield, Missouri. Driving from Indiana to the convention, we passed the famous Gateway Arch, pictured above. This, of course, let us know that we were in the “Show Me State.” I spoke at the SHEM convention last year, and it produced my favorite “talk” of the year – an entire session of nothing but questions from the teens. They didn’t plan a session like that this year, but I still got the chance to answer a lot of questions, both after my talks and at my publisher’s booth.

I gave a total of six talks over the course of the two-day convention. I talked to the parents about how homeschooling is the solution to our education problem and about how college tends to keep young adults active in the faith. This surprised a lot of the attendees, because they believed the “common wisdom” that students who go to college are likely to lose their faith. In fact, the research is very clear – students who do not go to college are significantly more likely to lose their faith. I also talked about how my wife and I came to adopt our daughter and what I did with her in homeschooling. That talk was in the last time slot for talks at the convention, and afterwards, one mother wrote on my Facebook page:

…I would like to thank you for sharing the story of your own family with us. Your talk was the perfect way to end the convention and it left me excited, and with renewed enthusiasm. Thank you.

I also gave two talks with Diana Waring. The first was about how arguing promotes learning, and the second was about what to do when your children’s plans for their future are radically different from your plans for their future. Finally, I talked to the teens about how homeschool graduates are doing. In that talk, I go through some statistics about homeschool graduates and what they are doing now, and then I focus on specific homeschool graduates and how they are truly changing the world.

As usual, the most interesting part of the convention for me was answering questions. At my publisher’s booth, for example, I had a long discussion about nuclear fusion with a homeschooled student who had all sorts of great questions. However, I want to focus on a question that occurred after one of the talks I gave with Diana Waring.

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Really Generous Bacteria!

Posted by jlwile on April 8, 2014

This is an electron microscope image of a bacterium from genus Prochlorococcus.  The colors were added artificially. (click for credit)

This is an electron microscope image of a bacterium from genus Prochlorococcus.
The colors were added artificially. (click for credit)

The image you see above is of a tiny bacterium from genus Prochlorococcus. It is part of a phylum of bacteria called Cyanobacteria, and the members of this phylum are an incredibly important part of the world’s ecosystems. They live in water, converting sunlight and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen via photosynthesis. Estimates indicate that cyanobacteria are responsible for producing about 20 to 30 percent of the earth’s oxygen supply.

Prochlorococcus are particularly important cyanobacteria. They are thought to be the most abundant photosynthetic organism on earth, with an estimated worldwide population of an octillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000).1 More importantly, they tend to live in parts of the ocean that are nutrient-poor. Their photosynthesis helps to alleviate this problem, of course, making them a food source for other organisms that might try to live there.

Dr. Sallie Chisholm at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) first described the organisms in 1988 and has continued to study them over the years. She and her colleagues were recently looking at them under an electron microscope and noticed what she described as, “these pimples – we call them ‘blebs’ – on the surface.”2 Dr. Steven J. Biller, a microbiologist who is also at MIT, recognized the blebs as vesicles, which are tiny “sacs” made by nearly every cell in nature. Since the vesicles were found on the surface of the cell, the scientists decided the bacteria were using them to get rid of whatever was inside the vesicles.

They studied the water from their laboratory samples and found that it was, indeed, rich with vesicles that had been released by the Prochlorococcus, and they were surprised by what they found inside.

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It Did Sound Too Good to be True…

Posted by jlwile on April 2, 2014

These are stem cells taken from the embryo of a mouse.  The color is the result of a stain used to make them easier to see.  The embryo had to be killed to get the cells, but they can develop into almost any kind of mouse cell (skin, nerve, muscle, etc.).  (image in the public domain)

These are stem cells taken from the embryo of a mouse. The color is the result of a stain used to make them easier to see. The embryo had to be killed to get the cells, but they can develop into almost any kind of mouse cell (skin, nerve, muscle, etc.).
(image in the public domain)

Every once in a while, I run across a story in the scientific literature that seems just too good to be true. Such was the case when I was reading the February 22nd issue of Science News. In a story entitled “A little acid can make a cell stemlike,”1 the author reported on some amazing results that were published in the journal Nature. In the published studies, scientists from the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan claimed that they could take cells from various parts of a mouse (like the brain, skin, and liver) and transform them into stem cells by simply treating them with acid or other external stimuli!

This would be an amazing feat, because stem cells are able to develop into many different kinds of cells. Consider, for example, what happens when two mice successfully mate. The sperm from the male fertilizes the egg from the female, and the result is a single cell that will eventually develop into a new mouse. In order for that to happen, the cell begins making copies of itself. As more and more copies are made, the individual copies begin to start “specializing” so they can do specific tasks. Some develop into skin cells, others develop into nerve cells, others develop into blood cells, etc. This process of cells specializing into different types of cells is called differentiation.

Of course, the cells in the developing mouse don’t start differentiating right away. There has to be a group of cells that have the ability to produce all the different kinds of cells the mouse needs, and these cells are generally called embryonic stem cells. Examples of mouse embryonic stem cells are shown in the image above. They may look unassuming, but they are truly amazing, because they can produce any kind of cell that the mouse needs. Of course, in order to produce that image, the mouse embryo from which the cells came had to be destroyed. In other words, to get mouse embryonic stem cells, you have to kill the mouse whose cells you want. If you want human embryonic stem cells, you have to kill the developing baby whose cells you want.

This, of course, presents a problem. Embryonic stem cells have great potential when it comes to solving many medical issues. Suppose, for example, you have a heart attack. As a result, some of the cells that make up your heart muscle died. In most cases, the body can’t completely replace the cells that are killed, so you will probably have a weaker heart for the rest of your life. If stem cells could be used, perhaps they could differentiate into heart muscle cells and completely repair the damage to your heart.

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The More We Learn About Bone, The More Amazing It Is!

Posted by jlwile on March 31, 2014

This is the latest view of the microscopic structure of bone.  (click for credit)

This is the latest view of the microscopic structure of bone. (click for credit)

The bones that make up the skeletons of animals and people are a marvel of engineering. As one materials scientist put it:1

…bone properties are a list of apparent contradictions, strong but not brittle, rigid but flexible, light-weight but solid enough to support tissues, mechanically strong but porous, stable but capable of remodeling, etc.

More than three years ago, I posted an article about research that helps to explain why bones are so strong. The calcium mineral that makes up a significant fraction of the bone, hydroxyapatite, is arranged in crystals that are only about three billionths of a meter long. If the crystals were much longer than that, the strength of the resulting bone tissue would be significantly lower. What restricts the size of the crystals? According to the previous research, the tiny crystals are surrounded by molecules of citrate. It was thought that the citrate latches onto the outside of the crystal, stopping it from growing.

Some very interesting new research from the University of Cambridge and the University College London indicates that this is, indeed, what happens. However, it also indicates that citrate does much more than simply restrict the size of the crystals. It also helps to produce a cushion that allows bones to flex rather than break when they are under stress.

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The 2014 Southeast Homeschool Convention

Posted by jlwile on March 26, 2014

This is me standing in front of my publisher's booth at the Southeast Homeschool Convention.

This is me standing in front of my publisher’s booth at the Southeast Homeschool Convention.

As I wrote in my previous post, last week was a very busy week. It started off in North Carolina, where I spoke at a church, a bookstore, and two classes made up of homeschooled students. I then traveled to Greenville, South Carolina to speak at the Southeast Homeschool Convention. This is part of the Great Homeschool Conventions, and I am scheduled to speak at all of them this year. I did the same thing last year, but this year was different, because I now have new books to sell.

Last year, I just sat in an empty booth and waited for people to come to talk with me. It got to be a bit dull at times, because without something in the booth, most people passed right on by. Of course, I had several great conversations with people who specifically sought me out to talk with me, but there was a lot of “down time” in between those conversations. This year, my new publisher (Berean Builders) had a booth, so when I wasn’t speaking, I hung out there. The publisher had my new elementary series, but it also sells the books I wrote with my previous publisher, so people could come to that one booth to see all the books I have written over the years.

The attendance at the convention was great (up significantly from last year), and I got to speak with a lot of people, both after my speaking sessions and at my publisher’s booth. I did three solo talks this year: Recent News in Creation Science discusses some of the more recent scientific studies that confirm the predictions of young-earth creationism or falsify the predictions of evolution. The Bible: A Great Source of Modern Science discusses some of the scientific facts that were written in Scripture long before science figured them out. Finally, Teaching Elementary Science Using History as a Guide discusses the rationale behind my new elementary science series.

I also did two talks with Diana Waring, who not only has an excellent history curriculum but is also about to re-release a series called Experience History Through Music. This three-CD/book set allows you to hear some of the classic songs written during different parts of U.S. history and learn the history behind them. It is a delightful product that allows students to not only learn history, but experience it! It would be an excellent supplement to any study of U.S. History. The talks we did this year were I Didn’t See That Coming and Arguing to Learn. The former was about what to do when your young-adult children make decisions that are unexpected, and the latter is about how debating different points of view can be an effective learning tool.

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Speaking in the Raleigh, North Carolina Area

Posted by jlwile on March 24, 2014

This is me talking with some homeschool students at The Homeschool Gathering Place.  I ended up signing the young man's cast, which was surprisingly difficult because of its texture.

This is me talking with some homeschool students at The Homeschool Gathering Place. I ended up signing the young man's cast, which was surprisingly difficult because of its texture.

Last week was really busy. That’s why I haven’t written a post since the 13th. It started with a trip to The Homeschool Gathering Place in Raleigh, North Carolina. That’s where the photo above was taken. The owners of the store, who have been a blessing to homeschoolers for the past 18 years, arranged for me to speak at a nearby church, Colonial Baptist. It was a huge church, and the homeschool group there is quite large, so the turnout was great.

At the church, I showed several videos that demonstrate mutualism, which is something I find incredibly fascinating (see here, here, here, and here for a few examples). I also showed videos about some of the amazing design you see in nature, such as the way octopodes (the best plural of octopus) camouflage themselves. I then spoke about the recent scientific studies that either confirm the predictions of creation science or falsify evolutionary predictions, most of which has been discussed on this site. Not surprisingly, the videos were the biggest hit.

After the event at the church, I went back to The Homeschool Gathering Place and gave a talk about teaching science using history as a guide. That’s how my new elementary science series is designed. The talk was much more intimate, by design, and it generated a lot of good discussion. I also got to talk with students while I was there, as the picture above shows.

In between these appearances, I got to spend some time with an old friend, who I call “Roxy.” I think I might be the only one who still calls her that. She and I grew up together, but she left Indiana, and the last time I had seen her was more than 10 years ago. We seem to have the beginnings of a mutual admiration society going. She kept telling me how proud she was of what I had accomplished over the years, and I kept telling her how impressed I was with her. She is a very talented dancer, and I always looked up to her as we were growing up. Today, she is a mother who has raised great young adults. She also teaches dance and history to groups of homeschooled students. I got to help her teach two of her classes (history, not dance!), and those young students are incredibly blessed to have her! She is changing lives, and I am proud to call her my friend.

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Fascinating: Your Brain Gets Heavier When You Think!

Posted by jlwile on March 13, 2014

This is a drawing of Angelo Mosso's circulation balance from the 1880s.

This is a drawing of Angelo Mosso’s circulation balance from the 1880s.

In the 1880s, an Italian scientist named Angelo Mosso built a balance that tried to measure the net flow of blood in the body. A man was put on the balance and asked to clear his mind. The balance was then set so that it stayed horizontal. The man was then asked to read something, and invariably, the balance tilted towards the head, indicating that his brain got heavier. According to Mosso, when the man read a newspaper, the balance would tilt a bit, but when he read a page from a mathematics manual, the balance would tilt more. One man was asked to read a letter from an angry creditor, and it tipped the balance more than anything else!

These results led Mosso to conclude that when the brain is actively working, it gets more blood from the circulatory system. The more it has to work (to process difficult information or strong emotions), the more blood it gets. When I originally read about Mosso’s work years ago, it reminded me of Dr. Duncan MacDougall’s experiments in which he tried to weigh the soul. If you have never heard of Dr. MacDougall’s work, he tried to measure the weight of six terminally-ill patients at the moment they died. He then did the same procedure on dogs. He claimed that while the people lost weight when they died, the dogs did not. As a result, he claimed to have demonstrated that the human soul has weight.

Of course, there are all sorts of problems with Dr. MacDougall’s work, and when I read about Mosso’s work, I rashly put it in the same category. While I am more than willing to believe that the brain needs more nutrients when it is hard at work, I have a hard time believing that its blood flow patterns would be changed dramatically enough to be measured by a balance. Fortunately, other scientists weren’t so rash. Dr. David T. Field and Laura A. Inman decided to replicate Mosso’s experiments, and the results surprised me.

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This Climate Study Claims to Have the “Right Stuff”

Posted by jlwile on March 10, 2014

This graph shows the predictions of the most popular global climate models (lines with no squares or circles) compared to global temperature measurements made by weather balloons (circles) and satellites (squares).  [The graph is from the report being discussed.]

This graph shows the predictions of various IPCC global climate models (lines with no squares or circles) compared to global temperature measurements made by weather balloons (circles) and satellites (squares). [The graph is Figure 1.1 from the report being discussed.]

It is well known in the scientific literature that the computer models being used by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have done a miserable job in predicting the change that has occurred in global temperature over the past two decades. You can see that for yourself by looking at the graph shown above. The various lines that have no circles or squares on them are the results of the climate models used by the IPCC. Notice that no model comes close to lining up with the actual data (the squares and circles). Indeed, the later the date, the worse the models become when compared to the data.

A group of retired NASA scientists and engineers led by Dr. Harold H. Doiron, a mechanical engineer who is best known for his work on eliminating unstable vibrations in liquid propellant rockets, has decided that these models simply can’t be used to make rational decisions about earth’s future climate. As this group says:

We have concluded that the IPCC climate models are seriously flawed because they don’t agree very closely with measured empirical data. After a 35 year simulation the models over-predicted actual measured temperatures by factors of 200% to 750%. One could hardly expect them to predict with better accuracy 300 years into the future required for use in regulatory decisions.

So what are we to do? If we can’t properly model how the earth will respond to increased carbon dioxide concentrations, how can we estimate what the consequences will be if we do nothing to curb the activities that are filling earth’s atmosphere with excess carbon dioxide?

In this research team’s mind, the answer is to look at the actual data and develop an empirical estimate. After all, we have about 100 years of measured data when it comes to global temperature, and we have a few thousand years of data that can help us estimate how the earth’s temperature has changed over that timeframe. In addition, we have measurements and estimates for how the amount of carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere has changed over time. If we look at past correlations between carbon dioxide and temperature, perhaps they can tell us what future correlations will be.

I have to admit that I am surprised no one has used this approach before. Sure, climate scientists have studied the correlations between past global temperatures and past atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, but this is the first time of which I am aware that scientists (and engineers) have tried to use those correlations to make definitive predictions about the future.

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Salmon Seem to Inherit a Map for Their Migration

Posted by jlwile on March 5, 2014

This is a Chinook salmon in its parr stage.  (click for credit)

This is a Chinook salmon in its parr stage. (click for credit)

Pacific salmon are fascinating to study, because their lifecycle is so interesting. They hatch in freshwater streams, at which point they are called alevin. Although they have hatched, they still have a yolk sac upon which they feed. Once they have absorbed the yolk sac, they are called fry, and they begin feeding on the plankton in the stream. They eventually mature into parr, which are also called fingerlings. After about 12-18 months in freshwater, they move to the brackish waters of estuaries, ecosystems where freshwater rivers meet the ocean. At this point, they are usually called smolts. After a few months, they venture out into the ocean, where they will spend several years growing.

The amazing part, of course, is that after spending several years in the ocean, they return to the same freshwater stream where they hatched to spawn another generation. From a scientific point of view, one of the most important questions you can ask about this lifecyle is, “After spending years in the ocean, how do the salmon know the way back to the freshwater stream in which they hatched?” It makes sense that while they are fry and parr, they get a good sense of the mix of chemicals that make up their “home stream,” but they obviously can’t follow that trail of chemicals from the ocean! So how do they get from the ocean to the correct estuary so that they can get back to the stream in which they hatched?

About a year ago, I discussed a study that gave a partial answer to that question. It showed that sockeye salmon use the earth’s magnetic field as a “map” that leads them to the proper estuary. The study suggested the salmon had other means of navigation at their disposal, but the magnetic field was a very important tool in the fish’s repertoire. How do the salmon acquire this map? In the previous study, it was suggested that the map is imprinted in the salmon’s brain as it is traveling from the estuary to the open ocean.

Well, the same research team has done a follow-up study, and they have decided that this suggestion is probably not correct. Instead, the real story is more complex and much more interesting!

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