Two Videos About Density

I have been making some videos for the online courses I will be teaching this coming academic year. There will be more to come, but I won’t be blogging about every one of them. I do want to share two of them, however, because they are both very interesting. The first is about things floating in water. Did you know that some bowling balls actually float in water?

The same kind of reasoning used in that demonstration can be used to make a balloon full of air float:

I have done variations of the first demonstration several times, and the Coke/Diet Coke part is from an experiment the students do in their kitchen sink in my elementary course, Science in the Beginning. I had never done the second demonstration before, and I was surprised at how well it worked.

As I said, I won’t be blogging about every video. If you want to see them all, visit my publishers’s YouTube channel. I will be making several more over the course of the next year, so if you like them, you might want to subscribe to the channel.

A Test to Determine Whether or Not We Have a Creator

The prevalence of junk DNA is a strong indicator of creation or evolution.

I have always said that evolution requires the presence of a large amount of junk DNA. Not only does it make sense that the “trial and error” nature of random mutations acted on by natural selection would produce a large amount of garbled nonsense in the genome, evolution simulations like Avida require a very large percentage of the virtual genome to be junk in order to get any evolution. A few months ago, I discussed a piece by Salvador Cordova that seemed to make the case even more strongly. However, it was based on the work of Dr. Dan Graur, which I had not read. Thus, I couldn’t evaluate it in a detailed fashion. That has changed.
Just recently, a paper by Dr. Graur was published in Genome Biology and Evolution. In it, he makes his argument in a detailed, mathematical way. Having read his paper, I can now see why he made the following statement:

If ENCODE is right, then evolution is wrong.

If you don’t recognize the word “ENCODE,” it refers to a huge scientific initiative that is designed to determine what portions of the human genome are actually used by the various cell types that exist throughout the human lifespan. Their landmark publications in 2012 came to the conclusion that at least 80% of the human genome is functional. Dr. Graur says that if their conclusion is right, then there is no possible way we could have been the product of naturalistic evolutionary processes. When I read his argument as discussed by Salvador Cordova, I was a bit skeptical. However, now that I have read his paper, I am inclined to agree.

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When Someone Really Believes The Words of Jesus

The man who owns the company that publishes my new books (left) and the man to whom he donated part of his liver (right).

When some Jewish leaders were trying to pull a “gotcha” moment on the Son of God, the following exchange took place between Jesus and a Pharisee:

One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40)

There it is, straight from God Incarnate. The two most important things you need to do in life is love God and love your neighbor. If I am being completely honest here, I don’t know many Christians who actually do both. I most certainly don’t. I try, but I tend to fail pretty miserably, especially at the second one.

There are, however, a precious few Christians I have met who honestly believe the words of Jesus and live their lives according to the two greatest commandments. One of them is pictured above, on the left. His name is Jon, and he owns Berean Builders, the company that publishes my award-winning elementary courses and my new chemistry course.

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A Perfect Example of Critical Thinking

The picture associated with the Facebook Quiz discussed in the post.

One of the talks I give at a lot of homeschooling conventions is entitled, “Teaching Critical Thinking.” It is a fairly popular talk, and I enjoy giving it. Of course, one of the best ways to illustrate critical thinking is to give an example of someone actually doing it. I recently ran across just such an example, so I thought I would write about it and incorporate it into that talk.

I play the electronic keyboard (and occasionally the piano) at church. While there are much, much, much better pianists than me, I enjoy playing, and some members of the congregation like to watch me while I do it, because I tend to get lost in the music, sometimes almost “dancing” at my keyboard. Indeed, a good friend once called me a “musician,” and I promptly corrected him. I told him that I am a dancer who uses a keyboard as a prop. He agreed.

In any event, because some people think of me as a musician, I often get tagged in Facebook posts that deal with music. Such was the case a few days ago. A good friend of mine tagged me when she posted the Facebook quiz pictured above. As you can see, the quiz says, “Only A Music Major Can Get 10/15 On This Quiz.” My friend was happy, because she had scored 100%. At first, I didn’t take the quiz at all, because my knowledge of music theory is incredibly weak. However, my friend tagged several others, and many of them took the quiz. Nine of them posted their results, and all of them got 100%.

That’s when one teen’s critical thinking skills kicked in.

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Homeschooling and Socialization

Homeschooled children are better socialized than those in public and private school. (click for credit)

When I first started working with homeschoolers, lots of people were concerned about socialization. They wondered how children would “learn” to get along with other children and navigate difficult social settings without being in school. Even before I started researching the matter, I thought the concern was unfounded. After all, school is probably the most artificial social setting a child will ever experience. When are adults ever cloistered away in ghettos, surrounded by people who are the same age? Never. Thus, the idea that students can learn good socialization at school always seemed nonsensical to me.

Nevertheless, people did express concern, so I looked through the academic literature. Even back in the 1990s, there was a wealth of research available on the socialization of homeschoolers. Not surprisingly, the research showed that homeschoolers were better socialized than their publicly- and privately-schooled peers. Perhaps the most interesting study done back then was a Ph.D. thesis by Larry Shyers. In his study, he filmed children from public, private, and home schools in free and structured play. The behaviors of those students were then analyzed by clinical psychologists who didn’t know the schooling backgrounds of any of the children. When Shyers compared the analyses of the homeschooled children to those of the other children, he saw that in nearly all categories of social interaction, the homeschooled children were equivalent to the children from public and private schools. There was only one category in which the homeschooled students scored lower: problem behaviors. As Shyers wrote:

It can be concluded from the results of this study that appropriate social skills can develop apart from formal contact with children other than siblings.

Wow! What a shocker! Children can learn to get along with other people even if they aren’t cloistered away in ghettos, surrounded by people their own age!

Now as I said, even back in the 1990s it was well known that homeschooled students are, on average, better socialized than their peers. Why, then, am I writing about homeschoolers and socialization now? Because someone raised the issue in a Facebook group of which I am a part, and I decided to turn my response into a more detailed blog post.

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Wild Birds and People Work Together in Mozambique

A greater honeyguide bird (click for credit)

In 1586, a Portuguese missionary named João dos Santos began ministering to the people of Mozambique. While his focus was evangelism, he also studied the people and observed the colonization process. His detailed observations were reported in a monograph entitled Ethiopia Oriental, which was published in 1891. One of the interesting things documented in his monograph was the relationship between the people of Mozambique and a native species of bird, now known as the Greater Honeyguide (Indicator indicator). He claims to have seen these people call out to the bird, which then led them to bees’ nests so that they could collect honey.

While many have reported this fascinating interaction since João dos Santos first documented it, detailed studies have been lacking. Dr. Claire Spottiswoode and her colleagues have taken care of that problem, publishing a fascinating study in last year’s Science. They investigated the interaction in depth and found that the people of Mozambique have a specific call that they use, and the birds then respond by guiding them to a bees’ nest. You can hear the call they use by clicking on the audio tool found in this article.

Why would the birds help people find bees’ nests? Because they eat beeswax. João dos Santos figured this out because he saw some of them nibbling on the beeswax candles he had in his chapel. Since their ability to fly allows them to scout a large area in a short amount of time, they know where the bees’ nests are. However, they have a hard time getting to the wax that they want to eat, because the bees defend their nests. Thus, they need help to get to the wax. That’s where the people come in.

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André Marie Ampère: A Fascinating Genius and Devout Christian

André Marie Ampère, the genius who helped us understand the connection between electricity and magnetism.

I recently finished the final book in my elementary science series. It is called Science in the Industrial Age, and it covers the major scientific advancements that occurred in the 1800s. While I was writing it, I had to research the lives of the men and women who were responsible for those advancements. Many of their stories are fascinating, and I hope to write about more of them (and the others I researched while writing the other books). For this blog post, however, I want to focus on the person from the 1800s whom I found most interesting: André-Marie (ahn’ dray muh ree’) Ampère (ahm pehr’).

Ampère was born into a wealthy French family, which meant that he could have received the best education money could buy. However, his father wanted him to learn on his own. His father never required him to learn anything, but he inspired his son to want to learn. You might say that Ampère was “unschooled.” According to a friend that knew him well, unschooling seemed to work for him. Ampère read all the volumes of the encyclopedia in his father’s library, starting with the first volume and reading in alphabetical order. He also read extensively on natural philosophy (science).

Unfortunately, his life was marred with three serious tragedies. His sister died when he was 17. The next year, his father was executed as a result of the French Revolution. This hit him particularly hard. He had no more interest in learning, and some of his friends thought that he had lost all reason. Then he discovered Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Letters on the Elements of Botany, and he was pulled from his intellectual lethargy. He later fell in love with and married a woman named Julie, but she died only a few years later.

Despite these terrible tragedies, Ampère was a devout Christian his entire adult life. When his wife died, he wrote two verses from the Book of Psalms and the following prayer:1

O Lord, God of Mercy, unite me in Heaven with those whom you have permitted me to love on earth.

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Can Courses Taken in Junior High Be Included on a High School Transcript?

Me and Savannah, a scientist in the making!

Me and Savannah, a scientist in the making!

I just got back from Ontario, California, where I spoke at the California Homeschool Convention. I gave a total of five talks over the three-day conference, and I had the chance to speak with lots of homeschooled students and their parents. Several wonderful things happened at the conference, but the highlight for me is pictured above.

On Friday, a young lady named Savannah came up to my publisher’s booth and asked if I was Dr. Wile. I said yes, and she proceeded to tell me that she loved my biology textbook and planned to major in biology at university. I tried to express how much that meant to me, and then she hesitantly asked if I would sign her copy of my book. I said, “Of course!” She didn’t have it with her, but she promised to bring it the next day. Late into the convention on Saturday, she returned with her book, and when she handed it to me, she said, “This is my favorite book in the entire world!”

I had no idea what to say to that. While a lot of students tell me that they love my textbooks, and many of them have also said that my textbooks have inspired them to study science at university, I have never had anyone tell me that one of my books is their favorite book in the entire world! I have lots of favorite books, and none of them are science-related! Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of science-related books that I really love, but I wouldn’t list any of them as my favorites. When I think of my favorite books*, I think of fictional works like The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (my all-time favorite series), The Lord of the Rings, and Armageddon’s Children. Not a single science-related book comes to mind. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed by Savannah’s words.

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Radioactive Half-Lives Not Affected by Earth/Sun Distance

The international symbol for radiation, which is also known as the trefoil.

The international symbol for radiation, which is also known as the trefoil.

Several years ago, data came out of Purdue University, indicating that the half-lives of some radioactive substances are affected by the distance between the earth and the sun. Despite the fact that most scientists thought there were problems with the experiment, the group continued to publish pretty convincing data supporting their case. Based on their data, I thought their conclusion was well-founded. However, it looks like they (and I) were wrong.

I first noted that there might be a problem with their conclusion over two years ago, when other researchers tried to duplicate their results using a more precise technique. They found small changes (significantly smaller than the Purdue group) and no indication that those changes were correlated with the distance between the earth and the sun. Since then, two more papers have been published that pretty much seal the case that the Purdue results were wrong.

The first paper comes from NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Since NIST is responsible for all sorts of standards, several of their groups monitor radioactive isotopes for extended periods of time. They are also concerned with precision, so their procedures are focused on making sure there are no outside influences acting on their experiments.

Their paper reports on the results of experiments carried out in 14 laboratories across the world. A total of 24 different radioactive isotopes were studied, including those that decay by alpha emission, beta emission, electron capture, and positron emission. Some experiments covered “only” 200 days, but others covered four decades! Eleven different experimental techniques were used. All of the experiments saw very small variations (less than one-hundredth of one percent), and none of them saw any correlation between those tiny variations and the distance between the earth and the sun. In addition, the variations were different from experiment to experiment, so the most likely explanation for them is variation in the instruments that were used.

While the NIST paper obviously makes a strong case that the Purdue results are not real, I think a more recent paper gives us the final word. The authors used the same detection technique as the Purdue researchers, but they performed the experiment in a sealed chamber that had constant pressure, humidity, and temperature. They studied five radioactive isotopes for over a year, and like the NIST teams, they saw only small variations that were not correlated with the distance between the earth and the sun. This indicates that whatever the Purdue researchers saw was related to changing weather conditions, not changing radioactive half-lives.

While it would have been exciting for radioactive half-lives to be dependent on the distance between the earth and the sun, it almost certainly isn’t the case.

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