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.
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.
Two images from a 4d ultrasound (click for credit)
Dr. Jermoe L. LeJeune was the brilliant geneticist who first demonstrated that there is a link between certain diseases and corresponding chromosomal abnormalities. While testifying before a U.S. Senate Subcommittee in 1989, he said:
To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion. The human nature of the human being from conception to old age is not a matter of metaphysical contention, it is plain experimental evidence.
Almost thirty years have passed since he made this statement, and the scientific evidence continues to support it.
Nearly seven years ago, I wrote about a study of twins in the womb. The study indicated that social interaction takes place prior to birth when the opportunity arises. Later on, I wrote about another study that indicates that if our understanding of brain networks is correct, babies actually think about the future while in the womb!
I recently learned about a new study that adds even more evidence to the ever-growing pile which indicates that babies are fully human while they are inside the womb.
Dr. Sarah Irving-Stonebraker, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at Western Sydney University (click for credit)
Two people recently shared with me a very interesting article written by Dr. Sarah Irving-Stonebraker, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at Western Sydney University. It is entitled, “How Oxford and Peter Singer drove me from atheism to Jesus,” and I encourage you to read it in its entirety. While I can’t speak for Oxford University, I am safe in saying that Dr. Peter Singer would not be happy with that title. He is a fervent atheist and a champion of the idea that some human lives have little or no value. I am sure that if he learned he helped “drive” a fellow atheist to Jesus, he would be more than a little annoyed.
How did he accomplish it? He gave three guest lectures at Oxford University, where Dr. Irving-Stonebraker was a junior research fellow. At that time, she was an ardent atheist. She attended Dr. Singer’s lectures and was stunned by their content. Essentially, Dr. Singer believes that atheism tells us there is no intrinsic worth to human or animal life. An organism’s worth is contingent on the cognitive abilities of that organism. As a result, there are some animals (chimpanzees, for example) that have more worth than some humans (newborn infants and mentally disabled adults, for example). Dr. Irving-Stonebraker writes:
I remember leaving Singer’s lectures with a strange intellectual vertigo; I was committed to believing that universal human value was more than just a well-meaning conceit of liberalism. But I knew from my own research in the history of European empires and their encounters with indigenous cultures, that societies have always had different conceptions of human worth, or lack thereof. The premise of human equality is not a self-evident truth: it is profoundly historically contingent. I began to realise that the implications of my atheism were incompatible with almost every value I held dear.
As a result of her “intellectual vertigo,” she began to explore avenues that she had never explored before, including theology. She began reading Dr. Paul Tillich and was attracted by the intellectual underpinnings of Christianity. However, she was not convinced.
Three homeschool graduates who are planning to study chemistry at the university level.
On Saturday, I had the honor of addressing homeschool graduates at the 23rd annual Indiana Foundation for Homeschooling Statewide Graduation Ceremony. It was an excellent ceremony with great music, wonderful speeches from two of the graduates, and plenty of tradition. For me, however, it was more than that. Nowadays, it is easy to be pessimistic about the future of our nation (and the world in general). This graduation ceremony helped remind me that there is hope, and it rests squarely on the shoulders of graduates like those at the ceremony.
There were a total of 80 students who took part in the ceremony, and some of them did something in addition to walking across stage and getting their diploma. One graduate played a (very difficult) violin piece as a prelude to set the mood. The color guard was composed of graduates, and three other graduates led the audience in singing the National Anthem. Two of the graduates gave inspiring speeches, each with a different message. One graduate sang a solo, and another played an impressive piano solo. I gave a commencement address that is similar to one I have given before, and its message is very important to me.
While all of these activities made for an excellent ceremony, they weren’t what inspired my hope for this nation (and the world as a whole). That came from getting to know many of the graduates. A lot of homeschool graduations have only a handful of graduates, since they service a small region instead of an entire state. As a result, you can learn a lot about each individual graduate. Since there were so many graduates at this ceremony, that wasn’t possible. Nevertheless, when each graduate walked across the stage, the screen showed his or her name and whatever information that the graduate wanted to share with the audience.
A single bone cell isolated from a Triceratops fossil. (Photo by Mark Armitage)
I was delighted to see that another blog post of mine is the subject of yet another diatribe by Dr. PZ Myers (Creatonists Need Better Evidence Than That). For those who missed it, my post on Mark Armitage’s groundbreaking original research bothered Dr. Myers, and he wrote a response that showed he didn’t really bother to read much about the issue. I wrote a reply that was designed to educate him on the issue. His newest diatribe is a response to that reply. Unfortunately, while Dr. Myers has shown more of an ability to read than he did in his first attempt, he needs to sharpen his reading skills if he ever wants to be informed on the issues that he is attempting to discuss. Perhaps this post will help.
Let’s start with Dr. Myers’s first problem. He doesn’t like the fact that carbon-14 has been found in a Triceratops fossil that is supposed to be millions of years old. In his first attempt at ignoring the data, he claimed:
If the bone was really young, you wouldn’t just be reporting that there was some C14 in it, you’d be reporting an age derived from a ratio.
In my response, I noted that this is just what was reported. The fossil was given a C-14 age of 41,010 ± 220 years. Of course, now he claims that such an age is meaningless. Why? He says that the date indicates there is very little carbon-14 in the fossil – so little that it could be explained by a source other than the Triceratops itself.