Science and Creativity, Part 2

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In my previous post, I shared a very creative lab report that I received from a physics student in one of my online physics courses. In this one, I want to share something from another very creative student. In order for you to appreciate it, however, a bit of background is necessary.

In my online courses, students take tests online while being supervised by their parents. The parent has a passcode for each test, and when the student is ready to take the test, the parent inputs the passcode into a website. This opens up the test for the student to take. Some of the test questions are multiple-choice (I call them “multiple-guess”), some are true/false, and some are short answer. That, however, is not enough to fully assess a student’s knowledge when it comes to science, so I also have a few “essay” questions on the tests. In physics and chemistry, they are usually long, involved problems that the student must work out.

In order to properly assess the student’s work, I must see all the steps that the student takes to come up with the answer. If the student were taking the test on paper, that would be fairly easy. The student could just write out the equations being used, show how the variables were plugged it, and go through whatever algebra is necessary. However, on a website, that can be tricky. The program we use has an editor that allows the student to write equations, but it is bulky and cumbersome. Student can do their work on paper and then upload an image of the paper, but that is also bulky and cumbersome. As I result, I simply tell students to explain the steps they took to get to the answer, and I allow them to use any method they think bests accomplishes this goal. Some use the equation editor, some use paper and upload an image, some give equations using just text, and some give me a narrative of what they did.

Eden Cook is an example of the latter. She gives me a narrative of her work, usually in the form of an amusing story. There are typically characters in her stories, and they each have their own personality, which adds to the humor. One of those characters is “Newton.” Well, in one question where she had to determine the electric field produced by two stationary charges (represented by one one black dot and one blue dot), she decided to forgo the story and write a poem. I.T. W.A.S. E.P.I.C.

(The star is a footnote where she shows the vector addition, and her answer was correct.)

Science and Creativity: Part 1

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If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that science is not my only interest. I write plays, perform in plays (musicals and non-musicals), and play the piano. When people who don’t know me well find out about these interests, they are sometimes surprised. They wonder how a scientist could possibly have a creative side. I have always been puzzled by the idea that science and creativity are incompatible. Science, by its very nature, is creative. I know lots of scientists who can write amazing poetry, play an instrument beautifully, sing a song magnificently, or perform onstage like a professional. However, none of my acquaintances from the arts can solve a differential equation, analyze the motion of a body that is influenced by friction, or synthesize a chiral compound from nonchiral components. In my opinion, science and creativity simply go together.

That’s why I love it when students decide to be creative with their assignments. I have two examples of this, which will take up two blog posts. They both come from the online physics courses I taught the previous academic year. In those courses, students must write lab reports, and I grade them. I don’t have the students write a hypothesis, discuss materials and methods, and all that nonsense. That makes no sense when it comes to a laboratory exercise, and it doesn’t really prepare the student for university lab reports. Instead, I have them write out their data, do any calculations that are necessary, and then write a summary of what they did and what they can conclude from their results. The summary and conclusions must be in their own words.

In honor of my love of the theater, one student (Riley Harro) wrote his last experiment summary and conclusion as an audition, and it was stellar! It contains a lot of inside jokes that resulted from the discussions we had in class and the common phrases I use while teaching. To give you some context, the lab is about testing materials to determine whether or not they are ferromagnetic, paramagnetic, or diamagnetic. In the end, the nail is ferromagnetic, the aluminum paper clip is paramagnetic, and the matchstick is diamagnetic. I hope you enjoy his report as much as I did:

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My Review of Exploring Creation with General Science, 3rd Edition

The cover of Exploring Creation with General Science, 3rd Edition

I wrote the second edition of Exploring Creation with General Science more than 12 years ago, so the course was due for an update. Marine biologist Sherri Seligson has written a new edition of the course, which was just recently published. Previously, I reviewed the second edition of her Exploring Creation with Marine Biology and enthusiastically recommended it to homeschoolers. Unfortunately, I cannot enthusiastically recommend the third edition of Exploring Creation with General Science. At the same time, I also can’t say that homeschoolers shouldn’t use the course. In the end, there are things I loved about the course, things I didn’t like about the course, and things I didn’t understand about the course.

Let’s start with the things I loved. From the standpoint of what is covered, this course is a better fit for students who took Jeannie Fulbright and Dr. Brooke Ryan’s elementary course, Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology. That’s because in the second edition of Exploring Creation with General Science, I spent an enormous amount of time covering the human body. Fulbright and Ryan’s course does that as well, so there is a lot of overlap for students who have taken their course. This problem is compounded by the fact that Fulbright and Ryan’s course is the most difficult of all the elementary courses in that series, so it is usually taken in fifth or sixth grade, just one or two years before the general science course is usually taken. This new edition of general science does not dwell on the human body, so students will not have to sift through all that repetitive material. However, as I will mention later on, students will have to sift through repetitive material if they end up taking the next book in the publisher’s series.

I also loved the discussion of graphs and tables that takes place in Module 3. It is very well done, and it is something that will be extremely useful for students who are getting ready for high school science.

Another great thing about the course is that many of the experiments are novel and interesting. For example, there are several “standard” household experiments on the subject of density, but this course’s experiment on density (Experiment 1.1) is one that I had never seen and is very effective. Another great experiment is the Rube Goldberg experiment that ends the course.

In addition, I loved the way that Seligson makes science personal. She starts the course with a letter to the student and ends the course with another one. That’s a nice touch. Similarly, I loved the fact that the last module is made up of personal testimonies from several different scientists. They discuss how the scientists came to enjoy science, what they have done and are doing in their scientific field, and how they relate science to their Christian faith. That is an excellent way to end the course.
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Another Foolish Global Warming Prediction Falsified

A display at the St. Mary Valley Visitor’s Center at Glacier National Park (click for source)

My wife and I go to Montana almost every year to visit family, and we always make at least one trip into Glacier National Park. It is truly magnificent, and if you are in the area, I highly recommend that you visit it. However, be aware that global warming hysteria is presented nearly everywhere in the park. You can’t go into a visitor’s center (or even look at some of the trash cans) without being told that global warming is destroying the glaciers.

While I never noticed the silly sign pictured above, it was apparently in the visitor’s center at St. Mary Valley for several years, but this winter, it was quietly removed. It should be obvious why. The sign says that computer models indicate the glaciers will be gone by next year. However, it’s clear that isn’t going to happen, so they had to do something. Rather than owning up to their mistake and discussing the uncertainties related to global warming, they simply changed the sign. Apparently, it now says that the glaciers will be gone at some unknown time in the future, unless we act quickly to stop global warming.

Now, of course, you might wonder if this was just a mistake. Perhaps a couple of signs got made incorrectly. After all, some signs in Glacier National Park say the glaciers will be gone in 2030. I haven’t heard whether or not those signs have been changed as well. However, we know that it was more than just a couple of signs. It was a sermon preached by at least one of the rangers. Ginna Kelly writes:

During my stay, I talked with Park Ranger Jim Muhlhausen about why the glaciers are disappearing. The reason is climate change. Jim talked about what he sees on a daily basis. “It’s disturbing. You can directly see the effects. The change in vegetation, the reduction in habitat, and the melting of the glaciers.”

The evidence that the glaciers are melting speaks for itself. When the park was founded in 1910, there were 150 glaciers. Today, 25 exist. By 2020, none will exist.

The same nonsense has been reported by other news outlets, such as USA Today.

Of course, the glaciers in Glacier National Park are melting. They have been melting since the end of the Little Ice Age, which was around 1850. Whether or not this is because of natural cycles that have occurred throughout earth’s history, current human activity, or some combination of the two, nobody knows for sure. Thus, it is impossible to give dates for when they will disappear. In fact, it is impossible to know whether or not they will ever disappear. Indeed, my own observations of the glaciers in Glacier National Park (I see it roughly the same time every year) indicate that they have been growing over the past five years, but I am certainly no glaciologist.

What I can say for sure is this: As more nonsensical predictions like this one are made, the less people will actually believe that human-induced global warming is happening. Indeed, past nonsensical predictions could be part of the reason that only a few people rank a candidate’s position on global warming as a major issue when deciding how to vote.

Not long ago, I wrote a post about ignorant people claiming that others are rejecting science. Well, if this is what passes for science these days, I can understand why some reject it!

Bethel McGrew, Homeschool Graduate and Mathematics Ph.D. Student

The universe is inherently mathematical. Many scientists have come to this realization, but one of the first was Galileo Galilei. In his book, The Assayer, he wrote:

[The universe] cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the letters in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it.

I have always been intrigued by people who dedicate themselves to learning this language, and I had the privilege of interviewing one such person last week: Mathematics Ph.D. student Bethel McGrew.

Bethel McGrew

Bethel was homeschooled K-12, and her experience produced a lifelong love of learning, whether the topic was literature, science, music, or chess (she has been a competitive tournament player but can now proudly say she is no longer the highest-rated among her siblings!) She didn’t do much with co-ops or group activities, and in some ways, I would say that her experience was that of a “classic” homeschooler. Her family used curriculum when it fit their needs, and when it didn’t, they found some other way to get the job done. For example, she said that her family couldn’t find a good course for geometry, so she just read Euclid.

In case you don’t know who that is, he’s the father of geometry. His treatise, Elements, was written around 300 BC and is considered one of the most important works of mathematics to this day. That was her primary reference for learning high school geometry! This was common in her homeschooling, perhaps because her parents (each has a Ph.D.) were so academically inclined. She read many primary sources as a part of her secondary education. For example, she read the works of Josephus (a first-century Jewish historian) to learn more about the history of New Testament times.

While her homeschooling experience was quite classic, her higher education was more modern. She started with distance-learning courses from Christian universities like Patrick Henry College and Bryan College. She then transferred to Western Michigan University in her home town of Kalamazoo and continued living at home while she finished her undergraduate degree. She originally thought she would pursue a career in philosophy (the field of her father’s Ph.D. and her mother’s main professional research focus) but decided to double major in philosophy and mathematics, discovering an unexpected love for the latter when some professors helped her see the beauty of math. She was offered and accepted a teaching assistantship to pursue a Ph.D. there. As a TA, she has taught everything from algebra to applied calculus, adding occasional long-distance tutoring work on the side with Asian ESL (English as a second language) students. She has earned her master’s degree en route and is currently beginning work on her dissertation in graph theory.

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Did The 2016 Election Actually Cause Psychological Stress?

A woman screams when she hears who won the 2016 election that Donald Trump has been sworn in as President of the United States (click for video)

**** PLEASE NOTE **** This is NOT a political post, and political comments will NOT be tolerated.

One of the many problems associated with doing scientific studies on the psychology of people is that you have to ask them how they are feeling and what they are thinking. The problem, of course, is aptly pointed out by fictional character Dr. Gregory House: “Everbody lies.” How can scientists determine whether or not people are actually telling the truth in these studies? There are some techniques. For example, if the study is based on a survey, the survey can ask the same question in many different ways, and a model can compare a person’s answers to those slightly-different questions to see if there is a consistent pattern. However, I recently ran across a study that did something radically different, and I found it very interesting.

The scientists noted that many people said the results of the 2016 presidential election here in the U.S. caused them a great deal of stress and anxiety. As the authors of the study put it:

One therapist, Inger Burnett-Zeigler, wrote in Time, “In the weeks since the election, many of my patients have come to therapy with anxiety, fear, and worry…It’s obvious to me that this highly contested election is already having real mental health consequences.”…A full 72% of Democrats reported that the presidential election outcome was “a significant source of stress,” as compared to 26% of Republicans. (references removed for clarity)

The researchers wanted to see if this was really the case, so they decided to do something interesting: They studied how people searched the internet after the election. After all, in a survey, you are either responding to a person or filling out a form that you know a person will read. The fact that you know someone else is going to evaluate your responses might lead you to say things that aren’t really true, so as to look better to that person or to make a point. However, your internet searches are (supposedly, not really) private, so people might be more “honest” with Google (or in this case, Bing) than they are with people. As a result, if you really want to know how people are feeling, look at their internet searches.

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A Classic Example of Misleading “Journalism”

View of Arkhangelsk, Russia at night (click for credit)

The headline at MSN is ominous:

It was 84 degrees near the Arctic Ocean this weekend as carbon dioxide hit its highest level in human history

Oh no! It’s sweltering in (or at least near) the Arctic! To emphasize the dire nature of this horrible news, the article goes on to say:

Over the weekend, the climate system sounded simultaneous alarms. Near the entrance to the Arctic Ocean in northwest Russia, the temperature surged to 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 Celsius). Meanwhile, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eclipsed 415 parts per million for the first time in human history.

To the average American, who was given a very poor education in both geography and critical thinking, that sounds so bad. It shouldn’t be that warm near the Arctic Ocean, should it? Of course it should! All you have to do is look at a compilation of the weather statistics for the city being discussed (Arkhangelsk, Russia). As you can see, since 1940, the highest temperature recorded at Arkhangelsk was 93.9 F (34.4 C). During that same time period, the highest May temperature was 86.4 F (30.2 C). Both of those are higher than the “alarming” temperature being discussed in the article.

Now these results are for all years since 1940. The recent, “abnormally warm” temperatures caused by global warming are setting those records, right? Wrong. You can click on various years, and you will find that the highest temperature on record (34.4 C) occurred sometime between 1960 and 1980. As you can see, then, there is nothing unusual about it being 84 F near the Arctic Ocean at this time of year. Most people don’t know that, and most people (especially those who blindly accept what the High Priests of Science proclaim) aren’t willing to do any investigation on their own to find out.

Of course, that’s what the author of this article is counting on.

Even Eyes Contain Bacteria!

Mouse eyes were studied in the article being discussed, but the results are probably applicable to many mammal eyes.

Writing about coral in the Journal Science, paleontologist Dr. George D. Stanley noted:

Symbiosis is the most relevant and enduring biological theme in the history of our planet.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, “symbiosis” refers to organisms of different species living together. There are three general forms:

(1) Parasitic symbiosis, in which one organism benefits and the other is harmed

(2) Commensal symbiosis, in which one organism might benefit but neither is harmed

(3) Mutualistic symbiosis, in which all organisms in the relationship benefit

I have written extensively on mutualistic symbiosis (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for example). Not only does it fascinate me, but it was also the major scientific issue that led me away from atheism. When one sees the amazing mutualistic relationships that exist all over nature, it becomes clear that these organisms were designed to work together.

Bacteria tend to develop a lot of mutualistic relationships. Indeed, you would not be nearly as healthy as you are if it weren’t for the many mutualistic bacteria that live in and on your body. And while it is widely-known that you can find mutualistic bacteria in many parts of a mammal’s body, it was thought that you would never find them living in the eye for any extended period of time. That’s because mammal eyes contain an enzyme called lysosyme, which kills bacteria. However, new research indicates that at least one species of bacterium, Corynebacterium mastitidis, makes its home in at least some mammal eyes.

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What Is the Function of a Narwhal’s Tusk?

Three Narwhals swimming close to the surface of the ocean. The lead narwhal’s tusk is easy to see.
(credit: Dr. Kristin Laidre, Polar Science Center, UW NOAA/OAR/OER)

Back in April, I spoke at the Ohio Homeschool Convention. It is part of the Great Homeschool Conventions, at which I have been fortunate to be a regular speaker. This year, the convention graciously allowed me to do my favorite kind of presentation: A Question/Answer Session. I have done them at other conventions (see here, here, and here), and I always enjoy them, usually because I learn something. I open these sessions by simply asking for questions, and I tell the audience that the questions can be about anything. If I can’t answer a question, I am happy say the three words any scientist should be totally comfortable saying, “I don’t know.” I also tell them that if I have to say those words, I will try to find the answer later and post it on my blog.

That’s what happened at the Ohio Homeschool convention. One of the audience members asked me what a narwhal (Monodon monoceros) does with its horn. I had to tell him that I don’t know. I did tell him that it isn’t really a horn. In fact, it is an elongated tooth. I speculated about a couple of possibilities, but I couldn’t say anything for sure. That was a few weeks ago, and I have been pretty busy since then. However, I have wrapped up both the Thermodynamics course I was teaching at Anderson University, and the online classes I have been teaching this year, so I finally got around to investigating narwhals.

The short answer is that we still don’t know what a narwhal does with its tusk. The long answer, however, is much more interesting.

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Ignorant People Acting Intellectually Superior

Screenshot from the video being discussed.

We live in a nation that is shockingly ignorant of basic science. Yet, at the same time, some of the most ignorant people on the planet act as if they can speak for science. Take, for example, Bill Nye. Many people view him as today’s spokesperson for science, despite the fact that he displays his scientific ignorance time and time again (see here, here, here, here, and here, for example). I just ran across another example of ignorant people claiming to speak for science. It comes from the Jimmy Kimmel Live show.

It’s one of those fake public service announcements (PSAs) which attempts to demonstrate the intelligence of the people making the announcement while at the same time displaying the stupidity of those who disagree with them. This is a form of what is now called virtue signaling – the attempt to show others how virtuous you are, often by making fun of people who disagree with you. A screenshot from the fake PSA is given above. The spokesperson, “actor, director, and two-time sexiest man alive George Clooney,” is promoting an organization that attempts to educate ignorant people to give up their foolish beliefs. In the segment from which the screenshot is taken, Mr. Clooney says that your donation of $200 will “…teach ten @*!x&^ knuckle-draggers that dinosaurs existed, but not at the same time as people.”

Now, of course, anyone with a modicum of scientific knowledge should immediately see what is wrong with the graphic being shown. Those who believe that dinosaurs and people did not live at the same time cannot use carbon dating as a way of supporting their claim. Because of the relatively “short” half-life of carbon-14, carbon dating can only be used on carbon-containing items that are less than 60,000 years old. Given that the generally-accepted timescale has dinosaurs going extinct 65 million years ago and the earliest humans appearing about 200,000 years ago, “Basic F**king Carbon Dating” cannot tell us anything about whether or not humans and dinosaurs existed at the same time.

In fact, if one truly believes carbon dating, one has to believe that people and dinosaurs did, indeed, coexist. That’s because multiple dinosaur fossils have been carbon dated to between 23,000 and 41,000 years old (see here, here, and here). All of those values are well within the timeframe that the scientific consensus tells us modern humans existed.

Now, of course, those who desperately want to believe in the generally-accepted timescale will make up excuses for why you can believe most carbon dates, but not the ones done on dinosaur bones. Interestingly enough, however, at least some of those people don’t want to do further tests to see if their excuses work. But that’s not my point. To some extent, all scientists make up “just so” stories to prop up their hypotheses, so it’s understandable that those who are committed to the scientific consensus do so as well.

My point is much simpler than that. The makers of this fake PSA wanted to show that they are well-educated and intelligent because they simply accept what the High Priests of Science proclaim without investigating the evidence in any way. At the same time, they wanted to show that those who believe dinosaurs and people lived at the same time are stupid. Instead, they ended up demonstrating their own ignorance of the scientific data related to the issue. Unfortunately, because the High Priests are doing such a great job at keeping the general public ignorant of science, most people will have no idea!

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