I’m Back!

You might have noticed a deafening silence coming from this obscure stop on the Information Superhighway. It has been more than a month since my previous blog post, which is nearly unheard of for me. I might go a week to two without blogging, but rarely a month! In fact, one of my readers was concerned enough to text me and ask if everything was okay. Yes, everything is fine. I was really, really busy last month finishing up my new book Discovering Design with Chemistry. Things are still on track for it to be released on August 17th, so that’s good. After I got done submitting the final pages of my book to the publisher, my wife and I then left the country for two weeks to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary, which was actually last year. We had a wonderful time and just got back into the country.

With all that said, I thought I would break the silence with something a bit different – a question to my readers. Since many of you are interested in science, I wonder if you remember back in March of 2014 when it was announced that evidence for inflation, a a necessary fudge factor in the Big Bang Model, had been discovered. Researchers on the BICEP2 experiment supposedly found a polarization pattern in the cosmic microwave background that should have happened as a result of the inflationary process. It was greeted with great media fanfare. For example, Scientific American (which should be more scientific) had an article entitled, “Gravitational Waves from Big Bang Detected.” In it, the author said:

Physicists have found a long-predicted twist in light from the big bang that represents the first image of ripples in the universe called gravitational waves, researchers announced today. The finding is direct proof of the theory of inflation, the idea that the universe expanded extremely quickly in the first fraction of a nanosecond after it was born.

So, according to Scientific American, the BICEP2 experiment proved inflation! Space.com said the data were the “Smoking Gun” of inflation, and the New York Times agreed.

Of course, there were other news outlets that were more responsible, including the fact that the results were tentative and not yet peer reviewed. Nevertheless, the overall coverage made it seem like the research team had confirmed that cosmic inflation really occurred.

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The 2015 California Homeschool Conference: Wisdom from Jacob and Kristine Barnett

This is from the cover of a book written by Kristine Barnett.  It tells how she raised her autistic son, Jacob, to be an amazing young man.

This is from the cover of a book written by Kristine Barnett. It tells how she raised her autistic son, Jacob, to be an amazing young man.

I spent this past weekend in Ontario, California, speaking at the California Homeschool Convention, which is part of the Great Homeschool Conventions series. There are a lot of wonderful things I could say about the Great Homeschool Conventions, but the thing I most appreciate is the eclectic mix of speakers they invite. You see all the “standard” speakers from the homeschooling circuit, such as Jim Weiss, Andrew Pudewa, and Heidi St. John, but you also see speakers that aren’t typically a part of a homeschool convention. This year, for example, they had Holocaust survivor Inge Auerbacher as a speaker. I interviewed her before the first convention, and I later reported on her talk at the convention, which was nothing short of incredible.

The other interesting speakers they had this year were mother/son team Kristine and Jacob Barnett. I didn’t get a chance to hear them at the other conventions, but since this was my last opportunity, I made a point to go to their talk. I am so glad I did! If you have not heard about them, Jacob was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old. His mother (Kristine) initially followed all the experts’ advice, which ended up meaning hours of therapy for Jacob every day. Eventually, however, she decided that all this therapy was robbing Jacob of his childhood. As a result, she stopped all the therapy and simply played with him. She blew dandelion puffs in his face, listened to music with him, and helped him search for patterns in the clouds.

She found that this was helping him much more than therapy, so she started encouraging other mothers of autistic children to do the same. In fact, she was so sure that this kind of nurturing was the best “therapy” autistic children could get, she began working with other autistic children. Her goal was simple: just enable them to do what they really wanted to do. She would get them what they needed, and she would simply help them do whatever it was that interested them. For some, this meant making robots. For others, it meant creating amazing paintings. For another, it meant chasing storms and trying to analyze them. In her own words:

I was not teaching them. I was letting them.

I don’t know much of anything about child development, especially when it comes to children with special needs. Thus, I have no idea how effective her strategy would be for most autistic children. However, she says that it was very effective for those that she helped. I can tell you for certain that it was effective for her son, Jacob, because his talk was one of the best I have heard in a long time.

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The 2015 Homeschool Iowa Conference

A portion of the crowd at the 2015 Homeschool Iowa Conference.

A portion of the crowd at the 2015 Homeschool Iowa Conference.

I spent this past weekend speaking at the Homeschool Iowa Conference. I had never been to this particular homeschool conference before, and I am so glad I got to go this year. The attendance was excellent, the conference ran smoothly, and the organizers treated the speakers incredibly well. My publisher’s booth was right across from Heidi St. John’s booth, and for the first time in quite a while, I got to spend some time talking with her and her husband, who has the world’s best first name (Jay). They are both wonderful servants of God, and spending time with them is a real blessing.

I gave six talks at the conference: Homeschooling: The Solution to our Education Problem, ‘Teaching’ Science at Home, Building a Biblical Worldview, Ecohysteria, Creation Versus Evolution, and What I Learned by Homeschooling. They were very well attended, and I got some excellent questions afterwards. I also spent a lot of time taking with individuals, including several very impressive homeschooled students.

One particularly impressive student was a junior in high school. After one of my talks, she asked me to sign a couple of her books. I noticed that one of them was my advanced chemistry course, which is essentially AP-level chemistry. I told her that I was impressed she was taking advanced chemistry, and she told me that she had already taken my biology, chemistry, and physics courses as well as a Human Anatomy and Physiology course. Once she finished advanced chemistry, she planned to take advanced physics. This means that by the time she graduates, she will have covered the equivalent of three AP-level science courses in high school! I told her how impressive that is, since many high school students don’t even take one AP-level science course. She was quite humble, however, brushing aside my praise and simply telling me that she really enjoys studying science.

Another student and his family spoke to me about their experience with the third edition of Exploring Creation with Chemistry. As you might know, I don’t recommend that edition to anyone because of its many scientific errors and its habit of requiring students to know things they have not yet been taught. The student told me that he had started with the third edition of the the course, not knowing that I wasn’t the author. As he tried to cover the material, he got more and more confused. Eventually, he realized that my name wasn’t on the book, so he got online and found a used second edition of the course (which was authored by me). When he used that edition, he understood and enjoyed the material. I told him I was very sorry that he had to do that and, unfortunately, there are probably many students who have found themselves in a similar position.

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What is the Relationship between Christianity and Science? Ask These Two Scientists.

Nobel laureate Dr. Arthur Leonard Schawlow (left) and likely future Nobel laureate Dr. Henry F. Schaefer, III (right).

Nobel laureate Dr. Arthur Leonard Schawlow (left) and likely future Nobel laureate Dr. Henry F. Schaefer, III (right).

Once again, there has been a long pause in blog entries because I am working hard to finish my new high school chemistry course so it will be ready for those who want to use it during the upcoming academic year. I just finished the rough draft of the course, and my reviewers are running ahead of schedule. Thus, it looks like the course will be ready on time. I truly hope it meets the needs of homeschoolers who want a college-preparatory, scientifically-sound, and homeschool-friendly general chemistry course.

Even if you aren’t in need of a high school chemistry course, you might be interested in the way that I start and end my text, because it involves the views of two people who know more about science than I ever will know. I start with Dr. Arthur Leonard Schawlow, who shared the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physics with Nicolaas Bloembergen and Kai Siegbahn for his work on laser spectroscopy. In addition to that high honor, Dr. Schawlow was awarded the National Medal of Science, the Stuart Ballantine Medal, the Young Medal and Prize, and the Frederic Ives Medal. As a fitting tribute to him, the American Physical Society established the Arthur L. Schawlow Prize in Laser Science.

As part of a project developed by Dr. Henry Margenuau and Roy Abraham Varghese, Dr. Schawlow was asked, “What do you think should be the relationship between religion and science?” Here is his part of his reply:1

But the context of religion is a great background for doing science. In the words of Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork.” Thus scientific research is a worshipful act, in that it reveals more of the wonders of God’s creation.

I strongly agree with Dr. Schawlow. Using science to study God’s creation is what led me to believe in Him, and every time I learn something new about His creation, I am filled with awe and wonder.

I use Dr. Schawlow’s quote in the introduction to my chemistry book to let students know that science is more than just an academic exercise. It is a way to come to a deeper appreciation of God’s majesty and power.

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Coral Islands Adjust to Rising Sea Levels

This is a picture of the Maldives cabinet meeting that took place on October 17th, 2009.  (click for credit)

This is a picture of the Maldives cabinet meeting that took place on October 17th, 2009.
(click for credit)

On October 17th, 2009, the cabinet of the Republic of Maldives held a meeting underwater. Outfitted with scuba gear and using hand signals to conduct the meeting, they signed a document calling on all countries to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. Why would they do such a thing? The average elevation of their country is a mere 1.5 meters above sea level, making it the lowest-lying country in the world. Thus, they consider themselves the most at-risk nation when it comes to rising sea levels. Since many think that human-produced carbon dioxide is warming the planet and contributing to sea level rise, they wanted to make it clear that if the world doesn’t do something to curb emissions, their island nation could soon be underwater.

It is well known that sea levels have been rising since the end of the 1700s1, but we don’t know how much of it is caused by human-induced global warming and how much is part of the earth’s natural climate variability. Some claim that sea level rise has accelerated due to human-induced global warming, while others claim that it has remained fairly constant for the past 100 years or more. Hopefully, more research will allow us to get a better handle on how much of the rise in sea level is natural and how much (if any) is caused by human activity.

Nevertheless, let’s grant the Republic of Maldives its assumptions. Let’s say that rising carbon dioxide levels are heating up the planet, melting its ice reserves. This is causing sea levels to rise, and as a result, nations like the Maldives are at risk. They could literally be underwater if something doesn’t change soon. There is a serious problem with this scenario. The Republic of Maldives is made of a collection of atolls, ring-shaped coral reefs that can form lovely islands. Coral reefs, of course, are made of living organisms (corals) and their remains. We know that living organisms respond to changes in their environment.

We now know that the corals which form atolls respond to rising sea levels by raising the level of the atoll.

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The 2015 Michigan Home Education Conference And The Success of Homeschooled Students

This is the Lansing Center, where the conference was held.

This is the Lansing Center, where the conference was held.

This past weekend, I spoke at the Michigan Home Education Conference. It might have been the very first time I have spoken at this convention, even though it has been going on for quite a while. It was held in the beautiful Lansing Center (pictured above), and the weather was quite nice, so I got an opportunity to enjoy the conference center’s riverfront setting. When I wasn’t outside enjoying the view or talking with people at my publisher‘s booth, I was giving talks. I gave a total of six talks at the convention: Homeschooling: The Solution to our Education Problem, ‘Teaching’ High School at Home, Teaching Science at Home, Be Open-Minded, but Don’t Let Your Brain Fall Out, How to be a REAL Environmentalist, and Why Homeschool Through High School.

The conference was well attended and ran quite smoothly. One interesting thing this conference does is offer a free session on Thursday night. It is designed for those who are thinking about homeschooling their children, but in the end, anyone is welcome. The first speaker of that session was Carol Barnier, and she was a delight to hear. She spoke about the basics of homeschooling, and she had one of the best phrases I have heard regarding the homeschool model:

Homeschooling is incredibly efficient and forgiving.

It is efficient because the education is tailor-made for the child. As a result, the child can learn a lot more in a set amount of time than one who must sit in a classroom that attempts to meet the needs of all the students there. It is forgiving because it is so efficient. It might take you several years to find the ideal educational approach for each of your children. However, once you find what works, each child learns so efficiently that it doesn’t matter if you wasted a few years. In the end, the child will “catch up” and eventually surpass what he or she would have accomplished in a classroom setting.

I wholeheartedly agree with Carol. Homeschooling is incredibly efficient and forgiving, which is why homeschooled students are so outstanding, especially those who were homeschooled K-12.

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An Update on My New Chemistry Course

This is the cover for my new chemistry course.

This is the cover for my new chemistry course.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed that the frequency with which I add new articles has decreased significantly. There’s a reason for that. I am in the midst of writing a new high school chemistry course, and the deadline is rather unforgiving. As a result, I haven’t had much free time to dedicate to this blog. Why am I writing a new high school chemistry course under an unforgiving deadline? Well, the publisher of my old chemistry course just released a new edition, and in my opinion, it is no longer a good source from which to learn chemistry. I wrote a detailed review of the many problems with the course, in case you want to know more. Because the publisher will no longer sell the old edition, I think there is now a serious need for an academically-sound, college-preparatory high school chemistry course designed for the home school, and I think it needs to be available for the coming academic year.

I wanted to use this blog post to give you an update on the course. I am just over three-fourths of the way done with my rough draft, and my reviewers are keeping pace with me. As a result, I currently see no problem with meeting the deadline. This means that, barring some unforseen circumstances, the course will be available on August 17th of this year. Thus, if you are looking for a homeschool-friendly, college-preparatory chemistry course for this coming year, you can consider using my new course.

To get an idea of the course content, look at the table of contents as it exists so far. You will see that after a necessary discussion of measurement, units, and significant figures, I introduce students to the classification of matter. Then, I discuss atoms and molecules, so students learn how matter is constructed. This leads to a discussion of molecular geometry as well as the distinction between chemical and physical change. After a brief discussion of physical change, most of the rest of the course concentrates on chemical change. The students learn about several different types of chemical reactions (formation, decomposition, single and double displacement, combustion, acid/base, and reduction/oxidation), and along the way, they learn one of the most important concepts in all of high school chemistry: stoichiometry. In case you don’t know that term, it is the process by which you can calculate the quantities of substances in a chemical reaction. In addition to all that, the students learn about solutions, gases, heat and its effect on matter, the energy associated with chemical reactions, the speed of chemical reactions, and chemical equilibrium.

While the topics covered in this course can be found in pretty much any college-preparatory high school chemistry course, there are three things that separate this course from the other ones that are currently available.

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The Ontario Christian Home Educators’ Convention

The convention was held on the lovely campus of Redeemer University College in Ontario, Canada. (click for credit)

The convention was held on the lovely campus of Redeemer University College in Ontario, Canada. (click for credit)

On Friday and Saturday last week, I spoke at the Ontario Christian Home Educators’ Convention in Ontario, Canada. It has been 10 years or more since I last spoke there, so it was nice to be back. The convention was held on the campus of Redeemer University College in Ontario, where the admissions director is a home educator. Like many universities, Redeemer has learned that homeschool graduates make above-average university students (see here, here, here, here, and here), so they actively encourage homeschool graduates to apply. They are also happy to support homeschooling in Canada.

The convention was very well attended, and based on a show of hands at my keynote session, about 20% of the attendees had never been to a homeschool convention before. As I spoke with individual attendees, it became clear that several of the people at the convention were considering home education for the first time. When I mentioned this to one of the conference organizers, he indicated that the new premier of Ontario is introducing a radical sex education program, and it is causing many in Ontario to look for a way out of the government school system. Based on what I read about the new program, I truly hope lots of parents remove their children from such a horrible situation!

I gave a total of six talks at the convention: Homeschooling: The Solution to our Education Problem, Be Open-Minded, but Don’t Let Your Brain Fall Out, What About K-6 Science?, Why Homeschool Through High School, ‘Teaching’ High School at Home , and How are Homeschool Graduates Doing? When I give talks in a different country, I always try to make them relevant for that country, so most of the statistics I shared came from Canadian education studies, and most of the experts I quoted in my talks were Canadian. The conference organizers really appreciated that. I guess some U.S. speakers come to Canada and just assume that all of their U.S.-based talks are relevant to Canadians, and some of them just aren’t.

One thing I have to note is that this convention really knew how to make an out-of-the-country speaker feel right at home. They arranged for me to have a home-cooked dinner the night that I arrived, and it was great! The couple who hosted me had three charming children, two of whom colored pictures for me. Those pictures are now on my bulletin board in my office. Then, each morning, another couple cooked breakfast for me. The other meals were catered by Redeemer University College. Everyone made sure I had everything I needed to be as comfortable as possible. I don’t get pampered like that very often, and it was really nice!

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An Investigation of Temperature Data Adjustments

The difference between the adjusted data and the measured data in the NOAA's US temperature data set.

The difference between the adjusted data and the measured data in the NOAA’s US temperature data set.

Almost a year ago, I wrote about a problem with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) temperature data. It seems that for at least some weather stations in their network, automated adjustments to the data have been inserting a warming trend where the actual data show no such trend. This, of course, is a problem, since these data are often used to analyze claims made by scientists in the global warming debate. Further investigation of this issue has led to even more concerns.

Consider, for example, the graph at the beginning of this post. It is produced from the data at the United States Historical Climatology Network (USHCN). The graph shows what you get when you subtract the raw data (what is actually measured) from the adjusted data (what is actually displayed) for several of the temperature stations in the network. If the adjustments had no overall effect on the trends given by the raw data, the graph should show a line that wiggles above and below zero. From 1900 to about 1940, that’s roughly what you see. During that time period, then, we can be fairly confident that the adjustments aren’t affecting the overall trend given by the data.

Notice what happens after about 1940, however. The difference rises significantly as time goes on. What does that mean? It means the adjustments are increasing the temperature data more than decreasing them. In other words, the adjustments are making the more recent years hotter than the raw data indicate they were. In addition, the more recent the year, the warmer the adjustments are making it seem. This, of course, is a troubling result. The USHCN’s data are often used to show that the average temperature of the U.S. has been increasing over time. However, if the above graph is accurate, at least some of that warming trend is not the result of actual measurements. It is the result of adjustments that have been made to the data.

Now please understand that the very nature of the USHCN makes adjustments necessary. The data come from a system of weather stations, and the problem with such a system is that every once in a while, there is a glitch. Sometimes, there is a power outage at a station. Sometimes, there is a communication error. Sometimes, the station is down for maintenance. As a result, there are times when the station doesn’t report any data at all. This would be a problem, because it would skew the data. To fix this problem, there is a computer code that estimates the temperature that the station would have sent if it had been sending data at the time. This is necessary to keep missing data from causing a problem, but if the estimate is severely wrong, the “fix” might be worse than the missing data.

If the graph at the top of this post is accurate, it seems to me that might be the case.

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Intact Proteins Found in Fossils That Are Supposedly 8-18 Million Years Old

This is a picture of an Ecphora fossil.  (click for credit)

This is a picture of an Ecphora fossil. (click for credit)

Since 2005, there have been several discoveries of soft tissue in fossils that are supposedly millions of years old (see here, here, here, here, here, and here). From a young-earth perspective, this is interesting, because it is hard to understand how soft tissue could be preserved for millions and millions of years. Dr. Mary Schweitzer has attempted to provide a mechanism for such preservation, but it isn’t applicable in the real world. If nothing else, I can safely say that finding such tissue was surprising to those who believe the fossils are millions of years old, but it wasn’t surprising to those of us who think the fossils are only thousands of years old.

Recently, I ran across a very interesting study that adds to the list of surprises for those who think that some fossils are millions of years old. The authors were analyzing the fossilized shells of an extinct group of marine mollusks from the genus Ecphora. Unlike many mollusk groups, the fossilized shells of the Ecphora are colored reddish-brown. The authors decided to find out what produces this colorization, so they soaked the fossils in weak acid to remove the minerals. What remained were thin sheets of organic residue that had all the characteristics one would expect if they were made of proteins.

When the authors examined the sheets chemically, they found all the hallmarks of proteins. For example, they put the sheets through hydrolysis, a process that living organisms use to break proteins down into their component chemicals, which are amino acids. When the sheets were hydrolyzed, they broke down into amino acids, exactly as you would expect a sheet of proteins to do. They also measured the percent carbon in the sheets as well as the ratio of carbon to nitrogen. In the end, they concluded:1

…the organic matter elemental and isotopic compositions are very similar to those from modern marine invertebrates. We conclude, therefore, that essentially intact shell-binding proteins have been preserved for up to 18 Ma.

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