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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bill Nye Makes a Prediction

Posted by jlwile on October 8, 2014

Bill Nye is known as "The Science Guy," even though some of his behavior is rather anti-science. (click for credit)

Bill Nye is known as “The Science Guy,” even though some of his behavior is rather anti-science.
(click for credit)

Despite the fact that Bill Nye is known as “The Science Guy,” some of his behavior is rather anti-science. He doesn’t think certain scientific ideas should be debated, despite the fact that conflict between competing theories is one of the most important aspects of science. He also narrated a faked experiment, demonstrating his lack of understanding of basic climate science along the way. Nevertheless, he is an interesting (and funny) guy. In addition, he debated Ken Ham on the creation/evolution issue. Even though the debate was not all that interesting, it was nice to see him engage in it. That’s more than most evolutionists will do! As a result, I like to keep up on what Bill Nye is doing and saying.

He was recently in Canada to attend the 65th International Astronautical Congress. While there, he was interviewed on The Morning Show. You can see the entire interview here. Not surprisingly, I disagreed with much of what he had to say, but I want to highlight two of his statements here. The first is a prediction. When speaking of creationists, Nye said:

In another 20 years, I claim, those guys will be just about out of business. That’s my claim.

I am willing to make exactly the opposite claim. I predict that in 20 years, creationism will be stronger than ever. I expect more scientists will be creationists, creationism will be more openly discussed in academic settings, and there will be more groups dedicated to communicating creationism to the general public. This will be true not only for the U.S., but for most countries in the world. After all, contrary to a previous statement Bill Nye made, creationism isn’t something unique to the U.S.

Barring some unforseen tragedy, Mr. Nye and myself should both be alive in 20 years. It will be interesting to see whose prediction is the more accurate one.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Climate Science Is Not “Settled”

Posted by jlwile on October 3, 2014

Neither how the globe is warming nor how much humans are responsible for it is understood.  (click for credit)

Neither how the globe is warming nor how much humans are responsible for it is understood.
(click for credit)

Unfortunately, because of the college class I am teaching, a looming publishing deadline, and an upcoming speaking engagement in South Africa, I don’t have time to write a full blog article. However, a man I respect and admire sent me a link to a Wall Street Journal article about climate change. The Author is Dr. Steven E. Koonin, a theoretical physicist and member of the National Academy of Sciences. The article is an excellent example of how to approach the issue of climate change from a truly scientific perspective. Unfortunately, you rarely find such an approach in most discussions of the subject. In my opinion, here is the best point he makes:

Policy makers and the public may wish for the comfort of certainty in their climate science. But I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is “settled” (or is a “hoax”) demeans and chills the scientific enterprise, retarding its progress in these important matters. Uncertainty is a prime mover and motivator of science and must be faced head-on. It should not be confined to hushed sidebar conversations at academic conferences.

I couldn’t agree more!

Neil deGrasse Tyson – Serial Spreader of Falsehoods

Posted by jlwile on September 18, 2014

Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking as host at the Apollo 40th anniversary celebration held at the National Air and Space Museum. (click for credit)

Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking as host at the Apollo 40th anniversary celebration held at the National Air and Space Museum. (click for credit)

A few months ago, I discussed some of the many historical falsehoods spread by Fox’s reboot of the television show known as Cosmos. A professor of history, philosophy, and sociology of science at Michigan State University actually wondered if it was okay for the show to promote such falsehoods, because the ultimate goal was to get people to believe in a naturalistic view of the universe. According to him, this is a good thing, so perhaps it’s okay to lie a bit about history in order to achieve that goal.

At the time, I didn’t want to blame the show’s host, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, for these falsehoods. He’s a very likeable guy, and besides, he’s an astrophysicist, not a historian. I assumed that he was just reading a script and didn’t know enough to realize that the script was wrong. After all, Bill Nye had a similar problem when he didn’t understand the science behind a faked experiment that he narrated. Unfortunately, I think I was giving Dr. Tyson too much credit.

Thanks to the folks over at Evolution News and Views, I was made aware of three articles at The Federalist which show that spreading falsehoods seems to be a pattern for Dr. Tyson. The first article discusses how he made up a fake newspaper headline, and in the process, demonstrated that he doesn’t understand basic statistics. The second article rehashes the first one and then gives an example of a quote Dr. Tyson fabricated as well as a supposedly true story he tells, the details of which seem to change as he tells it. The third article discusses another fabricated quote that demonstrates Tyson’s lack of Biblical knowledge.

There is simply no excuse for making up quotes, headlines, and supposedly true stories. Now that I have read these articles in The Federalist, I wonder if Dr. Tyson had a hand in writing the historical falsehoods he spewed on Cosmos. It seems that would be in keeping with his standard mode of operation.

Strike Yet Another Vestigial Organ

Posted by jlwile on September 15, 2014

This drawing illustrates the skeleton of a baleen whale.  The small pelvis is circled.  (click for credit)

This drawing illustrates the skeleton of a baleen whale. The small pelvis is circled. (click for credit)

Evolutionists love to talk about vestigial organs. Consider, for example, the human appendix. This wormlike tube connected to a person’s cecum looks something like the cecum that you find in some herbivores. Since there is some similarity between the two organs, and since a person can live an apparently normal life without his or her appendix, evolutionists long thought it was a vestigial organ – a remnant of our evolutionary history. Most evolutionary sources said it was useless in people, but we now know that isn’t true (see here and here). Others claimed it wasn’t necessarily useless, but it was still vestigial. They said the appendix is definitely the remnant of a herbivore’s cecum, but as it shrank, it developed a new purpose. We now know that’s not true, either.

Of course, there are many other organs that evolutionists claimed were vestigial but we now know aren’t (see here, here, here, here, and here). It seems we can add another to that list: the pelvis in a whale. Like the appendix, most evolutionary sources say that the whale pelvis is useless. For example, the book Life on earth says:1

During whale evolution, losing the hind legs provided an advantage, better streamlining the body for movement through water. The result is the modern whale with small, useless pelvic bones.

We now know that this is simply not true.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Not a CDC Coverup…A Case of Using the Wrong Analytical Method

Posted by jlwile on September 2, 2014

Sometimes, you can get the job done even when you use the wrong tool.  However, sometimes the wrong tool produces the wrong results.

Sometimes, you can get the job done even when you use the wrong tool. However, sometimes the wrong tool produces the wrong results.

The “news story” headline is astounding: “Fraud at the CDC uncovered, 340% risk of autism hidden from public.” The article says that data in a 2004 CDC study on the relationship between the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism were purposefully hidden so it could deny a relationship between the two. Those hidden data supposedly show that some who got the MMR vaccine were significantly more likely to become autistic than those who didn’t. According to the article, this shows that the original study is “fraudulent,” and there is now a petition to get the study retracted. It also calls into question the other studies that the CDC often cites to show that there is no relationship between vaccination and autism. And this article has to be reliable. After all, it is on CNN’s website, right?

Well, not exactly. If you go to the article, you will see “NOT VERIFIED BY CNN” at the top, and you will find a CNN producer note that this website is the network’s “user-generated news community.” So the article wasn’t written by someone at CNN. It was written by a blogger. Does that mean it’s not reliable? Of course not. I read several blogs regularly, and I find most of the articles written on them to be very reliable. In fact, I would say that some blogs are more reliable than some standard media outlets! The question, of course, is whether or not this particular blog article is reliable. When you look into the details, you find that it’s not.

The article’s big claim is that by including data which were supposedly covered up by the CDC, you can find that African American boys have a 340% increased risk of autism if they got the MMR vaccine. This conclusion, however, was “hidden due to pressure from senior officials.” Of course, to make such a claim, someone must have done some sort of study. The article itself tells you nothing about that study, but the CNN Producer Note at the top indicates that it was a study done by Dr. Brian Hooker (a bioengineer) and was published in a journal called Translational Neurodegeneration. An update to that note indicates that the journal has pulled the study, and the journal says this is “because of serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions.”

That doesn’t sound very good, but then again, maybe the journal has been pressured by the CDC to participate in their elaborate coverup. Fortunately, I was able to read the study before it was pulled, and I have to agree with the journal’s decision. The study’s conclusions are obviously wrong, because it used the wrong kind of tool to evaluate the data.

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Another Study Shows College Does Not Erode Faith – For Most Christians

Posted by jlwile on August 21, 2014

College students pray at an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship meeting.  (click for credit)

College students pray at an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship meeting. (click for credit)

About a year ago I discussed a study that indicated a college education makes a person more likely to retain his or her faith. Recently, a new study on essentially the same topic was published in the same academic journal. It looked at data in a different (and very interesting) way, but its conclusions generally support those of the previous study.

The author, Dr. Philip Schwadel, used a well-known data set called the General Social Survey (GSS) for the years 1973 to 2010. He then looked at the years in which the respondents were born. He found that he had plenty of data for people born after 1900 and before 1980, so he focused on them. This gave him 38,251 people to analyze, which is an excellent sample size. In the GSS, the people are asked what their religious preference is: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, some other religion, or no religion. They are also asked about their education and what kinds of degrees they have. Dr. Schwadel wanted to determine whether or not a college degree had any effect on a person answering “no religion.”

He found that people who were born from 1900 to 1964 were more likely to say they had no religion if they had a college degree. However, the amount by which they were more likely to say that dropped fairly steadily from 1915-1964. For those born in 1965, a college degree had no effect on whether or not they answered “no religion.” After 1965, having a college degree made a person less likely to indicate they had no religion. As the author says:1

Results from hierarchical age-period-cohort models using more than three and a half decades of repeated cross-sectional survey data demonstrate that the strong, positive effect of college education on reporting no religious affiliation declines precipitously across birth cohorts. Specifically, a bachelor’s degree has no effect on non-affiliation by the 1965–69 cohort, and a negative effect for the 1970s cohorts.

If we dig a bit deeper into the study, however, we find something even more interesting.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Confirmation of a Creationist Prediction Becomes Even More Stunning

Posted by jlwile on August 11, 2014

A model of the vertebrate retina, showing the Müller cells (image by Dr. Jens Grosche, Universität Leipzig, found in reference 2)

A model of the vertebrate retina, showing the Müller cells (image by Dr. Jens Grosche, Universität Leipzig, found in reference 2)

Nature is filled with amazing designs, which leads me to the conclusion that it is the product of a Magnificent Designer. Of course, many scientists disagree with that conclusion, and some of them try to argue against it by pointing out examples of what they think are bad designs in nature. One of the oft-cited examples is the retina of the human eye. As Dr. Michael Shermer puts it:1

The anatomy of the human eye shows that it is anything but “intelligently designed.” It is built upside down and backwards, with photons of light having to travel through the cornea, lens, aqueous fluid, blood vessels, ganglion cells, amacrine cells, horizontal cells, and biploar cells, before reaching the light-sensitive rods and cones that will transform the signal into neural impulses.

To understand what he is saying, look at the illustration above. When light hits the surface of the eye’s retina, it has to travel through layers of cells that essentially connect the retina to the rest of the nervous system. Only then can it reach the light-sensitive cells, called rods and cones, and be converted into a signal that can be sent to the brain. This, of course, seems backwards to most evolutionists. According to them, if the retina were designed intelligently, the rods and cones would be at the retinal surface so they are the first thing the light hits. That way, the connecting neurons could be placed behind the rods and cones so they don’t interfere with the light in any way.

Like most arguments inspired by evolution, the more we learned about the human retina, the less reasonable this argument became. Back in 2007, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA showed that light doesn’t have to travel through the connecting neurons to reach the rods and cones. Instead, as shown in the illustration above (which appeared on the cover of the journal), there are special cells, called Müller cells, that collect the light and guide it to the rods and cones.2

Three years later (in 2010), an analysis published in Physical Review Letters concluded:3

The retina is revealed as an optimal structure designed for improving the sharpness of images.

The authors of the analysis showed that the position of the rods and cones in the retina combined with the way the Müller cells guide the light to them make them much less sensitive to light that is scattered within the eye itself. This, in essence, reduces the “noise” that the rods and cones would get from errant photons, making the overall image sharper and clearer.

I blogged about this previously, pointing out that it is precisely what creationists predicted and quite opposite what evolutionists maintained. I am bringing it up now because further research has confirmed the creationist prediction in an even more stunning way!

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Road Salt Changes Butterflies, Perhaps for the Better

Posted by jlwile on August 7, 2014

A snow plow spreads salt to melt ice on the road. (click for credit)

A snow plow spreads salt to melt ice on the road. (click for credit)

Living in Indiana, I see snow plows spreading salt on the roads every winter. I don’t think much about them, because I have seen them all my life. However, I ran across an interesting study that indicates the salt they spread actually affects some of the insects that live near the road. Sodium chloride (the main ingredient in road salt) is such a ubiquitous chemical in nature that I never thought about how road salt might affect the flora and fauna that live near the side of the road, but the study indicates that for butterflies, the effect is significant.

The authors studied flora near the side of salted roads and found that the amount of sodium in the plants can be as much as 30 times what exists in the same plants that live more than 100 meters from the side of the road. That’s not very surprising, since most roads get salted quite a bit, especially during winters with lots of snow and ice. The surprising aspect of the study is the profound effect these elevated salt concentrations had on monarch butterflies that eat roadside milkweed while they are caterpillars.

The authors found that compared to monarch butterflies that ate milkweed plants in prairies far from the road, the male monarchs that ate salted roadside milkweed had much stronger flying muscles. The females were different, however. They had larger eyes than their prairie-raised counterparts.1 To confirm that it was really the salt having this effect and not some other chemical that might be found near the roadside, the authors reared cabbage white butterflies in the lab. They saw exactly the same effect – the males that ate a high-salt diet had stronger flying muscles, while the females had larger eyes.

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Instant Cooperation Among Organisms

Posted by jlwile on August 4, 2014

The alga (left) and yeast (right) are free-living, but when put in a situation where they must cooperate in order to survive, they do.  (images in the public domain)

The alga (left) and yeast (right) are free-living, but when put in a situation where they must cooperate in order to survive, they do. (electron microscope images in the public domain)

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows that I am fascinated with mutualism – the phenomenon whereby organisms of different species live together in a mutually-beneficial way (see here, here, here, here, and here, for example). I think it is probably a glimpse of what nature was like before the Fall. Based on what I see in mutualism, I think that lots of species were designed to cooperate with one another, and many of the pathological relationships we see today are corrupted versions of previously-beneficial ones.

Evolutionists have a different view, of course. The generally-accepted view is that mutualism starts out with one species trying to exploit another species. Here, for example, is how the text Symbiosis: An Introduction to Biological Associations, Second Edition puts it:1

Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of two organisms starting out in a mutualistic association. Most mutualistic symbioses probably began as parasitic ones, with one organism attempting to exploit another one.

To be fair, the authors of this text do allow for another option. There are some relationships between organisms that seem neither harmful nor beneficial. Barnacles that live on whales, for example, seem to neither harm nor help the whales in most cases. These kinds of relationships are called commensal, and the authors allow for mutualism to start out as a commensal relationship and then evolve into a mutualistic one.

The key, however, is the first sentence in the quote. They say it is difficult to conceive of two organisms starting out in a mutualistic relationship. Why? Because evolutionists cannot allow for a grand design in nature. They can’t look at the relationships in an ecosystem and see how they fit together in an overall plan. Instead, they have to imagine some scenario in which relationships are cobbled together by selfish organisms that are only concerned with their own survival. If organisms live in a mutually-beneficial relationship today, it is only because they evolved together (in a process called coevolution) from a negative relationship or at least a relationship that didn’t begin as a mutually-beneficial one.

A new study indicates that at least in some cases, this evolutionary-inspired idea is wrong.

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Geneticists’ Bias Causes a Big Mistake

Posted by jlwile on July 31, 2014

This is one way to visualize a coding section of RNA.  It has a start codon that tells the cell to start making a protein, followed by a recipe for that protein.  Then there is a stop codon, to tell the cell that it is done making the protein.

This is one way to visualize a coding section of RNA. It has a start codon that tells the cell to start making a protein, followed by a recipe for that protein. Then there is a stop codon, to tell the cell that it is done making the protein.

You’ve heard it many times before. The vast majority of DNA is junk. Of course, the ENCODE project showed how wrong that notion is. Now that we know the vast majority of DNA is functional, you might wonder how in the world the idea of “junk DNA” became so popular among scientists. I suspect there are many reasons, but some recent research has revealed one of them – a bias regarding what it means for DNA to be functional. The research was done on molecules called long non-coding RNAs, which are commonly referred to as lncRNAs.

What are lncRNAs? Well, let’s start with what RNA is. The genes that your body uses are in your DNA, most of which is found in the control center of the cell, called the nucleus. In order for your cells to use those genes, they must be copied by another molecule. This process is called transcription, and the molecule that performs transcription is RNA. Once it has transcribed the gene, RNA leaves the nucleus, at which point it is often referred to as messenger RNA (mRNA), because it is sending a message to the cell.

What’s the message? It is a recipe for building a protein. That recipe is put together in informational units called codons, and it goes to a ribosome, which is a protein-making factory in the cell. The ribosome reads the codons, translating them one-by-one into a protein. Not surprisingly, this process is called translation. How does the ribosome know when to start building the protein? There is a start codon that tells it to start. How does it know when to stop building the protein? There is a stop codon that tells it to stop. As a result, you can think of messenger RNA in terms of the illustration above – it contains a start codon, a recipe for a protein (the blue bar in the illustration), and a stop codon.

So how does this relate to lncRNAs? Well, messenger RNA is referred to as “coding RNA,” because it codes for the production of proteins. LncRNAs are called “non-coding RNAs,” because it was thought that they do not code for proteins. Now there are lots of RNAs that are thought to be non-coding, but lncRNAs are relatively long. That’s how they get their name. Well, it turns out for at least some lncRNAs, every part of their name (except RNA) is wrong.

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