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Friday, December 19, 2014

USGS Sacrifices Scientific Integrity to Jump on the Global Warming Bandwagon

Posted by jlwile on December 16, 2014

This aerial photo, captured by Corey Accardo of the NOAA, shows the enormous walrus haul-out.  (photo in the public domain)

This aerial photo, captured by Corey Accardo of the NOAA, shows the enormous walrus haul-out that occurred this year. (photo in the public domain)

The National Geographic headline says it all:

Biggest Walrus Gathering Recorded as Sea Ice Shrinks
More than 35,000 of the marine mammals have congregated in Alaska

Unfortunately, the headline isn’t true. It isn’t the biggest walrus gathering, and it’s not clear such gatherings have any relationship whatsoever to the amount of sea ice that exists in the Arctic. Where did National Geographic get their false information? From the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

The National Geographic article goes on to say:

Scientists have seen large haul-outs on the Russian side of the Bering Strait for quite some time, says Anthony Fischbach, a wildlife biologist at the USGS in Anchorage. But since the first recordings of walrus gatherings in Alaska in the 1870s, groups of this size weren’t observed until 2007, he said.

Of course, that’s also not true. Either the scientists at the USGS didn’t bother to check the literature on what they have been studying, or they willfully ignored the recorded observations of the past. This is not the largest haul-out on record for walruses, and haul-outs of this size have been observed several times in the past.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Research Shows That We’ve Been Wrong About Stem Cells

Posted by jlwile on December 11, 2014

This is a simple schematic of a tooth. (click for credit)

This is a simple schematic of a tooth. (click for credit)

Stem cells are a hot topic in biology. Scientists call them “undifferentiated,” because they have not yet specialized to become a specific kind of cell. This means that a stem cell can develop into several different kinds of cells, depending on what the body needs. For example, everyone has stem cells in their bone marrow. Some of those cells (called hemopoietic stem cells) can develop into various kinds of blood cells, while others (called stromal stem cells) can develop into fat cells, bone cells, or cartilage cells. Physicians have used such stem cells to treat certain heart conditions1, and it is expected that as time goes on, more stem-cell-based treatments will be developed.

Of course, bone marrow isn’t the only place in which stem cells reside. In fact, stromal stem cells can also be found in tooth pulp, the soft tissue that is under the tooth’s dentin (see the illustration above). That’s where the blood vessels and nerves of the tooth are found. While scientists have known for a long time that these stem cells are there, how they get there has always been a mystery.

Nina Kaukua and her colleagues weren’t trying to solve that mystery. They were just studying certain kinds of cells in the teeth of mice. These cells, called “glial cells,” are support cells that help the nerve cells (called neurons) do their job. In their research, they were adding a fluorescent chemical to these cells and watching what happened to them over time. What they found was kind of shocking!

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What Does It Mean To Be Open-Minded?

Posted by jlwile on December 2, 2014

My new elementary science series has been included in Cathy Duffy's "102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum"

My new elementary science series has been included in Cathy Duffy’s “102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum”

Those who have been homeschooling for many years probably recognize the name Cathy Duffy. For years, her Christian Home Educators’ Curriculum Manual was the main reference homeschooling parents used to choose among their various curriculum options. Over the years, other means by which home educators can get curriculum advice have been developed. Nevertheless, Cathy Duffy continues to be a trusted resource for many homeschooling parents.

Her latest book, 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, is a set of reviews of what she considers to be the best curriculum available to home educating parents. I was honored to find out that my new elementary science series has been included in that book. In her review, she writes:

I’m not aware of any other science curriculum similar to this. While it is a Christian curriculum, it avoids the apologetics flavor of some others that spend a lot of energy arguing for creationism and against evolution. Nevertheless, it helps students view science from Christian worldview. The use of hands-on activities to introduce lessons, the multi-age format, and the chronological approach in this series are also features likely to appeal to many families. This seems to me an excellent way to teach science, and an approach that should have exceptional appeal for classical educators.

I truly appreciate Cathy Duffy’s kind words!

Of course, there are many other reviews of my new series, and most of them are very positive (see here, here, here, here, here, and here, for example). There is one negative review as well. In addition, there is one review that is a bit mixed, and it’s the one that caused me to write this post.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

More Than A Marksman

Posted by jlwile on November 4, 2014

An archerfish hunting a cricket (click for video)

An archerfish hunting a cricket (click for video)

I have been intrigued by archerfish (genus Toxotes) ever since I saw them at an aquarium. They like to feed on insects that crawl around on the plants near the water’s edge. When an archerfish spies an appetizing insect, the fish shoots a stream of water out of its mouth, hitting the insect and knocking it into the water. The fish then goes to the surface and swallows the insect. You can watch a video of this happening by clicking on the picture. Youtube has several other videos of these incredible fish.

Obviously, the archerfish has to “know” a lot of physics to be able to hunt the way it does. After all, as soon as the water leaves its mouth, it is affected by gravity. As a result, the stream of water doesn’t travel straight to its target. Its path bends downward, forming a shape called a parabola. Because of this, the archerfish can’t aim directly at its prey. Instead, it has to aim above its prey, taking the curved shape of the water’s path into account.

But that’s not the end of the story. When light passes from one medium to another, it bends in a process called refraction. This causes a problem for what we see when we look at things that are in the water. Consider, for example, looking at a fish that is swimming in a pond. You see the fish because light hits the fish, reflects off the fish, and travels to your eyes. However, when the light passes from water into air, it bends, and that causes a problem for you. Look at the drawing below:

refraction

The light coming from the fish bends when it enters the air, but your brain interprets light as traveling in a straight line. So when your brain constructs the image of the fish, it doesn’t take refraction into account, and therefore it forms the image of the fish at a shallower depth and behind where the fish actually is. Those who try to spear fish while standing in shallow water have to account for this. If they don’t aim their spear in front of the place where they see the fish, they will never hit it.

The archerfish, of course, has a similar problem. The light that its eyes receive bends when it hits the water. Because of the way it bends, the fish sees the insect closer and lower than it really is. So not only does the archerfish have to account for the effects of gravity when it aims its water stream, it also has to realize that it shouldn’t aim for the position where it sees the insect. Instead, it should aim for a position that is closer and lower!

If all that isn’t impressive enough, scientists have recently found out that the archerfish uses even more physics when it hunts!

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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.

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