Using the wind to produce energy is considered by many to be an environmental panacea. Consider the words of Greg Vitali, a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives:
Wind energy is better for the environment than coal, natural gas or nuclear energy. Wind turbines operate pollution free, do not add to climate change and use very little water.
At first glance, this sounds reasonable. After all, wind turbines don’t emit carbon dioxide, so they are not contributing to the horrible “global warming” that is supposed to happen this century. They also don’t seem to consume much. They just sit there, twirling in the breeze, making electricity for us to use. It’s not surprising, then, that wind power is the fastest-growing source of new electrical power in the U.S.
As the video above shows, however, wind turbines do have an environmental impact – they can kill flying animals. Of course, a video of one or two birds being knocked out of the air by a wind turbine is no cause for alarm. The real question is, “How often does this happen?” If a few hundred birds are killed each year by wind turbines, you can legitimately say that their impact on bird populations is relatively low. However, a recent study indicates that more than just a few hundred birds are being killed each year by the turbines that produce wind power.
Eurasian Jays like this one are monogamous, and the male gets his mate by offering her food (click for credit).
An old proverb says, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Some birds, like Eurasian Jays (Garrulus glandarius), have their own take on that proverb. These birds are monogamous,1 and they have an elaborate courtship ritual. Part of that ritual involves the male offering food to the female. For these birds, then, the way to the female’s heart is through her stomach. Obviously, the male wants to offer the female something appealing, but how does he know what she wants?
It has been generally assumed that the male simply offers the female food that he likes. After all, the ability to consider another individual’s feelings is rather advanced. There is some evidence that great apes are able to consider the feelings of human beings,2 but in general, it has been thought that most animals don’t have the intellectual ability to realize that a different individual might have different feelings or preferences. A recent experiment involving Eurasian Jays indicates that might not be correct.
In the experiment, a male was separated from a female by a wire fence. The male could watch the female as she ate large meals of either moth larvae or mealworm larvae. The male was then given a single mealworm larva and a single moth larva. Consistently, the male would pick up the food that was not in the female’s meal and offer it to her through the wire fence. The researchers concluded that this was because the male realized the female would be tired of what she had eaten in her large meal, and therefore the other food would be more appealing to her. This, of course, would mean that the male realized the female might have a different preference than he did, and he took that into account when deciding what to offer her.3
Talal Younes (left) with Dr. Tyler Hodges of William Carey University (right), who presented Talal with the Senior Biology Award.
I became interested in home education because while I was on the faculty at Ball State University, my best chemistry and physics students were homeschool graduates. The more I studied home education, the more clear it became to me that for most students, it produces a superior education. As a result, I started working with home educators, and eventually, I started writing curriculum for them. Over the years, I have been truly blessed to hear from homeschool graduates who have gone on to do great things in their chosen fields of study. For example, not all that long ago, I met up with Joshua Russell, an amazing homeschool graduate from Alaska. His performance in a summer college program was so impressive that he was awarded a full-ride scholarship to any school in the University of Alaska system!
Well, I recently heard from a justifiably proud parent regarding her homeschool graduate’s success. His name is Talal Younes, and the picture above shows him with one of his professors at William Carey University. The picture was taken at the Honors Day Convocation held by the university, and it shows him with the Senior Biology Award he received. This means that he was the outstanding senior biology student over the entire year. Of course, one award wasn’t enough for Talal, so he also received the Senior Chemistry Award at the same event!
As if that’s not enough, Talal’s mother was kind enough to share with me the title of his Senior Honors Thesis: “Proposal of a Novel Mechanism for Alpha-synuclein Induced Neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s Disease.” In order to receive graduation honors at William Carey University, a student must complete an honors thesis in his or her area of study. However, a student can’t just decide to do an honors thesis on his or her own. The student must be invited to do so by a faculty member who wishes to supervise the thesis. Thus, the very fact that Talal can do a Senior Honors Thesis tells you he was so impressive that a professor wanted to spend extra time and energy working with him!
This Archaeopteryx fossil, known as the "Thermopolis specimen," was analyzed chemically. The results were surprising to those who think it is millions of years old (click for credit)
Archaeopteryx is an extinct bird that we know only from the fossils it left behind. There are eleven discovered fossils in existence, and the one that is generally considered the most well-preserved is called the “Thermopolis specimen.” It was found somewhere in the Solnhofen region of Germany and was part of a private collection until it was acquired by the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming.1 The Solnhofen Limestone formation, where it was probably preserved, is thought to be 150 million years old.2 Because the specimen is so well-preserved, geochemist Roy Wogelius and his colleagues wanted to analyze the specimen chemically, to see if there were any chemical remnants of the actual bird still in the fossil.
How do you chemically analyze a fossil without destroying it? One way is to use the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL). This instrument produces high-intensity X-rays which are used to illuminate the material being studied. The elements in the material absorb these X-rays, becoming “excited” with the extra energy. In order to “de-excite,” they release that energy with X-rays of their own. The released X-rays are different for each element, so when you analyze the X-rays being emitted by the illuminated fossil, you can determine what elements exist in the fossil, along with their concentrations.
So Roy Wogelius and his colleagues teamed up with some physicists at Stanford University to analyze this incredibly well-preserved Archaeopteryx fossil. The results were surprising, at least to those who think the fossil is 150 million years old.
A portrait of Eratosthenes, who lived from 276 BC to 194 BC (public domain image)
Somewhere around 200 BC, a man named Eratosthenes learned that at noon on the Summer Solstice in Syene, a man looking down a deep well would see no light in the well, because his shadow would block all the sunlight. He reasoned that this meant the sun was directly overhead in the city of Syene at that moment. Well, he lived in Alexandria, which was about 500 miles south of Syene. He measured the length of a pole’s shadow in Alexandria at noon on the Summer Solstice and from that determined the angle at which the sun shined on Alexandria when the sun was directly overhead in the city of Syene.
Why would Eratosthenes do this? Well, like all ancient natural philosophers (including the Christian ones who would come a few hundred years later), he understood that the earth is a sphere. If you are under the mistaken impression that most ancient people thought the earth was flat, you need to realize that this is a textbook myth that is repeated over and over again but is nevertheless quite false. Since he knew that the earth is a sphere, he used his measurement to reason that the distance between Syene and Alexandria is about one-fiftieth of the distance around that sphere. He then took the known distance between Syene and Alexandria and multiplied by 50 to get the total distance around the earth. The unit he used to measure distance (the stadium) had different definitions at the time, but assuming he used the one that was typically used for long journeys, his measurement was correct to within 2% of today’s accepted value.1
Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. In today’s culture, we think of ancient people as ignorant savages, but in fact, many of them were incredibly intelligent. According to at least one geneticist, they were probably more intelligent than we are! In a two-part series published in the journal Trends in Genetics, Dr. Gerald R. Crabtree states:2
I would wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions, with a good memory, a broad range of ideas, and a clear-sighted view of important issues.
I spent this past weekend speaking at the 2013 Midwest Homeschool Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. The crowds were huge, and there was a lot of enthusiasm amongst both the attendees and the speakers. It seems to me that this convention was much like the conventions I remember from ten years ago: lots of enthusiastic homeschoolers listening and talking to lots of enthusiastic speakers about the joys, troubles, and triumphs of home education. It was wonderful.
I spoke a total of seven times on six different subjects. Two of my talks were given with Diana Waring, and I enjoyed them the most. She and I have different styles that seem to complement each other really well. As she puts it, I provide the “analytics,” and she provides the “warm fuzzies.” I am not sure that’s exactly right, but it’s probably close. We gave the same talks in Greenville, SC, and we will be doing them again in Springfield, Missouri and Kissimmee, Florida.
As is typically the case, the most interesting part of the conference for me was interacting with the attendees. I had a rather constant stream of parents and students coming to my booth to talk with me. Many of them asked questions, and I hope my answers provided some help. Others came by just to report on how they (or their children) were doing with my courses. I was really impressed to meet one young lady who had completed all of my textbooks! I have authored or co-authored eight texts, and most students get through five of them. Some complete six, and a very few manage to cover seven, but this young lady had gotten through all eight of them. As a result, she has already taken the equivalent of a year of university-level biology, a year of university-level chemistry, and a year of university-level physics. That’s pretty impressive!
I take questions from the audience in all of my talks, and at the end of one of my evolution-related talks, a man asked a question about abiotic oil. He had read a book by Dr. Thomas Gold entitled The Deep Hot Biosphere, which tries to make the case that both oil and coal are not fossil fuels. In other words, they are not produced by decaying dead things. Instead, they are produced by chemical processes in the earth and simply reworked by living organisms. I read that book many years ago, and while it is definitely worth reading (even today), I personally think that it really overstates the case.
A protestor at the anti-nuclear demonstration in Paris on March 20, 2011. The demonstration was sparked by the Fukushima disaster (Click for credit)
On March 11th of 2011, an earthquake in the Pacific Ocean produced a tsunami that devastated parts of Japan. According to the Japanese National Police agency, at least 15,870 people died in the disaster, and an additional 6,114 were injured. Over 2,000 people were still missing as of September 12, 2012.1 In addition, the tsunami caused multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. As a result, approximately 900,000 terabecquerels of radiation was released into the surroundings. To give you a sense of what that means, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that occurred in 1986 spewed an estimated 5.2 million terabecquerels into the surroundings.2 So while the radiation released in the Fukushima disaster was bad, it wasn’t nearly as bad as what happened at Chernobyl.
Of course, the total amount of radiation released isn’t the entire picture. After all, the Chernobyl area wasn’t nearly as densely populated as Japan. So while the Fukushima disaster released less radiation, that smaller amount of radiation could have a larger effect, given the fact that there were so many people who could have been exposed to it. Last year, a study was published in the Journal Energy & Environmental Science, and it indicated that the increased cancer risks caused by the Fukushima disaster would be minimal. Since cancer is the most common long-term consequence of radiation exposure, the report seemed to indicate that the long-term consequences of the disaster would be small.
A new study was recently published by the World Heath Organization (WHO). The authors of the previous study were not involved in this study, and the methodology of the new study is different from that of the previous one. As a result, it seems to me that this is a truly independent assessment compared to the previous one. However, the conclusions are roughly the same.
This broad-barred goby is one of the species that responds to a coral's call for help (click for credit)
Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that I am fascinated by the mutualism that seems to be all over creation. You can seem some of my previous posts about this topic here, here, here, here, and here. I recently came across a study that provides another example of mutualism in one of favorite habitats: a coral reef. As an amateur scuba diver, I spend a lot of time enjoying the wonders of coral reefs, and the more we study their biology, the more amazed I am at the interconnectedness that exists among their inhabitants.
The authors of the study were trying to understand how a very common species of coral, Acropora nasuta, protects itself against the toxic seaweed Chlorodesmis fastigiata. This particular seaweed attempts to take over a coral reef by producing chemicals that harm the coral. The chemicals reduce the coral’s ability to grow and feed, allowing the seaweed to “muscle in” on the coral’s turf. When the seaweed is completely successful, it chokes out the coral, forming a shrubby thicket where the coral once was.
As the authors note, previous studies have already shown that overfished coral reefs are more likely to be taken over by such seaweed, so they wondered if perhaps the fish that live in the coral reefs provide some sort of protection for the coral. They found that certain species of goby (particularly the broad-barred goby, Gobiodon histrio, and the redhead goby, Paragobiodon echinocephalus) do, indeed, protect the coral from the seaweed, but the process by which this happens is rather surprising.
This medical image shows the appendix coming from the large intestine. (Click for credit)
The appendix is a tube-like structure that extends from the cecum, a small pouch that forms the beginning of the large intestine. In the medical image on the left, you can see it because it is filled with a contrast medium, as is the large intestine. For a long, long time, evolutionists have told us that the appendix is useless. It is a leftover vestige from when our ancestors depended heavily on vegetation for food. We have evolved out of such dietary needs, and as a result, we don’t need an appendix anymore. So the appendix we have today is just a shriveled remnant of what used to be a large, complex cecum in our ancestors. Here is how the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defined the appendix in 2008:1
BODY PART: 1 (plural appendixes) a small tube-shaped part which is joined to the INTESTINES on the right side of the body and has no use in humans
[emphasis in original]
Of course, anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows what the scientific evidence actually says: The appendix is not useless in any way. As a recent study tells us:2
Substantial evidence supports the view that the cecal appendix is an immune structure primarily functioning as a safe-house for beneficial bacteria, and comes from a range of disciplines, including medicine, epidemiology, immunology, and microbiology.
At least some evolutionists, however, are more interested in what the data actually say. The authors of the study in reference (2) have looked at the data and have come to the conclusion that the appendix is not vestigial in any way. Instead, it is so important that it has evolved independently at least 32 separate times throughout the course of mammalian evolution!
These homing pigeons can usually find their way home over very long distances. (Click for credit)
Homing pigeons have been specially bred to be able to find their way home, almost no matter where they are released. They have been used for more than 2,500 years to deliver messages in a fast, reliable way. For example, a homing pigeon was used to deliver the results of the first Olympiad back in 776 BC.1 Because people have been using these pigeons for a long, long time, scientists have tried to figure out how they are able to navigate their way from an unknown location back to their home. While scientists have been able to figure out some aspects of homing pigeon navigation, the details haven’t been entirely worked out.
It was once thought that homing pigeons use visual landmarks to help in their navigation, but experiments in which the pigeons’ eyesight was reduced using frosted contact lenses showed that’s not correct. Other experiments demonstrate that homing pigeons can sense the earth’s magnetic field, but many of those same experiments also show that disrupting that sense doesn’t always end up leading the pigeons astray. In addition, some experiments indicate that homing pigeons use the position of the sun in the sky to orient themselves, but that can’t be the entire explanation, either, because pigeons can navigate even on very cloudy days. It seems, then, that pigeons use a wide variety of strategies to navigate their way home.2
The mystery of homing pigeon navigation deepened back in 1997, when the Royal Pigeon Racing Association decided to celebrate its 100th year anniversary by releasing 60,000 pigeons in the south of France. These pigeons came from homes throughout southern England, and they were expected to be able to reach those homes in a few hours. While a few thousand of them ended up returning to their homes over a period of a few days, most never made it back.3
Over the years, several hypotheses have been put forth to explain why those pigeons never made it home. One of them suggests that the pigeons’ navigation was disrupted by the sonic boom of the Concorde jet whose flight path crossed that of pigeons. A recent study by Dr. Jonathan T. Hagstrum adds some support to this hypothesis.
You have stumbled across Dr. Jay L. Wile's Blog. Dr. Wile holds an earned PhD from the University of Rochester in Nuclear Chemistry. He is best known for the "Exploring Creation with..." series of textbooks written for junior high and high school students who are being educated at home.
Red Wagon Tutorials
This site is run by the most gifted teacher with whom I have ever worked. He has live classes that go with my books as well as recorded classes.
Answers in Genesis
While the theology leaves a lot to be desired, the science discussed on this website is pretty solid.
This website contains works from a good mix of young-earth creationists.
This is the blog of Dr. Todd Wood, one of the leaders in baraminology. He covers current topics of interest to young-earth creationists.
This is the blog of Kevin Nelstead, an old-earth creationist geologist. He covers many topics related to the age of the earth and offers a nice contrast to the young-earth writings listed above.
An interesting "think tank" that contains the major players in Intelligent Design