Climate Scientist Resigns Because of the “Craziness” of the Field

Climate Scientist Dr. Judith Curry (click for source)

Climate Scientist Dr. Judith Curry
(click for source)

Dr. Judith Curry holds an earned Ph.D. in geophysical sciences from The University of Chicago. For the past 14 years, she has been on the faculty at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and for the majority of that time, she was the chairperson of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. She has authored 186 peer-reviewed scientific papers and has two books to her credit. By any objective measure, she is a giant in the field of climate science.

I wrote about Dr. Curry more than six years ago, when Scientific American branded her a heretic. What was Curry’s heinous crime against science? She didn’t toe the party line when it came to global warming. She didn’t claim that global warming wasn’t occurring, and she didn’t claim that people aren’t responsible. Instead, she simply started stressing the real uncertainties involved in climate science. That, of course, is an unpardonable sin, and as a result, she is routinely demonized by those who know significantly less than she does about climate.

Why has she decided to resign, even though she has not reached traditional retirement age? She discusses this on her blog, and I encourage you to read the entire article. Like most of the entries on her blog, it is thoughtful and revealing. She mentions several factors that have contributed to her resignation, and then she says this:

A deciding factor was that I no longer know what to say to students and postdocs regarding how to navigate the CRAZINESS in the field of climate science. Research and other professional activities are professionally rewarded only if they are channeled in certain directions approved by a politicized academic establishment — funding, ease of getting your papers published, getting hired in prestigious positions, appointments to prestigious committees and boards, professional recognition, etc.

How young scientists are to navigate all this is beyond me, and it often becomes a battle of scientific integrity versus career suicide… [emphasis mine]

The sad fact is that her observations are 100% accurate, and they can be applied to at least one other field of scientific inquiry – the investigation of origins.

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Lichen Kept This Secret from Scientists for Almost 150 Years!

The stringy stuff hanging on this tree is a lichen from the genus Bryoria. (click for credit)

The stringy stuff hanging on this tree is a lichen from the genus Bryoria.
(click for credit)

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that I am fascinated by mutualism – the phenomenon where two organisms of different species work together to benefit one another (see here, here, here, here, and here, for example). Creationists expect such relationships to be common throughout nature, and at least one line of research seems to indicate that some organisms are designed to produce them. I suspect that we understand very little about this amazing process, and it is probably more common than most scientists think.

Consider, for example, the longest-studied mutualistic relationship. Way back in 1867, Swiss botanist Dr. Simon Schwendener proposed that a lichen (like the one pictured to the left) is not a single organism. Instead, it is composed of two different organisms, a fungus and an alga (the singular form of algae), that work together so that each benefits. His hypothesis was rejected by the scientific consensus, but as has been the case throughout the history of science, the consensus was demonstrated to be wrong, and Dr. Schwendener was vindicated. Nowadays, the lichen is one of the most common examples given to explain the concept of mutualism. The alga does photosynthesis and shares its food and oxygen with the fungus, while the fungus supports the alga and supplies it with water and salts.

You would think that since Dr. Schwendener proposed this mutualistic relationship nearly 150 years ago, scientists would know pretty much everything there is to know about lichen. However, there was one major mystery that hadn’t been solved over that entire timespan – how can genetically similar lichen be so wildly different? The picture above, for example, is of a specific lichen, Bryoria fremontii. Another lichen from the same genus, Bryoria tortuosa, is composed of the same species of fungus and the same species of alga. From a genetic standpoint, the fungus and alga in both lichens are virtually identical. Nevertheless, one lichen is brown while the other is yellow. In addition, one produces a chemical known as vulpinic acid, while the other does not.

How can two lichen composed of genetically-identical partners look and behave so differently? We may now know the answer, which has been hiding in plain sight for almost 150 years!

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An Atheist Becomes a Christian After Reading The Lord of the Rings

The view from inside Bag End. (Photo by Kathleen Wile)

The view from inside Bag End. (Photo by Kathleen Wile)

If you hadn’t already guess it by now, I am a nerd. As a result, you will probably not be surprised by the fact that I have been a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings since I first read the series in the late 1970s. More importantly, however, I am married to one of the world’s biggest fans of the trilogy. She knows pretty much everything about the books and their talented author, and in her mind, they tell the best fictional story ever told. She also liked the movies that were made based on the books, even though she had some issues with them. As a result, when we went on a speaking tour of New Zealand several years ago, we wanted to see at least some of the sites where the films were made.

Pretty much the only place that looks anything like it did in the movies is Hobbiton, the town where Bilbo Baggins lived. My wife and I toured it eagerly and were thrilled to learn that we could actually go into Bilbo’s “home,” Bag End. In actuality, the inside of Bag End seen in the movies wasn’t at the Hobbiton set. It was on a sound stage somewhere else. However, the owners had excavated a small cave behind Bag End’s entrance. We went in, and she took the photo you see above, allowing us to always remember the view from Bag End.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because I ran across a very interesting article entitled, I Was an Atheist Until I Read “The Lord of the Rings.” The title alone is intriguing enough, but longtime readers of this blog are probably aware that I collect stories about atheists who became Christians. If this story isn’t a perfect fit for my blog, then, I don’t know what is!

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Evolutionists Couldn’t Have Been More Wrong About Antibiotic Resistance

A colony of bacteria similar to the one analyzed in the study being discussed.  (click for credit)

A colony of bacteria similar to the one analyzed in the study being discussed. (click for credit)

Back when I went to university, I was taught (as definitive fact) that bacteria evolved resistance to antibiotics as a result of the production of antibiotics. This was, of course, undeniable evidence for the fact that new genes can arise through a process of mutation and natural selection. Like most evolution-inspired ideas, however, the more we learned about antibiotic resistance in bacteria, the more we learned that there was a problem. It turns out that some cases of antibiotic resistance in bacteria were not caused by antibiotic-resistant genes. Instead, they were caused by the deterioration of genes that exist for other purposes. For example, the Anthrax bacterium can develop resistance to a class of antibiotics called quinolones, but it is the result of a mutation that degrades the gene that produces gyrase, the enzyme that those antibiotics attack. This allows the bacterium to survive the antibiotic, but the degraded gyrase gene causes the bacterium to reproduce much more slowly.

There are, however, specific genes found in bacteria that do produce proteins which fight antibiotics. It was generally thought that these genes arose through mutation and natural selection in response to our development of antibiotics. However, we now know that this just isn’t true. Antibiotic-resistant genes existed long before people developed antibiotics. I first wrote about this more than five years ago, when researchers found bacterial, antibiotic-resistant genes in permafrost alongside mammoth genes. Obviously, people weren’t making antibiotics when mammoths were alive. Thus, those genes existed long before human-made antibiotics. Later, I wrote about researchers who found bacterial, antibiotic-resistant genes in fossilized feces from the Middle Ages. Once again, this shows that antibiotic-resistant genes have been around long before our development of antibiotics.

Now an even more impressive study has been released. In it, researchers analyzed the DNA of a bacterium from the genus Paenibacillus. These bacteria form colonies, such as the one shown in the image above. The colors in the image indicate the density of bacteria – the brighter the yellow color, the higher the density of bacteria. While this genus of bacteria has been found in many, many environments, the specific species analyzed in the study was special: it has been living in a cave that has been isolated from the modern world. In fact, the cave is so isolated that no animals had ever ventured into it. When the researchers analyzed the DNA of this bacterium, they found all sorts of antibiotic-resistant genes.

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Confirmation of Feathers On A Dinosaur?

Image of a remarkable feathered fossil preserved in Amber.  (from the paper being discussed)

Image of a remarkable feathered fossil preserved in Amber. (from the paper being discussed)

At university, I was taught (as definitive fact) that the scales on reptiles slowly evolved into feathers. While you can still find this idea in popular literature, serious evolutionists no longer suggest it, because there is simply too much evidence to the contrary. Most evolutionists today suggest that feathers, scales, and hair all evolved from a common ancestral structure. I am sure that if serious scientists are still discussing flagellate-to-philosopher evolution in 50 years, there will be yet another idea of how these structures evolved.

Because evolutionists no longer think that feathers evolved from scales, the currently-fashionable thing to teach as definitive fact is that at least some (if not all) dinosaurs had feathers. The problem is that solid evidence to back up this “fact” has been sorely lacking. There are some dinosaur fossils that give hints of feathers, but there are alternate interpretations of what those hints mean. There are other fossils that clearly show feathers, but it’s not clear the fossils are of dinosaurs.

Now all that has changed, at least according to some sources, because of a recently-reported fossil. The remarkable specimen (pictured above) is part of a tail that has been encased in amber. The amber has preserved both the bones in the tail and the feathers that covered it, giving paleontologists a superb sample to analyze. While the results of the analysis are not conclusive, I do think that they add to the case that at least some dinosaurs had feathers.

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Memes: Spreading False Ideas Since 1980

heisenberg

If you have spent much time on the internet, I am sure you have seen memes like the one shown above. They usually contain a picture and some sort of message. I really enjoy the funny ones, but I typically don’t like the serious ones. It’s not because I don’t enjoy being serious. It’s because you rarely know whether or not the information in the meme is trustworthy. Consider, for example, the meme shown above. It attributes a quote to Dr. Werner Heisenberg, a giant in the field of quantum mechanics. Indeed, his work continues to guide our understanding of the atomic world. I fully agree with the quote, and I deeply respect Dr. Heisenberg. There is only one problem: the meme is almost certainly false.

A Facebook friend posted it on my wall because she knew that I would agree with it. However, I had read a lot of Heisenberg’s work, and the quote didn’t seem to fit the person who I had come to know through my reading. Consider, for example, his main work on the relationship between science and religion. It is called “Scientific Truth and Religious Truth,” and it was published in 1974 (two years before his death) in Universitas, a German review of the arts and sciences. In that work, he seems to argue that science and religion each arrive at truths, but the truths are unrelated to one another. Consider, for example, his own words:

The care to be taken in keeping the two languages, religious and scientific, apart from one another, should also include an avoidance of any weakening of their content by blending them. The correctness of tested scientific results cannot rationally be cast in doubt of religious thinking, and conversely, the ethical demands stemming from the heart of religious thinking ought not to be weakened by all too rational arguments from the field of science.

This is a common view among religious scientists. It often called the “Nonoverlapping Magisteria” (NOMA) view, and it was championed by Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, an ardent evolutionary evangelist who died in 2002. I strongly disagree with the NOMA view, so when I read Dr. Heisenberg’s work, I was disappointed that he seemed to hold to it.

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Howard Edmund Wile: The Man Who Showed Me How to Live

My dad on a cruise ship, where he loved to feel the rolling deck under his feet.

My dad on a cruise ship, where he loved to feel the rolling deck under his feet.

What does it mean to be a father? When my wife and I adopted our only child, I thought a lot about that question. I came up with various answers, none of which were really satisfactory. However, something happened on Tuesday night that put it all into focus for me: my own father passed into the arms of his Savior. The event wasn’t a surprise. From the time I was in high school, my dad had severe health issues. However, over the past year and a half, his health deteriorated severely. More than a week ago, he stopped getting out of bed. A few days ago, he stopped eating. We all had time to prepare for the inevitable.

Of course, when the inevitable actually occurs, you find you aren’t prepared for it at all. The reality is that even when a person is bedridden and hardly able to muster the energy to speak with you, he is still there. When he dies, he is no longer there. He is simply gone, and there is no way to prepare oneself for that. Because of this gaping hole left in your world, you are forced to think about things differently. As a result, I think I have finally come up with the answer to my question.

While writing his obituary, I was forced to think about who my dad was. He was a sailor, having defended freedom in World War II and the Korean War. He was a part of the criminal justice system. He was a tireless volunteer for the Republican party, his church, and many community organizations. But of course, to me, he was much more than that. He was my dad. And he was really, really good at it.

What made him good at it? I thought about that question for a long, long time, and suddenly, a quote popped into my head. It was from a book on parenting I had read while we were in the process of adopting our daughter. The book itself was so unremarkable that I don’t remember its title. Perhaps because it was in such an unremarkable book, the quote meant little to me at the time. However, in the light of thinking about my own father’s life, its profound truth struck me. With a little help from Google, I got the actual quote as well as its source. When speaking of his own father, Clarence Budington Kelland said:

He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.

In a nutshell, that’s why my dad was such a good father. He showed me, on a daily basis, how a Christian man should live. He demonstrated to me how a man cares for his family, how a man prioritizes his life, and how a man deals with those who are less fortunate than himself.

Howard Edmund Wile showed me how to live. When I see him in heaven, the first thing I am going to do is thank him for that.

Antarctic Ice Still a Mystery

A German ship (The Gauss) in Antarctic Ice, in Antarctic Ice, as seen from a balloon in 1901. (credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce)

A German ship (The Gauss) in Antarctic Ice, as seen from a balloon in 1901.
(credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce)

Ice in the Arctic has been on a shaky-but-steady decline for the past 25 years, perhaps even longer. Many point to this decline as evidence for global warming. If that were the case, however, ice in the Antarctic should be declining as well, but it isn’t. A recent scientific paper that attempts to put Antarctic sea ice in historical context states this problem succinctly:

In stark contrast to the sharp decline in Arctic sea ice, there has been a steady increase in ice extent around Antarctica during the last three decades, especially in the Weddell and Ross seas. In general, climate models do not to capture this trend and a lack of information about sea ice coverage in the pre-satellite period limits our ability to quantify the sensitivity of sea ice to climate change and robustly validate climate models.

In other words, the computer models that are based on our understanding of global climate predict that global warming should be causing a decline in both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice. However, that’s not what’s happening, at least according to the satellite record, which has been around for a little over 35 years. As a result, the authors of this paper decided to do something innovative: attempt to find out how much ice was in the Antarctic roughly 100 years ago.

How did they do it? They examined the logbooks of explorers who attempted to reach the South Pole during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, which took place from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Using those logbooks, the authors were able to produce what seems to be a fairly accurate map of the edge of Antarctic sea ice during that time period. However, these data don’t help to resolve the conflict between the Arctic ice record and the Antarctic ice record. In fact, they seem to amplify the problem.

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The Latest Numbers on Homeschooling From The U.S. Department of Education

Homeschooled students building a trebuchet (click for credit)

Homeschooled students building a trebuchet
(click for credit)

Roughly every four years, the United States Department of Education produces a report of statistics related to homeschooling. Their 2016 report, which covers statistics from 2012, was recently released, and it contains some interesting results that I think are worth discussing. Before I do that, however, it is important to note the limitations of this report.

Since each state has its own laws regarding home education, it is very difficult for the federal government to track homeschooling families. As a result, the estimates regarding the number of homeschooled students is probably low and the sample that was studied is probably not totally representative of the homeschooling population. Also, the detailed statistics are based on a survey called the “Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey.” Of the more than 17,000 students covered in that survey, only 397 were homeschooled. Thus, the statistics are based on a relatively small sample of students. Nevertheless, some of the results are worth noting.

First, the report tries to adjust its results to take into account the fact that it can’t track all homeschooling families. Based on the data and the subsequent adjustments, the report estimates that there were 1,773,000 students being homeschooled in 2012. This did not include students who were being temporarily homeschooled (because of a long-term illness, for example). This translates to roughly 3.4% of the population, which represents a doubling of the percentage of homeschooled students in 1999 and an 18% increase from the time of the previous report (2007). Needless to say, then, homeschooling is becoming more common.

Before I give you the next interesting statistic, I want you to think about the answer to the following question:

Are homeschooling parents generally more or less educated than the rest of the population?

I have heard people suggest both answers to that question. Some view homeschoolers as people who do not value “real” education, so they are less educated, on average, than the rest of the population. Others view homeschoolers as those who value education more than the rest of the population, so they are more educated. Based on this survey, the education level of homeschooling parents is roughly equivalent to that of the rest of the population. 25% of homeschooling parents have a Bachelor’s degree, while according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 32% of U.S. adults have one. 18% of homeschooling parents have a graduate or professional degree, compared to 12% of U.S. adults. Only about 2% of homeschooling parents don’t have at least a high school degree, compared to about 12% of U.S. adults.

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Radiation Probably Did Harm the Apollo Astronauts

The astronaut in this Apollo 17 photo was probably harmed by the radiation to which he was exposed on his voyage.

The astronaut in this Apollo 17 photo was probably harmed by the radiation to which he was exposed on his voyage.

The earth has been magnificently designed for life. Amongst its amazing contrivances for nurturing and protecting living organisms, its magnetic field shields its surface from most of the high-energy radiation to which it is exposed. If it weren’t for this protective shield, life as we know it could not exist on earth. So what happens when people venture beyond that protective shield? A recent paper in the journal Scientific Reports attempts to answer that question by studying astronauts. While it suffers from the unavoidable weakness of using a very small group of individuals, the results presented in the paper are very interesting.

The researchers who wrote the paper examined five women and 37 men who had spent some time in space. All five women and 30 of the men experienced low-earth orbit, while seven of the men were a part of the various Apollo missions that went to the moon. These astronauts were compared to three women and 32 men who have been trained as astronauts but have never gone into space. Both of those groups were also compared to the U.S. population of the same age range. Specifically, the researchers were looking for the mortality rates among the astronauts, as well as what caused their deaths.

What they found was that the astronauts who never went into space were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and other common ailments (such as cancer) than the rest of the population in the same age range. This makes sense, since health is one of the factors used to choose astronauts, and their training keeps them healthy. However, they were more likely to die from accidents than the rest of the U.S. population. Once again, this makes sense, since being an astronaut is a dangerous line of work.

However, when the astronauts who never went into space were compared to the Apollo astronauts, there was one striking difference.

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