Another Dinosaur Soft Tissue Discovery by Mark Armitage

A nerve from a chicken (left) compared to one isolated from a dinosaur fossil (right). (Images by DSTRI, click for originals)

In several previous articles (here, here, here, here, and here), I have been highlighting the groundbreaking work of Mark Armitage at the Dinosaur Soft Tissue Research Institute (DSTRI). If you haven’t heard about the amazing work he has been doing, you should read every link given above. If you have been following Armitage’s cutting-edge original research, then you will be pleased to learn that he has published yet another article with yet another first in the field of paleontology.

The article is entitled, “First Report of Peripheral Nerves in Bone from Triceratops horridus Occipital Condyle,” and even if you get lost in the terminology, the pictures are well worth perusing. Essentially, Armitage does a microscopic analysis of nerves from a chicken (like the one pictured on the left above) and compares them to nerves that were isolated from the condyle (the rounded end of a horn) of a Triceratops fossil (like the one pictured in the right above). He shows that the structures from the fossil have all the physical characteristics of the chicken nerves, which indicates that they really are nerves from a vertebrate animal. That means they are not contaminants. They came from the dinosaur.

Look, for example, at the pictures above. The white bars tell you the scale in micrometers (millionths of a meter). Notice the pattern of dark lines wrapping around the chicken nerve on the left. That is characteristic of a sheath that wraps around the bundle of fibers which makes up the nerve. As you can see, the same pattern appears in the structure that was isolated from the Triceratops fossil, which is shown on the right. Two even more stunning photographs appear on page 5 of the article. In Figures 12 and 13, you can actually see deatils of the sheaths themselves. They are extremely thin and delicate, and yet they were found in a bone that is supposed to be 65 million years old!

It is important to note that these aren’t stiff, petrified structures. Armitage removed the minerals that had preserved the bone (he “decalcified” it), leaving soft tissues behind. As he says in the article:

The flexibility of individual decalcified nerves was astonishing. Nerves held at each end with fine needle forceps only broke into two pieces after repeated tugging. An example of the flexibility of these nerves is seen in Figure 15 where the fascicle rotates through a gentle, unbroken loop and descends into other curvatures before terminating to a point.

Those who are forced by their preconceptions to believe that dinosaur fossils are millions of years old are still scrambling to find any way in which delicate, soft tissues can avoid decomposition for millions of years. The original discoverer of soft tissue in dinosaur bones, Dr. Mary Schweitzer, published an attempted explanation a while ago, but Armitage himself has shown that it isn’t consistent with the data. Chemists have also shown that the explanation isn’t consistent with what we know about chemistry.

Those who are forced to believe in an ancient earth will, no doubt, come up with more special pleading to try to explain how soft tissue can avoid decomposition for millions of years. But for those who are willing to actually follow the data, it is clear that the most reasonable explanation is that the bones are not millions of years old.

Common Inhaled Medication Seems to Reduce Hospitalization in COVID-19 Patients

An inhaler similar to the ones used in the study (click for credit)
A new study was recently posted on Medrxiv, a preprint server that allows you to post research articles that are currently being reviewed for publication. This particular study focused on using a very common inhaled medication, budesonide, as a treatment for COVID-19. It was conducted in a single community in the UK and used 146 subjects, all of which were over the age of 18 and had experienced symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 for 7 days or less. All were given the standard treatments for COVID-19, but half were also given an inhaler that contained budesonide and were told to use it twice per day. The authors wanted to see if this medication, which is known to reduce exacerbations related to COPD and asthma, would be effective in reducing the severity of COVID-19.

The study indicates that it is very effective. The authors found that 10 people in the group getting the normal treatment had a COVID-19-related urgent care visit, emergency department assessment, or hospitalization. Only 1 person in the group that got the usual treatment plus budesonide had that kind of outcome. In addition, the group that got budesonide recovered, on average, a full day earlier than those who did not get it. Finally, fewer patients in the budesonide group had persistent symptoms after 14 and 28 days. Thus, it seems that budesonide does aid in the treatment of COVID-19.

What prompted the study? As the authors state:

In early reports describing COVID-19 infection from China, Italy and the United States, there was a significant under representation of patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in patients hospitalised with COVID-19. We hypothesized that this may be due to the widespread use of inhaled [chemicals like budesonide] in these patients. (reference marks removed by me)

It looks like their hunch turned out to be right. Now, of course, there are limitations to the study. The sample size is reasonable, but not as large as that of a full-scale clinical trial. Also, it was conducted in a single community, which would provide a more homogenized group of people than a study conducted over a large geographic range. Nevertheless, the results are so dramatic that it is hard to understand how these limitations could invalidate the results.

If you end up experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, ask your physician about this study and whether or not budesonide might be a viable treatment option for you. Please note that like all medications (and foods), this medication has potential side effects in some people, so you shouldn’t take it without consulting a physician who knows your medical history.

1 Corinthians 13 for Homeschoolers

I just finished reviewing an excellent book on home education.  I will discuss it more when it gets published.  The author quoted this piece, which I had never read before.  As far as I can tell, no one knows who originally crafted it, but I agree with it wholeheartedly!

1 Corinthians 13 for Homeschoolers

If I teach my children how to multiply, divide, and diagram a sentence, but fail to show them love, I have taught them nothing.

If I take them on numerous field trips, to swim practice, and flute lessons, and if I involve them in every church activity, but fail to give them love, I will profit nothing.

And if I scrub my house relentlessly, run countless errands, and serve three nutritious meals every day but fail to be an example of love, I have done nothing.

Love is patient with misspelled words and is kind to young interrupters. Love does not envy the high SAT scores of other homeschool families.
Love does not claim to have better teaching methods than anyone else, is not rude to the fourth telephone caller during a science lesson, does not seek perfectly behaved geniuses, does not turn into a drill sergeant, thinks no evil about friends’ educational choices.

Love bears all my children’s challenges, believes all my children are God’s precious gifts, hopes all my children establish permanent relationships with Christ, and endures all things…

Where there are college degrees, they will fail; where there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we teach in part. But when the trials of life come to our children, the history, math, and science will be done away, and faith, hope, and love will remain.

But the greatest of these is love.

An Interesting Interview with One of the Sane Voices in Climate Research

Dr. Judith Curry, a climate scientist who is actually committed to the science. (click for credit)
Dr. Judith Curry holds an earned Ph.D. in geophysical sciences from The University of Chicago. For the last 14 years of her career, she was a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. For the majority of that time, she was the chairperson of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. She has authored 196 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. Because she is actually interested in understanding how climate works, she was officially branded a heretic by the High Priests of Science. Seven years later, she resigned her professorship at the Georgia Institute of Technology because she could no longer figure out, “…what to say to students and postdocs regarding how to navigate the CRAZINESS in the field of climate science.”

Because I respect her knowledge, intellect, and commitment to science, I read her blog. On Saturday, she posted the transcript from an interview she did for a podcast. I am not familiar with the podcast, and I prefer to read rather than listen. In reading the transcript, I found nothing new related to her views on climate change, but I was fascinated by her historical analysis of the field of climate science. While I encourage you to read the entire transcript, I will highlight what really struck me.

When asked about how climate scientists viewed climate change when she was getting her degrees (the 1970s and 1980s), she said that aside from a few “very rambunctious people,” climate change was not a big issue with scientists. When the IPCC formed in the late 1980s, she said that most climate scientists didn’t want to get involved with it:

They said, this is just a whole political thing. This is not what we do. We seek to understand all the processes and climate dynamics, we don’t want to go there. And that was really a pretty strong attitude, through, I would say the mid nineties, say 1995. We had the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change at that point, they’re trying to get a big treaty going. And so defenders of the IPCC started pushing the idea that anybody who doubts us or challenges us, they are in the pay of big oil. After that, it became much more difficult to really challenge all that. And certainly by the turn of the century, anybody who was questioning the hockey stick or any of these other things were slammed as deniers and ostracized. And then after Climategate in 2010, the consensus enforcers became very militant. So it’s a combination of politics, and some mediocre scientists trying to protect their careers. And, they saw this whole thing as a way for career advancement, and it gives them a seat at the big table and political power. All this reinforces pretty shoddy science and overconfidence in their expert judgment, which comprises the IPCC assessment reports.

I found this interesting because as an outsider looking in, I have to agree with her assessment that the IPCC has reinforced “shoddy science.” I don’t know even 5% of what Dr. Curry knows about climate, and I know precisely 0% of what she knows about the internal dynamics of her field. However, after reading each IPCC report (from the 2001 synthesis report on), I was amazed at the shoddiness of the science and the overconfidence they had in their conclusions.

Consider, for example, their view of how humans have impacted the earth’s climate. In 2001, they said that human-emitted greenhouse gases are “likely” responsible for more than half of the earth’s temperature increase since 1951. By 2007, climate scientists had shown that the models used in 2001 were wrong, and they also found new variables related to climate which were poorly understood. Nevertheless, in their 2007 report, the IPCC said that human-emitted greenhouse gases are “very likely” responsible. Over the next six years, climate scientists continued to show that the models used by the IPCC were wrong and continued to find more uncertainties in our understanding of climate. But over that same period, the IPCC decided that that human-emitted greenhouse gases are “extremely likely” responsible.

In real science, when uncertainties grow, the conclusions become more and more tentative. In climate science, the reverse seems to be the case. More uncertainties seem to lead to more confidence in the conclusions. That’s pretty much the definition of shoddy science.

A Cool Gravity Demonstration

Dr. Scott Carr does a demonstration that shows gravity accelerates all object at the same rate.
From time to time, I teach classes at Anderson University. While I usually teach science for science majors, over the past few years, I have been co-teaching a class with Dr. Scott Carr called “Teaching STEM in the Elementary Classroom.” It is designed to give elementary education majors the tools they need to incorporate science, technology, engineering, and math lessons in their K-6 classrooms.

I started teaching it just because I enjoy working with Dr. Carr, but I have continued teaching it because the class is really fun. A good portion of the class time is spent having students come up with experiments that their students could either do or watch. Of course, I have seen all sorts of science experiments for elementary students, and my elementary series actually contains a total of 450 of them. Nevertheless, every year I see at least one new experiment or a new variation on an experiment I already know. This year is no exception. We have only been in class for two weeks, and already, a student named Melodie Nord presented a great experiment that shows gravity accelerates all objects at the same rate. A slow-motion video of it is given below:

As you can see in the video, water is falling out of a hole near the bottom of the cup in a stream. However, once the cup is released, the water stops falling out of the hole. It is still falling, of course, but the cup is falling with it. Since the cup and its entire contents fall at the same rate as the water that would have come out of the hole, the cup “keeps up” with the stream that was coming out of the hole. As a result, there is no stream of water. This shows that whether it is a tiny drop of water or a cup full of water, gravity accelerates everything at the same rate, regardless of mass.

I have a plaque on my wall that says “Docendo Discimus,” which is a Latin proverb that means, “By teaching, we learn.” It is true whether I am teaching nuclear physics at the graduate level or STEM for elementary education majors!

Sweden’s COVID-19 Strategy Didn’t Work

A comparison of Sweden and Denmark in terms of COVID-19 (click for higher resolution)

I have written two posts comparing the COVID-19 situation in Sweden and Denmark (see here and here). I find the comparison useful, because they are very similar countries in the same basic region of the world, but they had remarkably different responses to the disease. Sweden initially avoided lockdowns and tried to target their social restrictions, while Denmark followed the practices of most other countries, strongly limiting what their citizens could do during the pandemic. Sweden thought that if they allowed the disease to run its course among those who are not at high risk, they would achieve herd immunity, and the disease would lose its impact. As a result, they tried to target their severe restrictions to those who were at high risk, allowing the rest of the population to live life more normally.

By fall, there were those who thought the strategy had worked. Case rates were falling, and Sweden seemed to have weathered the storm. However, in my August post, I said that Sweden had not reached herd immunity, and it turns out that I was right. If you look at the above graphs (data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control), you will see that while both Sweden and Denmark saw a leveling off in the summer and early fall, COVID cases and deaths quickly shot up later on. To date, Sweden’s COVID-19 deaths per million are more than three times that of Denmark’s, and right now, there is no indication that either country will see a slowdown in cases or deaths, at least not until the vaccines are widely distributed.

Now please understand that comparing two different countries is fraught with peril, and even though Sweden and Denmark are similar in many ways, we cannot use these data to definitively say that government-imposed lockdowns are responsible for the difference. Indeed, there is a fairly recent study that tries to compare different countries, and they conclude that while some social restrictions did reduce the spread of the disease, severe restrictions (like lockdowns) didn’t help at all. Interestingly enough, they use Sweden as part of their baseline for countries that didn’t implement severe restrictions, but they do not use data from Denmark in any way. I personally think their analysis uses countries that are just too different to be compared in any meaningful way.

To show you what I mean, I added the U.S. and Italy to the graphs above to show you where they fit.

Notice that while the general shape of Italy’s death graph is similar to that of Sweden and Denmark, the U.S. deaths look very different. Conversely, when it comes to cases, the U.S. graph has the general shape of Sweden and Denmark, while Italy is different. Finally, notice that the total number of deaths per million varies by nearly a factor of five, despite the fact that three of the four countries on the graph had strict limitations on what many of their citizens could do.

I think there is one firm conclusion we can make from the data presented above: Sweden’s strategy of trying to control the disease using herd immunity acquired through exposure did not work.

Despite What You May Have Heard, 2020 was the Deadliest Year On Record

This is an example of one of the many false things you will read on social media.
As I have said countless times before, social media is a horrible source for information. Someone can post a lie, and people who are too lazy to investigate issues for themselves will simply share that lie. Pretty soon, lots of people have been fooled. This is especially true when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider, for example, the image on the left. It claims that with just two weeks left in 2020, the total number of deaths in the United States was lower than the total number of deaths in 2019. This, of course, is meant to support the conspiracy theory that the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t real. The problem, of course, is that the post is simply false, and anyone who spends even a short amount of time investigating it will see that.

Back in September, I posted a graph that was widely available on the internet. I checked it with the data that were known at the time and found it to be accurate. Even back then, we knew that 2020 was lining up to be the deadliest year in history. In July, several news outlets (like this one) ran a story on a medical study that showed deaths in the U.S. had spiked by 18%. In October, more stories (like this one) reported that there were 300,000 excess deaths in 2020 compared to the same time frame in 2019. In late December, several stories (like this one) reported that 2020 was on track to be the deadliest year in U.S. history.

If you don’t believe these reports, you can check the data for yourself. I downloaded the file yesterday, and it indicated that there were 3,128,646 deaths in the U.S. from 1/1/2020 to the week ending 12/19/2020 (the last week available at that time). In 2019, the total death count was 2,852,610. Now please note that these numbers are still not final; they will both increase. The 2020 numbers will increase more with the final weeks being included and with new information coming in from very rural areas. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that 2020 was significantly more deadly than 2019. In fact, in terms of total numbers, it is the deadliest year on record. Even when you look at the increase in deaths between 2019 and 2020 as a percentage of the population, you find that it is second only to what happened between 1917 and 1918, when deaths as a percentage of the population rose by 46% because of World War I and the Spanish influenza pandemic.

There are many reasons to distrust the government. Indeed, there are many things that I think the government is lying about. In each case, however, I have come to that conclusion because I think the data demonstrate that the government is promoting falsehoods. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the data are clear and easily found by anyone willing to invest even a modicum of effort investigating the issue. It is real, and it turned 2020 into the deadliest year in U.S. history.

“Climate Change” Is Not Killing Pacific Northwest Coho Salmon

It has become so fashionable to blame every calamity on “climate change” that scientists are overlooking REAL environmental issues, like tire waste. (click for credit)

Nowadays, if you want to get funding and become popular in the scientific community, you need to blame any natural calamity you are studying on climate change (aka global warming). For example, salmon populations in the west have been on the decline, and predictably, global warming has been trumpeted as the cause. As one source suggests:

Pacific salmon that spawn in Western streams and rivers have been struggling for decades to survive water diversions, dams and logging. Now, global warming is pushing four important populations in California, Oregon and Idaho toward extinction, federal scientists warn in a new study.

Of course, when serious scientists actually looked at the situation, they found that temperature is not responsible at all, at least not specifically for coho salmon. The scientists investigated multiple possibilities, and they ruled out rising temperatures. As one of the authors stated:

We had determined it couldn’t be explained by high temperatures, low dissolved oxygen or any known contaminant, such as high zinc levels…

Like good scientists, then, they ruled out the “fashionable” explanation and decided to find the real cause. Not surprisingly, they did. They found that urban stormwater runoff could cause the same symptoms that were known to be killing the coho salmon, so the authors painstakingly analyzed the runoff and ran multiple tests.

They identified the chemical that was killing the coho salmon but could not figure out where it came from. Eventually, the researchers found that this chemical was similar to a preservative used in tires, which is charmingly known as “6PPD.” After several experiments, they found that when 6PPD is exposed to ozone and sunlight, it can be broken down into the killer chemical. Thus, the coho salmon are not being killed by today’s favorite boogeyman. Instead, they are being killed by a chemical produced as a result of tire waste.

Now, of course, since the authors of this study seem to be careful scientists (unlike so many that exist today), they are unwilling to generalize their results. Thus, this conclusion applies only to what is killing the coho salmon in the Pacific Northwest. There might be other causes for what is killing the other species, but I hope this motivates scientists to question the “fashionable” explanation of “global warming” and actually do some serious scientific investigation, like this team did. If so, real science might still be able to help us understand (and the hopefully fix) the problem.

I Will Be Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine as Soon as I Can

Creative Commons License, click for source

Not long ago, I wrote a post about the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer. At that time, I only had access to the results of the small clinical trial, but those results were very encouraging. Now, the initial results of the large clinical trial are available, and they are even more encouraging. In short, the vaccine is 95% effective at preventing symptomatic cases of COVID-19 in the group that was being tested. While there were side effects, they were generally mild. Of course, not all kinds of people were tested. People under 16 years of age were not included in the clinical trial. Neither were pregnant women nor those who are immunocompromised. Thus, the results don’t apply to people in those groups.

Like most clinical trials used for licensure of a medication, this was a large-scale, placebo-controlled, double-blind study. That means a large number of people (43,538) were randomly assigned to receive either two doses of a placebo (an injection of saltwater) or two doses of the vaccine. The doses were separated by 21 days. Neither the people getting the injections nor the researchers directly involved in the study were aware of which injection each person got (that’s what “double blind” means). Once there were enough COVID-19 cases among all the participants to make a reasonable conclusion about the results, the researchers learned which injection each participant got. At that point, they could compare the two groups.

When they made the comparison, they found that starting seven days after the second dose, there were only 8 cases of COVID-19 in the group that got the vaccine doses, while there were 162 among those who got the saltwater injections. Thus, the vaccine clearly provides strong protection against COVID-19, at least among people like those who were in the study. Now please understand that people in the study were only tested for COVID-19 if they exhibited symptoms, so this says nothing about whether or not the vaccine protects against asymptomatic COVID-19 infections.

Of course, the small clinical trials had already shown that the vaccine would be effective at preventing symptomatic cases of COVID-19. This large-scale trial was done to confirm that result and, more importantly, to determine whether or not the vaccine is safe for the majority of people. While it is impossible to know for sure, all indications are that for people over 16 who are not pregnant and not immunocompromised, the vaccine is safe. The vast majority of vaccine recipients reported pain at the injection site, compared to only a small percentage of those who got the placebo. Small percentages of those who got the vaccine also reported redness and swelling at the injection site.

The most commonly-reported side effect after pain at the injection site was fatigue. In people aged 16-55, for example, 59% of those receiving the vaccine reported fatigue after the second dose, compared with 23% of those who got the placebo. The percentages were slightly lower for those over 55. Headache was the next most common side effect, followed by muscle pain, chills, joint pain, fever, diarrhea, and vomiting. Figure 2 from the study gives a good summary. There were a total of four people who had severe reactions to the vaccine. Those reactions were a shoulder injury related to administration of the vaccine, severely swollen lymph nodes, an abnormal heart rhythm, and unexplained severe sensations in the leg. There were two vaccine recipients who died, but there were four placebo recipients who died. None of the deaths were judged to be related to the clinical trial.

Based on these results, I plan to get the vaccine as soon as I am allowed to. My wife is in a high-risk group, and she will as well. My adult daughter and her husband have a business that requires extensive travel throughout the U.S. They will also be getting it. Whether or not you or your family get this vaccine (or one of the others that will no doubt become available over time) is up to you. Medical decisions are deeply personal and should be made in consultation with a physician who knows your medical history. I would never presume to tell anyone how to make such decisions. I simply wanted to communicate to my readers what I think the data say about this vaccine.

I will add one more thing. One of my readers said that she heard the COVID-19 vaccine can make women unable to have babies, because the vaccine is training the body’s immune system to fight a protein that is similar to syncytin-1, a protein important to the formation of a placenta. Thus, it is possible that a woman who gets pregnant after getting the vaccine will be unable to form a placenta. While it is true that the proteins are similar, their similarity is in their function, not their actual structure. Both proteins facilitate connection to a membrane, but they do so in very different ways. As a result, their structures are quite different, and a protein’s structure is what the immune system attacks. Thus, there is no reason to expect that the vaccine will cause the immune system to attack syncytin-1.

In addition, women who contract the actual disease would have the same problem, since the immune system attacks the same protein whether it comes from the instructions given by the vaccine or the virus itself. I don’t know of any reports indicating that women who contracted COVID-19 are unable to form a placenta. Finally, while pregnant women were excluded from the trial, 23 got pregnant during the trial. Twelve of them were in the group that got the vaccine. They are being followed, and as of the December 4th National Vaccine Advisory Committee meeting, no adverse effects have been found.

Yes, The World Was Warmer Before “Global Warming”

An arrow that is roughly 800 years old. It was exposed by melting ice in Norway.
(image from study that is being discussed)

If you get all your information regarding climate change, aka “global warming,” from social media or most news outlets, you would think that we are living in a time of unprecedented warmth. However, if you read the scientific literature, you know that climate proxy data from around the world indicate that this is just not true. If you aren’t familiar with the term, “climate proxy” refers to data that scientists use to attempt to understand climate conditions of the past. Tree rings, for example, are sensitive to temperature and precipitation, so it is thought that we can use them to determine past climate conditions. Many climate-sensitive things like recorded harvests, coral growth, pollen grains, etc. can be used as climate proxies. Analysis of such climate proxies indicate that the earth was significantly warmer in the Middle Ages than it is today. Climate scientists refer to it as the “Medieval Warm Period,” the “Medieval Climate Anomaly,” or the “Medieval Climate Optimum.”

Those who are invested in promulgating terrifying stories about the effect people have on the earth’s climate attempt to downplay or disregard this well-established part of the earth’s history, but the data are quite convincing. The latest set of evidence to be added to the pile is an archaeological study from Norway. The first line of its abstract reads:

In the context of global warming, ice patches are increasingly important foci of high-elevation archaeology.

In other words, places like the area examined in the study have been covered in ice for a long time, but now, because of global warming, that ice is melting, revealing what has been entombed there.

What did the melted ice reveal? 68 arrows and five isolated arrow heads. This led the authors to describe the area as “…the most arrow-rich known ice patch site in the world.” They used carbon-14 dating to determine the age of the artifacts, and they say that their finds range from about 700 years old to 6,000 years old. The older the age, the less reliable carbon-14 becomes, so I doubt that any of those ages are really correct. However, we can certainly say that these arrows come from a time long before the Industrial Revolution!

Why do people make arrows? To hunt game. The authors conclude that this area, which has been covered in ice during recent times, was a rich hunting ground during several periods in the past. That means the area must have been much warmer in the past. Now, of course, we can’t make any conclusions about the earth’s climate from just one region. However, it is at a high elevation in the northern part of the globe (latitude 61 degrees). Such areas tend to stay cold, so the fact that it was warmer in the past is best understood in the context of a warmer earth. This adds weight to the proxy data, allowing us to more confidently conclude that there is nothing unusual about the temperatures the earth is experiencing right now.

Yes, the climate is changing. It is always changing. Yes, human activity probably has something to do with it, although the magnitude of that effect is unknown right now. However, the vast majority of the evidence indicates that what we are experiencing right now is not in any way unprecedented.