The Inquisition Strikes Very Close to Home

Dr. Eric Hedin, a professor who is vehemently suspected of heresy
Dr. Eric Hedin is an Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Ball State University. He has 38 peer-reviewed publications to his credit in such diverse fields as integrated optics, electromagnetic theory, and nanoscience. He has also been put on notice by the Inquisition, because he is vehemently suspected of heresy. Why? He teaches a course called “The Boundaries of Science,” which seems to come from a (gasp!) Intelligent Design point of view.

There are actually two versions of the course: Astronomy 151 and Honors 296, the latter of which is one of three courses a student can use to fulfill his or her science requirement in the Ball State University honors college. The honors course description, which is similar to (but not the same as) that of the non-honors course, says:

In this course, we will examine the nature of the physical and the living world with the goal of increasing our appreciation of the scope, wonder, and complexity of physical reality. We will also investigate physical reality and the boundaries of science for any hidden wisdom within this reality which may illuminate the central questions of the purpose of our existence and the meaning of life.

That sounds like a very interesting course to me. In perusing the bibliography of the non-honors version of the course, I see that it includes intelligent design advocates, such as Dr. Michael Behe and Dr. William Dembski. However, it also includes opponents of intelligent design such as Dr. Charles Wynn and Dr. Hubert Yockey. In addition, there are theistic evolutionists such as Dr. Paul Davies and old-earth creationists such as Dr. Hugh Ross. There are several Christians on the list, including Dr. John Lennox, but there is also at least one atheist (Dr. Roger Penrose) and one person of the Jewish faith (Dr. Gerald Schroeder). There are also several whose religious persuasions don’t seem evident from their writings, such as Dr. Michael Seeds and Hans Christian Von Baeyer. Is it a balanced list? No. It is weighted towards Christianity and intelligent design. Nevertheless, most views that exist among scientists seem to be represented.

So what’s the problem? The Inquisition has decided that the course smells of heresy.

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The FPEA Convention

Diana Waring and I during the question/answer part of our "homeschool genius" talk.

Last Friday and Saturday, I spoke at the Florida Parent-Educators Association (FPEA) convention in Orlando, Florida. It is one of the largest homeschooling conventions in the United States, and it is held at an incredible venue (the Gaylord Palms Resort). The convention was made doubly-special for me because I went early and was able to do a unique scuba dive: I got to dive in the Epcot Center’s “Living Seas” aquarium. You can see pictures of it on my Facebook page.

I gave six talks at the convention, including two with Diana Waring. The picture at the top of this post was taken during our first talk, “Homeschooling: The Environment for Genius,” which is based on a study of the childhoods of several geniuses. The picture at the top of the post comes from the question/answer session of that talk. In fact, one of the more interesting questions of the convention came during that time.

A homeschooling mother stood up and asked the following: Because geniuses tend to think outside the box, they are often noticeably different from their peers, and that can produce all sorts of negative consequences. If we do have children who are geniuses, how do we deal with those consequences? Unfortunately, our time had expired by then, and a conference official cut us off before we could answer that question. However, I went down to her, and a crowd gathered around us to hear the answer, which you will find below.

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Blame ‘Climate Change’ Despite the Evidence

On May 20th, Oklahoma City and its suburbs were hit by a devastating tornado. According to the latest news reports, the mega-tornado killed at least 24 people, nine of them children. My prayers go out to those whose lives have been affected by this terrible tragedy. While the situation is clearly an emotional one, we can’t let our emotions get away with us when it comes to understanding the science behind this tragedy.

What do I mean by that? Well, consider what Senator Barbara Boxer said on the floor of the Senate regarding the tornado:

This is climate change. We were warned about extreme weather. Not just hot weather. But extreme weather. When I had my hearings, when I had the gavel years ago. It’s been a while. The scientists all agreed that what we’d start to see was extreme weather. And people looked at one another and said “what do you mean? It’s gonna get hot?” Yeah, it’s gonna get hot. But you’re also going to see snow in the summer in some places. You’re gonna have terrible storms. You’re going to have tornadoes and all the rest. We need to protect our people. That’s our number one obligation and we have to deal with this threat that is upon us and that is gonna get worse and worse though the years.

She then went on to talk about a bill she has sponsored. It would put a tax on carbon in hopes of moving people to alternative sources of energy so as to reduce the effects of “climate change.” While Senator Boxer’s words are an emotional call-to-arms, they fly in the face of the scientific evidence.

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Scientific Fraud: A Surprising Study

Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chair and professor of microbiology and immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine (Click for credit)
Dr. Arturo Casadevall is the chair and professor of microbiology and immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is also the editor-in-chief of mBio, an open-access, online scientific journal that is sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology. Because of this latter position, he is very concerned about fraud in the scientific community. As a result, he and his colleagues decided to perform a study that would aid in our understanding of what causes scientific papers to be retracted and what kinds of people are doing the retracting. The results were not encouraging.

First, he and his colleagues studied all the retracted articles indexed by PubMed as of May 3, 2012. In all, there were 2,047 retracted papers, and according to their results, most of them were retracted because of some form of “misconduct.” Furthermore, the most likely form of misconduct was either fraud or suspected fraud. They also noted the following:1

…the incidence of retractions due to fraud is increasing, a trend that should be concerning to scientists and nonscientists alike.

So according to their analysis, fraud is the leading cause of scientific articles being retracted, and it is on the rise. As they note, this is a cause for great concern.

In order to understand more about the kinds of scientists who are committing fraud, the authors decided to do an extensive analysis of some individual cases. Specifically, they reviewed findings of misconduct that were published by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity. There were 228 individuals whose cases of misconduct had been filed, and nearly all of them (215 to be exact) were instances of fraud. When the authors of the study analyzed who was committing this fraud, they found some shocking results.

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Exactly How “Green” are Wind Turbines?

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.

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A Mother’s Day Drama

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers out there!
Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and we did a special drama at church to celebrate the occasion. I wrote the script many years ago, and the drama was well-received when we performed it. I generally don’t like to repeat dramas, but it had been so many years since we had performed this one, I assumed no one would remember it. I also think the drama is meaningful and touching, so it was worth doing again. The mothers obviously agreed, as several sniffles were heard once the drama finished.

The idea for the script came from an old Jimmy Dean piece I heard when I was young. He talks about going through his wallet and finding a bunch of IOU’s to his mother. I adapted that idea to a young lady packing up her dresser as she heads to college. I hope you enjoy it.

As always, feel free to use this script in any way you think will be meaningful to the body of Christ, but I would appreciate a credit.

Please note: I have two other Mother’s Day dramas (here and here), if you think it might better suit your needs.

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Give Her What She Wants!

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

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The Sioux Empire Christian Home Educators Convention

This past weekend, I spoke at the Sioux Empire Christian Home Educators (SECHE) convention. It was a small convention, but it was well-organized and full of enthusiasm. While I can understand the draw that large conventions have (lots of speakers, all manner of curriculum and resources in the vendor hall, etc.), there are a lot of advantages to small conventions as well. I got to spend a lot of time with each individual who wanted to speak with me personally, and there was plenty of time in each session for everyone to have their questions answered. The “personal touch” that is available at smaller conventions simply can’t be experienced at the larger ones.

I gave a total of five talks at the convention, including Homeschooling: Discovering How and Why It Works. In that talk, I give lots of statistics regarding students who are educated at home. For example, I discuss the Rudner study, which found that at every grade level, the average homeschooled student scored better on standardized tests than the average privately-schooled student, who in turn scored better than the average publicly-schooled student. It also shows that the average publicly-schooled student lags farther and farther behind the the older he or she gets. From an academic standpoint, then, it is more important to avoid public school in the junior high and high school years than it is in the elementary years.

In addition, I show Rudner’s comparison between students who are homeschooled every year of their K-12 education and those who are homeschooled for only some of those years. While there is no difference (on average) between the two groups in the elementary years, by the time the students are in junior high and high school, those who did not stay in homeschool lag behind those who are homeschooled every year. To me, this indicates that homeschoolers make the most academic gains in the junior high and high school years. I like the Rudner study, because the author was initially a skeptic of home education, thinking that home educators were a bunch of “conservative nuts.”

After I discuss the data related to homeschooled students, I switch to the data related to homeschool graduates. I show several studies that clearly demonstrate that homeschool graduates excel at the university level compared to their publicly- and privately-schooled peers (see here, here, and here, for example). This led to a very interesting question from an audience member.

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Another Amazing Homeschool Graduate

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!

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