Astounding: Your Baby Can Heal You!

This Facebook Meme is actually correct!

I avoided Facebook for a long time, but a few years ago, I finally gave in. Not long after I started connecting with long lost friends and finding out what everyone was eating, I learned the joys of Facebook memes. Every day now, I see lots of pictures with snarky sayings on them coming across my news feed. Some of them are funny, and some try to make a point. Many times, the ones that try to make a point are just dead wrong. They include either outright falsehoods or an incredibly mischaracterized fact. Thus, whenever I see a “science meme” or a “political meme,” I generally ignore it.

However, when the meme at the top of this article came across my newsfeed, I had to investigate it. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that almost two years ago, a talented writer named Amanda Read posted a story about how a baby’s cells reside in his or her mother long after the baby is born, and they may aid the mother in healing certain kinds of tissues. I was incredibly skeptical of the story, but when I did some investigation, I found out that it was true. Later on, I learned about a study that showed how a baby leaves DNA behind in his mother’s brain, and those “fetal remnants” might even fight against neurological disorders!

Since we are still barely scratching the surface in our understanding of the the amazing design behind pregnancy, I decided to pay attention to this Facebook meme. Of course, I knew that the statement on the left is true. All sorts of things pass through the placenta from the mother to the child, and that includes blood proteins which fight disease and shape the development of the baby’s B-cells.1 Those B-cells will affect the child’s ability to fight disease for the rest of his or her life.

I was, however, very skeptical of the statement on the right. Surprisingly, there is strong scientific evidence to back it up!

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Those Who Say Religion Is Important Are More Likely to Lie?

Statue of two gossipping ladies in the old town section of Sindelfingen, Germany. (click for credit)
There has been a lot of research regarding what personal characteristics make a person more or less likely to lie. The results of this research have been decidedly mixed. Some research suggests that pretty much everyone lies. Some research suggests that men are more likely to lie than women.1 Other research, however, shows no difference in the amount that men and women lie.2

A new study3 was recently published regarding the personal characteristics of those who tend to lie, and it has gotten some attention from the atheist community. Why? Because one of the results indicates that people who claim religion is important to them are more likely to lie for financial gain. Indeed, as one popular article on the study put it:

However, he [the author of the study] discovered other factors predicted a greater likelihood of telling an untruth — including the assertion that religion plays an important role in your life. Somewhere (or not), Christopher Hitchens is chuckling.

Now before I begin discussing the study, please understand that in my personal experience, Christians are less moral than the general population. I don’t suggest that this is a general trend; I have no idea. It is simply what I have gathered from my own personal experiences. For example, if I look back on my professional career, I have had several bosses – people who exercised authority over me at work. Some of them were atheists, and some were Christians. At least one of them would never speak about his religious beliefs. The most moral among them was one of the atheists, and the least moral among them was one of the Christians. This is consistent with my overall experiences as well. In general, I think that Christians do a very poor job of representing Christ to the world, especially when it comes to whether or not you can believe what they say.

I am always interested in looking at studies that try to quantify whether or not my personal experiences are representative of a general trend. When I first heard about this new study, then, I wasn’t surprised about its conclusions. However, a detailed look at the study did offer one surprise.

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Christianity and Science – What History REALLY Tells Us

This is part of a stained-glass window called "Education." It is found in room 102 of Linsly-Chittenden Hall at Yale University, and it portrays science and religion in harmony. (click to see the entire piece)

You hear it all the time. Science and Christianity are in conflict. For example, Dr. Thomas Henry Huxley once wrote:1

The science, the art, the jurisprudence, the chief political and social theories, of the modern world have grown out of Greece and Rome—not by favour of, but in the teeth of, the fundamental teachings of early Christianity, to which science, art, and any serious occupation with the things of this world were alike despicable.

and that was back in 1899. My favorite atheist, Dr. P.Z. Myers, says it more succinctly:

Christian faith is at odds with science

The problem, of course, is that such statements are demonstrably false. Indeed, as I have written before, historical scholarship has shown that modern science is a product of Christianity (see here and here).

I recently ran across an excellent essay by Dr. Michael Keas that makes this point very well. I strongly recommend that you read it in its entirety, but there are two quotes from it that I would like to highlight.

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Yet Another Benefit of Homeschooling

Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services (Kevin Concannon) has lunch with schoolchildren on October 12, 2011. The study being discussed shows that lunch is when traditionally-schooled children eat less healthy foods than homeschooled children. (click for credit)

I have written several articles on the academic benefits of homeschooling (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). However, the benefits go far beyond academics. Homeschooled students are, on average, better socialized than their peers. They are more actively engaged in their faith than their peers, and they are more satisfied with life than their peers.1 They even sleep better than their peers!

Adding to that list of benefits, a recent study shows that homeschooled children are less likely to be obese than their peers.2 The study compared 47 homeschooled and 48 traditionally-school children, age 7-12. They measured the children’s fat mass, trunk fat, total body fat, and physical activity. They also asked the children what they had been eating. The researchers found that the homeschooled children had lower values in all three fat measurements. In addition, the homeschooled children reported better diets. As the title of the article aptly puts it:

Home-schooled children are thinner, leaner, and report better diets relative to traditionally schooled children

What was the main difference between the eating habits of the two groups? Not surprisingly, it was lunch. The traditionally-schooled children ate a lot more calories, sodium, and sugar at lunch than the homeschooled children did. Since lunch is the most likely meal to be eaten at school, the take-home message here is that the traditionally-schooled children are not being fed poorly by their parents. They are being fed poorly by their school.

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Fusion Milestone? Yes, But Not The One Reported

This is the reaction chamber at the National Ignition Facility. (public domain image)

“Nuclear fusion milestone passed at US lab.” That’s how the BBC reported it. The science editor, Paul Rincon, wrote:

The BBC understands that during an experiment in late September, the amount of energy released through the fusion reaction exceeded the amount of energy being absorbed by the fuel – the first time this had been achieved at any fusion facility in the world.

Popular Science titled its report, “The National Ignition Facility Just Got Way Closer To Fusion Power.” Right under that headline, one reads:

In a major first, an experiment in the California lab got more energy out of its fuel than went into the fuel. We’re one step closer to ignition, when the reaction becomes self-sustaining.

Before you start having dreams of clean, limitless power, however, you need to know what actually happened at the National Ignition Facility. So let’s start from the beginning to find out what all the hype is about.

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A Tribute to My First Grade Teacher

Linda L. Knight
Last week, I spoke at a memorial service for Linda L. Knight. She was my teacher in first grade, and she later became a friend of mine. She was an important part of my life, so I want to share the approximate text of my eulogy. I say “approximate” because I never write down my public presentations. I just use some notes and have a rough outline in my head of what I will say. Thus, what follows isn’t exactly what I said. It is, however, as near as I can remember it. Because I was speaking to her friends, most of whom live in the same town, there are some local references that many people won’t understand. Please don’t let that get in the way of the message.


William Arthur Ward once said:

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.

Linda Knight was a great teacher. She inspired me. I can honestly say that if it hadn’t been for her inspiration, I would not be the scientist I am today. The impressive thing about this is that she wasn’t one of my college teachers. She wasn’t one of my high school teachers. She wasn’t even one of my middle school teachers. She was my first grade teacher. Nevertheless, her inspiration sticks with me to this day. Titus 2:7-8 says:

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned…

That’s exactly how Linda Knight taught. She was an incredible role model, she taught with dignity and integrity, and the things she taught us were sound.

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Has Voyager 1 Left The Solar System?

This is an artist's conception of Voyager 1 traveling through space. (public domain image)

The earth and the other seven planets (in case you didn’t know, Pluto is no longer considered a planet) orbit the sun, which is a very special star. Nevertheless, it is just one of probably more than a septillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) stars in the universe. Each of these stars has a gravitational field, and at least several of them have planets orbiting around them. In other words, each star has its own solar system.

Well, at some point, our solar system has to end and interstellar space (the space between the solar systems of different stars) has to begin. But where, exactly, is that? The robotic spacecraft known as Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are trying to answer that question. They were both launched into space in 1977 (Voyager 2 was launched 16 days earlier than Voyager 1), and they have been traveling away from earth ever since. While they still have fuel, they don’t use it to propel themselves forward. Where they are, the sun’s gravitational field is so weak that they experience essentially no resistance to their travel, so they just keep traveling with the speed their engines gave them long ago. The only thing they use their fuel for is to change orientation, a process called “attitude adjustment.”

Even though Voyager 1 was launched later, it picked up a bit more speed than Voyager 2, so it is farthest away from the earth and the sun. As of the time this article was written, Voyager 1 was more than 18,800,720,000 kilometers (11,682,230,000 miles) from the sun. That’s a long way, but is it far enough to be considered out of our solar system? The surprising answer is that we aren’t really sure!

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Is it “hilarious” or “an exclamation mark” on an “already-clear conclusion”?

Dr. Richard Lindzen (left) and Dr. Michael Mann (right) have radically different views of the latest IPCC report. (Click for credit.)

The 2013 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been released. The final version of the Summary for Policymakers is out, and the complete report is also available. This report is supposed to help us understand what the scientific community says about climate change and whether or not people are responsible for all or part of it. The report says that warming of the climate system is “unequivocal” and that “Human influence on the climate system is clear.” Unfortunately, the scientific community seems rather split on whether or not the IPCC report is reasonable.

Dr. Richard Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT, had this to say about the report:

I think that the latest IPCC report has truly sunk to level of hilarious incoherence. They are proclaiming increased confidence in their models as the discrepancies between their models and observations increase…in attributing warming to man, they fail to point out that the warming has been small, and totally consistent with there being nothing to be alarmed about. It is quite amazing to see the contortions the IPCC has to go through in order to keep the international climate agenda going.

On the other hand, Dr. Michael E. Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, wrote:

Climate change is real and caused by humans, and it continues unabated. We will see far more dangerous and potentially irreversible impacts in the decades ahead if we do not choose to reduce global carbon emissions. There has never been a greater urgency to act than there is now. The latest IPCC report is simply an exclamation mark on that already-clear conclusion.

Both Lindzen and Mann are recognized experts in climate science, they both have a long list of impressive contributions to the field, and they have radically different opinions when it comes to the IPCC report. Which one of them is closest to being correct?

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“Oil” in Weeks, Not Millions of Years

This is a magnified image of a fungus from the same genus as the one discussed in the article.
(Public domain image)

In 2008, plant pathologist Dr. Gary A. Strobel and his colleagues published a paper about an odd fungus (Gliocladium roseum) they found in a Patagonian rainforest. It is endophytic, which means it lives within a plant and takes nutrients from the plant, but it is not a parasite. Other endophytic fungi have been shown to produce all sorts of benefits to plants, including giving them much-needed chemicals and allowing them to communicate with one another, so this fungus probably gives some benefit to the plants in which it grows. However, that wasn’t the focus of Dr. Strobel’s paper. Instead, he and his colleagues noted that this fungus actually produced a wide variety of chemicals, including those found in diesel fuel! As the authors stated:1

The hydrocarbon profile of G. roseum contains a number of compounds normally associated with diesel fuel and so the volatiles of this fungus have been dubbed ‘myco-diesel’.

The prefix “myco” means “fungus,” so the authors basically were calling some of the chemicals that G. roseum produces “fungus diesel.”

Well, it seems that Dr. Strobel and his colleagues have been busy trying to coax G. roseum to make more “fungus diesel,” and they have produced some rather dramatic results. They built a tabletop device they call “The Paleobiosphere”2, which is supposed to mimic the conditions under which oil might form. It consists of two layers of shale, a type of rock that often contains oil. Sandwiched in between those two layers is a mixture of the fungus as well as leaves from maple, aspen, and sycamore trees. The container is flooded with water periodically, and in a mere three weeks, the shale layers contain a rich mixture of chemicals that is very similar to the oil found in the shales of Montana!

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