Please Stop Believing Facebook, Especially When It Comes to Science!

A picture from a high school experiment that has been hyped on Facebook.

As I was scrolling through Facebook, finding my historical twin and learning what my friends are eating, I noticed a post on my wall. It was from someone I know only through Facebook, but I read her work from time to time, because she is a really good writer. Her post contained the picture above and linked to an article entitled, “WiFi Experiment Done By A Group Of 9th Grade Students Got Serious International Attention. THIS Is Why…” She asked if I knew whether or not the results were legitimate.

The experiment went like this: Students took 12 trays of cress seeds and put 6 of them in one room and 6 in another room. The six trays in one room were next to two WiFi routers, while the 6 trays in the other room were nowhere near a router. They tried to keep everything else (temperature, amount of water given, etc.) the same for all 12 trays. The article says:

After 12 days what the result spoke was clear: cress seeds next to the router did not grow, and some of them were even mutated or dead.

Obviously, then, WiFi routers produce something that kills (and apparently mutates) cress seeds.

I told my Facebook friend that the post reminded me of something that was popular a few years ago. It was an experiment where a person watered a plant with regular water and watered another plant with water that had been in a microwave oven. After several days, the one watered with microwaved water died, while the other one flourished. Obviously, then, microwave ovens are bad for you. Of course, the heart of science is being able to replicate experiments, and many people found that they couldn’t replicate the reported results. Indeed, the Mythbusters did an episode showing that microwaved water didn’t harm plants in any noticeable way.

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Resources for The Upcoming Solar Eclipse

The 1999 solar eclipse as photographed through a telescope (and then Photoshop enhanced) by Luc Viatour in France (click for full credit)

As most people are probably aware, there will be a total eclipse of the sun visible from many parts of the United States. It will occur on August 21st, but the exact times depend on where you are. I received a question about how to best enjoy it, so thought I would compile some resources to help people who are interested. First, you can find out exactly when to expect the eclipse by going to this website:

https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/in.html

If you put in your city and state, it will tell you when to start viewing the eclipse, when it will be at its maximum, and when it will end. In addition, it will tell you the magnitude, which is the fraction of the sun that will be blocked by the moon. If it doesn’t have your city, just add a comma and the full name of your state, and it will bring up several other cities in that state. Choose the one closest to you.

The next thing to make clear is that YOU SHOULD NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE ECLIPSE! The sun produces a lot of light; too much for your eyes to handle. As a result, when you look directly at the sun, the light-sensing cells in your eyes can be overwhelmed. If they are overwhelmed for too long, they can die. Even though the sun is a lot dimmer during an eclipse, it still produces too much light for your eyes. However, it isn’t as difficult to look at as the uneclipsed sun, so you don’t notice that you are overwhelming your light-sensing cells. This can lead to solar retinopathy, which can cause serious vision problems.

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When People Don’t Believe in God, They Will Believe Anything!

Some people actually think it is possible that we are living in a computer simulation.
(click for credit)

Malcolm Muggeridge, the British journalist who was largely responsible for bringing Mother Teresa to the world’s attention, once said:

One of the peculiar sins of the twentieth century which we’ve developed to a very high level is the sin of credulity. It has been said that when human beings stop believing in God they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse: they believe in anything.
(Malcolm Muggeridge and Christopher Ralling, Muggeridge Through the Microphone, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1967, p. 44)

I couldn’t help but think of that quote when a student asked me to read Scientific American’s article entitled, “Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?

Apparently, that question was the topic of a debate held at the American Museum of Natural History back in 2016. The debate was moderated by serial spreader of falsehoods Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is responsible for one historian asking if it’s okay to lie about history, as long as the lies support a good cause.

According to the article, Dr. Tyson made the evidence-free speculation that there is a 50/50 chance we are, indeed, living in a computer simulation. Why? Because as Muggeridge suggested 50 years ago, when you give up belief in God, you must believe in all sorts of wild ideas in order to make sense of the universe around you.

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Homeschooling and Socialization

Homeschooled children are better socialized than those in public and private school. (click for credit)

When I first started working with homeschoolers, lots of people were concerned about socialization. They wondered how children would “learn” to get along with other children and navigate difficult social settings without being in school. Even before I started researching the matter, I thought the concern was unfounded. After all, school is probably the most artificial social setting a child will ever experience. When are adults ever cloistered away in ghettos, surrounded by people who are the same age? Never. Thus, the idea that students can learn good socialization at school always seemed nonsensical to me.

Nevertheless, people did express concern, so I looked through the academic literature. Even back in the 1990s, there was a wealth of research available on the socialization of homeschoolers. Not surprisingly, the research showed that homeschoolers were better socialized than their publicly- and privately-schooled peers. Perhaps the most interesting study done back then was a Ph.D. thesis by Larry Shyers. In his study, he filmed children from public, private, and home schools in free and structured play. The behaviors of those students were then analyzed by clinical psychologists who didn’t know the schooling backgrounds of any of the children. When Shyers compared the analyses of the homeschooled children to those of the other children, he saw that in nearly all categories of social interaction, the homeschooled children were equivalent to the children from public and private schools. There was only one category in which the homeschooled students scored lower: problem behaviors. As Shyers wrote:

It can be concluded from the results of this study that appropriate social skills can develop apart from formal contact with children other than siblings.

Wow! What a shocker! Children can learn to get along with other people even if they aren’t cloistered away in ghettos, surrounded by people their own age!

Now as I said, even back in the 1990s it was well known that homeschooled students are, on average, better socialized than their peers. Why, then, am I writing about homeschoolers and socialization now? Because someone raised the issue in a Facebook group of which I am a part, and I decided to turn my response into a more detailed blog post.

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Can Courses Taken in Junior High Be Included on a High School Transcript?

Me and Savannah, a scientist in the making!
Me and Savannah, a scientist in the making!

I just got back from Ontario, California, where I spoke at the California Homeschool Convention. I gave a total of five talks over the three-day conference, and I had the chance to speak with lots of homeschooled students and their parents. Several wonderful things happened at the conference, but the highlight for me is pictured above.

On Friday, a young lady named Savannah came up to my publisher’s booth and asked if I was Dr. Wile. I said yes, and she proceeded to tell me that she loved my biology textbook and planned to major in biology at university. I tried to express how much that meant to me, and then she hesitantly asked if I would sign her copy of my book. I said, “Of course!” She didn’t have it with her, but she promised to bring it the next day. Late into the convention on Saturday, she returned with her book, and when she handed it to me, she said, “This is my favorite book in the entire world!”

I had no idea what to say to that. While a lot of students tell me that they love my textbooks, and many of them have also said that my textbooks have inspired them to study science at university, I have never had anyone tell me that one of my books is their favorite book in the entire world! I have lots of favorite books, and none of them are science-related! Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of science-related books that I really love, but I wouldn’t list any of them as my favorites. When I think of my favorite books*, I think of fictional works like The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (my all-time favorite series), The Lord of the Rings, and Armageddon’s Children. Not a single science-related book comes to mind. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed by Savannah’s words.

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No, Young-Earth Creationism Isn’t a “New” Idea

One of the books that John Murray wrote on the subject of geology.
One of the books that John Murray (a 19th-century young-earth creationist) wrote on the subject of geology.
I spent this past weekend in Naperville, Illinois, speaking at the Illinois Christian Home Educators convention. It is a joy to do that convention, because not only are the attendees wonderful, the convention treats its speakers incredibly well. I gave a total of eight talks over three days, which is more than I do at most conferences. However, it was well worth it! As is always the case, I took a lot of questions from the audiences of those talks, but in this post, I want to focus on a question I got from someone while I was at my publisher‘s booth.

A homeschooling father told me that he was taking my advice and reading the works of people with whom he disagreed. I commended him for doing that and said that I wish more people would. He then asked about a statement he read in a Biologos article. He didn’t quote the statement, but for the sake of my readers, I will:

Young-earth creationism is relatively new and as recently as a century ago even fundamentalist Christians saw little reason to reject evolution.

I told him that I had read a statement like that at least once before, but I knew that it was utterly false, so I really didn’t pay much attention to it. In addition, I assumed that since the statement is so easily refuted, it must not be very common. However, he said that he had read it in more than one place. Sure enough, when I later did some surfing, I found essentially the same statement at an old-earth creationist website as well.

Since there are at least two sources that make this claim, I thought I would write an article that shows how utterly false it is.

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Can a Homeschooled Child Take an Extra Year of High School?

A group of high school graduates (click for credit)
A group of high school graduates (click for credit)

This past weekend, I spoke at the Alberta Home Education Convention in Canada. As far as I know, it is the largest home education convention in Canada, and I think I have spoken there only once before, way back in the year 2000. It was really wonderful to go back. I met several parents who told me they remembered me from 17 years ago, and that I encouraged them to continue on in their homeschool journey. Their children are now in high school, at university, or in the real world, and they are very happy with their decision to continue homeschooling.

One of the kind souls who drove me around actually told me his son’s story, which is worth retelling here. He graduated homeschool many years ago and wanted to attend a major Canadian university. At that time, the university did not accept homeschool applicants. However, the student’s family knew someone on the inside, and that person was able to convince the university to accept him. At first, the university did not allow him to take any courses related to his desired major, because the administrators thought that homeschooled students “just played with Play-Doh all day.” As is generally the case, this homeschool graduate excelled, and the university quickly changed its tune. After he graduated with a 4.0 GPA and a pile of honors, the university asked him to help them write their admissions policy for homeschooled students.

I spoke several times at the convention, and the audiences were very appreciative. I always try to leave time at the end of my talks for questions from the audience, and I succeeded for every talk except one. Many of the questions related to very specific cases, but I got one question that I think could apply to everyone, so I decided to discuss it here. At the end of one of my talks, I was asked whether or not a homeschooled student could take a fifth year of high school. The mother thought that for one of her children, an extra year of high school would do a lot of good, but she was concerned that it might look odd to a university.

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The Future of Creation Science is Bright

Dr. John Sanford (right) and me (left) at the Creation Science Fellowship Meeting in Costa Mesa, California.
Dr. John Sanford (right) and me (left) at the Creation Science Fellowship Meeting in Costa Mesa, California.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to walk among giants…well…at least figuratively speaking. I got to participate in panel discussion with Dr. Steve Austin, Dr. John Baumgardner, and Dr. John Sanford. Anyone who has spent much time researching the origins issue will recognize at least one of these individuals, as they are all excellent scientists who write and do research from a creationist perspective. I didn’t think I belonged on the panel, since I consider them all to be much more accomplished and talented scientists than me, but the people at the Creation Science Fellowship in Costa Mesa, California seemed to think I could contribute to the discussion, so I was included.

While the panel discussion was well attended and very productive (I will discuss it a bit in a moment), the most exciting aspect of the trip for me was meeting Dr. Sanford. He is an incredibly gifted geneticist. For example, he co-invented the “gene gun,” a device that can introduce DNA from one organism into a completely different species of organism. He has also done some excellent creationist research (see here and here, for example) and has written what I consider to be the best book about genetics and evolution, Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of The Genome. I have discussed parts of it in previous posts (see here and here).

I was also thrilled to hear about an organization he is leading, which is called Logos Research Associates. It is a group of scientists who are committed to doing original, cutting-edge scientific research from a creationist perspective. Their current projects investigate issues in oceanography, genetics, geophysics, and geology. The more I discussed his organization and its projects, the more excited I became. The projects are incredibly interesting, and the way they are addressing the scientific issues involved is spot-on. He told me about a couple of papers that are in the process of being finalized right now, and once they are published, you can bet that I will write about them.

Scientists like Dr. Sanford and organizations like Logos Research Associates make me think that the future of creation science is very bright.

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Dr. James Tour Tells Us How Little We Know About the Origin of Life

James Tour is a giant in the field of organic chemistry.
James Tour is a giant in the field of organic chemistry.
A few days ago, a reader asked me to review an article by Dr. James Tour, as well as a video of a talk that he gave. I was initially hesitant to do so, because Dr. Tour is a giant in the field of organic chemistry. For example, he is the T. T. and W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry at Rice University. For those who aren’t familiar with the academic structure of universities, only the most elite professors are appointed to a position that is named in honor of someone else. This is called an “endowed professorship,” and anyone who holds such a position is in the upper echelon of academia. He has won several awards for his outstanding research accomplishments, including being named by Thomson Reuters as one of the top ten chemists in the world in 2009. Not only is his research outstanding, but he is also an excellent teacher, having earned the George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching at Rice University in both 2007 and 2012. What could I possibly add to the words of someone so knowledgeable and distinguished?

After reading the article, however, I do think I have something to offer. Because of the nature of what he is trying to discuss, his article is very, very technical. There were times, quite frankly, when my eyes glazed over a bit. I didn’t listen to a lot of the video (it seems to cover the same ground as the article), but it is also quite technical. For those who do not have the fortitude to make it through such a technical article or talk, I thought I could summarize it.

The “take home” message is straightforward: We have no idea how some of the most basic molecules necessary for life could have been produced by unguided processes. Why does Dr. Tour feel compelled to write a detailed article making a statement that, in my mind, is quite obvious? He explains:

Those who think scientists understand the issues of prebiotic chemistry are wholly misinformed. Nobody understands them. Maybe one day we will. But that day is far from today. It would be far more helpful (and hopeful) to expose students to the massive gaps in our understanding. They may find a firmer — and possibly a radically different — scientific theory. [Note that “prebiotic chemistry” refers to the chemistry that occurred on earth before life existed.]

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CRISPR – A Gene-Editing Technology with Promise and Peril

CRISPR, teamed up with Cas9, is a powerful gene-editing tool. (click for credit)
CRISPR, teamed up with Cas9, is a powerful gene-editing tool. (click for credit)

Not too long ago, a reader sent me an email that said:

I just found out about CRISPR and Cas9. From what I have learned about them they are very powerful and will lead to great things (good and terrible alike).

I was wondering if you could write a blog article on them when you get a chance. I would love to hear your perspective.

The reader is exactly right. CRISPR and Cas9 team up to make a powerful gene-editing tool that has incredible potential. While much of that potential is positive, some of it is quite negative.

To best understand the good and the bad of CRISPR and Cas9, you need to know what they are and what they can do together. CRISPR stands for “clustered regular interspaced short palindromic repeats.” Originally discovered in bacteria, it is a strand of RNA that is hooked to a CRISPR-associated protein, called a “Cas.” Cas9 is just one possible protein that can be associated with CRISPR, but it is the one that is most commonly used.

If your eyes are already glazing over, stick with me, because it’s important to understand how this works. RNA is a molecule that links to DNA. A specific RNA molecule targets a specific sequence of DNA. So, if you construct an RNA molecule correctly, it can search an entire DNA molecule, looking for a specific DNA sequence. It can then attach itself to that sequence. That’s what the RNA strand on CRISPR does. It is sometimes called “guide RNA,” because it guides the Cas9 protein to a specific part of an organism’s DNA. Consider the following illustration:

Illustration of CRISPR-Cas9 finding a DNA sequence (taken from the video posted at the end of this article)
Illustration of CRISPR-Cas9 finding a DNA sequence
(taken from the video posted at the end of this article)

In the illustration, the guide RNA has found the DNA sequence that it was made to target. Since Cas9 is attached to the guide RNA, it is now positioned at a specific place in the DNA molecule.

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