Many Scientists Believe Scientific Theories Religiously

Many scientists believe the Big Bang Model religiously, not scientifically.
Those who understand the formation of our universe using the Big Bang model are forced to believe that the vast majority of the universe is made up of material about which scientists know absolutely nothing. As shown in the picture, to believe in the Big Bang model today, you must believe that all the matter involved in all the experiments done by all the scientists in history makes up only about 5% of the universe. 72% of the universe is composed of dark energy, a form of energy that was completely unknown until the 1990s and is so far undetectable and not understood at all. The other 23% is made of dark matter, which is matter that we cannot see because of the limitations of our experimental capabilities. Scientists have been trying to detect dark matter for decades, but so far, nothing has been found.

Why must those who are guided by the Big Bang believe that the vast majority of the universe has gone undetected? The Big Bang model predicted that over time, the expansion of the universe should be slowing down, since all matter is gravitationally attracting all other matter. However, data that started being collected in the 1990s indicate that in the past, the expansion of the universe was slower, which implies that the universe’s expansion is actually speeding up. The current amount of dark energy that is supposed to exist is what’s necessary to retrofit the Big Bang model to allow for this increase in expansion rate.

Belief in dark matter, on the other hand, is used to explain around certain observations that are surprising based on currently-accepted physics. For example, the way most galaxies rotate is not what is expected based on Newton’s Universal theory of Gravitation, but assuming a specific distribution of unseen matter, we can “fix” the galaxies so they rotate as expected. In addition, there are ways to indirectly determine the mass of galaxies, and those indirectly-determined masses usually don’t agree with the masses indicated by the matter that we can see in them. Thus, there must be unseen matter there.

On a personal level, I think dark energy exists only in the minds of those who are committed to the Big Bang Model. I see no serious evidence for its existence. Dark matter, on the other hand, has at least some serious evidence behind it. After all, either the physics we currently say we “know” is wrong, dark matter really exists, or something else that hasn’t been theorized exists to explain the discrepancies. Of course, as anyone who has read this blog for a while knows, I am just as likely to believe that the physics we currently “know” is wrong. As a result, I have always been intrigued by an alternate model of gravity called Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND). Its proponents claim that it can not only account for all the effects currently attributed to dark matter, but it has also made predictions which have later been confirmed by new data.

Well, one of its proponents recently wrote an article for The Institute for Art and Ideas. The title is simple and says it all: “Dark Matter Doesn’t Exist.” He goes through experimental evidences that support MOND, and he notes the failures of multiple searches for dark matter. While I am inclined to think that MOND is more likely to be true than dark matter, I am not convinced that it is the way to go. However, I did find this statement in his article very interesting:

We need to scientifically understand why the dark-matter based model, being the most falsified physical theory in the history of humankind, continues to be religiously believed to be true by the vast majority of the modern, highly-educated scientists. This is a problem for the sociological and philosophical sciences and suggests a breakdown of the scientific method.

While I am not sure that the dark matter hypothesis is “the most falsified physical theory in the history of humankind,” I wholeheartedly agree with him on the rest of his point. However, I would broaden his statement to include many other scientific theories, like evolution as a creation myth, the dogmatic belief that the earth is billions of years old, and the Big Bang model. One of the problems that exists in science today is that too many scientists believe these theories with a religious fervor. As a result, they tend to reject all the evidence that questions them. This, of course, holds back science.

While I don’t know if MOND is the correct answer to the question of why certain astrophysical observations are not consistent with currently-accepted physics, I can say that this particular MOND proponent has hit the nail on the head when it comes to a very big problem in today’s scientific enterprise!

Despite What You Have Read, Wildfires are NOT on the Rise

One of the more common myths associated with “climate change” (aka global warming) is the idea that wildfires are on the rise. Consider, for example, the article entitled, “How do we know wildfires are made worse by climate change?” It states:

In 2019 Australia was burning. In 2020 Siberia and California were burning. These are only the more recent examples of dramatic extreme wildfire. People are asking if forest fires are linked to climate change.

The experts tell us that yes, the growing extent and increasing severity of wildfires are indeed driven by climate change.

There is only one problem with such nonsense: wildfires are most definitely NOT increasing in severity. How do we know this? The European Space Agency has been using satellites to track global wildfires. At first, their data sets started in the year 2000, and those data sets show that over the past 20 years, there has been a slight decrease in the amount of land that was burned by wildfires.

However, they recently used historical satellite images to increase the length of time covered by their datasets. We can now trace the amount of land burned by wildfires all the way back to 1982. Thus, we have nearly 40 years worth of data that cover the entire world. What do the data show? The graph is at the top of the article. As you can see, there is no discernible trend. The amount of land burned by wildfires changes from year to year, but the average remains remarkably constant.

Like much of what you read about “climate change,” then, the idea that wildfires are becoming more severe or more frequent is just patently false. Unfortunately, no amount of data will stop this false claim from being promulgated, because most people writing about this issue care more about their agenda than they do about science.

Monarch Butterflies Provide a Lesson About Climate Change Hysteria

A cluster of monarch butterflies in Santa Cruz, CA (click for credit)

North American monarch butterflies perform an incredible migration from their summer breeding grounds to a place where they spend the winter. Most of the monarchs that are born east of the Rocky Mountains travel to Mexico, while those born west of the Rocky Mountains fly to the California Coast. Last year, the headlines about those that travel to California were dire:

Probably the most beloved and recognized butterfly in the United States, the western monarch is essentially on the brink of extinction, said Katy Prudic, co-author of a new report from the University of Arizona that found that the monarchs, along with about 450 butterfly species in the Western United States, have decreased overall in population by 1.6% per year in the past four decades.

Like much of what you read in science news, that’s just not true. The Xerces Society for invertebrate conservation does detailed surveys of western monarch populations, and here are their results for the “Thanksgiving Count,” which is done over three weeks around Thanksgiving:

Looking at the graph, you can see that Katy Prudic is simply wrong. In fact, the western monarch population has both decreased and increased over the past 24 years. Of course, you can also see why the headlines were dire in 2021. The monarch population is barely visible on the graph in 2020. It was the lowest seen in the entire period. So clearly, western monarchs were on the verge of extinction. However, last year’s count shows a population that is the eighth largest in that same time period!

And honestly, anyone who studies these amazing migrations should not be surprised. After all, the population of the monarchs that migrate to Mexico experienced a similar dramatic drop in population back in 2014, but they also recovered from it.

What does this have to do with climate change, aka global warming? First, there have been the predictable attempts to cite it as a cause for the monarchs’ woes. More importantly, however, it shows how dangerous it is to use a trend in nature to make dire predictions.

In both populations, the number of monarchs increased and decreased, but the overall trend for more than 20 years was downward. Then, there was a sudden change, and the decline stopped. This is the way nature works. There is a lot of variation, and tenuous trends in those variations usually don’t mean much.

Now don’t get me wrong. There is a lot of value in collecting data like population counts and global temperatures, and it is important to be concerned about apparent trends. A good scientist, however, should understand that apparent trends are not necessarily actual trends. As a result, good scientists should not make definitive predictions based on them.

Scientist Who Prays for Insight Revolutionizes Recycling

Dr. James Tour in his lab with students. (click for source)

I have written about Dr. James Tour before. He is a giant in the field of synthetic organic chemistry. Because he spends his days making molecules, he knows that despite the bluster coming from evolutionary evangelists, we have absolutely no idea how the molecules of life could have been formed from nonliving matter. As a good scientist, he doesn’t rule out the possibility that it might have happened. However, he tries to educate people about how little we know regarding this hypothetical process so they are not fooled by the lies they hear from their teachers and read in their textbooks.

I am writing about him again because he and his group just published a paper that will truly revolutionize the recycling industry. In fact, it turns recycling into upcycling, because it makes the waste into something more versatile than the original products. The process described in the paper can take anything that is mostly carbon (like plastic) and convert it into graphene, which is many times stronger than steel but much more lightweight and flexible. This makes it ideal in many applications. As the University of Manchester says:

Transport, medicine, electronics, energy, defence, desalination; the range of industries where graphene research is making an impact is substantial.

Interestingly enough, graphene comes in two forms, and the form that Dr. Tour’s process makes is the easier one to use in most industrial applications.

The process involves taking any material that contains high amounts of carbon, grinding it into a fine dust, and zapping it with enough electricity to break every bond in the material. All non-carbon atoms form molecules that are vaporized, and the carbon is left behind in the form of graphene.

In their experiments, they used the plastic material from a truck’s bumpers, seats, carpets, and gaskets. They put it through their process and gave the graphene they produced to the Ford Motor Company, which then used it to make new plastic components for their trucks. These new components performed the same as components produced with unrecycled graphene.

According to their paper, published in the journal Nature:

A prospective cradle-to-gate life cycle assessment suggests that our method may afford lower cumulative energy demand and water use, and a decrease in global warming potential compared to traditional graphene synthesis methods.

This incredible achievement is noteworthy enough, but I want to spend a moment on the man behind it. Dr. Tour is a Christian and has written a detailed account of how his faith helps his scientific research in a document entitled Faith of a Scientist: The Impact of the Bible on a Christian Professor. In it, he states:

As a scientist, when posed with scientific mysteries that have presented themselves in my research, I have so often bowed my heart and prayed, “Lord, make your light shine on this darkness. When no others can see, please Lord, let me see.” On many occasions, when graduate students have brought their puzzling laboratory results and laid them on my desk, I have been as baffled as they. So remembering [Psalm 112:4], which I had long before committed to memory, I pray for light, and God answers. Surely, meditating on God’s word can cause light to arise in darkness even for the challenges that confront our secular careers.

While this might sound odd to closed-minded secularists, Dr. Tour is not alone in using his faith to aid his scientific work. In fact, the father of the scientific method (Roger Bacon) wrote1:

For the grace of faith illuminates greatly, as also do divine inspirations, not only in things spiritual, but in things corporeal and in the sciences of philosophy;

Copernicus put the sun at the center of what he called “the world” because that made the system more orderly, and he said that this made more sense, since the world was made by “the Best and Most Orderly Workman of all”2. Kepler use the Trinity as a basis for his model of the universe, with the sun at the center representing God the Father, the sphere that held the stars representing God the Son, and the space in between representing God the Holy Spirit. James Clerk Maxwell, the genius who discovered that light is an electromagnetic wave, also prayed to received scientific enlightenment.

There are those who say that Christianity and science are incompatible. In no uncertain terms, scientific luminaries from Roger Bacon to Dr. James Tour demonstrate that this notion is 100% false.

REFERENCES

1. The Opus Majus of Roger Bacon, Robert Belle Burke (trans.), (Russel & Russell, Inc. 1962), p. 585
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2. Nicolaus Copernicus, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, R. Catesby Taliaferro (trans.), Great Books of the Western World, (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1939), vol. 16, p. 508.
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Antievolution Views Are Global

The Anti-Evolution League at the Scopes Trial in 1925 (click for credit)

Over the years, I have documented a lot of ignorant statements made by someone who claims to be “The Science Guy” (see here, here, here, here, and here). However, the most ignorant statement I have ever heard Bill Nye utter is:

Denial of evolution is unique to the United States.

In several previous posts, I have reviewed how this statement is demonstrably false, but I was recently made aware of a peer-reviewed study that confirms this fact. Now, of course, I seriously doubt that any amount of data will change Bill Nye’s mind, since he doesn’t seem to use scientific data while forming his opinions. Nevertheless, I hope the data will be useful to others.

The study, published in the International Journal of Science Education, compared the views of Korean biology teachers to those of American biology teachers when it comes to evolution. It then did a literature review of studies done on science teachers in other countries. Before I discuss the specifics, let me give you their overall conclusion:

…it is clear that science teacher antipathy or ambivalence toward evolution is by no means a problem restricted to the USA

I am not sure they could make that any clearer. And note that since they call this a “problem,” they are clearly in Bill Nye’s camp when it comes to wanting everyone to genuflect at the altar of Darwinism.

The details of the paper are more interesting to me, however, because while they clearly show that many Korean biology teachers have doubts about evolution, those doubts are different from the ones held by American biology teachers. For example, when asked to evaluate the statement, “Much of the scientific community doubts if evolution occurs,” 52.4% of Korean biology teachers agreed, while only 6.3% of American biology teachers agreed. However, when given the statement, “The theory of evolution cannot be correct since it disagrees with the Biblical account of creation,” only 3.0% of Korean biology teachers agreed, while more than four times as many (12.1%) American biology teachers agreed. Similarly, almost three times as many Korean biology teachers as American biology teachers agreed that, “The theory of evolution is based on speculation and not valid scientific observation and testing” (36.3% versus 13.6%).

Now the group of Korean biology teachers studied was small – only 33 in total. However, data based group of 33 individuals is estimated to have a statistical error of about 17% (square root of 33 divided by 33), which means that when the percentages are close, you can’t tell if there really is a difference between the groups. For example, 75.0% of American biology teachers and 81.8% of Korean biology teachers agreed with the statement, “Evolution is a scientifically valid theory.” Those numbers are well within 17% of one another, so there is no way to know whether or not Korean biology teachers are more likely than American biology teachers to believe that evolution is a scientifically-valid theory. However, the differences noted in the previous examples are high enough to conclude that American and Korean biology teachers think differently when it comes to those questions.

If I look at the 20 questions the study asked Korean biology teachers and compare their answers to those of the American biology teachers, I am left to conclude that in Korea, biology teachers aren’t inclined to disagree with evolution based on religious ideas. They seem to disagree with evolution based on their understanding of the science that relates to it. I find that interesting, because that’s why I first doubted evolution as an origin story. I was an atheist who did not believe in evolution, because even as a young science student, I saw that evolution didn’t align with the data. To this day, if I were not a Christian, I would still not think that evolution is a valid explanation for origins, since the data speak so strongly against it.

Physics Helps You Understand the Mysteries of Christianity

Dr. John Charlton Polkinghorne was a theoretical physicist whose work was important enough to earn him election as a fellow in the longest-lived scientific organization in the world, the Royal Society. However, after 25 years of contributing to our knowledge of God’s creation, he decided that his best work in physics was behind him, so he began training to become an Anglican priest. After being ordained, he served in the Anglican Church for 14 years before retiring.

Obviously, Dr. Polkinghorne’s education and life experiences make him an authoritative voice when it comes to the relationship between Christianity and Science. He wrote a lot about the subject, and while I often disagree with him, I have read and appreciated much of what he has written. In 2009, he and one of his students (Nicholas Beale) wrote a book entitled, Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions about God, Science, and Belief. I read it quite a while ago, and I reacted as I usually did – agreeing with some parts of the book and disagreeing with others. However, I was thumbing through it to find a quote I wanted to use, and the Foreword caught my eye. I don’t think I read it when I read the book, so I decided to take a look at it.

It was written by Nobel Laureate Dr. Antony Hewish, who was an astronomer and a devout Christian. In less than two pages, he makes one of the most interesting arguments I have ever heard regarding the relationship between science and Christianity. He first makes the point, which I make over and over again when I teach science, that science does not follow common-sense thinking. Aristotle used common-sense thinking to come to the conclusion that all objects have a natural state of being at rest, and you have to force them out of that state to get them to move. Galileo and Newton followed experiments rather than common sense, and they demonstrated that an object has no preferred state of motion. It remains in its current state until it is acted on by an outside force. That non-common-sense notion is now called Newton’s First Law of Motion.

Of course, since Dr. Hewish is well-versed in physics, he gives a better example of how physics doesn’t follow common-sense thinking and then makes a conclusion from this fact:

For example, the simplest piece of matter, a hydrogen atom, cannot be accurately described without including the effects caused by the cloud of virtual particles with which it is surrounded. There is no such thing as truly empty space. Quantum theory predicts that even a perfect vacuum is filled with a multitude of particles that flash into and out of existence much too rapidly to be caught by any detector. Yet their existence modifies the motion of electrons orbiting protons in a calculable way that has been verified by direct observation. The ghostly presence of virtual particles defies rational common sense and is nonintuitive for those unacquainted with physics. Religious belief in God, and Christian belief that God became man around two thousand years ago, may seem strange to common-sense thinking. But when the most elementary physical things behave in this way, we should be prepared to accept that the deepest aspects of our existence go beyond our common-sense intuitions.

(John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Bealexii, Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions about God, Science, and Belief, (Presbyterian Publishing 2009), p. xii)

In the end, Dr. Hewish is making the case that understanding modern physics should make you more inclined to be a Christian (or at least more inclined to be religious), since it conditions you to believe that the universe is based on mysterious processes that cannot be directly observed.

I have to say that this has happened in my own life, even though I was not aware of it. I went from being an atheist to believing in some kind of Creator because science showed me that the universe was obviously the result of design. I eventually became a Christian because after reading extensively on world religions, by grace I saw that Christianity is supported by the most evidence. I was initially very uncomfortable with the mysteries that are inherently a part of Christianity, but as I grew older, I became more and more comfortable with them. I thought that this was because I had grown accustomed to them. However, after reading Dr. Hewish’s foreword, I noticed that my level of comfort with the mysteries of Christianity coincided with my increasing knowledge of quantum mechanics.

Dr. Hewish seems to have hit the nail on the head, at least when it comes to how modern physics has helped me grow in my faith.

Slaughtering Species in the Name of “Green Energy”

A wind farm in California at sunset (click for credit)

Nine years ago, I wrote about a study that indicated wind turbines in the U.S. kill more than half a million birds and more than 800,000 bats each year. Five years later, I wrote about another study that indicated wind farms act as apex predators in the ecosystem where they are built. While very little of this important information makes its way into the popular press, it has informed those who actually care about the environment. As a result, more studies have been done, and these studies indicate something rather surprising about two of the “green energy” solutions that have been promoted to “save our planet.”

So far, the most chilling study was published in Royal Society Open Science. The authors of the study collected feathers of dead birds found at selected wind farms and solar energy facilities in California. They found that of the many species killed by these “green energy” sites, 23 are considered priority bird species, which means their long-term survival is threatened. The list is quite diverse, including the American white pelican, the willow flycatcher, the bank swallow, and the burrowing owl.

Now, just because a species is threatened, that doesn’t mean a few extra deaths are going to be a problem. After all, these facilities are in specific places, and bird populations can cover wide geographical regions. A few extra deaths in some regions can be compensated for by more reproductivity in other regions. Thus, the authors used models to estimate the impact that deaths from wind farms and solar facilities will have on the overall populations. They conclude:

This study shows that many of the bird species killed at renewable energy facilities are vulnerable to population or subpopulation-level effects from potential increases in fatalities from these and other anthropogenic mortality sources. About half (48%) of the species we considered were vulnerable, and they spanned a diverse suite of taxonomic groups of conservation concern that are resident to or that pass through California.

In other words, the study indicates that 11 priority bird species that live in or pass through California are now more at risk because of “green energy” sites in that state. Now, of course, this conclusion is model-dependent, and the models might be wrong. However, at minimum, this study identified with certainty that at least 23 species of threatened birds are being slaughtered at wind farms and solar facilities. That should cause people who actually care about the natural world at least some concern. Unfortunately, even though this study was published a month ago, I haven’t seen a single report about it in the popular press.

As an aside, it’s pretty obvious how wind farms kill birds, but how do solar energy facilities do it? The short answer is that we don’t know. What we do know is that birds tend to crash into solar panels. Perhaps they interpret the shiny surface of the solar panels as a body of water where they can land. Perhaps they interpret it as more sky. Whatever the reason, we know that birds are dying at solar farms. Preliminary research indicates that in the U.S., somewhere between 37,800 and 138,600 die each year as a result of crashing into solar panels.

So what’s the take-home message from this study? It’s rather simple:

The “green energy” solutions touted by politicians and the press are not necessarily better for the environment.

The fact is that “green energy” processes are mostly new, so their long-term effects on the environment are mostly unknown. Ten years ago, no one would have thought that wind farms and solar facilities might be threatening the long-term survival of certain bird species. We now know otherwise. And don’t forget the bats. The effect that wind farms have on their populations hasn’t been studied in nearly as much detail, even though more bats are slaughtered by wind farms than birds!

Those who are pushing “green energy” might actually be pushing environmentally-hostile energy without even knowing it. That’s what happens when those who call themselves “environmentalists” ignore science and simply follow the politicians and the press.

Dr. Peter Boghossian and the Decline of Higher Education

Dr. Peter Boghossian, who has demonstrated the insanity that exists in some academic circles (click for credit)
Dr. Peter Boghossian is an interesting individual. He holds a doctorate in education (Ed.D.) and specializes in making philosophy more accessible to the average person. I first encountered him when I read his book, A Manual for Creating Atheists. I was not impressed. There are atheists who impress me (see here here, and here, for example), but based on his book, Dr. Boghossian was not one of them. In short, the book is full of misconceptions about the nature of faith, doesn’t engage well with the arguments of Christian philosophers, and exaggerates the strength of atheist arguments.

Nevertheless, I found myself being impressed by him a few years later, when he and two colleagues decided to demonstrate the insanity that exists in some academic disciplines. They did this by following a methodology to write “scholarly papers” that promoted nonsense, but it was nonsense which was perfectly welcome in certain fields of study. As they state:

Our paper-writing methodology always followed a specific pattern: it started with an idea that spoke to our epistemological or ethical concerns with the field and then sought to bend the existing scholarship to support it. The goal was always to use what the existing literature offered to get some little bit of lunacy or depravity to be acceptable at the highest levels of intellectual respectability within the field. Therefore, each paper began with something absurd or deeply unethical (or both) that we wanted to forward or conclude. We then made the existing peer-reviewed literature do our bidding in the attempt to get published in the academic canon.

Not surprisingly, their “scholarly papers” were accepted to be published in the prestigious academic journals of the disciplines that they lampooned, and until the authors themselves came forward, no one in the fields thought there was anything remotely wrong with their work!

Well, it turns out that Dr. Boghossian is back in the news, and I am once again impressed by his actions. This time, he thinks an entire institution, Portland State University (where he had been teaching), has gone off the deep end. He wrote an open letter to the Provost of the university, stating that he had to resign, because the university

…has transformed a bastion of free inquiry into a Social Justice factory whose only inputs were race, gender, and victimhood and whose only outputs were grievance and division.

Students at Portland State are not being taught to think. Rather, they are being trained to mimic the moral certainty of ideologues. Faculty and administrators have abdicated the university’s truth-seeking mission and instead drive intolerance of divergent beliefs and opinions. This has created a culture of offense where students are now afraid to speak openly and honestly.

I strongly encourage you to read the entire letter, as it describes the insanity that is currently infecting many institutions that were, at one time, centers of higher learning. Now, they are craven organizations that have chosen to protect their students’ feelings at the price of their students’ education.

Unfortunately, I think this can be said of a great many “universities” found in the United States. Instead of being institutions in which open inquiry is encouraged, they have become indoctrination centers where many views are considered completely off-limits and free inquiry has been sacrificed at the altar of people’s feelings. If you are thinking of sending your child to a university, please spend some time exploring its views on academic freedom. To give you an idea of what that means, this article has a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” when it comes to evaluating whether an institution is a university or a Social Justice Warrior Indoctrination Center.

It is unfortunate that parents must worry about this kind of nonsense today, but it is not unexpected. When a society ceases to believe in God, it will believe in virtually anything, including the ravings of anti-science, anti-reason lunatics.

The Great Barrier Reef Is Doing Well, Despite What the Alarmists Have Said

A portion of the Great Barrier Reef (click for credit)

Over the years, the headlines have been dire. Just two years ago, USA Today claimed:

Great Barrier Reef can’t heal after global warming damage

Similar news outlets ran similar headlines, because a study showed that the number of new corals being produced was significantly lower than normal.

The problem, of course, is that such studies have no context whatsoever. Yes, the Great Barrier Reef went through some tough years. Lots of corals experienced bleaching, a process by which they expel the algae that live inside them. Since the algae provide a significant amount of food to the corals, bleaching can be deadly. However, it’s a process we still don’t understand well, and there is some evidence that it is actually a mechanism designed to help the coral adapt to changing conditions. In addition, bleaching events have been happening for more than 300 years, and evidence suggests they happened more frequently in the late 1800s, the mid 1700s, and the late 1600s than they do today.

Given these facts, it’s not surprising that the doom and gloom headlines about the Great Barrier Reef have been shown to be completely wrong. The Australian Government, in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Marine Science, has been monitoring the health of the reef since 1985. They have collected an enormous amount of data, but I just want to focus on Figures 3, 4, and 5, which show the amount of coral cover in the Northern, Central, and Southern Great Barrier Reef.

The blue lines represent the percent of the area that is covered in coral, and the light-blue shading represents the uncertainty in that value. Notice that in each part of the Great Barrier Reef, there are times when the coral coverage is high, and there are times when it is low. Sometimes, the coral coverage is very low. Nevertheless, right now, coverage is nearly as high as it has ever been. Contrary to what USA Today claimed just two short years ago, then, the Great Barrier Reef has recovered from its low point over the past few decades.

Does that mean there’s nothing wrong with the Great Barrier Reef? Of course not! With less than 40 years of direct study, we really don’t know what the overall status of the reef should be, so we have no idea whether what we are seeing now is good, bad, or indifferent. My point is simply that it’s too easy for scientists and the media to look at a short-term trend (like 2010-2106 in the Northern Great Barrier Reef) and draw irrational conclusions. In the end, that not only hurts the cause of science, but it also makes it nearly impossible for us to figure out how best to care for the creation God has given us.

COVID-19 Vaccine Seems to Protect Against Variants Better Than Previous Infection

Transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, isolated from a patient (click for credit)
Since I wrote about the Pfizer vaccine being shown to be effective against COVID-19, people have asked me whether or not those who were previously infected should also get the vaccine. While I tell everyone to talk with a physician who is familiar with their medical history, as a scientist, I didn’t think vaccination after infection was beneficial. That’s certainly true for the vast majority of pathogenic viruses, so it made sense that it was true for the virus that causes COVID-19. In addition, two studies (here and here) indicated that immunity from infection was slightly more effective than immunity from the vaccine. However, a new study has just been published that has changed my mind on the issue.

The study looked at 246 patients who had been infected by COVID-19 in 2020 and then had a laboratory-confirmed reinfection in May or June of this year. It then matched them with 492 people who were roughly the same gender, roughly the same age, had been infected with COVID-19 at roughly the same time in 2020, and had not been reinfected with the disease. It compared the vaccination status of the 246 participants and the 492 controls. It found that those who had been infected but had not been vaccinated were 2.34 times (that number is poorly known, see below) more likely to be reinfected with COVID-19 than those who had been infected and were fully vaccinated (either two doses of the mRNA vaccine or one dose of Johnson & Johnson). Thus, the study indicates that vaccination after infection provides more protection than infection alone.

Why does this study contradict the two previous studies? Most likely, it’s because of the variants that have appeared. The earlier studies looked at reinfections that occurred before the variants had become prevalent in the U.S. The reinfections in this new study were more recent, so they probably contained more variants than the previous studies. Indeed, both of the previous studies list variants as an issue that they don’t address well. This interpretation is supported by another study that indicates vaccine-produced antibodies are significantly more effective against variants of the virus than those produced from infection.

Now I do have to include a couple of important caveats. First, this is a pretty small study, as a result, the statistical error is large. The study says people who were infected and not fully vaccinated were 2.34 times more likely to get reinfected. However, when the small nature of the study is taken into account, that number has a 95% chance of being as low as 1.58 or as high as 3.47. That’s a pretty wide range, indicating that the risk is not well known. However, despite the wide range, the conclusion that the vaccine offers more protection to those who had been previously infected is reasonable.

The study lists five limitations, each of which needs to be considered as additional caveats. However, I will highlight only one of them:

…persons who have been vaccinated are possibly less likely to get tested. Therefore, the association of reinfection and lack of vaccination might be overestimated.

I agree with that. I know many people (my wife included) who got tested for COVID-19 before being vaccinated, but have not been tested since being vaccinated. Since the study is small, it is possible that this issue could radically change the result. Thus, more studies need to be done.

Based on the information that exists right now, however, I do think that those who were infected with COVID-19 would probably be better protected if they got vaccinated. We don’t know that for sure, but the data are certainly leaning in that direction. Of course, no one should get any medical treatment (vaccine or otherwise) without getting the advice of a physician who is familiar with his or her medical history. Everything you put in your body (including food) comes with a risk, and your medical history helps a physician determine that risk.