Radioactive Honey

In some regions, the honey is more radioactive than it should be. (click for credit)
Radioactivity is everywhere. You can’t get away from it. Even the foods you eat are radioactive, since the molecules in your food have chains of carbon atoms in them, and some of those carbon atoms are radioactive. However, one of the most radioactive foods is the lowly banana. It contains a lot of potassium, and about 0.01% of that potassium is radioactive, spewing beta particles and gamma rays into the surroundings. In fact, there is an informal radiation unit called the banana equivalent dose, which allows you to get an idea of how dangerous common forms of radiation are. A dental X-ray, for example, gives you about as much radiation as 2.5 bananas, while flying across country exposes you to about 400 bananas’ worth of radiation.

The radiation in a banana is natural, and because your body contains the same atoms as the foods you eat, you are naturally radioactive as well. Of course, technology has increased the amount of radiation in food and people, and sometimes, that increased radiation can be traced to specific events. For example, scientists from the College of William & Mary as well as the University of Maryland have studied the radioactive content of honey in the United States. They have found that it is surprisingly rich in radioactive cesium, which is not natural. It is produced by nuclear weapons and the tests associated with them. Plants require potassium to live, but cesium and potassium have similar chemical properties (anyone who has taken my chemistry course should know why), so plants can take up and use cesium instead, including the radioactive cesium made by an atomic bomb.

The researchers found that while there were no atomic bombs exploded in or around the eastern United States, the honey found there has detectable amounts of radioactive cesium. More importantly, there is a definite pattern to how much is found. There is significantly more radiation found in honey made in the southeastern United States, particularly Florida. In fact, the honey found in Florida can be as much as 500 times more radioactive than the honey found farther north. Now that sounds scary, but in fact, even the most radioactive honey they analyzed had only 18% as much radiation as a banana. Thus, it poses no threat to people who eat it, but we don’t know if it affects the bees that make and eat it. However, it does tell scientists that the radioactive materials released in nuclear explosions are not dispersed evenly throughout the world. Instead, weather patterns tend to concentrate them in specific regions.

The other thing the researchers show is that the more potassium found naturally in the soil, the less radioactive cesium found in the honey. Thus, even in Florida, honey from regions where the soil had a high potassium content was less radioactive than honey from regions where the potassium content was lower. As a result, if you want less radiation in your honey, you need to make sure the flowers from which it is made are grown in soil that is rich in potassium.

Total U.S. Deaths Over The Past 7 Years and COVID-19

Over the past few weeks, I have gotten some emails regarding COVID-19 that were filled with misinformation. In an attempt to clear up this misinformation, I thought I would look at some data that are rather easy to obtain and analyze: total deaths in the U.S. over the past seven years and the deaths attributed to COVID-19. They come from the CDC, which I know many of my readers don’t trust. Indeed, I don’t trust the CDC when it comes to many of their recommendations, including some related to COVID-19. Nevertheless, these data are rather hard to manipulate, since they come from many independent sources. Thus, while they might not be 100% accurate, the overall conclusions we can draw from them should be reliable.

Looking at the above graph, then, what do we see? Let’s start with the total deaths (in blue). They follow a familiar pattern in the five years leading up to 2020. They peak in January, trail off in the summer, and start rising again in autumn. The peaks are generally attributed to two things: cold weather is more deadly than warm weather, and the influenza season typically peaks in January/February. Indeed, if you look at the heights of the peaks in the years before 2020, you can see when the more severe influenza seasons were: 2015 and 2018.

Notice, however, that 2020 and 2021 break the pattern established in the previous years. The peak in 2020 is much, much higher than the peaks in the previous years, and it comes later in the year (mid-April). In addition, when it comes back down to its minimum (late June), it is much, much higher than the minimum of any other year. Then, there is a bump that occurs later in the year, followed by another peak that is even higher than the one in April of 2020. Clearly, this tells us something unusual happened in 2020, and it is still happening in 2021.

Of course, we know what that unusual situation is: COVID-19. If we graph just the deaths attributed to COVID-19 (in orange), you see the same unusual pattern: a peak that occurs in April of 2020, another bump, and then an even larger peak. Just to see how much of this unusual pattern can be attributed to the COVID-19 deaths, the gray line shows you what happens when you take the total deaths and subtract the COVID-19 deaths. The result is something that looks a lot more like the pattern that was established in the past seven years. However, the pattern isn’t exactly the same as what is seen in the previous years. Notice that the gray line never gets as low as the blue line does in 2014-2019. Thus, even after subtracting out the COVID-19 deaths, there are still more deaths than in the previous years.

What does all this mean? Well, let’s start with two things we can say for certain. First, contrary to what you may have heard (and what I was sent in email), COVID-19 is NOT just a severe flu-like disease. It is responsible for more deaths than any flu in the past seven years. Indeed, the only influenza that was more deadly than COVID-19 in the U.S. (as of right now, anyway) was the 1918 Spanish flu. Second, COVID-19 deaths are not being significantly over-reported. If that were the case, subtracting out the COVID-19 deaths would have resulted in fewer deaths than in previous years (the gray line would have dipped lower than the blue line dips in previous years).

What can we say about the fact that even after subtracting out the COVID-19 deaths, there are still more deaths in 2020 and 2021 than the previous years? As I see it, there are two possibilities. It’s possible that COVID-19 deaths are being under-reported. It’s also possible that the COVID-19 measures that have been instituted have produced some deaths as well. I think the second option is more likely. Social isolation, delaying doctor appointments, etc., will result in more deaths. However, the number of those deaths is small compared to the COVID-19 deaths.

There is one more thing that I see in the data, but it is preliminary at best. Notice that the peak occurred much sooner this year than last. While the peak number of deaths in 2020 occurred in April, this year’s peak occurred in January. Assuming the virus hasn’t changed substantially over the past year, that means something happened to curtail COVID-19 deaths. What happened between 2020 and 2021? The vaccine started rolling out. The first doses were given in December of 2020, and the initial focus was on health care providers and those who are most at risk of dying from COVID-19. To me, it isn’t surprising that this produced enough of a slowdown in COVID-19 to cut the peak back three months. Once again, that is a preliminary conclusion which could be wrong. However, I do think that time will bear it out to be true. Regardless, I will post a similar analysis in a few months to see what the data say then.

Discovering Design With Earth Science

My latest book has been sent to the printer, and it should be ready in June. To learn more about it, you can go to my publisher’s website. In addition to the course description, you can click on “Product Resources” to get the table of contents, the entire first chapter, a list of the experiment supplies, an overview of the experiments, and a scope and sequence for the course. You can also get on the waiting list so that you are notified as soon as it is ready.

I have already posted a couple of excerpts from the book, but I thought I would give you one more. This comes from the introduction:

You have lived on the earth all your life, but you probably don’t know very much about it. As a child, you probably enjoyed digging in the dirt. But what is dirt? How is it different from rocks? How are rocks different from fossils and gems, which are usually found in rocks? You have sometimes enjoyed the weather and sometimes complained about it. But what makes the different kinds of weather you have experienced? You generally get up after the sun rises, and you have probably gazed at the stars after the sun has set. But what makes the sun rise and set? What are the stars? You will find the answers to these questions through a study of earth science, which is what I will cover in this book.

The earth is a marvel of design and complexity, because God made it. Psalm 24:1 tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it.” Psalm 111:2 also tells us, “Great are the works of the Lord; They are studied by all who delight in them.” I am sure that there have been times you have been delighted by the earth. I know that every time I sit on a beach or scuba dive in the ocean, I am delighted. The same thing happens when I gaze at a beautiful mountain or see constellations of stars in the night sky. Because I have been so delighted by the earth, I want to study it. I hope that this course makes you take even more delight in this planet that you call home, and I hope that it encourages you to continue studying the earth, even once you are finished with this book.

Why Do Creationists Use the Bible for Science?

Matthew Fontaine Maury, who was inspired by the Bible to map ocean currents.
This blog has been more quiet than usual, because I am trying to put the finishing touches on my new book, Discovering Design with Earth Science. As soon as that job is complete, you will be able to see preview materials at my publisher’s website. I decided to pause for a moment, however, because I was recently asked the following question by a frustrated atheist:

Why would you even think of using the Bible for science? It isn’t a scientific book!

It turns out that Discovering Design with Earth Science has two answers to that question. I shared them with him, and I thought I would share them with you as well. In the book, I present both sides of the age-of-the-earth issue in as unbiased a way as possible. I start with the uniformitarian view, which requires a very old earth. I then present the young-earth creationist view. The first answer to the atheist’s question is found at the beginning of that discussion:

Suppose you are examining the ruins of an ancient city and want to learn as much as you can about when it was built, how it was built, and how it fell into ruin. You see some of the remains of buildings, streets, walls, etc., but nothing has been preserved intact. You can learn a lot by investigating the ruins, but your conclusions will be based on your interpretation of what you see. Now suppose you found out that there was a book written shortly after the city was built, and it discusses the politics of the city for several centuries. While the focus of the book is on the government, it does cover many aspects of how and when the city was built.

Would you completely ignore the book and just examine the ruins, relying on your own interpretation to determine the city’s history? Of course not! If you wanted to learn the truth about the city’s history, you would read the book and let it help you interpret the ruins that you are investigating. This is how young-earth-creationists (YECs) study the geological record. They believe they have a book (the Bible) that comes from the Creator Himself. While the book focuses on more important things like salvation, morality, and our duties to God, it does discuss the creation of the universe, the earth, the organisms that lived on earth, etc. Since YECs consider the Bible to be an accurate source of history, they use it as a guide to studying the “ruins” of the geological column and fossil record. There’s a lot more to the history of the earth than what is in the Bible, but at least the Bible gives YECs a starting point to help their interpretation of the geological record.

The second answer to the atheist’s question comes from my discussion of the surface currents found in the ocean. While others had mapped some of those currents (Ben Franklin, for example, mapped the Gulf Stream), the man most responsible for mapping the ocean’s surface currents was Matthew Fontaine Maury, who is pictured above. He was inspired to search for the “paths of the seas” that are mentioned in Psalm 8:8, and after an exhaustive research effort, he ended up producing a detailed map of those currents. This revolutionized ocean travel, so he became quite famous in his time. He ended up writing a very important text on oceanography (what they called “physical geography” back then): The Physical Geography of the Sea. In that book, he references the Bible several times. In my earth science book, I tell the students all of this and then I add:

Many scientists didn’t like that and tried to discourage him from connecting the Bible to science. In a speech given at the founding of The University of the South, he gave those scientists a stern rebuke:

I have been blamed by men of science, both in this country and in England, for quoting the Bible in confirmation of the doctrines of physical geography. The Bible, they say, was not written for scientific purposes, and is therefore of no authority in matters of science. I beg pardon! The Bible is authority for everything it touches.
(Diana Fontaine Corbin, A Life of Matthew Fontaine Maury, Samson, Lowe, et. al., 1888, p. 192)

Young-earth creationists like me really believe that. The Bible is an authority when it comes to all the important things of life: salvation, morality, our duties to God, etc. However, because it was written by the Creator Himself, we believe it is an authority in whatever it mentions, including science.

A Monkey/Man Embryo

An illustration from the scientific paper being discussed.
A few readers have sent me news stories like this one, entitled “Human-Monkey Hybrid Embryo Created by Joint China-U.S. Scientist Team.” Obviously, the concept of mixing the embryos of people and animals is abhorrent, so these readers wanted my view on the experiment and what it means. Since “science journalists” know little about science and even less about journalism, I ignored what has been written in the press and went straight to the actual scientific paper to find out what had been done. While the paper alleviated some of my initial concerns, it most certainly didn’t alleviate all of them.

What did the researchers actually do? They first developed a method for fertilizing the eggs of a long-tailed macaque (Macaca fasciularis) so that the monkey embryo could start development in a lab dish instead of the body of a female macaque. Once they accomplished that, they took human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) that had already been developed and injected them into the lab-dish monkey embryos once they reached a specific stage in development, called the “blastocyst stage.” They then followed the development of these mixed embryos over time.

Why would someone want to do something like this? The scientists on the project were mostly interested in trying to understand how the cells in an embryo communicate with one another so that they can do the jobs they need to do to make a baby. They thought that if they could see how the human cells communicated with one another in this kind of system, it would help them understand human embryonic development better. Of course, to “sell” the research, they also indicated that it could help produce animals that could grow human organs for transplant, since many people die waiting for an organ transplant.

Were they successful? Not really, but they were able to get some results. They started with 132 separate monkey embryos, and they injected 25 human stem cells into each of them once they reached the blastocyst stage. Stem cells have the ability to develop into many different kinds of cells, so they hoped that human cells would communicate with one another and mimic what happens during early human embryonic development. However, over the course of 20 days, most of the embryos died. Only three of them survived for 19 days, and there was significant interaction between the human and monkey cells. As a result, it’s not clear how much of what happened to the human cells is related to actual human embryonic development.

Now remember, I said the paper alleviated some of my concerns. That’s because the source of the human cells is not immoral. There are three ways to get human stem cells. The first way is to extract them from a human embryo. This kills the baby, so murders must be committed in order to use such cells. Thus, no one with any sense of morality should be involved in such research. Fortunately, this experiment didn’t use such cells.

The second way to get human stem cells is to harvest them from the umbilical cord after birth or from certain parts of an adult. This doesn’t kill anyone, so there is nothing unethical about their use. Indeed, several successful medical treatments are based on such cells, which are usually called “adult stem cells.” This experiment didn’t use those cells, either. Instead, it used mature cells (from an adult) that had been chemically reprogrammed to act like stem cells. Such cells are usually called “induced pluripotent stem cells,” and once again, no one is killed in the process. Thus, at least the source of human stem cells used in the experiment is a moral one.

However, my concerns are not fully alleviated. After all, this experiment could be done by others who are immoral enough to use stem cells that require babies to be murdered. Indeed, there are probably scientists reading this very paper thinking that one reason the survival rate was so low was because the stem cells did not come from a human embryo. As a result, they might try to replicate this experiment with immorally-sourced stem cells.

Of course, the other serious issue is that this experiment could be altered so that the mixed embryo is implanted back into a female monkey, in hopes that some kind of creature would actually be born. I seriously doubt such a thing could actually happen, because embryonic development is so complex that the communication between monkey and human cells would eventually cause the process to break down. Nevertheless, the possibility exists that such a monster could be produced, which is morally repugnant.

Now I do have to say that the authors of the study went to great pains to make sure that their experiment was deemed “ethical.” However, that doesn’t comfort me in the slightest. After all, the medical community thinks abortion is ethical, and it is clearly not. Given this fact, I don’t think this line of research should be extended. There are just too many ways it could be done immorally, and the medical community has shown that its sense of morality is, at best, stunted.

About That New Physics….

Fermilab’s muon 2- storage ring, where some are saying new physics has been confirmed. (click for credit)

A reader sent me this article over the weekend. The long title indicates something exciting is happening:

A new experiment has broken the known rules of physics, hinting at a mysterious, unknown force that has shaped our universe

I have been sent similar articles by others. Most of them have the same breathless excitement: physicists have found that the laws of physics as we know them can’t be right, because an experiment at Fermilab shows that they are being broken. If true, this is really exciting news. However, much like the “faster-than light neutrino” results that were later found to be incorrect, I remain very skeptical that there is any reason to think that the laws of physics as we understand them are wrong.

So what’s the story here? Twenty years ago, physicists at Brookhaven National Lab were studying muons, which are particles that have the same negative charge as the electron but are significantly heavier. Because they are charged, they produce a magnetic field, just like the electron does. The physics that we know right now (collectively referred to as the “Standard Model”) predicts the behavior of particles that produce magnetic fields, and the way the electron behaves agrees perfectly with the Standard Model’s prediction. Because muons are heavier than electrons, their behavior is more complex, so they can be used as an additional test for the Standard Model. In the Brookhaven experiments, the muon’s behavior differed very slightly from the predictions of the Standard Model. However, because of the limits of the experiment, the physicists couldn’t rule out the idea that the result was a fluke, so the team made no concrete statement about the accuracy of the Standard Model when it comes to muon magnetic fields.

Recently, Fermilab announced that they replicated the Brookhaven experiment, using the same basic setup as what was used at Brookhaven, but they did it with higher precision. They confirmed the Brookhaven experiment’s results, and based on the quality of their data, statistics indicate there is only a 1 in 40,000 chance that the result is a fluke. Because of this, there is a lot of excitement in some parts of the physics community. After all, if the Standard Model can’t correctly predict something, that means there is something wrong with it, and that means there is “new physics” to discover.

Of course, this line of reasoning ignores one inconvenient fact. There is another possible reason the Standard Model’s prediction for the muon is wrong: The prediction itself could be incorrect. It turns out that the muon’s complex behavior causes the math in the Standard Model to be very difficult to solve. As a result, the prediction against which these experiments are compared used a well-accepted shortcut: it incorporated some independent experimental results into the calculations to make things easier. Of course, this leads to a problem. Those experimental results produce uncertainties, because all experiments have error in them. As a result, what’s really going on here is that an uncertain prediction is being compared to an experimental result, which has its own uncertainties. When uncertain things are compared to other uncertain things, it’s not clear what the difference between them means.

To solve this problem, Borsanyi and colleagues did the tough math. They used millions of CPU hours at a supercomputer so that the prediction they produced was purely mathematical. They found that their prediction agreed with the experimental results at both Brookhaven and Fermilab. Thus, as far as they are concerned, there is no discrepancy between the behavior of the muon and the predictions of the Standard Model. Is that the end of the story? Of course not! It could be that Borsanyi and colleagues are wrong. However, I would think their conclusion is more reliable, since a prediction made with pure mathematics has less uncertainty in it.

So my bet is that there is no new physics here, and the Standard Model has been vindicated once again. Of course, only time will tell whether or not I am right. However, there is a lesson to be learned here, and it is an important one. Borsanyi and colleagues’ calculation was published at the same time as the Fermilab results. However, most science “journalists” aren’t bothering to mention their conclusion. Why? Either because it isn’t exciting, or because they haven’t bothered to see what other physicists are saying about the situation. Either way, it’s truly unfortunate, and it confirms what I have said many times before: most “science journalists” know little about science and even less about journalism.

Scientific American Is Diametrically Opposed to Its Founder’s Vision

Rufus Porter, founder of Scientific American.
The man on the left is Rufus Porter. You’ve probably never heard of him, but during the middle of the 19th century, he was well known in certain circles. He was a professional painter, specializing in painting directly on the walls of homes to decorate them. Throughout his career, he painted murals in more than 160 homes. He was also a prolific inventor, designing things like passenger blimps, windmills, and rotary engines. He even designed a “revolving rifle,” which was purchased by Samuel Colt but never put into production. Finally, he was a promotor of science, which culminated in him founding Scientific American, the oldest continuously published monthly magazine in the United States. It contains the works of many important scientists, including Albert Einstein.

While most people who are trying to keep up with the latest scientific advances probably know about Porter’s magazine, they probably don’t know about his vision for science. That’s because Scientific American has abandoned it, despite the fact that it is clearly stated in the very first issue. Here is how Porter put it:

First, then, let us, as rational creatures, be ever ready to acknowledge God as our Creator and daily Preserver; and that we are each of us individually dependant on his special care and good will towards us, in supporting the wonderful action of nature which constitutes our existence; and in preserving us from the casualties, to which our complicated and delicate structure is liable. Let us also, knowing our entire dependence on Divine Benevolence, as rational creatures, do ourselves the honor to express personally and frequently, our thanks to him for his goodness; and to present our petitions to Him for the favours which we constantly require. This course is rational, even without the aid of revelation: but being specially invited to this course, by the divine word, and assured of the readiness of our Creator to answer our prayers and recognize our thanks, it is truly surprising that any rational being, who has ever read the inspired writings should willingly forego this privilege, or should be ashamed to be seen engaged in this rational employment, or to have it known that he practices it. (R. Porter, “Rational Religion,” Scientific American 1: 1845)

Notice what the founder of Scientific American says at the end. He says it is “surprising” that any rational being who has read the Bible would avoid giving the Creator His due or be ashamed about doing so. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what Scientific American is doing today. It gleefully promotes an atheistic worldview and even refuses to hire those who have the same vision as its founder.

While it’s sad to see what used to be an incredible magazine reject the vision of its founder, the fact is that science as a whole has been trying to do the same thing. The modern scientific method is a direct result of the Christian church, and most of the truly influential scientists of the past engaged in science because of their Christianity (see here, here, and here, for example). Nevertheless, the High Priests of the scientific community are diametrically opposed to the very faith that gave us modern science.

Thank God there are a few holdouts who honor the vision of those who founded modern science. I pray that they can do something to turn this truly unfortunate situation around.

Reflections on a Life That Didn’t Go According to Plan

Click for credit

Over the past two weekends, I attended two homeschooling conventions. They were both Great Homeschool Conventions, and after a year of doing no live conventions at all, I was overjoyed to be back in the saddle. I was also thrilled to see so many families refusing to live in fear and gathering together as a community. I had a lot of wonderful conversations with homeschooling veterans, new homeschooling parents, homeschool students, and homeschool graduates. While many people told me things that were deeply meaningful, there was one event that stands out in my mind, and I must share it.

A homeschooling mother stopped by my publisher’s booth and gave me a manila envelope. It contained a very nice card from her, and a report on some original research her high-school-age daughter had done under the supervision of a professor at a local college. It involved the interaction of bacteria and fungi with certain antibiotics and fungicides. The experiments produced some novel results, and it might end up being published in the scientific literature. The title page of the paper contained this handwritten note from the student:

Dr. Wile, I took what you taught me, and I ran with it. Thank you.

Apparently, she had used my book, Discovering Design with Chemistry, and was inspired to pursue a career in biochemistry, so she started taking college classes while still in high school. There, she met a professor who was happy to encourage her, and that’s how she ended up being able to do the experiments that are discussed in the report. She ended up coming by my publisher’s booth. We got to talk for a while, and I could see her eyes light up when she discussed what she had done. She clearly has a passion for scientific research, and it really made my day!

Since the time this enthusiastic young lady left my publisher’s booth, I have been waxing a bit nostalgic (being sappy is what my daughter would call it), thinking about all of the students who have told me about their scientific accomplishments. One student discovered a new virus. Another developed a new way of producing heavy elements. Another has published more than 40 articles in the scientific literature and is a leader in the field of prenatal imaging. I could go on and on.

What’s my point? Well, when I went to university, my plan was to do exactly what these incredible individuals are doing. I was going to get my Ph.D. in chemistry and become a world-class scientist. While I accomplished the first goal, the second never materialized. I got my Ph.D., became a professor, got grants to do research, and did research that lead to many publications in the peer-reviewed literature of nuclear chemistry. Had I continued, I would have gotten my shot at becoming a world-class scientist. But then something happened. I met my first homeschool graduate.

He was a student in my general chemistry course, and he was head-and-shoulders above his classmates. When I learned that he was homeschooled, I was shocked. I had no idea how a mother without any training (his mother hadn’t even gone to college) could produce a superstar science student. As time went on, I met more outstanding students who were homeschool graduates, so I investigated this “odd phenomenon” on my own. I found that my experiences were indicative of the norm: homeschool graduates are (on average) the best university students. As a result, I started working with homeschooling parents, and eventually, I started writing homeschooling curriculum for them.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that I loved writing curriculum more than university teaching and scientific research, so I eventually left the university and did some consulting work in order to spend more time writing. After my curriculum became popular enough, I stopped consulting and became a full-time writer. I did that for several years, but now I have found a way to balance teaching and writing, so I now teach both high school and university students while still producing new homeschooling curriculum.

While I truly love what I am doing, I sometimes wonder about the choices I made. Once I went to university, I had a solid plan. What would have happened had I followed that plan? Would I have made some great scientific breakthrough? Probably not. While I have made some modest scientific discoveries with the help of others (such as radial energy scaling in heavy-ion collisions and an explanation for an odd chemical phenomenon), I don’t think I have the talent that is required to do great scientific research.

After this past weekend, I have come to realize that I have a tangible reason for being glad my life didn’t go according to plan. Had I followed my plan, I would have probably been a mediocre scientist. Because I followed the opportunities the Lord placed in front of me, however, I have helped inspire some truly incredible people to become scientists. I am certain that they will eventually produce more scientific advancements than I ever could have.

I guess what I am saying is that if the Lord puts opportunities in your path that require you to change or abandon the plans you have made, you should take those opportunities. His plans are better than yours!

My Opinion on Harvard’s Initial Sun-Dimming Experiments

The device Harvard plans to use to study the effect of small particles in the upper atmosphere (Click for source)

A reader sent me this article and asked for my comments on it. For some reason, the experiment that is discussed therein escaped my attention, but I read a more detailed discussion of it and found it to be quite intriguing. Essentially, a team of Harvard scientists wants to know if they can block some of the sun’s light so as to counter the effects of global warming, aka climate change. They want to do it by releasing a fine powder of calcium carbonate (chalk) high in the atmosphere. The tiny particles will eventually fall to the ground, but while they are in the air, they will reflect some of the sun’s light so that it never reaches the surface of the earth. That way, it doesn’t have a chance to participate in the greenhouse effect.

If you have been reading this blog for long, you know that I am very skeptical of the idea that global warming (aka climate change) is a serious problem. We don’t know what portion of it is caused by human activities, and we have no idea how much danger it poses. Unfortunately, politics has poisoned the science surrounding it. As one of the most accomplished climate scientists of our time says, much of what passes as climate science these days is shoddy specifically because of the influence of politics.

Nevertheless, it is certainly possible that global warming (aka climate change) might have serious long-term consequences. As a result, we should look for ways to mitigate the effects, if we eventually find that there will be some. We know the result of cutting carbon dioxide emissions with current technology: people will die. That’s because reducing emissions with the technology we have now makes energy more expensive, and the more expensive energy is, the more people die. (see here and here). Thus, we should examine other methods that might mitigate global warming with a lower body count. That’s what this Harvard experiment is all about.

Are there risks associated with it? Initially, no, because the first experiment, planned for June of this year, would only test the hardware (pictured above). It wouldn’t actually release any powder. If that goes well, the scientists plan a small-scale test that would release no more than 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of the powder. That’s not enough calcium carbonate to produce any negative effects. However, it will allow the scientists to study how the calcium carbonate behaves and whether or not the computer simulations of its behavior are correct.

Of course, the issue is what happens next. In order to change the earth’s greenhouse effect in any significant way, there would have to be a lot more calcium carbonate released, and it would have to be released on a semi-regular basis. That could definitely produce serious, long-term consequences. Nevertheless, there is no way to realistically know what those consequences might be unless the initial tests are performed. Thus, this experiment seems reasonable, at least in the initial stages that have been proposed. It will simply be a way of judging the safety and efficacy of the process. The results won’t be definitive, but they can at least guide the scientists in their future plans.

Here’s the bottom line: We know that all currently-planned attempts to slow global warming (aka climate change) will result in people dying. This new approach might result in that as well, but we don’t know. If experiments like the ones planned by Harvard proceed, at least we can have some data that will allow us to see if this method has a lower body count than the currently-proposed methods. It seems to me that’s something worth learning.

Another Dinosaur Soft Tissue Discovery by Mark Armitage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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