Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Say It Ain't So! Turning Our Students Into Science Simpletons

The news isn't exactly awe-inspiring or welcome in terms of how American students perform in science (biology, physics, chemistry) compared to students of other nations. But there it is! Fundagelical science centers are on a tear attempting to brainwash their students into buying their silly young Earth, young Sun, anti-evolution bollocks- turning them into dunderheads and simpletons.

Enter from Stage Left: Accelerated Christian Education - a fundamentalist school curriculum used in a  claimed 6,000 schools and 145 countries. Despite the name, the education is actually second to its  stated primary purpose, which is “to diligently teach our children to love the Lord in every sphere of their lives, with all their hearts, all their souls, and all their minds,” according to its website.

Anytime you see this sort of nonsense, you can pretty well bet that any "science" on offer will be more superstitious gibberish than anything of substance. And so this "curriculum" conforms to this take when one examines it.  In practice, students are taught gross distortions and misrepresentations of mainstream science, like these 33 bizarre multiple choice questions from the ACE coursework.  Take a look at them and see first hand what I'm talking about!

The basis and the critical giveaway that what is being promoted is fundie religious belief NOT science: ACE explicitly  says its intention is that students should not have any knowledge of anything contrary to the Bible.   Now, given 99 percent of modern physics and biology will be antithetical to biblical claims, this means ipso facto that the ACE will not be teaching its students genuine physics or biology but rather some specious substitute based on misplaced faith.

Let's take a gander at some of the codswallop taught these forlorn kids:

1)The Loch Ness Monster Disproves Evolution

Science PACE (Packet of Accelerated Christian Education) 1099 contains this priceless wisdom:

 Some scientists speculate that Noah took small or baby dinosaurs on the Ark…. are dinosaurs still alive today? With some recent photographs and testimonies of those who claimed to have seen one, scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence…

Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie,’ for short, has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.


Are you kidding me?  The Loch Ness monster is a fable! It has never been proven or demonstrated any more than the Abominable Snowman, Bigfoot, or the Bajan "Baccoo Man" - alleged to be a wooden doll that comes to life at night under the spell of "Obeah" and kills on command.  No intelligent person of the 21st century believes this crap, and hence ought not be using it as a basis to "disprove" evolution.  The amassed evidence for evolution stands on its own.

But never fear earlier this year it  was reported that ACE had removed the Loch Ness Monster claim. This was after a veritable media storm when it was revealed that ACE schools would be eligible for Louisiana’s  school voucher program

With the earlier bunk taken from their toolbox they got even more desperate, invoking cave paintings of dinos! They cite "pictures of dinosaurs discovered in ancient rock carvings and paintings. A reptile that could be an allosaur or a tyrannosaur is etched on the walls of Rattlesnake Canyon in Colorado. African bushmen painted pictures of other dinosaur-like creatures with pictures of a hippopotamus, giraffe, and elephant on the walls of a cave near Harare, Zimbabwe."

Sorry, whackos! That only proves poor drawing skills (i.e. they may have been attempting to draw an ostrich and failed) or great copyist methods. There is not one scintilla of proof dinos existed in the pre-Bronze Age anywhere (for one thing the climate would have been way too cool and the vegetation inadequate to support them) 

Sadly for ACE, even Fox News  won’t give that claim any credence.


2) Solar Fusion Is a Myth
 This one really gets my goat,  given the mass and temperature of the Sun confirm that solar fusion is the only mechanism by which the Sun manages to convert 4.3 billion kg of its mass per second into a luminosity of 3.9 x 10^26 watts. There is no other mechanism that can do this and certainly not the one invoked by the fundies.  Thus, the sun, as any first year physics or astronomy student  knows,  works by nuclear fusion
In contrast to fusion, ACE has a pet theory, outlined on pages 7-9 of Science 1096 (a PACE devoted entirely to refuting evolution, packed with misinformation and distortions of the truth). In short, these creationists want to prove that the sun is shrinking. If the sun is shrinking at a constant rate, then billions of years ago it would have swallowed up the earth. This, they say, proves that the universe must be young.
Of course this is nonsense. The Sun's early shrinkage was actually via a process known as Kelvin-Helmholtz contraction.  This makes use of what we call gravitational potential energy such that the contraction converts GPE into heat energy. The expression can be written:
Eg = GM2/R 
Where G is the Newtonian gravitational constant, M is the Solar mass and R is its radius.  We can actually work out the time scale for this contraction which marks the time needed to collapse as a proto star - before nuclear fusion commences (which requires much higher interior densities than exists in proto-stars).   This is:
t = GM2/RL
Which we call the Kelvin-Helmholtz  time, and works out to be 30 million years for today's Sun (it would be about 20 million years for the primitive Sun - but in any case the time is far greater than the young Earthers- Sunsters et al demand). The primary point that escapes the creationist "youngsters" is that the K-H timescale establishes the time for proto-stars to collapse to Main Sequence stars. The latter are precisely those for which nuclear fusion can begin because the density is high enough in the core to allow it.
In the Sun, for example, two distinct nuclear fusion processes occur: 1) the proton-proton cycle, and 2) the carbon-nitrogen cycle. In the first of these (the easier one because it has fewer reactions):

H1 + H1 + e- -> D2 + neutrino + 1.44 MeV

D2 + H1 -> He3 + gamma ray + 5.49 MeV

He 3 + He 3 -> He 4+ H 1 + H1 + 12.85 MeV
The top line shows two protons fusing to yield deuterium (heavy hydrogen) with a positron and neutrino emitted, along with 1.44 MeV of energy.   Empirical evidence of this reaction is obtained from gallium detectors, of the neutrinos given off, which are within 1-2% of what theoretical models predict.
In the second fusion reaction, the deuterium ( D2 )combines with a proton to give the isotope helium 3, along with a gamma ray and 5.49 MeV energy. In the final fusion, two helium-3 nuclei combine to yield one helium-4 nucleus, along with two protons, and 12. 85 MeV energy. Note that the two protons commence the cycle anew, so that the generation of nuclear energy is ongoing.

This means that the central core of the Sun will become heavier and heavier, as more and more helium is produced. This despite the fact that the Sun as a whole is losing an amount of mass of roughly 4 x 106 metric tones per second.
As for observational evidence of  solar shrinkage as the nutty ACE claims, this was basically skewered in the comprehensive paper by Sabatino Sofia et al:  Solar Constant: Constraints on Possible Variations Derived from Solar Diameter Measurements  in SCIENCE,  Vol. 204, 1306, 1979. Their estimate was a solar change in irradiance of roughly 0.1 % averaged over each solar cycle, indicating no significant shrinkage, period  - and certainly not of the magnitude needed by the ACE "brainiacs" to keep the Sun as hot as it is by converting GPE into internal  (heat) energy.
So the bottom line here is that  the Sun is not shrinking. That’s because, contrary to their assumptions, the Sun is not a massive gas boiler gradually shrinking as it burns fuel. It’s a fusion reactor. But since this doesn’t fit their religiously confected model, they outright deny the "truth":
The nuclear fusion theory of how the sun emits heat and light is an invention of evolution scientists.

3) Japanese Whaling Boat Finds a Dinosaur!

Another ACE whizzer from the same curriculum pages as the goofy Loch Ness nonsense: A Japanese fishing vessel brought up the decomposing body of a dinosaur-like sea creature off the coast of New Zealand. Caught at a depth of 900 feet, the creature weighed 4,000 pounds, measured 32 feet in length, and was seen and photographed by the crew members. The animal could not be matched with any living species but certainly resembles a supposedly extinct species of dinosaur.

As any sensible science student would know this proves absolutely nothing. Without a DNA specific analysis (as well as confirmation) there is no logical or rational link from a "dinosaur-like" entity to a real dinosaur that actually lived.  In many ways this reminds me of the loony claim that "The existence of living coelacanths disproves evolution", e.g.

 The fish caught off Japanese waters in 1938 and claimed to be a "Coelacanth". In fact, it was not the same species, but rather Latimeria menadoensis.

This one was invoked by crazy creationists to try to show that evolution “messed up” or went awry, given an alleged ancient fish (deemed extinct for tens of millions of years) suddenly showed up alive and well in 1938. Problem is, they got it all wrong from top to bottom, with erroneous assumptions piled onto some early taxonomic errors in classifying the living species.

Before the living specimens were discovered, it was believed by some that the coelacanth was a "missing link" between the fish and the tetrapods. It was often claimed that the coelacanth had “remained unchanged for millions of years”; but, in fact, the living species and genus were unknown from the fossil record. The most likely reason for the gap is the original taxonomy becoming extinct in shallow waters only. Deep-water fossils, however, are only rarely lifted to levels where paleontologists can recover them, making most deep-water taxa disappear from the fossil record.

Again, we have the sad spectacle of too eager-beaver creationists seizing on poorly constructed speciation catalogs, or wrong taxonomic assumptions – to make specious cases. In this case, conflating the ancient –prehistorical coelacanth with the modern living species, the Latimeria menadoensis, caught off Japan ca. 1938.

In similar vein, there was a lot of fuss about the Japanese whalers finding a "dino" corpse when it happened, in 1977, before scientists got on the case and established the reality through tissue samples. You can  read all about it here.     The take away? Scientific evidence that the entity was really a shark had been presented as early as 1978. Hence,  when ACE wrote a PACE strongly implying it was a dinosaur (and saying it "couldn’t be matched with any living species") in  1989, they either disclosed they were ignorant (not keeping up with latest published advances) or LIARS.

Given they kept it through subsequent revisions in 1995 and 2001; and it  remains in American editions today, I'd say they're deliberate liars. Lying to their students, and to the assorted educational offices which are supposedly providing oversight!

Sadly, we now have to confront - or will soon - another generation of American students converted to science simpletons - likely adding to the existing numbers of citizens who dispute human-caused global warming and evolution. NO wonder, as reported in the NY Times Sunday Review, only 44% of Americans today believe that climate change is of anthropogenic origin, compared to 77% who believe space aliens have landed on Earth.
We have some serious work to do, but whether we can do it expeditiously enough to halt another wave of dumb voters is a core question. At this point, I don't know how it will be answered.  


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