Well despite some advice and my better judgment I went back to the homeschooled children science fair put on by the Twin Cities Creation Science Association (TCCSA). Already you know that this is a sub-group of the population of homeschooled children (although we would have to be fairly naive or downright stupid to think this is not the majority viewpoint). I was there before the parental mouthpieces, aka children, arrived, so I was unable to ask them any questions. Regardless, I am left with a mixed opinion, I am torn between anger and sadness.
First anger. One very nice poster, which I was glad to see won a first place ribbon, was on ways to keep cut flowers from wilting. This student took flowers, one kind, and put them in water with a variety of compounds, including the powder that comes from floral shops and aspirin, which even I have heard helps keep flowers last longer. Her hypothesis was that the stuff from the florist shop would work best, but found it didnt't work better than water alone (similar results for aspirin as well). Some of her other tests, like a dilute bleach solution and, I believe, baking powder actually kept the flowers fresher longer. While this is nice, what separated it from every other poster there was her analysis of the data. First, she noted where she screwed up the experiment and how it might confound her results. She suggested the experiment should be repeated and outlined the way in which she would alter the design to make more reproducible. Her analysis was really a beautiful example of real science is done. Of course there was a throw away bible verse on the poster, which mentioned god and flowers, but had no bearing whatsoever on the hypothesis, experimental design, or interpretation. I do not begrudge this student using it, since the guidelines strongly encouraged the students to put a verse on the poster, and I expect a poster without the obsequeious verse would not be receiving a blue ribbon. So why am I angry? Well, this student could have participated in any science fair and done well I expect. But since she was at the Creationist Science™ fair, I expect her scientific thinking skills are going to be malnourished and not fertilized. Here is a student, who could potentially flourish in medicine, veterinary science, public health, engineering, etc. Maybe she would make the key insight that leads to a way to reduce the risk of autism or prevent alzheimer's disease. However, I expect her parents are more likely training her to be a baby-maker who defers all decisions to her holyroller GED equivalent future husband. I could be, and hope to be, wrong, but this was a creation science fair for homeschooled children, not a homeschool science fair.
Now the sadness.
1. Another blue ribbon. This was a report on duck egg incubation. Well it was a poster, but really it was a report. There was no experiment or data, just some facts like eggs have to be rotated to keep all areas warm. Clearly, there are going to be differences between different grade levels and this may be an example of that. However, my 5 year old has already looked to see how much bacteria is on his hands before and after washing in a qualitative way. So, no hypothesis, no experiments, what could be the conclusion? Ill just quote from the poster, "I think its amazing how ducks grow in their eggs and I know god created them." Lovely.
2. A second place winner. This was a report on motors and irreducible complexity. Yes, the student took a simple motor apart and guess what? It didn't work as a motor anymore. I wanted to ask him, if the pieces would work as a paperweight, but that probably wouldn't have gone over well. Someone should take away the parents' homeschooling accreditation.
3. We had a test of the hypothesis that the biblical flood could create geological features like the grand canyon. This was a beautiful study in that the "student" took wet sand as a substrate and poured water on it and lo like moses at the red sea, the earth parted. Well it was moved by the water making a nice little channel. Clearly, if a little water can make a channel then the global flood could make the grand canyon in 150 days. I wanted to point out the sides of the grand canyon, at least when I was there, are made out of hard rock not wet sand. I also wanted to ask him, if a little water was so powerful, how are we able to drive across bridges over the Mississippi or any other river. Shouldn't we need to rebuild the bridges about every 6-10 minutes based on the conclusions of this cutting edge research. Note, I am not teasing the student here, I am railing against the ludicrous parents and their idea of education.
4. Another project, which had merit, was based on the conjecture that some guy showed that habits form in people after 21 days. This student wanted to know if dogs obtain habits faster, the hypothesis being that animals will learn habits faster than people based on some bible verse. Being as the bible is inerrant, the conclusion is a forgone conclusion. The student trained the dog to run through her legs and it took less than 11 days to complete the training. Thus, the dog learned a trick (for which there must have been a reward) faster than a person picks up a habit. The student is on the right track here, seems to be thinking about things. However, a cursory analysis of the experimental set up would reveal the fundamental flaws in the logic. Another thing worth noting to me, is that this hypothesis is based on the word of someone. There may be hard science to support the 21 day conjecture, but I didnt see a reference on the poster, only statements like XXX showed it takes humans 21 days to develop a habit. While I am reading much into this, I find this is a good example of an appeal to authority, which is bread and butter with christian thought. Some pastor says something, thus it is true.
5. Lastly there was another 2nd place finisher looking at food and body pH. This one struck me because I think about pH a lot and this is an area of alternative medicine getting more popular. Basically, if you eat or drink something acidic or alkaline the pH of your mouth will change. This is extremely well documented. I infer the student measured their salivary pH using pH paper some time after eating some type of food with a given pH. This was done once a day (unclear if this was controlled for time of day) and I could not figure out how much of the food was consumed. If you eat some alkaline food, followed by a can of pepsi, you have screwed your experiment. Also, it is unclear how the food you eat would change your body's pH, remember these foods pass through an organ the secretes a fair amount of hydrochloric acid.
Not everyone can be a productive scientist. The population who can really do something special, and I do not include myself in that class, is already small. Here are 6 children who will have very little chance to be one of these people.
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