Field of Science

Creationist "Science" Fair

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.

19 comments:

Greg Laden said...

Well, its a dirty job, but someone had to do it... thanks for reporting on this.

"Who turned off the shaker?" said...

I feel very sad for all of the people out there that do participate in some form of religion that have separated "faith" from rational thought. Even the last pope "believed" in evolution and he was pretty religious I'm sure.
SAD!

Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

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.

there's also the minor matter of how long it took to lay down all those sedimentary layers and harden them into rock.

Evolution: What the fossils say and why it matters by Donald Prothero is a good recent book with a nice section on the geology of the Grand Canyon.

Anonymous said...

I've been a judge in elementary school science fairs several times over the years.

The "prevent wilting flower syndrome" poster is a tried and true one, for sure. I've probably seen it at least a dozen times, and I've seen just about every additive ever used win.

It strikes me that a meta-analysis might solve the question once and for all...

Eric D said...

there's also the minor matter of how long it took to lay down all those sedimentary layers and harden them into rock.

Well, duh! It happened instantaneously. God created it just like that, to trick us into thinking that the earth was really old.

Mark said...

re the Irredeemably Complex motor:
I had a 1972 Chevy Nova. Over the years, many pieces fell off the motor and the rest of the vehicle. Yet it still ran. A miracle! Glory!

temu said...

Re duck report: I wonder how much other science fairs emphasize the need to perform a true experiment. I remember building and monitoring a solar water heater for one of my science projects. It's certainly scientific, if not experimental science, and the research I performed to explain solar heating was probably more educational than "do alkaline batteries last longer than nicads" or whatever. Of course, I came from a family of engineers so applied science fit my habits.

AIGBusted said...

This makes me sad. I was homeschooled as a child, but I did not like it and eventually went to public school. The school I went to was in Alabama, so of course the teachers did not tell us much about evolution. I am now in college and after doing an extensive amount of reading, an evolutionist as well. I have a blog called Answers in Genesis Busted, you should drop by some time:

http://aigbusted.blogspot.com

-Ryan

Jack Ungerleider said...

I made a point of dropping by there on Saturday afternoon. I had been through there a few years ago and it struck me that there were fewer entries this year.

I wonder if some of the kids who participated in the past are looking for more "traditional" science fairs to be part of.

arachnophilia said...

hey let's give the kids SOME credit here. they seem to be doing more creationism related science than the adult creationists.

Anne Gilbert said...

My heart goes out to that girl who did the flowers wilting experiment. Angry by Choice may be right, that her parents are training her to be a creationist clone, but maybe, just maybe, she'll retain enough brain cells to rebel against this kind of "training" and start asking questions, real scientific ones. I'm an optimist who things this might even be possible.
Anne G

Anonymous said...

Hey folks, isn't it just a little more than intolerant to constantly hammer on someone else this way? If the girl does grow up and chooses to be a baby-maker with some GED-holder, what damn business is it of ours? As long as her husband holds a decent job and pays into my social security, I don't care what they believe.

Tolerance is that thing where you don't get into someone's face when you don't like or agree with what they believe. I don't like mullets, but you won't hear me getting upset because "angry by choice" wears his hair that way, and I absolutely won't speculate on whether he drives a Camaro, even if it's a well-known fact that everybody who has a mullet drives a Camaro, or vice-versa.

And damn, some of those knuckle-dragging Christians sure did their share to make this world a better place. I'm listening to Mozart's Laudate Peuri (which was church music), and if it took being inspired by god to write music that beautiful, then let people believe what they want.

As the man said, we can't all be scientists, so why get our panties in a knot about it? Geeze.

Anonymous said...

I remembered something else after I posted the mullet thing above. I lived in parts of the former Soviet Union for several years, and if purely rational, scientific, and evolution-believing thinking results in hellholes like that, I would prefer to be a baptist, catholic, or even a seventh-day adventurist.

Escuerd said...

@ Anon:
The Soviet ideology could hardly be considered the inevitable result of science, reason and/or acceptance of biological evolution.

It was certainly atheistic, but that didn't make it scientific. I'm sure you know all about Trofim Lysenko.

If your point is simply that Christian fanaticism isn't the worst ideology the world has ever seen, then I'd agree, but that wouldn't be saying much.

The Lorax said...

If the girl does grow up and chooses to be a baby-maker with some GED-holder, what damn business is it of ours? As long as her husband holds a decent job and pays into my social security, I don't care what they believe.

If a person chooses the lifestyle you propose, it isn't my business. But I would argue in the hypothetical situation I raised there isn't much of a choice.

I don't like mullets, but you won't hear me getting upset because "angry by choice" wears his hair that way, and I absolutely won't speculate on whether he drives a Camaro, even if it's a well-known fact that everybody who has a mullet drives a Camaro, or vice-versa.

I don't know where to begin, so I won't. Ill try to find a pic where I look fat and/or bald in case you decide to post again. I would hate to get you to stretch or anything.

And damn, some of those knuckle-dragging Christians sure did their share to make this world a better place. I'm listening to Mozart's Laudate Peuri (which was church music), and if it took being inspired by god to write music that beautiful, then let people believe what they want.

Interesting revision of cultural history. Could you tell me what music was used for other than religion during those time periods? and who has hiring composers and what were they paying them for? Personally, although a Mozart fan, I prefer Dvorak and Shostakovich and who didnt necessarily write music for religious venues. I am also not sure how much we need to thank the Catholic church for the Marriage of Figaro or Don Giovanni.

As the man said, we can't all be scientists, so why get our panties in a knot about it? Geeze.

You missed the point. We can't all be (pick an occupation), so why should we actively reduce the population of potential stars.

re: your subsequent post. WOW! The Soviet Union suffered because it supported reason, science, and evolution. That's your contention? Well let's just ignore the history of the country, the fact that Stalin banned genetics (as Escuerd noted) and sent many scientists and teachers (and many other people) to gulags, nope let's just blame it on reality.

The Lorax said...

@Mark
Nice looking dog.

"Who turned off the shaker?" said...

I think that this science fair blog post gives us a great opportunity to find common ground with the "other side" if we are all able to recognize that our respective social locations have a huge affect on how we are able to view topics and learn.

I think that it is wrong for the science community to attack religion (even when it is clear that in this case "religion" is essentially "attacking" science by masquerading AS science).

I believe that we as a society, and perhaps starting here on this comments section should really and truly draw a line dividing the two. Science is not a religion, although it provides (fact based) answers to questions that once were the sole domain of religion. And religion is not science. Religion is not based on hypothesis based, testable experiments--nor should it be. It is based on blind faith (or as the Catholics call it "the mystery of faith").

I believe that it is possible to have strong faith-based beliefs AND to participate in real science. Just as it is possible to be an accountant and have faith. But people on BOTH sides of the issue need to remember that we all come from different social locations and approach things differently and use compassion and understanding (and before you scoff at that word choice realize that it is MUCH harder to do that than to attack and use anger) with each other.

Becoming offended and making denigrating comments such as "she will become a baby maker" or "your ideals are like communist Russia" do not actually further any debate or identify common ground.

I invite someone that IS able to have faith based beliefs but also participates in science to post here and explain how they rectify the two in their lives. That would be a refreshing change of pace from the name-calling seen here so far.

(And for the record I credit my stay-at-home, "baby maker," mother for my current success in life and I honor her sacrifice…one that she made for me out of love.)

nunatak said...

Anne Gilbert, and, well, everyone else too, this is for you. I was raised in a southern baptist church in Colorado Springs and brainwashed with all the christian/creationist stuff. I read the Bible all the way through and attended prayer meetings and revivals. I was sure I was born again. I was anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-evolution. If they had had creation science fairs when I was a kid, I probably would have been forced to participate in one. And yet, and yet... I went to college, learned about science, life and everything else and lo and behold I am now an evolutionary biologist. There is hope for the wilted flower girl, my friends. I know because I am she.

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