Pharyngula

Creation science fair report

I missed the science fair (I might get a shot at it later today), but a reader did send in a quick report on what you’ll find there.

I stopped by the Twin Cities Creation Science Fair Saturday night at the Har Mar mall. I am not a science educator so I may not be a fair judge and I don’t know how the various ages should relate to their various projects. I did not take a close look at all of them but there were some that seemed fairly decent, effects on plant growth, measuring impurities and contaminants in well vs tap water, air rifle velocity measurement, measuring wood hardness, color blindness in dogs. There seemed to be a number experiments on dogs. It seems house pets make convenient experimental animal subjects. There was also a simple spectrometer made from a music CD that I had seen of before.

One experiment looked at the affect of gum chewing on memory which I thought was questionable until I googled it. Apparently it has been studied and there is supposedly some beneficial effect.

However, there were a some displays that were not much of anything. One display essentially said nothing more than “we don’t fall of the Earth because of Earth’s gravity”. (I wonder what kind of force would otherwise make us fall off the Earth. Perhaps the idea of drifting off was intended.) Other displays were simplistic models of human digestive system, circulatory systems and such. Some of the writing on the display boards were rather poor as were some of the experimental procedures and controls. Displays also had their Bible quotes describing the connection to their science project.

There wasn’t much creation science in the fair this year. There seemed to be fewer creation/anti-evolution displays than past years. I spotted only one this time which might be considered an improvement. There was a display that made a very simplistic comparison of airplanes and helicopters with flying animals (bird, bat, dragonfly) and concluded that since the animals fly better than designed flying machines, they must also be designed. Irreducibility was also mentioned.

One experiment I thought was noteworthy looked at the time it takes for different brands of vitamin tablets to dissolve in water to counter the claim that some vitamin tablets are passed undissolved, even through sewer systems. (for more info, search: undigested vitamin.) I became familiar with this false claim when I did some research of my own after some people I know tried to sell me vitamins in gel form (agel.com). Supposedly they can be absorbed so much faster. (Why is it better for vitamins to be absorbed quickly anyway?) I did the same experiment myself with the vitamin brand I take. This experiment explicitly challenged a false claim for which I give the student credit.

Overall, the displays were not too different from what I have seen in previous years. Some are decent, but the rest can range from fairly mediocre to quit poor. But there are a few here and there that can stand out. One year a student did experiments on people on the unreliability of eye witness testimony which I thought was quite good, but a bit ironic coming from a Bible based science fair. I wish I could remember his Bible verse. Maybe if I had only been chewing gum at the time.

It sounds like a fairly typical science fair, made just a little sadder by the compulsion to insert biblical apologetics into everything.

Comments

  1. #1 Hugh Troy
    February 15, 2009

    “One experiment I thought was noteworthy looked at the time it takes for different brands of vitamin tablets to dissolve in water to counter the claim that some vitamin tablets are passed undissolved, even through sewer systems. (for more info, search: undigested vitamin.)”

    Taken orally, vitamins dissolve in the stomach in a hydrochloric acid solution. So the experiment mentioned started under a false presumption. But thats creationists for you.

  2. #2 MikeMa
    February 15, 2009

    Ages ago I worked a temp job for a pharmaceutical company where my sole function was to compare active ingredient availability rates between different drug samples. Some assays were water based, some acid, some used other reagents. I didn’t design the tests, just ran them.
    What I found (they found) was that generic drugs generally dissolved very slowly or not at all. Their active ingredients were unavailable after an hour of whatever test I ran. This was a test of pill-making rather than drug-making for the most part in an effort to convince congress that generics were unsafe or useless. Didn’t do any good.
    I also ran comparisons of lots and tested competitors. The best pill I ever assayed was Tylenol tablets – 100% in solution in under 5 minutes. The most fun assay was for birth control pills because they fluoresced.
    My takeaway from this was Tylenol works fast and do not buy pills from street vendors in chinatown.

  3. #3 Apollodorus
    February 15, 2009

    All the typos in your blog makes ME upset, Mr. Meyers!

  4. #4 Jason Dick
    February 15, 2009

    Hugh Troy,

    Well, the point is that they dissolve even in plain water in less time than it takes for vitamins to pass through the digestive tract. So obviously they’re not going to pass undissolved. It’s a fair enough science fair project, provided it was presented in such a way that they don’t claim that a longer dissolving time would mean that it does pass undigested, rather that a longer dissolving time would merely indicate more testing is required.

  5. #5 Valis
    February 15, 2009

    All the typos in your blog makes ME upset, Mr. Meyers!

    If you’re talking about the report sent in by a reader that’s got nothing to do with PZ. I don’t see any typos made by PZ himself. And that’s Dr. Meyers to you, Apollo.

  6. #6 Apollodorus
    February 15, 2009

    Then I guess DOCTOR Meyers is a very poor editor!

  7. #7 Mystic Olly
    February 15, 2009

    Can no-one spell PZ’s name? It’s at the top of the page, for Darwin’s sake!

  8. #8 rachelwells
    February 15, 2009

    I dunno if it’s the best idea to tamper with an email that someone else wrote. Even if it is silly spelling errors. I think he’s putting all the time he has into his masterpiece as it is… Chewing gum? I’m addicted to it… so google here i come.

  9. #9 Thanny
    February 15, 2009

    The Earth is spinning, so a loss of gravitational attraction between it and a person standing at the equator would result in said person flying into space (tangent to the curve of the planet) at about a thousand miles per hour.

    If gravity as a property of space suddenly disappeared, of course, that would be the least of the person’s problems. The entire planet would fly apart, and anyone that somehow managed to survive that would shortly thereafter perish due to the sun violently exploding.

  10. #10 waldteufel
    February 15, 2009

    The professor’s name is Myers, not “Meyers”, Apollodorus.

    Also, Apollodorus, your grammar in post #3 is incorrect.

    Also, please note that when one quotes someone else, it is entirely proper to leave misspelled words and grammatical errors intact.

    Apollodorus shows himself to be both inattentive and a poor writer. Thanks for playing, though.

  11. #11 Ryogam
    February 15, 2009

    Comparing birds, bats and dragonflys to man-made aircraft and concluding that the animals must have been designed makes me smile. Modern aircraft are not “intelligently designed” any more than dragonflys. They just happen to be the “offspring” of the tens of thousands of aircraft who showed the ability not to crash as readily as the others.

    And while, those animals have had hundreds of millions of years to perfect their mode of flight, man has been muddling along, in his own version of directed aircraft evolution, for a mere 100 years. Hardly a fair fight.

  12. #12 Jessica
    February 15, 2009

    Could the original poster clarify whether we’re talking about the vitamins dissolving or being digested? It’s true that some pharmaceutical chemicals pass through sewer systems without being absorbed by the body or being broken down in the sewage treatment plant, which is a totally different question than whether a whole pill makes it through your digestive tract unchanged. I would be super-surprised to see a pill show up in my poop, but not at all surprised if some of the pharmaceutical chemicals were detectable in their original form in my excreta.

  13. #13 (No) Free Lunch
    February 15, 2009

    Back when PZ was posting on usenet, it became something of a game to see which way the good professor’s name could be misspelled while still remaining true to the pronunciation. Is it possible that Apollodorus is just echoing the past?

  14. #14 Quidam
    February 15, 2009

    Could the original poster clarify whether we’re talking about the vitamins dissolving or being digested?

    If you do as was suggested and google “undigested vitamin” you quickly find several sites such as: awakennutrition.com which make claim:

    In Salt Lake City, for instance, over 150 gallons of undigested vitamin and mineral pills show up in their filters every month. In Tacoma, Washington 25,000 pounds of undigested vitamin and mineral pills (some with their brand names still legible) are pulled out of the sewers every 6 weeks!

    The city varies, sometimes it’s Seattle or Tacoma, sometimes it’s Salt Lake City.

    It’s an urban legend and a good study for a high school science fair, since it’s easily tested with household chemicals.

  15. #15 bobxxxx
    February 15, 2009

    “since the animals fly better than designed flying machines, they must also be designed” = wings were magically created by a fairy.

    Creation Science Fair = Child abuse.

    I have nothing but contempt for the parents of these victims.

  16. #16 Elf Eye
    February 15, 2009

    Apollodorus,

    1. The verb in your post, ‘makes’, does not agree with the subject, ‘typos’. May I use your comment in class to illustrate the meaning of the word ‘ironic’?

    2. The author of this blog is named Dr. Myers. Ditto the above question.

    3. Don’t take my course in research writing. If you silently altered quotations, you would fail.

    4. If your real point is that you feel that it is unfair to critique ‘science fair’ entries, then come out and state that point and provide arguments in support of your position.

    Signed,
    An English professor

  17. #17 Stacy
    February 15, 2009

    I can see it now …

    ” But Mr. (insert name of teacher)! I NEED the gum so I can pass my test!!

  18. #18 raven
    February 15, 2009

    apolloidioticus:

    Then I guess DOCTOR Meyers is a very poor editor!

    It is Myers, not Meyers. Learn to read first and then you can pursue an exciting career as a typo hunter.

  19. #19 GILGAMESH
    February 15, 2009

    Some ideas I have for creation science fair projects related to bible verses:

    Experimentally determine the optimum amount of dung required for the best tasting bread as once ordered by God. For extra points; compare and contrast the flavor of bread baked with two different types of feces. Involve your visitors/fair judges in a blind taste between bread baked with human waste and bread made with animal guano. Keep a five gallon container handy for those who may become overly excited / nauseous when experiencing God’s word.

    Extrapolate from information found in the bible, medical textbooks and from slaughterhouse workers if a concubine that was raped repeatedly overnight would still be alive and experience excruciating pain while her master hacked her up into twelve pieces to be sent to the tribes of Israel to make some minor point. For extra credit conduct a survey of your visitors to see how they would address the cover letter accompanying the putrefying flesh of the concubine to the tribal elders.

    Create a model of a mud brick wall to demonstrate the erosion effects of human urine. Use a pressure washer to spray the urine on the wall to simulate the compression of urine force / time since it would take years for a mud wall to be ‘pissed away’. God proscribed punishments for ‘pissing’ on mud walls in biblical times. Conduct a survey in your community prior to the science fair to gather opinions about punishments for wall pissing. Correlate the data to responders age, education and saved status. For extra credit conduct a fun contest with your visitors titled; “Pissing for Distance.” Give the women contestants a handicap if they compete with the men.

    This creotard science fair stuff is too easy.

  20. #20 Menyambal
    February 15, 2009

    Posted by: Ryogam

    Modern aircraft are not “intelligently designed” any more than dragonflys. They just happen to be the “offspring” of the tens of thousands of aircraft who showed the ability not to crash as readily as the others.

    Excellently said, Ryogam!

    I direct your attention to the rather odd Eagle’s Perch Helicopter, “designed” by a couple of men who didn’t know dick about helicopters, and who just tried everything and kept what worked. It now has a rotor blade diameter of 14 feet 5 inches. “We started out,” says Jack, “with rotors about 19 feet long. This is the sixth set of blades we’ve built and every time we made them shorter, and every time it worked better.”

  21. #21 Tim H
    February 15, 2009

    According to a learned source, every science fair project ever done sets out to prove the exact same hypothesis:

    I did a science fair project.

    Source- Dave Barry

  22. #22 homer
    February 15, 2009

    I guess I am somewhat concerned that a “creation science fair” of this sort that includes lots of science without the creation folly actually starts to associate “creation science” with legitimate science. Thus, apparently one could come away from this fair thinking hey, creation science doesn’t seem so weird to me! Maybe I’m cynical, but perhaps this is the intention?

  23. #23 Ouchimoo
    February 15, 2009

    A couple of my friends and I stopped by. The Minneapolis Drinking Atheists had a browse by as well. I was really expecting some truly horrifying displaces of “the bible is true because my science project supports it.” I didn’t really see any of that except for a couple of really half assed ‘I didn’t really do my work’ projects. Most of the experiments had the bible quote slapped on to it because it was mandatory. One kid who was at an older level, had an experiment with sounds which he measured by an Ohms meter and splitting up the speakers to test the differences in quality. The quote “And god came down and with his voice booming bla bla bla” had no relevance to the project at all. After most of the kids left we went up and talked to the guy who had put the fair together. He of course was an IDer, but oddly enough said he supported biology. And obviously did not believe in evolution ‘because there was no proof’. (he said this RIGHT after “I believe in biology” it was just strange) Then we did get him to admit that big changes in animals did happen due to their environment, but he subjected that to “micro biology” because there was no animal jumping out becoming “a dog”. Then concluded that evolution was the definition of “something positive developed from a change” and since “all mutations are negative, it was therefor invalid” or some lame ass reasoning as such. We did get him to admit that the kindergartner down at the end knew more about science than he did. Funny how he was running the show then huh?

    I didn’t really go through the accuracy of the fair projects because my school never had a science fair. I didn’t know what to expect and what level of expertise they had to know. All in all it was less horrible than I was expecting.

    I do know that that bogus why we don’t fall of the earth got third place. And we didn’t look at the animals were designed because our machinery is based off of them. They were judging it when we got there and we were wierded out by listening to the kid and judges gloat over the project. We never managed to meander back that way to look through it ourselves.

  24. #24 Menyambal
    February 15, 2009

    Dangit, blockquote fail. I’ve made a text file with copy-and-paste HTML tags for commenting here, but haven’t got the new HTML figured out yet. Blockquote hadn’t been invented back when I learned HTML. (I also keep my moniker and e-mail address at the top of the text, so as to save time and reduce forgetting.)

    Anyhow: Ryogam, very well observed.

  25. #25 Rev. Barky
    February 15, 2009

    The fact that this event is held at Har Mar mall is deliciously ironic. Har Mar has been dying a slow painful death for the last decade. It was once a second tier shopping mecca to Rosedale and was fairly busy, but it hasn’t been fully leased for quite some time. Every time I visit the place it looks sadder and more storefronts are barren and there are less and less shoppers. Northwestern books had a big store in the south end, but that failed last year and their logo – a testament to the folly of superstition and ignorance – still hangs over a dark and empty space. The economy will not be kind to what is left at Har Mar. If area Xtians have informally adopted this place as a base station for theological education resources, we can observe a process at work – it is crumbling. The Obama administration has embraced science and the dark age dominance of the evangelicals is over. Even Saudi King Abdullah has taken action to oust the zealots in his government as our is in the process of doing as I write this. One way to create jobs in this economy is to bulldoze Har Mar mall and build a windmill farm in its place.

    Gosh, I hope I haven’t misspelled anything – I wouldn’t want folks that are gooder than I to yell at me.

  26. #26 Monkey's Uncle
    February 15, 2009

    Actually the desolation of Har Mar is by design. The new owner of Har Mar did not renew the leases of several stores in the mall because he has big plans to upgrade the mix of tenants.Of course, it remains to be seen if he will be successful.

    Oh, by the way, Northwestern Bookstores still has a store at Har Mar in a much smaller space.

  27. #27 Chayanov
    February 15, 2009

    I also stopped by to see the fair yesterday. Aside from “Flight is irreducibly complex” and the obvious differences in grade levels among the competitors (at least I hope the ones written in crayon were by younger children), what struck me most was how half-hearted the “creation” part was.

    More than a few seemed like an honest attempt to craft some sort of science project, and the obligatory quote from scripture was any random out of context bit that either had a keyword in it (“earthquake”) or was so vague and ambiguous that it would apply to anything. That rather cheered me up — it looked like they were focusing more on the science than on the glory to God. Now if only they had a chance at a decent education…

  28. #28 sng
    February 15, 2009

    GILGAMESH,

    To be fair in context it’s clear that the verse you’re thinking of isn’t about the death penalty for pissing on walls but rather a kind of cool euphemism for male. Which isn’t better from an ethical point of view but is kind of cool from a literary point of view.

    Say what you might about the KJV but there are some very cool turns of phrase in there. Of course that has more to do with the translators than the source material. But it’s still pretty fun.

  29. #29 Barb
    February 15, 2009

    I assume you have been to similar science fairs put on by public schools –and have seen some similarly good and bad displays. Science fairs typically depend on the involvement of the parents –it’s a comparison of the parents and their ingenuity, unfortunately. But children do learn from them.

  30. #30 Dr. Bryan Grieg Fry
    February 15, 2009

    >I might get a shot at it later today

    Considering the nature of the crowd, their deep and abiding love for you, and one of the exhibits being on air rifle velocity, this sentence could just as easily have been writt as “I might get shot at it later today”
    :D :D :D

  31. #31 chgo_liz
    February 15, 2009

    Another false presumption is the notion that any pills in the sewer system are there only after passing through a GI tract.

    Many people throw outdated or extra pills down the sink or toilet. If a child takes a taste then and spits a yucky pill out, it might go in the garbage, or just as likely go down the drain (especially if there are toddlers or pets in the home). Someone drops their pills while walking down the street near a storm drain or sewer cover. So many possible explanations.

    Besides, as other posters have pointed out, it’s well proven that the chemical components of all sorts of drugs are in our water supply. Just because the pill has been broken down by our GI tract doesn’t mean some portion of the digested drugs aren’t getting passed on.

    But if the student was, say, in 3rd grade, I’ll cut the kid some slack. At least there was some attempt at setting up a hypothesis and experiment to test it.

  32. #32 nick nick bobick
    February 15, 2009

    liz @ 31

    And if you are in 3rd grade we’ll cut you some slack for your poorly derived conclusions. Read posts 12 & 14 for example.

  33. #33 JoyB
    February 15, 2009

    Apollodorus at #3: “All the typos in your blog makes ME upset, Mr. Meyers!”

    Let me suggest “make” rather than “makes” for the plural subject:

    “All the typos in your blog make ME upset, Dr. Meyers!”

  34. #34 Kimberly
    February 15, 2009

    RE: What is appropriate for different age groups.
    I’m doing this from memory but Science Fair in my district goes something like this

    Kinder – 1st – Collections of things with labeling explain how they are related

    2nd Demonstration (Think blowing up balloon using vinegar and baking soda) student must be able to explain what is happening.

    3rd Explain how a system works use a model and explain the advantages and disadvantages of using this model (We usually ban solar system models because it is the first one parents think of and everyone does it)

    4th Experiment kids really struggle with the difference between a Demo and a true experiment. This made us aware we were doing to many demos and not enough experiments in class. We are changing the way we teach within the district and state safety rules

    5th Experiment or invention convention Honestly most classes go with invention convention. Science fair happens a couple weeks after the 5th grade science TAKS exam and the kids are pretty burnt out/hating science. Making wacky inventions gets them interested again and can be done in the short time frame.

    The use of any animal subject is banned on the elementary level.

  35. #35 Jessica
    February 15, 2009

    @32
    seems to me that chgo_liz has it right. I’m not sure what you think her “poorly-derived conclusions” are. She’s saying that _if_ there were pills or chemical traces of pills found in the sewer system, they might have gotten there without having passed through a digestive tract first, therefore testing for digestion rates may not be sufficient.
    According to the original poster, this kid was testing for dissolution rates in water, so that should also address the case of someone throwing excess pills down the drain. If that’s your point, say so. There’s no need to snark at chgo_liz’s comment. If your point is that the premise of the experiment – that whole undissolved pills show up in the sewer – is probably an urban legend, again, you can say so without mocking someone who’s got all of her facts right.
    Chgo_Liz, sorry to get in the middle of someone else’s discussion, but since Nick cited my earlier comment, I wanted to understand what was going on.

  36. #36 SteadyEddy
    February 15, 2009

    I stopped by Har Mar on this supposed holy day to check out the Science Fair. I’d basically echo what #27 said… all in all, some good concepts of science were on display- but the prerequisite bible verse?!? WTF? All the kids were gone- probably at Sunday school. One kid couldn’t finish his science project because of a death in the family… why would god have allowed someone in his family to die and not let the kid finish his holy project. I don’t get it. I did notice the mall area had a couple of nice flat screen TVs hanging from the ceiling. Not all is dead there- yet.

  37. #37 Rieux
    February 16, 2009

    One display essentially said nothing more than “we don’t fall of the Earth because of Earth’s gravity”. (I wonder what kind of force would otherwise make us fall off the Earth. Perhaps the idea of drifting off was intended.)

    Well, geez–my physics acumen is poor by the standards of scienceblogs, but still, this ball of rock we’re all sitting on is rotating at a speed of more than 1,000 mph at the equator, right?

    Of course, those of us who live at higher latitudes are going around the planetary axis a little slower (cosine (latitude) x 25,000 miles ÷ 24 hours, I think). Still, if we 45? latitude denizens are whipping around at 700+ mph, I’d have to think that, if gravity suddenly ceased to hold us to the planet, inertia would fling us off into space… right?

  38. #38 AJS
    February 16, 2009

    Still, if we 45? latitude denizens are whipping around at 700+ mph, I’d have to think that, if gravity suddenly ceased to hold us to the planet, inertia would fling us off into space… right?

    Inertia doesn’t fling anything anywhere. I think you mean in the absence of a force acting on us, we’d carry on moving in the direction we were last moving. Which would, of course, be off into space …..

  39. #39 NorthernBoy
    February 17, 2009

    There are a few lines in here (including Dr Myers’ own) that seem to be flirting awfully close to the idea that “there is no centrifugal force”. I distinctly remember sitting in a lecture in a physics degree at Oxford going through the formulation of Newton’s laws in a rotating frame, and there most definitely was a centrifugal force in there. This is not a quack, or fringe view, it is the standard description in physics at sensible institutions.

    Given that I assume that most of us do in fact define our state of motion relative to the Earth’s surface, we are certainly in a rotating frame, there is then certainly a centrifugal force, and it most definitely going to “fling” us away from the Earth’s centre if gravity stops.

    It really is a mystery to me why people are so willing to insist, against the actual physics, the conventions to which we adhere, and common experience, that centrifugal force does not exist.

    In lieu of a mathematical treatment here, I’ll defer to the alwas apposite XKCD,

    http://xkcd.com/123/

    Apologies if I have formatted this incorrectly.

    It is, I am afraid, somewhat of a personal bugbear of mine, when people deride others’ physics, despite the claim made being perfectly acceptable, and well formed, to physicists.

  40. #40 Grants
    February 17, 2009

    Still, if we 45? latitude denizens are whipping around at 700+ mph, I’d have to think that, if gravity suddenly ceased to hold us to the planet, inertia would fling us off into space..

  41. #41 Rieux
    March 30, 2009

    Grants @ #40 (?):

    Still, if we 45? latitude denizens are whipping around at 700+ mph, I’d have to think that, if gravity suddenly ceased to hold us to the planet, inertia would fling us off into space.

    Good point. Boy, I wish I’d said that!

  42. #42 DB Macks
    April 28, 2009

    I am new to all of this and enjoyed all the comments written above. It shows that people from different walks of life look and speak, whether they agree or don’t agree.
    The one comment of “Creation Science Fair = Child abuse.” I found interesting. If I don’t follow that person’s exact line of thinking I am condemned. I can tell they are very “open minded”. I think there is real value in allowing kids to express what they have learned and display it at a fair. I also think it is an important lesson that not everyone will be in agreement with them or their parents.
    I have been to a couple of creation science fairs and I for one am glad they have them. Sometimes peoples thinking needs to be challenged.

  43. #43 emporda
    May 6, 2009

    However, there were a some displays that were not much of anything. One display essentially said nothing more than “we don’t fall of the Earth because of Earth’s gravity”. (I wonder what kind of force would otherwise make us fall off the Earth. Perhaps the idea of drifting off was intended.)
    ————————————-
    Another Moron, ever heard of a centrifugal force on a rotating system