Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Science Fair Project Season

We are nearing the end of 2017, which means we've now entered the start of science fair season in many areas.  My daughter's science fair is typically in late January or early February so she's started thinking about what to do.  This will be her third year doing a science fair project.  The first year she tested plant growth from different liquids.  Last year she swabbed various objects in the house and tested for bacterial growth.  This was a very interesting project, allowing her to see which swabbed objects resulted in greater bacteria growth. 

She hasn't quite decided what to do this year, but she's gathering ideas from various websites, including this one: 

Middle School Science Fair Project Ideas

As my daughter grows older, science fair projects move from simpler science demos to actual experiments.  The goal of a science fair project is to setup an experiment to acquire data.  Science demos are cool, but not the goal of a science fair project.  Students are expected to design an experiment, collect data, and then analyze that data to arrive at a conclusion.  Analyzing the data is probably the tougher part of a project for kids at this age.  But science fairs are a fantastic opportunity for kids to get involved in the scienctific process!!! 

If you're a parent and your kid brings home science fair information, please consider participating.  Even if you don't know what you're doing, science fairs are a great way to get involved in science!  Some of the best science is done when you don't know what you're doing at the start.  That's when the investigation begins and the learning proceeds!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Misconceptions that Kill #2: Vaccines Cause Autism

I've written several times in past years on the importance of vaccinating yourself and your kids from very deadly diseases.  Unfortunately there is a very deadly misconception that vaccines cause autism.  The science is very clear on this.  Vaccines do NOT cause autism.  Why does this misconception exist?  There are a couple of reasons.

For starters, in 1998 Andrew Wakefield, a British medical researcher, published a study linking the MMR vaccine to autism in kids.  Long story short, the article was retracted when the study could not be reproduced and Wakefield was later found guilty of intentional fraud with the goal of financial gain.  In other words, he cherry picked his data to produce the result he wanted for his own financial gain.

Further studies have found no connection at all between vaccines and autism.  But the damage is done.  There is a significant portion of the population that is fearful of vaccines and much of this fear comes from Wakefield's 'study'.  The result is the return of diseases that were nearly eradicated.  Measles is making a comeback, particularly so in certain regions of the U.S. where there are a larger number of vaccinated children.

Another reason leading to this misconception is the timing in which autism is often diagnosed in children.  Autism is typically diagnosed right around the time kids are receiving vaccines.  But this does not imply causation.  Many studies have analyzed the MMR vaccine and there is no evidence whatsoever this leads to autism in children.

Measles is a disease that kills.  Across the world in 2015, over 134,000 people died of measles, mostly in African countries where the rate of vaccination is very low.  Prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine in the U.S. in the 1960s, several million people were diagnosed with measles and deaths numbered in the hundreds every year.  A simple, extremely safe, vaccine basically dropped those numbers down to zero.  In recent years the U.S. has seen an increases in measles diagnoses.  Numbers are still low, but it's scary to think we have the ability to completely eradicate this disease but people have the misconception the measles vaccine (and others) cause autism in children.

Therefore the 'vaccines cause autism' misconception is one that literally kills.

Friday, November 17, 2017

This Blog's History: The Europa Clipper Mission

For This Friday in This Blog's History I point you back to the post I wrote on the very cool Europa Clipper Mission.  Although still in the very early stages, there is a lot of excitement for this mission.  For more details, check out the original post below. 

Europa Clipper Mission

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Skeptic Magazine - Zombies

I've previously mentioned, a couple of years ago, that Skeptic Magazine is a great source for skepticism and great for early Sunday morning ready with a coffee when the rest of the house is still groggy!  I particularly enjoy the Junior Skeptic section at the end of each issue that has several pages devoted to a myth of some kind.  The myth in the latest issue is zombies.

First page of the zombie article in Skeptic Magazine.

Of course zombies are not real, but the article focuses on the history of zombies.  How did the idea of a zombie come to be?  Where did it originate?  How did zombies become popular today?  When did zombies first start appearing in print and films?  It's a very interesting and informative article on zombies and a great way to start off a Sunday!  I highly encourage anyone looking for great skeptic reading to check out Skeptic Magazine.  It is well worth the subscription cost!!!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Family Movie Night - The Sandlot

Recently, for family movie night, we checked out The Sandlot from the local library.  My wife and I have both watched this movie several times.  It came out in the early 1990s when we were both kids approaching teenagers.  It's been awhile since I've watched this movie in full, but it is AMAZING!  Such a great movie!

The Sandlot kids.

The plot of the movie is basically just a group of kids playing baseball one summer and figuring out how to get a ball out of someone's yard.  That's it!  But it is so well done!  I don't even know how to explain it!  Just watch it.  It is that good!  Kids loved it!  I think they were a bit weirded out by how excited my wife and I were to watch it again.  LOL!

I also learned there are two sequels to this movie with a whole set of new kids.  Haven't watched them and have no plans to watch them.  They receive far, far lower ratings than the original.  So next time you are having a family movie night, check out The Sandlot.  A great movie that all in your family will enjoy!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Misconceptions that Kiill #1: The Flu Vaccine is Ineffective

Today's post is a first in a new series titled "Misconceptions that Kill".  I'm starting with the misconception the flu vaccine is ineffective (or not necessary).  I typically publish a post on the flu vaccine each year in the fall since this is the typical flu vaccine season.  I admit that I never received a flu vaccine as a child and didn't take the flu seriously until my first daughter was born.  Each year, for the last ten years, I make the effort to vaccinate myself and my kids against flu. 


Too often people don't get the flu vaccine, using the excuse of lack of time.  Many others avoid the flu vaccine with the misconception it is not very effective.  It is definitely true that the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies from year to year and it is never 100% effective.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu vaccine typically reduces your chances of contracting the flu by 40-60%.  This does not mean you have a 50/50 chance of getting the flu.  It means your odds of getting the flu are about half what they would be if you didn't get the flu.  Even during a year in which the effectiveness is lower, you are still reducing your chance of contracting the flu.

Why is getting the flu vaccine important?  According to the CDC, anywhere from 3,000 to 50,000 people in the U.S. die each year due to the flu.  That's a lot!  Many are the elderly and very young with weaker immune systems, but some are healthy adults.  Does a flu vaccine prevent all deaths?  No, even with a flu vaccine, some may die, but the numbers are drastically reduced.

To conclude, the ineffectiveness of the flu vaccine is a nasty misconception that literally kills.  Go out and get your flu vaccine.  Even if it is late in the flu season, still go and get the vaccine as some protection is ALWAYS better than none.

For more information on the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, go to the vaccine effectiveness information site at the CDC.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Solar System Project

My 10 year old recently had an assignment to build a model of the solar system for her 5th grade class.  Here's what she put together, mostly on her own.

My 10 yr old's Solar System model.
She did an excellent job!.  Her and mom went to the craft store to look for supplies.  They went the easy approach and just purchased a Solar System model kit that already had the spherical foam balls cut to various sizes.  Hey, don't knock us!  There's only so much time in the life of two working parents with two kids doing 18,000 things at once!  :-)  Cutting foam spheres out of a block did not fit in the schedule!  My 10 year old looked up the colors of the planets and did all of the painting. 

At first I was all about helping her figure out how to make the planet sizes and distances to scale.  That quickly ended when I realized how impossible that would be on a board this size.  The inner planets would be very squished together and the outer planets spread very far apart.  Even sizes would be difficult, if not impossible, as 1,300 Earths fit inside Jupiter.  That would require a HUGE ball for Jupiter or a really, really tiny ball for Earth (and the other terrestrial planets. 

One note in the image above.  It looks like the last planet is labeled as Pluto.  The bottom part of the image is cut off.  There's a tag for Neptune (not shown) and a small sphere for Pluto (not shown; dwarf planet). 

In the end my 10 year old had a lot of fun with this project.  She looked up and picked out a fact for each of the planets and had a blast constructing it.

Friday, November 10, 2017

This Blog's History: Unicorn Poop Slime

In case you missed it last time, for This Friday in This Blog's History, I point you back to the post I wrote on the unicorn poop slime my daughters made while I was out of town.  The post even includes a video of me playing with the slime.  :-)

Unicorn Poop Slime

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Kitty Named Newton

Just posting a few pictures of our kitty, Newton.  :-)

Newton exploring on his first day at our house.

Demon cat or cat moving head to fast for camera?  Hmmm....time will tell.  :-)

More exploring.

Even more exploring.

Newton taking a rest after hours of exploring his new home!

How cute is that?  Paws up on food bowl!

If you can't tell, we love our new kitty, Newton!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Evolution Misconception #8: Evolution Always Increases Survival

Today's post is the eight in an on-going series of posts on common evolution misconceptions.  Most people have likely heard the phrase "survival of the fittest" and then incorrectly make the assumption evolution always promotes the advancement of the fittest and the survival of a species.  Although this may be true in many cases, evolution does not always result the survival of the fittest.  There are several examples of this in various species.  One of the best examples of this is selfish DNA. 

Selfish DNA can spread through a genome but provides no positive benefit to the host and can often result in negative benefits to the host.  Hemophilia, a blood clotting disorder is caused by selfish DNA.  Thus this does not fit the "survival of the fittest" phrase.  A great article with far more detail on this is here:

Evolution myths: Evolution promotes the survival of species

One interesting item of note in this article is how selfish individuals can dominate a group and result in the harm of the group.  It's happened to all of us.  How many times have you been part of a group or collaborative project in which one individual dominates to the detriment of the group?  This is not all that different from selfish DNA. 

Although "survival of the fittest" plays a large role in evolution, it is not the end all be all.