1. National Geographic News: “Four Historic Science Hoaxes”

To mark April Fools’ Day, National Geographic News summarized some historic—and noteworthy, from our perspective—scientific hoaxes.

The hoaxes named, two of which are of special interest to creationists, are:

  • Piltdown Man—this much-ballyhooed “missing link” skull, “found” in 1912, was actually an orangutan jaw, chimp teeth, and a human skull jumbled together. That didn’t keep scientists from reconstructing it, identifying it as Eoanthropus dawsoni, and presenting it as evidence of evolution until 1953. (Read more at A century of fraud and The Piltdown Man Fraud.)
  • Cardiff Giant—a fake-looking “giant” human, 10 feet (3 m) tall, unearthed in New York. The giant was actually sculpted from gypsum.
  • ArchaeoraptorNational Geographic jumped all over this “evidence” that dinosaurs evolved into birds and even presented the fake fossil (actually a composite of two creatures) at its headquarters before backing down. (Read more at Another “missing link” takes flight and Archaeoraptor hoax update—National Geographic recants!)
  • Bigfoot—one of the most famous series of hoaxes in history, the Bigfoot legend nonetheless lives on. We’ve even covered it in News to Note—see the August 16, 2008, edition.

When it comes to Bigfoot, for instance, it’s easy for skeptics to laugh at “gullible types” who credulously accept such stories without question. Yet in the cases of Piltdown Man and Archaeoraptor, evolutionist “skeptics” revealed their willingness to believe almost anything if it fit into their anti-creation worldview. What saddens us is that some Christians probably abandoned, at least temporarily, God’s Word and the literal creation it describes, thinking Genesis had to be reinterpreted in the face of such “scientific evidence.”

2. ScienceDaily: “New Theory on Largest Known Mass Extinction in Earth’s History”

Yet another explanation for a catastrophic mass extinction—could it be?

Even for uniformitarians, the geologic record is filled with evidence of catastrophe. Whereas creationists see most of the fossil record as evidence of one great worldwide catastrophe (viz., the Flood of Noah’s day), old-earthers find several major “extinction events” and many more minor ones, each blamed on various hypothetical culprits.

The latest suspects in the case of the Permian–Triassic extinction event—said to have occurred 250 million years ago—are giant salt lakes. According to Ludwig Weißflog of the Helmholtz-Center for Environmental Research and his teammates, the giant salt lakes could have emitted halogenated gases that altered the atmosphere and destroyed most plant life.

Microbial processes in modern salt lakes produce “highly volatile” halocarbons including chloroform, trichloroethene, and tetrachloroethene. Weißflog’s team measured the devastating effect modern salt lakes have on surrounding vegetation: they steadily increase desertification as plants struggle to survive in the super-dry environment.

“Our calculations show that airborne pollutants from giant salt lakes like the Zechstein Sea must have had catastrophic effects at that time,” Weißflog explained. (The Zechstein Sea was a hypothetical body of water said to cover Central Europe 250 million years ago.) The researchers calculated that the sea would have produced between five and twenty times the volatile halocarbon (VHC) emissions as all modern-day factories combined.

ScienceDaily notes that the Permian–Triassic mass extinction has previously been blamed on “volcanic eruptions, the impacts of asteroids, or methane hydrate.” Speaking to those hypotheses, Weißflog admitted, “The question as to whether the halogenated gases from the giant salt lakes alone were responsible for [the extinction event] or whether it was a combination of various factors with volcanic eruptions, the impact of asteroids, or methane hydrate equally playing their role still remains unanswered.”

Watching as old-earthers continue to speculate explanation upon explanation for mass extinctions grows increasingly humorous—and increasingly frustrating. The global Flood explains the worldwide layers of sediment we find that together house a fossil graveyard—a monument to the devastation of the Flood year. Yet many scientists scoff at such a huge catastrophe even while positing their own. It brings 2 Peter 3:5–7 to mind, doesn’t it?

3. BBC News: “Baby Chicks Do Basic Arithmetic”

We had to check to make sure it wasn’t an April Fools’ prank, but yes, it seems baby birds can do simple math!

In the study, described in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, chicks were exposed to small plastic balls from birth. The chicks always try to stay close to the objects they are reared with (usually their mother), a process known as “imprinting.” Thus, in the experiment, the chicks wanted to stay near the plastic balls.

Study coauthor Lucia Regolin of the University of Padova explained, “We had already found that the chicks have a tendency to approach a group containing more of these familiar objects.” In this experiment, a chick was kept in a clear-fronted holding box as five of the plastic balls, suspended by fishing line, were slowly hidden—three behind one screen, two behind another. Upon release, the chicks walked to inspect behind the screen where the greater number of balls had been hidden.

In a complementary experiment, the researchers went a step further: after the balls had been initially hidden behind the screens, they transferred a few balls from one screen to the other (as each chick watched). Once again, the chicks walked to the screen hiding the greater number of balls, indicating that the chicks had arithmetically worked out where the majority of balls had ended up. “They still chose correctly, adding up the numbers based on groups of objects they couldn’t see at that moment,” Regolin said.

In a separate study, another team of researchers determined that fish—mosquito fish, to be specific—can also perform basic math. Ten mosquito fish were trained to associate a special door with a certain number of shapes. The special door allowed the socializing mosquito fish to move from an isolated tank into a tank with their peers. The exact shapes by the special door varied during the training, but the number of shapes remained constant.

After their training, the mosquito fish were isolated to see if they would still swim through the “right” door—the door with the correct number of shapes—even without their friends waiting for them. The fish selected the correct door more frequently than random chance would predict.

Thus, both fish and chicks seem to have the ability to “count” in a rudimentary sense, with the chicks able to recognize basic addition and subtraction in principle. They join primates as well as dogs as having shown such abilities. However, in the case of the chicks, never before has an animal been shown to display such capabilities from birth and without prior training.

The intelligence of animals is sometimes fascinating and often puzzling, but in each case it reveals how God designed animals with a variety of incredible mental skills. Finding these abilities in non-primates disputes the notion that chimp intelligence verifies evolution. Nonetheless, the researchers revealed their presuppositions by claiming that the fish’s ability “has evolutionary underpinnings.”

For more information:

4. ScienceDaily: “Does Prebiotic Material Exist in Outer Space?”

Astrobiologists may be a step closer to identifying prebiotic compounds in space. Now all they have to do is find the compounds!

Astrophysicists Guillermo Muñoz and Emmanuel Dartois have discovered an infrared absorption band that could signal the existence of oxygen- or nitrogen-rich organic material in interstellar dust grains, ScienceDaily reports. If astronomers detect this infrared signature, it may indicate the presence of amino acids in space.

In the lab, the scientists attempted to recreate interstellar conditions by combining gases at extremely low pressure and temperature. The duo then irradiated ice in the environment; the result was a “yellowish substance” containing carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen in organic molecules such as carboxylic acids, glycine, and other amino acids. The team then matched the substance with an absorption band on the infrared spectrum. If telescopes detect an absorption band on that spectrum, it would signal the discovery of a substance similar to what Muñoz and Dartois created in the lab.

The problem is that scientists have never observed the “yellow stuff infrared band,” as ScienceDaily puts it, in space. But Muñoz and Dartois speculate that other forms of organic compounds may exist with an absorption band different to the yellow substance.

While the astrophysicists’ work to determine the spectrum of the “yellow stuff” is interesting, what’s more important is the gap it reveals between “prebiotic compounds” and life. Not only has this substance not been found in space; the substance has been “found” (i.e., made) in a lab on earth but clearly isn’t turning into life!

5. BBC News: “Evolution Study Focuses on Snail”

If you’re living in Europe, you’ve been asked to help find evidence for evolution in your backyard.

The request comes from the Open University, which claims its new Evolution MegaLab project is “one of the largest evolutionary studies ever undertaken,” reports BBC News. Project leaders are asking the public to look in their gardens or in public parks for banded snails, then submit what they find online. (The “banding” refers to natural strips on the snail’s shell, not to manual band-like tags sometimes used by scientists to track animals.) Scientists hope to learn how the snails have evolved in the past 40 years in response to changes in their environments and predation.

In observing the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday this year, the Open University’s Jonathan Silvertown explained, “I was thinking about Darwin year and how we could help people get an idea of what Darwin was talking about.” In the case of the banded snail, Silvertown speculates on two likely influences on the snail’s “evolution”: climate change and predation by thrushes.

Darker-shelled snails are found farther north, probably because the dark shells warm up more quickly than light ones. “The climate has warmed up, so we think the distribution of colors has probably changed,” Silvertown said.

As for predation, thrushes (the snails’ primary predator) are less populous than they once were. Silvertown suggests this will decrease the frequency of snails whose colored shells match their surroundings (i.e., helping them blend in).

While “evolution” is at the center of this study (including its name), and although Silvertown claims Darwin year as the project’s inspiration, it’s actually natural selection that will explain how the banded snail population has changed. This is “evolution” only in the sense that proportions of shell features in the banded snail population are changing—not in the sense that the snails themselves are changing into anything other than snails. But watch out for the results, when announced, to be claimed as evidence for the latter definition of evolution.

And Don’t Miss . . .

  • Several readers wrote to notify us of the LiveScience report Big Blobs Change View of Evolution, syndicated by Yahoo! News. For some reason, LiveScience (and Yahoo!) are a bit late, since the news actually broke last November (see our comments in the November 29 edition of News to Note).
  • When it comes to animal intelligence (see item #3), a sea turtle apparently swam to the world’s only licensed veterinary hospital that treats only sea turtles. Of course, it’s possible this was just a random success (the turtle had a bacterial infection, which may be common)—or that the entire story is an April Fools’ Day prank (though the story was originally posted on March 30, according to the website).
  • A cartoonist we’ve never heard of is releasing an “interpretation” of the book of Genesis designed to “provoke the religious right,” according to his publisher. Don’t expect to find the supposed satire in our Answers Bookstore!
  • “Hundreds of Natural-selection Studies Could Be Wrong” reports ScienceDaily on a study by U.S. and Japanese scientists. The study revealed statistical deficiencies in a number of papers on human evolution. “Of course, we would never say that natural selection is not happening, but we are saying that these statistical methods can lead scientists to make erroneous inferences,” the team leader explained.
  • There could have once been life on Mars, blah blah blah, reports BBC News. The “news” is yet another variation on a long-since exhausted theme, and we are getting exhausted continually recapping the scant-evidence-but-lots-of-speculation stories on the possibility of Martian life.
  • In what has the makings of a good April Fools’ story (but apparently isn’t), Reuters reports on an incredibly deep-thinking robot that can “reason, formulate theories, and discover scientific knowledge.” Engineers dubbed it (the first of its kind) “Adam” and are planning a follow-up to be named “Eve”!
  • The supreme court of the U.S. state of Iowa has overturned a 1998 state law limiting marriage to between one man and one woman. The court cited the U.S. Constitution’s “equal protection” clause, although the court’s action actually attacks the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.
  • Finally, proof that design and “evolution” do go together (sort of)!

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