Thursday, December 31, 2009
Or a kinder, gentler, more polished version of the Total Perspective Vortex, courtesy the American Museum of Natural History! And about time too, since the older flash version I'd posted a while ago seems to have vanished from the internets.
I needed this as I struggle to find sleep this sad night... so thank you @aasif_mandvi for pointing it out!
May the new year bring us all better news, and good riddance to this pathetic one.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
This is rather worrisome, coming right on the heels of my post about poor farmers in India allowing migratory geese to coexist with them!
Earlier this week, @GarySoup raised an alarm by tweeting that the sea lions have moved on, accompanied by this photo of the empty docks at Pier 39. This was immediately picked up by a couple of writers at Wired magazine, @pgcat and @alexismadrigal, with the latter digging into the story further to post this report, which includes this quote:
“We have no idea where they moved on to or why,” said Shelbi Stoudt, who manages a team that helps stranded animals in the San Francisco Bay from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California.
The sea lions’ disappearance is as strange as their initial colonization of the pier about 20 years ago, in late 1989. They just started showing up one day and as their numbers increased, their traditional hang out, Seal Rocks, became less populated. There are all sorts of theories about why the pier became a favorite haul-out spot for the sea lions, but no one knows for sure why the animals’ behavior changed.
Stoudt averred that the officials at the Marine Mammal Center weren’t worried about the animals’ disappearance from their standard location. The sea lions are migratory animals, after all, and it’s natural for them to move around.
The disappearance is unusual, though. The animals’ numbers usually peak in late fall and many stick around during the winter months before heading south for the summer. According to the Marine Mammal Center’s FAQ on the animals, “from late summer to late spring, 150 to 300 sea lions haul out here,” though their numbers can run much higher.
This year saw a massive influx of sea lions. In fact, a Marine Mammal Center survey conducted in the fall found 1,585 mammals hauled out on the spot, an all-time high. Some of them invaded a neighboring area, the Hyde Street Pier, where they may have been scared away by an itinerant fisherman’s dog.
One recently told a local radio station, “They’re cute when they’re in here lying on the docks by Pier 39, but they’re not too cute out in the ocean when they’re stealing your livelihood.”So it appears that at least one fisherman, and his pit bull/golden retreiver mix dog, managed to scare off the sea lions from Hyde Street Pier (which does not provide the exclusive protected docks that Pier 39 does, and therefore doesn't normally get large numbers of these animals hanging out there), apparently to the relief of some there, the Marine Mammal Protection Act notwithstanding. While Pier 39 remained protected and far enough from that dog (or any others) hassling the beasts, one is still left with the nagging feeling that they may have decided that they'd had enough of this tenuous relationship with this human habitat. After all, this wouldn't be the first time that a dog has contributed to local extinction of some species.
"It's exactly opposite of what we've seen over the last 10 years," said Sheila Chandor, Pier 39's harbor master. "I think it's food. Usually this time of year, we have a lot of herring coming through."
Chandor said that some sea lions tagged by the Marine Mammal Center had been located south of Monterey but cautions that the link to the sea lions' food supply is just "guesswork."
A quick check on the Webcam mounted at the Pier 39 Restaurant proves the sea lions are definitely gone from Pier 39's K Dock. A dozen or so remain on J Dock, according to Chandor.
The population of human sea-lion watchers remained steady.
Stoudt and her team aren't sending out a search crew. The sea lions are, after all, migratory, she told Wired.com.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Just getting ready to watch this 2-hr documentary on PBS NOVA tonight. But in looking for this clip on YouTube, I found a British series titled "What Darwin didn't know" - sounds intriguing, and I may share it here later.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Yosemite National Park is an enduring symbol of the American "wilderness", a textbook example of how National Parks protect Nature by holding at bay the rising tide of humanity's demands on natural resources. National Parks are instead meant to be a different medium for us to experience and enjoy those natural resources - as aesthetic ones to be protected for posterity. If you've ever been to such a place as Yosemite armed with a camera, go back and look at your images (as I just did) and ponder how much you edit your own experience of this wilderness! How do you frame your pictures, when you attempt to capture the beauty of nature and wildlife? Do you include our fellow tourists, our conspecifics (not counting the obligatory family vacation shots), as part of that nature? If not (and I don't often enough), why not? Do you find yourself wishing there just weren't so darn many people out there, tramping through this wilderness, and spoiling your own serene immersion into it? Ignoring the rather inconvenient factoid that you are also but one among that teeming mass of humanity that wants this experience for its collective soul! But isn't that what a National Park in a democracy is meant to be: a way to share the experience with everybody, rather than an elite few? How then do we accomplish that sharing without destroying that which is being shared, the very wilderness we all want to experience?
What would you get if you pointed your camera the other way - at the c.3.5 million people who visit Yosemite every year? Steven Bumgardner, a videographer for the National Park Service has done just that to produce this remarkable time-lapse video of people in Yosemite one July (which is effectively the rush month for that park):
Yosemite is bigger than Rhode Island at almost 800,000 acres, but it receives about 3.5 million visitors each year, and most of them spend time in Yosemite Valley. This project was shot back in 2005 after purchasing a Sony Z1U. This was my first HD project (ok, fine, HDV) and I spent about a week in Yosemite during the busy month of July. The footage was all shot in real time, and then sped up in post.
I chose busy places during busy days to show the effects of this mass of humanity. I could have just as easily pointed my camera in another direction and shown nothing but plants, animals and wilderness. Yosemite is popular, but it's also still a relatively wild place.
I’ve lived and worked in National Parks for almost 20 years, and as much as I love landscape photography, I also like looking at the human footprint and the human experience in our national parks. Some of this footage helped me get my current job in 2006, as a videoographer for the National Park Service and the photographer/editor/producer of the web video series "Yosemite Nature Notes" http://www.nps.gov/yose/naturenotes
The music is from Peter Gabriel’s “Passion” (a.k.a. the soundtrack from Martin Scorcese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ”)
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Well, this carnival doesn't really have much to do with the impending end of the oughties decade, but since everybody seems to be going on about it, compiling decadal reviews and best-of lists, I just tossed it up there. Caught your eye, didn't it? But didn't turn you off, I hope... :-)
So, welcome to this (late) winter solstice edition of Scientia Pro Publica, and dig into a fair helping of hearty reading matter to keep you company by the fireside as this winter rolls you over into the double digit years of the new millennium.
Let us begin, for this is the holiday season, with some thoughts about food: about the diversity of our food sources, about how much we waste, and about how often we are hoist by our own petards in attempting to manage our precious natural - esp. food - resources. Let's start with Jeremy Cherfas, who has over the past year taken us along on the journeys of N. I. Vavilov, that pioneering explorer and champion of agricultural biodiversity. Vaviblog makes for very interesting reading indeed, especially for someone like me who doesn't know much about Vavilov. But here, Jeremy rather uncharacteristically lets loose with a rant about the difficulty of pinpointing the exact location of one of Vavilov's collections in the Sahara, and takes us through the frustrations of finding information in GeneBank and other online databases that are supposed to make the life of the modern keyboard explorer much easier than that of people like Vavilov who, you know, actually went out to the frikking Sahara in pursuit of interesting plants! Without, mind you, GPS or iPhones or laptops, as one of his commenters reminds us. Still, what's the point of all this talk about making information accessible to everyone if one can't pinpoint and georeference where Vavilov found a particular plant a century ago? I want my data instantly, don't you? Well, if you're carried away by expectations of CSI like speed in modern data acquisition, let Heilochica bring you down to earth with a (hopefully) comprehensible explanation of something complicated!
But let's stick with Jeremy a while longer and visit his another blasted weblog to read about a recent PLoS paper on how much food is wasted in America; some sobering statistics there, to be sure, plus the disquieting observation that there is no incentive in this country for anyone in the food industry to stop producing, consuming, and wasting food, environmental and human health consequences be damned! Ponder that while you tuck into the holiday treats. And if you have to bake wheat-alternative cookies because you or someone you know is allergic to gluten, Eric Olson shares a scitimes video about Celiac disease, which may be the most under-diagnosed health problem in America today (and something I'd never heard of back home in India!).
Meanwhile, we are losing the sources of biodiversity that form the basis of our food security, even as we blithely overproduce and throw away food! What's a conservationist to do to change such odd human behavior? Well, not what they did in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, where they encouraged coconut farming as a way to lure people away from fishing in order to relieve pressures on fish stocks! Find out what happened on the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog, in another post by Jeremy about the law of unintended consequences! Which bring me to the question from one of my own recent posts: what is it with these Pacific island nations and their penchant for such tragicomedies?
Lest you think this carnival is turning into mostly a one-man-show, let me assure you that there is plenty more that came not from Jeremy's keyboard! For instance, continuing with fishy business, here's a post that makes this one something of a meta-carnival, a Fishy Friday roundup of fish in tanks! And if you ever found yourself agreeing with Bertie Wooster's assessment that Jeeves' superior intellect was a result of a diet rich in fish, you may be underestimating his (Jeeves' not Wooster's) neuroplasticity, the subject of a fascinating interview with Michael Merznenich at SharpBrains on the applications of neuroplasticity to keep all our minds sharp even as we age.
Then there is Mama Joules with two poisonous posts: first, a disturbing one about the dangers of lead poisoning in your home, and the still high childhood exposure rate even years after lead based paints were banned in the US. Followed by a lovely introduction to venom & vomit in Tarantulas! Gotta love them.
Given the brouhaha over the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, I'm a bit surprised at the lack of submissions about anthropogenic global warming/climate change! Perhaps we are all over-saturated with COP15 coverage? Still, there is no shortage of controversy, genuine or manufactured, when it comes to climate change, as these two posts show: a kind of curiously provocative post that suggests nuclear energy may still become part of our green energy future - safely(?) (I have a more cynical take on the subject as I think we are addicted enough to energy in our technology-dependent societies that we are near a threshold where the marginal benefit of nuclear energy will outweigh the risks regardless of the environmental consequences. But that's me being Grinchy again). Meanwhile, whatgreeninvestment.com challenges us to ignore the pseudo-controversy over climate-gate and consider the climate change problem in the framework of Pascal's wager: act as if anthropogenic climate change is real because the risks of not believing it are too great! Interesting thought that - and one that James Randi might consider, having rather startlingly fallen prey to AGW denialism in a manner worrisome to his most loyal supporters.
But, enough with the controversies and bad news. Let's celebrate the season while we still can, while there still is enough biodiversity to stimulate, delight, and challenge us. For even as we worry about losing species, we continue to discover delightful new ones, like the world's tiniest orchid that GrrlScientist (matriarch of this carnival) writes about. At the other end of the organismal size spectrum, Kevin Zelnio wonders why we don't have even larger whales? What keeps the blue whales, for example, from evolving to even larger body sizes? Not the fluid dynamic challenges of using a volkswagen sized heart to pump blood, or the constraints of depending on the tiny krill for food - but a recent paper suggests it may be that their mouths would have to be too big (may already be too big, proportionally) to keep that humongous body fed! That's why I love reading about evolutionary trade-offs and constraints, and allometry!
Let me leave you with two more posts that share the physical, emotional, and intellectual excitement of studying life on this planet of ours. Over on NCF's blog eco logic, Manish Chandi describes his unexpected delight in discovering brooding geckos and gorgeous snakes while on a short focused ethnographic research trip to Chowra island in the Nicobar archipelago. And Hielochica expresses her excitement in studying hydrothermal vents - which she considers a mysterious love-child of geology and biology! What could be more fun than that?
So have a happy and safe holiday my friends, and I wish you all a wonderful, productive new year full of many an unexpectedly delightful discovery. And don't forget to ring in the new year with the next edition of Scientia Pro Publica: issue #19 will be curated by GrrlScientist and Bob O'hara (submit entries per instructions here) and hosted at the latter's Deep Thoughts and Silliness,
Monday, December 21, 2009
Just a quick note to say that I am compiling the 18th edition of Scientia Pro Publica as promised... but have been held up with distractions such as grade submissions, grant applications, needy grad students, preparing a paper for presentation at SICB in two weeks, planning Café Scientifique, plus a broken vehicle - some things that kind of took a higher priority. Also something about doing the job I'm paid for rather than all this bloggity-blog-blog blogosity, if you can believe it?!
But, fear not - I am back on this job as I settle into the comfy couch listening to the gentle drumming of rain on the roof as we get doused by another round of winter rains. Enjoying reading the subsmissions, and will have a round up for you by tomorrow.
Meanwhile, if you haven't got anything special planned for the evening of the first Monday of the new year (that'll be January 4th), and happen to be in the neighborhood, why not partake of the next event from the Central Valley Café Scientifique, where Paul Mills of the UCSF Fresno Medical Educational Program will talk about the epidemiology of lung cancer in the Central Valley. And we'll be at a nice new venue, the Peruvian fusion joint Limón in the River Park area of Fresno.
Now I better get back to reading those blog submissions...
Friday, December 18, 2009
Wow! What an incredible tale this is, from tonight's "Moment of Geopolitical Geek" segment of the Rachel Maddow show.
Its a tale that has everything: international geopolitical intrigue, fossilized bird poop, international money-laundering scams, overexploitation of natural resources, Russian mobsters, failed musical theater investment scams, international fugitives... er... asylum seekers from Australia, political corruption all the way up to the UN, the seamy underbelly of globalization, all set on a tropical Pacific island nation that went from having one of the highest per capita incomes to desperately broke within a decade!! Oh, and did I mention fossilized bird poop?!
Tell me that isn't a tale with a little bit for everybody - even the masala grinders of Bollywood would be hard pressed to cram so many ingredients together into such a juicy package! So why isn't this story in the movie theaters? Or on our televisions in serialized form? Is there at least a bestselling book with all the sordidly entertaining details? One hopes... but for now, we have a gem of an under-five-minute news report thanks to the brilliant Rachel Maddow, who is giving the Daily Show a run for their money, not with fake news, but real news! Remember that concept? No wonder she's rapidly become the brightest star in TV news. So, without further ado, let me share with you: "Poop Dreams"
Thursday, December 17, 2009
via Phil Plait of the Bad Astronomy blog, comes a link to this beautiful information graphic pitting the data and the interpretations on both sides of the global warming "debate" against each other face to face, and in a jargon free way. The original graphic is on a black background, but I find this version more readable, and have posted it here below the fold.
Apart from the visual beauty and simplicity of this poster, what really strikes me is how difficult it is to wrap our heads around the complex datasets underlying the scientific consensus on global warming, and the projections that have the "alarmists" so, well, alarmed! This poster does a really nice job presenting both sides in a point-counterpoint manner that may help clear some of the confusion - but it also illustrates the daunting task of understanding the data and discerning the patterns, which is why we need real expertise - and we need to trust the experts when most of them tell us that we have a real problem on our hands! It is therefore worth reading the accompanying notes from David McCandless, the creater of this graphic:
I researched this subject in a very particular way. I deliberately chose not speak directly to any climate experts or leading scientists in the field. I used only publicly available web sources.
Why? Because I wanted to simulate what it’s like for people trying to learn about climate change online.
My conclusion is “what a nightmare”. I was generally shocked and appalled by how difficult it was to source counter arguments. The data was often tucked away on extremely ancient or byzantine websites. The key counter arguments I often found, 16 scrolls down, on comment 342 on a far flung realclimate.org post from three years ago. And even when I found an answer, the answers were excessively jargonized or technical.
Most of the info for this image is sourced from Realclimate.org. It’s an amazing blog staffed tirelessly by some of the world’s leading climatologists.
Unfortunately, the majority of the writing on there is so scientific and so technical, it makes the website nigh on useless to the casual, curious reader.
The scientists (my people) clearly need to make a better effort at communicating what they know and find in as jargon free a manner as possible! If it is a nightmare for someone as motivated as the creator of this infographic to find and make sense of the data, I can only sympathize with the journalists and more casual readers (even reasonably informed ones, let alone those under the sway of Faux news) who find the arguments confusing. If even a public communication portal like Realclimate.org is too technical for a motivated reader, it shouldn't surprise us that so many fall prey to the much simpler spin from the "skeptics" who deny any human role in exacerbating global warming.
Heck, even a professional skeptic like James Randi put his foot in his mouth about this a couple of days ago when he wrote (finally, after having avoided the topic for years) that he was skeptical not about global warming itself, but about our species' role in accelerating it. Considering he is a leading professional skeptic who has always wielded Occam's razor most skillfully in debunking all manner of pseudoscience (with complicated explanations), perhaps it is not surprising that he felt the climate models were too complex to point to humans as a primary cause. Although, while acknowledging that our measurements of climate had become much more accurate with modern technology, Randi should have realized that our methods of analysis of complex data have also come a long way, lending much greater confidence to the assertion that much of the recent rise in global temperatures is, indeed, anthropogenic. Of course, many including his closest supporters immediately jumped on him to set him straight - read in particular these blog posts by James Hrynshyn, PZ Myers, and Phil Plait [UPDATE: also, Orac, whose post I'd missed earlier]. Randi has, appropriately enough for a skeptic, acknowledged his error in a new posting yesterday making it clear that he is emphatically not a "denialist". But as PZ points out (a bit too harshly), Randi's stance as a "skeptic" still leaves him open to exploitation by professional denialists who routinely twist the meaning of "skepticism" by cherrypicking words and data to raise dust clouds of doubt around the real science which overwhelmingly indicates strong anthropogenic forcing of recent climate change. Which brings us back to the challenge of communicating that science more effectively and dispelling those doubts.
Look below for the beautiful information graphic - and spend some time with it - for it is a great start towards understanding this complex issue. And I also hope it spurs more climate scientists to make a better effort at communicating the complex data and how they go about making sense of it. McCandless has also made the datasets he used to produce the graphs in his poster and their sources available for download so you can play with them yourself if so inclined. Then head on over to Realclimate.org for an archive of all the data that they are now making available to the public!
And of course, click on the image for the much larger version!
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
For this, indeed, will be the location for the Winter Solstice edition (#18) of the Scientia Pro Publica blog carnival! If you haven't heard of this fortnightly carnival, then you better pop on over to the HQ and tour through the previous 17 editions for a sampling of good science and nature writing. I have participated in Scientia in the past by having one or two (ok three or four) of my posts included in previous editions. Now I get a chance to play host.
I'll try not to overindulge myself in hosting this carnival like I did with Oekologie a while ago, when I compiled a rather monstrous collection that also turned out to be a farewell edition for that carnival! Hmm... so the first carnival I hosted ended its run after 17 editions. And... let's see... my next attempt at hosting was at the beginning of this year when I was getting ready for the Tangled Bank #121, when it too disappeared!!
And right now I only have a couple of submissions that have come in for Scientia so far, with 5 days left before the publication deadline. I'm getting a bad feeling about this... get a grip Madhu, for surely you know enough about large numbers to not be superstitious about coincidences... and remember that Scientia Pro Publica is actually a reincarnation of the Tangled Bank! That's true, I think; at least, Scientia certainly has become the rightful heir of the Tangled Bank in providing a broad sampling of science, nature, or medical writing. So let's not panic yet, for there are still a few more days to go, and there is more being written about science in the blogosphere than ever.
So, with your help, I hope to share with you another good collection in 5 days, just in time for your holiday: if you read science, nature, or medicine related blogs, or indeed write one yourself, please send me links to any good writing that has caught your eye or flowed from your keyboard. Here's the protocol, as described by GrrlScientist, the real wizard behind the curtain of this carnival:
To send your science, nature or medical writing to Scientia Pro Publica, email the link directly to its email address (the blog form we used in the past hasn't been working): ScientiaBlogCarnival@gmail.com. Be sure to include (1) the URL or "permalink", (2) the essay title and, to make life easier for the host, (3) please include a 2-3 sentence summary.
You can also leave this information right here in a comment below this post, or email me directly. I look forward to some interesting reads. (And I hope you will keep me from killing another carnival!)
If so, I'm afraid they may be a bit too late, as they are moving rather slowly, and are also apparently lacking in GPS technology, being headed towards Australia rather than Denmark!! And that's a real pity. Because the world's leaders gathered in Copenhagen this week to collectively twiddle their thumbs about global warming could really use a frakking 115 square kilometer (that's 44 sq. miles for you Americans) iceberg shoved into their midst just about now! Don't you think?
What a way to crash a party that would be, eh? A real ice-breaker, even, perhaps, between the global warming activists and the denialists! Much more effective than poor old Al Gore. Quite the message from the ice continent, indeed the planet itself, that would be, to its human children gone astray!
But as so often happens with politicians (and indeed the rest of us), this 'berg too seem to have lost its enthusiasm for the cause. deciding instead to head for the beaches of Australia! I can hear its growing murmur, "Aw... fuck it, I've been freezing my ass off here for centuries, stuck between the penguins and the krill, so why shouldn't I make a break for it? Why can't I just spend one last glorious summer on the beach? I hear the surfing can be quite something around Australia this time of year... so watch out: SURF'S UP!!!"
That's the question, really, isn't it, that we should be asking ourselves and our so-called leaders as they continue to talk in Copenhagen on our behalf. Regardless of how much you believe human activities have contributed or not to global warming (and regardless of the empirical evidence supporting said warming which is still questioned by denialists), why would you not want to take the precautionary principle and make some changes in the way we do business? Just so we can at least try reduce our ecological footprints, breathe easier, and generally make life more amenable to our own future generations and those of many other species sharing our world? Al Gore challenged the world leaders in Copenhagen yesterday on behalf of said future generations, who might wonder why our generation is putting the arguments ahead of the solutions right now!
While raising the questions our grandkids might well ask, it seems Gore was also channeling (and I'm not helping his cred with the denialist crowd any by bringing this name up!) Karl Marx, who famously wrote, "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." You can sit around all day arguing about your interpretations of climate data, or you can go out and do something to address the real problems we all face. What'll it be, world leaders?
That was on Monday - not too long after someone named Patrick left a comment on slideshare in response to my posting of Eugenie Scott's talk on that site, chastising us scientists for allowing our beliefs to be shaken by new information!! I guess we do tend to do that, don't we? Guilty as charged, sir! And I suppose science and faith are therefore very different cultures indeed!
But let us follow Danae's spirited fight against such cultural bias in the classroom some more, shall we?
I just hate when that happens - when the cultural bias of my profession (teaching) towards imparting new information shows up in the classroom impinging upon the poor students like that! Whatever shall I do?
Uh-oh - looks like I shall really reap a whirlwind now, from the ACLU!! Stay tuned...
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Amid all the media coverage and hot air (from all sides) surrounding the COP15 negotiations ongoing in Copenhagen this week, where the world's leaders are converging right now to dither collectively about what they will or will not do about global warming, even as icebergs melt and activists ratchet up the rhetoric - on both sides - we should all be thankful for the sanity-restoring coverage provided by Jon Stewart and his minions at The Daily Show! So if you want to clear your head a bit, look below the fold for a couple of samples of their recent coverage:
Last night, they had World of Warmcraft:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|World of Warmcraft|
And last week, they addressed the so-called climate-gate email leak scandal, pointedly and concisely capturing my own ambivalent frustration with the incident.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Scientists Hide Global Warming Data|
I somehow missed this on Bill Moyers' Journal a few weeks ago: his excellent extensive interview with Jane Goodall, along with a profile of her wonderful program Roots and Shoots. Fortunately (and unlike so much other good stuff on PBS that is not on YouTube or embeddable - why, PBS, why?), the entire interview is available, so I can share it here - watch and get inspired!
Let's start with Roots and Shoots:
And here's the interview, in two parts:
Here's a slidecast of Dr. Eugenie Scott's talk at Fresno State last week, which includes her entire powerpoint presentation along with audio I was able to record during her talk with my iPhone.
This is also my first attempt at embedding a slideshare presentation in a blog post, so if you notice any glitches, please let me know! I also have a podcast version (m4a/quicktime) of this talk which I will post here shortly, and Scott Hatfield has posted video on YouTube as I've noted in an earlier post. I hope to do more of these slide/podcastsas we continue our series of evolutionary biology lectures on campus.
A short and sweet exhortation from Oscar Fernandez (Biol 110, Human Ecology) for all of us!
What you and I do to each other is fair game because we belong to the same gene pool. But did you ever think at some point that all of our infighting is effecting everything else? CO2 emissions are endangering species such as the Emperor penguin, koalas, arctic foxes, and many other not so well known organisms stowed away in the Arctic and Antarctic. Emperor penguins, like the adorable ones pictured above, have less space to, uhm, procreate because global warming is melting away ice platforms that act as their habitat. Arctic foxes are being out-competed by the warm climate adapted Red foxes. Lets not forget about the Koalas either. Global warming is reducing the availability of the euphoric and very intoxicating Eucalyptus leaf that keeps them dizzy and feeling o.k.! Come on people, we need to become better managers of this planet.
I hadn't caught this either, so I'm glad Shannon Patrick found this just in time - at least to watch and see if someone else has asked a question burning in your mind even if you didn't get to ask it yourself. Something to look for this evening on CNN.
This is very interesting and I'm sorry that I came across it so late. Youtube and CNN have joined forces to let everybody's voice be heard, or at least have a chance. People were asked to submit questions for world leaders regarding climate change to a specific Copenhagen Summit YouTube page that is run by CNN. The news organization is going to take the most compelling questions and present them to world leaders at the conference. This conference will be broadcast live on CNN and streamed live on YouTube. If you followed the presedential election last fall you may have seen the YouTube debates done by CNN then. I, for one, enjoyed those debates very much, so I hope this is just as well done. While this may not get immediate action, from my experience watching the YouTube debates, the questions are commonly the tough questions that reporters don't seem to ask, but that the public wants to know. These questions definitely give a feeling of relief of frustration, in the form of "Finally, somebody asked it!". It's live on December 15th at 5 a.m. PST, but I'm sure they will replay it throughout the day, and of course YouTube will have it full length for watching on-demand.
So asks Shannon Patrick (Biol 110, Human Ecology) as he shares this news report:
This a funny satirical video of China's attitude toward climate. What makes it funny is that there seems to be almost some truth to it [then again, isn't all good satire centered around a solid kernel of truth?]. If you look into China's views on climate from the recent Copenhagen Summit you'll see that they seem to be agreeing with some steps that will reduce pollution just as long as they don't take the lead on it. At Kyoto: Signed as a developing country so they were not obliged to cut emissions. It really seems like they want to be viewed two ways: a developing country when it comes to climate, but in any other format of international politics they want to viewed as developed. Their GDP is 4.3 trillion dollars, and they say they should only pay 1% of their GDP to help. There president is quoted on the topic as saying, "Developed countries should support developing countries in tackling climate change". It really seems they are willing to cut pollution up to the point that it does not affect their respective industries. So the Onion takes the issue and paints China as country proud of their accomplishments, just as they are of their other accomplishments in other areas.
Below is a link about the garbage and devistation caused by human trash and swallowed by infant Albatross birds on the beaches of Hawaii.
Having been to “garbage beach”, off the coast of Kauai with my fiancée’ last year, I related to this video's portrayal of waste management. My fiancée and I expected to see a beach similar to Kauai’s coral strewn, pebbled and sea shell filled beach and finding anything but that after we traveled to it on a speed boat. “Garbage Beach” is literally a huge island seemingly composed of garbage. We found every kind of discarded floating item possible. There were glass balls and nets from fishing villages in China, toy Tonka trucks, pieces of glass bottles, Styrofoam and various plastics strewn all along the shore and making up dry land when we arrived. Not even able to get off the boat because we were wearing flip flop shoes, we just turned around and went back to Oahu. I was incredibly saddened and shocked that in the middle of paradise, such a horrible and disgusting mass of garbage destroyed all obvious life. I remember feeling very unworthy and saddened to see that and be there. It saddens me that all of our garbage and waste has killed so many chicks and laid waste to their natural habitat.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Even as the world's leaders clash heads negotiate in Copenhagen this week over what to do about carbon emissions to reduce anthropogenic forcing of climate change, my Human Ecology (Biol 110) student Nicole Walger ponders one option to wake up the world (esp. its leaders) to the challenge:
I thought this was a cute way of showing the major dilemma with climate change: changing people’s minds.
I think as long as there are scientific professionals that can show conflicting evidence of global warming some citizens will continue to be hesitant to accept the possibility of human responsibility for global warming.
Maybe the economy is a better angle to change people’s behaviors? Hybrid cars are cheaper to fill up, and Astroturf lawns will cut down on water bills and landscaping, you can get PG&E to cut you a check every month if you get solar panels. If these “green” alternatives are marketed as “thrifty” alternatives maybe there will be a greater change. People seem more concerned with their personal financial situation then global warming these days, so why not capitalize on that?
The “green” movement should stop speaking to people’s sense of planetary responsibility or polluter’s guilt and try to appeal to their penny-pinching ways.
(And thank you, Nicole, for pointing me to this ecologically minded comic strip too!)
Thursday, December 10, 2009
mushrooms photographed at Lost Lake park.
As long-time readers may know (if anyone has really stayed with me for long through the ebbs and flows of postings here), I started this blog to augment the teaching of a graduate class, and have continued to use it for that purpose (expanding to grad and undergrad classes) from time to time. The blog thus serves as a sometime venue for students to share some of their writing in the context of the class as well. If you search for posts tagged with "student" or "student posting" in the archives, you will find examples of such student writing from earlier classes. I had intended to continue this with classes I've been teaching this semester (Fall 09), and students have indeed submitted some interesting writings for the blog. Unfortunately, I've dropped the ball on actually posting them, because I got distracted by things like writing grant proposals (two big ones, and several minor ones submitted in the past 5 months; I'll share more about these projects soon, especially if we actually get funded!), compiling and submitting my tenure file to my department (yes, I'm now being evaluated for tenure - can't believe I've already been here for over 5 years!), and finding speakers for and coordinating the departmental colloquium as well as the Darwin's Bulldogs' Evolutionary Biology lecture series - all on top of juggling a full load of classes during this year when we are all supposed to furlough and work 10% less than usual! Ha - so much for that idea!!
Anyway, enough with the excuses - I came here to tell you that I will soon start posting a boat-load of student essays from several classes this fall. So prepare for an uptick in the rate of postings here - I think you'll enjoy some of what the students have cooked up too!
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Even as some people here (Fresno-Clovis) saw a few flakes of snow on Monday night, and many of us have woken up to frosted lawns, dead plants (sadly), and iced over windshields for the past two mornings in the San Joaquin Valley, here's a terrific composite image from NASA showing the real extent (we don't really have too much to complain about yet) of these storms that swept past us this past weekend (click on the image to download a much larger version):
A severe winter storm blustered its way across the United States on December 7 and 8, 2009. The storm dumped heavy snow from California to the Great Plains, and fierce winds added to the hazardous conditions. The storm was predicted to continue eastward in midweek, and blizzard warnings were in effect for Great Lakes states as of December 9.
This image shows the blanket of snow laid down by the storm across the West, along with the thick swirl of storm clouds over the Great Plains from North Dakota to Oklahoma. The image is made from a combination of images captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensors on NASA’s Terra (most of the left side of the image) and Aqua (most of the right side) satellites on December 8.
[From Winter Storm Crosses United States : Natural Hazards]
Note also that another set of storms are heading our way across the Pacific and we may see quite a few this winter as we are in an En Niño warming phase as you can see in this NOAA animation of sea surface temperatures (SST) over the past several months...
... and of SST anomalies:
All that red, i.e., warmer sea surface temperatures, can only mean more moisture laden winds heading our way from out west over the ocean! So brace yourselves, prepare to batten down the hatches, find an extra blanket to wrap yourself in (lower carbon footprint than burning something for heat!), grab that mug of hot beverage, and curl up this winter break with George Stewart's brilliant novel Storm, which I have mentioned here before. How the meteorologist in that book (published in 1941), who takes us through the life-stages of a storm as he tracks it across this same ocean from its infancy near Japan to fully mature fury over California, would have loved to be able to see such images! I may give that wonderful book a second read myself, once I've dealt with a minor storm of final final exams/term papers brewing on my desk from my various classes...
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
What an overwhelming response we had at Eugenie Scott's wonderful lecture last week on "Why the fuss about Darwin and Evolution?"! Thank you, Genie, for such a great talk, for inspiring and recharging those of us in the think of the evolution/creationism culture war in the Central Valley, for showing us how to address these issues in a graceful, polite, and inclusive manner. And thank you, all of you who came to campus that evening and overflowed the Satellite Student Union. For those that couldn't come that evening, you can still enjoy the talk, in parts via videos posted on Scott Hatfield's blog, and also a full-length podcast of the slides with audio that I'm working on (as soon as classes are out of the way this week!). More on that soon.
For now I want to share an essay written by one of my students who attended the talk, identifies himself as a Christian, and has, starting from a religious background that made him suspicious of the E-word, come around to accept the evidence for evolution, while retaining his faith. I thank Eric York for allowing me to share his synopsis of and reflections on Genie's talk here. Having a standing-room audience is one thing - and a great thing for sure - but a personal testimony from a student who has made some real progress in their thinking because of what we teach, that is the best kind of response we teachers can hope for. Note that I am posting his essay as is, although I have (and you can guess where) some quibbles with a couple of the things he says in his synopsis. You should also read Scott's summary of the talk, which has a bit more on the core-fringe model of knowledge. If you attended the talk, feel free to share your reaction in the comments section below. Here's Eric (continued below the fold):
“Why all the fuss about Evolution?” –Eugenie C. Scott
Eugenie Scott provided a lecture outlining the basics of evolution, followed by a detailed synopsis of the evolution vs. creationism debate. She started off the debate by outlining the different facets of evolution, and the various sciences it is deeply entangled with. These included astronomy, biology, geology, and anthropology, which are each considered evolutionary sciences. The main distinction is that evolution doesn’t necessarily address the origins of life; rather it attempts to explain how organisms have gotten to their present state, via descent with modification.
One of the complaints about evolution is that humans don’t like the idea of us being “descended” from monkeys. However, Scott cleared this up by stating that we aren’t descended from monkeys or apes. She compared this to a family tree. I descended from my dad, and my dad descended from my grandpa. My grandpa also had another son, who in turn had a son, who is consequently my cousin. I am not descended from my cousin, but we do share a recent common ancestor. This parallels the concept of descent with modification.
Scott brought up a book called, “A Consumer’s Guide to Pseudoscience.” This claims that the core ideas of science that are well tested, such as gravity and orbit, are at the center. Around the core ideas are the frontier portions, which include the current experiments and hypotheses that sciences are actively testing. Finally, surrounding the frontier is the fringe. This discusses the why and philosophical aspects of science, and includes ideas such as natural selection and perpetual motion.
Scott spent a significant portion of the time discussing the debate between creationism and evolution. She suggested that instead of looking at both as a dichotomy in which you have to choose one over the other, look at them as a continuum. This continuum starts with conservative Christians that take the Bible literally. This includes those people who, as Scott stated, base their belief on the written Word that simultaneously makes the statement that the earth is flat. This argument is based on Scripture that pictures the earth as circular. Arguments against this claim are that the old Hebrew language didn’t have an adequate term for the word spherical, or that by saying the earth was circular was merely describing its general properties and not its absolute shape. This is only one of the many arguments between evolutionists and the conservative Christians who take the Bible literally.
From the literal interpretations of the Bible comes a transition into young earth creationists, who believe the Earth is only 10,000 years old. They believe that the Earth has only recently been created, and accept that if evolution does occur, it must act much more rapidly than currently accepted. Next are the old earth creationists that believe in creationism, but accept an older earth with the possibility of evolution. This is based on the interpretation of Genesis that the seven days of creation aren’t actually 24 hour days. This is based on the Scripture that says, “To the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day.” By this reasoning, the seven days of creation could in fact imply thousands, millions, or even billions of years. Under this claim, evolution could be a feasible method that a creator used to derive the extant organisms that are alive today. This is followed by materialists, who don’t believe in creationism, and are skeptical of evolution. They are basically an in between category and don’t go one way or the other. Finally are the fundamental evolutionists. They are the ones that explicitly believe in evolution and the direct descent with modification.
Altogether I felt this was a very interesting and enlightening discussion. I personally am a Christian and take the Bible as inspired by God, which leaves several aspects up to interpretation. However, I am also taking evolution with Dr. Crosbie, and through this have learned the mechanisms, consequences, and impacts of evolution. Consequently I have come to believe that evolution via natural selection and descent with modification is in fact responsible for how organisms have changed over time to get to their present state. Although my belief is in contradiction to most views held by Christians, I personally think that science and creationism can in fact go hand in hand, and don’t have to be mutually exclusive of one another. As mentioned, I have slowly reached this conclusion by taking my evolution class, along with analyzing past and present research. I felt that it was appropriate to include as part of my analysis for this seminar the influence that Scott had on confirming my ideals, and expounding upon the inclusiveness in my own thinking of creationism and evolution.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
I am really excited to invite you to an evening with Dr. Eugenie Scott on the Fresno State campus tomorrow, Wednesday, Dec 2, 2009! An evolutionary biologist by trade, Dr. Scott is the Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, and as such, has been at the forefront of the culture war around the teaching of evolution in the US for over a quarter century. Along the way she has testified on behalf of evolution and science at numerous venues, most famously at the Dover trial a couple of years ago, and has authored several valuable books on the subject, including Evolution vs. Creationism and Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools (with Glenn Branch). I am therefore thrilled that she accepted my invitation to come down into the valley to talk to us because here, as you may know, we happen to be in something of a hotbed for that culture war as well, although not nearly as hot as some other parts of the country (no attempts to mess with public school science curricula at least).
Dr. Scott will give a public lecture on "Why the fuss about Darwin and Evolution" at the campus' Satellite Student Union (maps) at 7:30 PM on Dec 2, 2009, as part of a new Evolutionary Biology lecture series hosted by the campus Consortium for Evolutionary Studies (see poster below for the various sponsors of this particular talk). We are bracing for a good turnout since this will be one of the most prominent speakers to come here and speak on behalf of teaching evolution and science in the classrooms - and we plan to bring some more over the coming year.
I know we got off to a bit of a late start in the Darwin Bicentennial celebrations this year, but we hope to keep the momentum going into the future as we try to light a few more candles in the dark in this lovely valley.
Click below the fold for the poster announcing this lecture - feel free to download and share it as widely as you like! And if you are on Facebook, check out the event page to rsvp and invite others, and become a fan of the Biology Department page while you are at it. I hope you will join us for this talk tomorrow. Oh, and free event parking is available on campus for the evening - if you need it, please visit the seminar website above for contact info to obtain the parking code.
Why the fuss about Darwin and Evolution? - a lecture by Eugenie Scott at Fresno State