Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Covid Risk Levels Dashboard

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Edward Hessler

The Harvard Global Health Institute has a new interactive Covid Risk Levels Dashboard.

It is designed to provide on informaton on the severtiy of the pandemic where you live. The risk levels ae by state/county,, listing daiukt bew cases oer 100,000 people (17 day rolling average).

The maps shows the covid risk level in four colors: green (on track for containment), yellow (community spread), orange (accelerated spread) or red (tipping ponit).

Below the map, boxes showing the colors include information on cases/100,000 people and whether this warrants viral testing, contact tracing, rigor with which the previous two should be pursued, and  advice on stay-at-home orders or whether it is necessary.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Llamas and the Search for a Coronavirus Vaccine

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Nature of Science
Edward Hessler

Ogden Nash was noted for his whimsical verse. Perhaps the most well known of all of them is The Llama.

The Llama
The one-l lama,
He's a priest.
The two-l lama
He's a beast.
And I will bet
A silk pajama
There isn't any
Three-l-llama.

I hadn't known anything about the value of llamas to viral research until I stumbled across this video (7m 23s) from the New Yorker on their role in the development of a coronavirus vaccine.

Two of the Belgian scientists involved in this research describe their work and also nicely cover the territory of vaccine research and development. It also includes a transcript of the conversation.


Sunday, July 5, 2020

Birding While Black

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Society
Culture
Nature
Biodiversity
Edward Hessler

This is the first session of the series, Birding While Black. It features young Black birdwatchers-- Alex Troutman, Jeffrey Ward, Christian Cooper, moderated by Tyee James and Anna Gifty Opoku Agyeman. It is 1 h 24 m and 07 s.

It was re-published by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and was accompanied by a statement from their executive director, John Fitzpatrick. Remember, is his reminder that on the same day George Floyd died by police violence, "Christian Cooper Black birder was falsely accused in Central Park (NYC) of threatening violence while pursuing the very passion that we all hold dear."

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Its a Bird, a Plane...Naw It is Only a "Flying Snake"

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Behavior
Nature
Biodiversity
Wildlife
Nature of Science
Edward Hessler

The science journal Nature reports on the physics of flying snakes.  "Swimming" or "gliding" seem better descriptors to me.

Nature introduces the film about this behavior and the research in these words. "Flying snakes glide through the air, flattening their bodies to provide lift. But as they glide they seem to swim, undulating their bodies from side to side. Now a team in the United States has used motion capture technology to study snake gliding in precise detail. Their models reveal that undulation is vital for the snake’s stability as they glide from branch to branch."

The video showing and explaining the biomechanics is 3m 59s. 

Friday, July 3, 2020

Friday Poem(s)

Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Poetry
Edward Hessler

Greetings from Saint Paul on this 185th day of 2020. Gone, behind us is 50.55% of the year or 1598400005 seconds. On this day the sun rises at 5:31 am and sets at 9:02 pm giving us 15h 30m 57s of sunlight. It is National Eat Your Beans Day.

Today's quote is from a column by George Will, baseball sports addict who is "looking forward to a relapse." Will's WaPo column was republished in the Minneapolis Star Tribune June 25. He commented on utterances we'll not hear because baseball is in dormancy. Here is an example from Hall of Fame player Ralph Kiner who, in addition to being a Mets announcer is an amateur physicist, in which he explained the cold weather shortening effect--the distance a fly ball can shorten up to 25'. "If the fence is 338 feet [away] and you hit the ball 338 feet, you'll be 25 feet short."

Two poems today for the 4th of July. I wasn't about to settle the issue with a coin toss.

The first is by Claude McKay.

The second is by John Haines.

I think Will's comment deserves a baseball poem. It is by Maxine Kumin.

A triple.


Thursday, July 2, 2020

Isaac Asimov Centenary

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
History of Science
Culture
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

I don't read much science fiction but know that Isaac Asimov (1920 - 1992) was one of the giants. 
This year is the centenary of his birth. Not only was he a writer, he was a great explainer but also a scientist (a chemist/biochemist) as well as a professor of biochemistry at Boston University School of Medicine. He wrote or edited more than 500 books during his life as well as numerous essays. The word total is some 20 million words.

There is an essay about him and his career in Nature on the occasion of the centenary. Here is a quote from the article by David Leslie, which was published in his "gemlike essay 'Art and Science' the artist's work suffers if knowledge is deficient; the scientist's subbers if leaps of intuition, which so often outpace the leaden trot of rationality, are ignored. Advance in these arenas is often synergistic, and scientists can 'make great leaps into new realms of knowledge by looking upon the universe with the eyes of artists.'"
Asimov is well-known for his three laws of robotics. The Wiki entry includes a link to a famous cartoon by Randall Monroe, creator of XQCD on why Asimov put them in the order he did.

Asimov Online has a comprehensive collection of resources to all things Asimov.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A 2020 Survey on Evolution Education: Improving

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Biological Evolution
Education
Literacy
Edward Hessler

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and The Pennsylvania State University recently  announced the findings of  a new national poll on evolution education.  Public high school biology teachers today are more likely to teach evolution — the conceptual core and organizing principle of the life sciences — as settled science than they were twelve years ago. (my emphasis)

Conducted in 2019 among 752 public high school biology teachers by Eric Plutzer, a political scientist and polling expert at Penn State, the survey was designed to replicate a similar national survey that Plutzer and his colleagues conducted in 2007.
The results may be read in the open access, peer-reviewed journal Evolution: Education and Outreach, "Teaching evolution in U. S. public schools: A continuing challenge and was written by Erick Plutze (PSU), Glenn Branch (NCSE) and Ann Reid (NCSE).  

From the abstract:

Background

Over a decade ago, the first nationally representative probability survey concerning the teaching of evolution revealed disquieting facts about evolution education in the United States. This 2007 survey found that only about one in three public high school biology teachers presented evolution consistently with the recommendations of the nation’s leading scientific authorities. And about 13% of the teachers emphasized to their students that creationism was a valid scientific alternative to modern evolutionary biology. In this paper, we investigate how the quality of evolution teaching, as measured by teachers’ reports of their teaching practices with regard to evolution and creationism, has changed in the intervening 12 years.

Results

We find substantial reductions in overtly creationist instruction and in the number of teachers who send mixed messages that legitimate creationism as a valid scientific alternative to evolutionary biology. We also report a substantial increase in the time that high school teachers devote to human evolution and general evolutionary processes. We show that these changes reflect both generational replacement—from teachers who are new to the profession—and changes in teaching practices among those who were teaching in the pre-Kitzmiller era. 

Conclusion
Adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, along with improvements in pre-service teacher education and in-service teacher professional development, appears to have contributed to a large reduction in both creationist instruction and mixed messages that could lead students to think that creationism is a scientific perspective. Combined with teachers devoting more hours to evolution—including human evolution—instruction at the high school level has improved by these measures since the last national survey in 2007.
Co-author Ann Reid who is the executive director of NCSE wrote about this study in a column for Nature (June 18, 2020) for which see here. In it she writes about her use of evolutionary theory in working on the team sequencing the 1918 influenza virus from preserved lung samples, how that work influenced her to make a career change, becoming he executive director of the NCSE, the 2005 federal court case on intelligent design (that it is religious not scientific), the credit due to the Next Generation Science Standards in the changes observed in evolution education, the work of scientists who ensure accurate coverage of evolution in science text books, as well as the current need for defense against the dilution/distortion of climate change states have and continue to try to make.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Models: Some Tips

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Society
Edward Hessler 

Computer modeling of COVID-19 has captured considerable public attention and is reported on regularly.

A June 24 report in the British scientific journal Nature discusses five ways models can serve rather than confuse us. The authors refer to their essay as a manifesto. In other words "strong stuff."

They make use of the Brit term "mind" as in the automated train warning phrase "Mind the gap"--to pay attention, take caution, note the space when crossing from train or to platform or reverse. For full details see the essay.

--Mind the assumptions, especially the associated uncertainties.

--Mind the hubris. It is not easy to develop models that are useful and capture reality but it is easy to think that we have. The trade-off is one between the breadth and complexity of the model. 

--Mind the framing. Models are influenced by the choice of tools the model builders use as well as their disciplinary interests. The authors note that "Existing guidelines for infectious-disease modelling reflect these concerns (stakeholder involvement, multiple views, transparency, analysis of uncertainty) but have not been widely adopted. Simplified, plain-language versions of the model can be crucial. When a model is no longer a black box, those using it must react to assess individual parameters and the relationships between them."

--Mind the consequences. We like numbers and tend to trust them sometimes more than judgements. Numbers have a tendency to stop us thinking further about other relevant issues.

--Mind the unknowns. Models can hide our ignorance. The authors cite a trusted American expert and hero. "Experts should have the courage to respond that 'there is no number-answer to your question', as US government epidemiologist Anthony Fauci did when probed by a politician."

And finally a wise observation, a piece of advice. "Mathematical models are a great way to explore questions. They are also a dangerous way to assert answers. Asking models for certainty or consensus is more a sign of the difficulties in making controversial decisions than it is a solution...." (My emphasis).




Monday, June 29, 2020

Virus Hunter Who Caught Covid-19

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Edward Hessler

Most of you probably know that one of the world's leading infectious diseases researchers, Peter Piot, whose career has been spent working with dangerous viruses was finally caught by one, the corona virus (SARS-CoV-2).

He recovered.

The BBC covers this story in this short video (3m  26s).

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Baboon's Tail

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Biodiversity
Nature
Culture
Society
Edward Hessler

Earth Science Picture of the Day (EPOD) featured a plant on June 26, I'd never heard of or seen, Baboon's Tail (Xerophyta retinervis). It didn't look alive but its blackened color was due to veld (also veldt) fires.

This is a tough, resilient plant and can exist, ready to bloom, in a state of dormancy for years. According to the EPOD entry, "after a rain, it can resume its metabolic function within 48-72 hours," becoming a very lovely plant.

This plant didn't escape the notice of the early bushman who found that the stems were resistant to burning, could be fanned open and that hot coals could be stored within, left to smolder for transport from one village to another as shown in this short video (1m 04s).