Saturday, October 19, 2019

Yikes!

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Art and Environment
Behavior
Biodiversity
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

Photographer Yongqing Bao has been awarded the top prize in the 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year. A by-product is that Bao also won the prize for the best picture in the mammal behavior category. The photo is of a young marmot surprised by a hunting fox--the beginning of the end for the marmot. It was taken in an alpine meadow on the Qinghai Tibet Plateau.

The Junior Grand Prize (11-14 years) was awarded to Cruz Erdmann for his night-time photograph of a bigfin reef squid in the Dembeh Strait off North Sulawesi, Indonesia.

The reporting by BBC science correspondent is found here. It includes several other images from the 2019 competition and includes some details on how the two photographs mentioned above were taken.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education
Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is by Dante DiStefano, a high school English teacher in Endicott, New York.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Impersonators

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Biodiversity
Nature
Edward Hessler

Madeline "Maddie" Sophia, a science nerd for NPR, did a great video on some insects who look like another critter/organism for various reasons: defense, camouflage, predation, etc.

Sophia takes us "inside the largest entomology collection in America," where "there are insects that are out to fool us and others." These tricksters are known as mimics who are masters of disguise.  Anna Woods, an arachnologist (a spiderologist to use the technical term) with the Smithsonian, is Maddie's guide.

Here is the short essay and video (~3.5 minutes long).

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Another Salute to 150 Years of the Periodic Table

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
History of Science
Edward Hessler

As you know the United Nations proclaimed 2019 the International Year of the Periodic Table to call attention to its 150th birthday. "The Periodic Table of Chemical Elements is one of the most significant achievements in science, capturing the essence not only of chemistry, but also of physics, medicine, earth sciences and biology."

Bloomberg Businessweek devotes a "rather jazzy special issue," writes Flora Graham (Nature Briefing, August 29 2019) to the table's elements--one short story for each element. In the introduction economics editor Peter Coy writes "matter still matters" and this issue shows exactly that.

Bret Begun ends this special issue with a report on his mining of  "the depths of the internet for this superlegit, 100% scientific analysis of the most creative, not-at-all natural wonders. And if you want to argue that some of these are compounds or alloys or whatever, put down the jerktonium* and go wave some mithril**."

*Jerktonium (Jt) first found in Sponge Bob Square Pants
**Mithril (Mi) first found in The Lord of the Rings



Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Health Care and Us

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Society
Edward Hessler

In July, David Freedman wrote an essay for Atlantic Magazine about the worst patients in the world. Any guess on who he was describing?

Us, Americans.

Freedman tells the story of his father who would have once been labeled by the medical literature as a "'hateful patient,' a term  since softened to 'difficult patient'."  These are patients who are not only trying to all--family and medical staff but who also require a large amount of medical time and sometimes expense. However, what characterized Freedman's father was "his self-neglect, rather than his hostility, that my father found common cause with the tens of millions of American patients who collectively hobble our health-care system." Freedman describes his father's excesses.

Perhaps the major point of his essay is that high income countries "surpass us in most medical outcomes" and spend "less than America does as a share of GDP." However, we believe and are told that if only we would adopt "their" health care systems, lower costs and better medical outcomes would follow as day becomes night and night becomes day. We never ask or are asked by promoters of health care as a right and for all whether we are also part of the cost and outcomes problem.

Freedman cites a JAMA Internal Medicine study which "reported that 74 percent of the variation in life expectancy across counties is explained by health-related lifestyle factors (inactivity, smoking, obesity, diabetes)," i.e., "what patients do seems to matter much more" than "what providers do."

Among the items Freedman discusses is our habit of overtreatment, the lack of distrust of doctors (although we are not unique here, Chinese patients appear to be worse), our "flagrant disregard for routine care," and the matter of death with the American preference for "heroic end-of-life health-care."

Freedman's essay also serves as a springboard, one I never expected, to a recent segment on Bill Maher where he addressed the obesity epidemic (Susan Perry, MinnPost) in the United States--New Rule:The Fudge Report--Real Time with Bill Maher. (View this at your own discretion. For my purposes it is not necessary that you watch it.). It is these two sentences in the opening that interest me: "All the candidates will talk about their health plan but no one will mention the key factor. The citizens don't lift a finger to help."

If you are interested in details of the obesity epidemic, Susan Perry's essay linked above provides a state by state analysis showing the increase and also points out the known obesity related illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers, etc.

And here is the just released report on childhood obesity in America. More than 1 in 7 children ages 10 to 17 are described as obese.

Freedman and Maher call on Americans to take some control of their health and actively participate in their own health health care in order to address the growing epidemic of health problems over which we have some control.

Monday, October 14, 2019

1 in 4 North American Birds Lost Since the 1970s

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Endangered Species
Birds
Biodiversity
Extinction
Edward Hessler

North America has three billion less birds than it did in the 1970s according to research reported in the journal Science by U.S. and Canadian researchers (the full article is behind a paywall). To put this loss another way: 1 in 4 birds have disappeared. Fortunately, Elizabeth Pennisi who writes for Science provided a summary of the technical paper.

Pennisi reports that the data the research team used includes "the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), an annual spring census carried out by volunteers...which has amassed decades of data about 420 bird species."  In addition, data from "the Audubon Christmas Bird Count" provided information on "about 55 species found in boreal forests and the Arctic tundra, and on the International Shorebird Survey. The team made use of "aerial surveys of water bodies, swamps, and marshes." This resulted in information on 529 bird species,  "about three-quarters of all species in North America...."

According to Pennisi, researchers were surprised and expected species already known as rare would be declining but that common birds would make up that difference--common birds are hardy as well as generalists. However, even common birds are in decline. Pennisi continutes, "19 common species have each lost more than 50 million birds since 1970. Twelve groups, including sparrows, warblers, finches, and blackbirds, were particularly hard hit. Even introduced species that have thrived in North America, such as starlings and house sparrows, are losing ground."

Pennisi's essay includes two summary graphs, one showing decline by habitat and the other decline by type. "Annual surveys show that since 1970, North American birds have dwindled in all habitats except wetlands. Whereas most groups have declined , ducks and geese have flourished, as have raptors since the 1972 ban on DDT."

The standard culprits include habitat loss/degradation, climate change, and house cats. Pennisi notes that other possible "causes may be more subtle. Last week, toxicologists described how low doses of neonicotinoids--a common pesticide--make migrating sparrows lose weight and delay their migration....." This is likely to influence survival and reproduction. 

"Neonics," as these widely used pesticides are commonly known, also disrupt food webs by reducing food. Neonics don't differentiate between good (beneficial) and bad (harmful) insects. The sequence is inexorable: neonics--->kill insects---->less food---->fewer birds. According to a recent paper on insecticide use and exposure world wide, Michael C. R. Alavanja  notes that more than "1 billion pounds of pesticides are used in the United States each year and approximately 5.6 billion pounds are used worldwide." This includes all pesticides.

The Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology publication All About Birds has a lavishly illustrated article about the study reported in Science. It includes a sidebar on the use of radar data collected between 2007 and 2017  which provides independent data supporting the 2019 study. Radar cannot "see" individual birds. It detects "blobs" of birds.  Dr. Adriaan Dokter, a migration ecologist converts these blobs into bird masses.

So what can we as individuals do? Here are seven simple actions from the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology which includes a link to a checklist for fridge or bulletin board.


Saturday, October 12, 2019

Nature Picks the Month's (September) Best Images--All Focus on Climate Change

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Art and Environment
Miscellaneous
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

The British journal Nature has picked Septembers best science images. All of them focus on climate change and the researchers who study it.

Here they are.


Friday, October 11, 2019

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education
Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is from The Writer's Almanac.

It is by Danusha Lameris.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

And the Champ Is....

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Behavior
Nature
Water & Watersheds
Edward Hessler

For the past five years the rangers at Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska have held a fat bear contest to choose the bear thought by viewers best prepared to go into winter hibernation. This is the one laying on the most layers of fat...the best sockeye salmon fisher.

The 2019 winner is #435, aka Holly. And here she is and the announcement: "Holly sat on.... Errr, smashed....Uhm...Soundly defeated all other competitors by rallying tens of thousands of fans to campaign and vote for her! Way to go Holly."

#435 was chosen by viewers in a September-madness bracket in which 12 bears were pitted against one another until the final bear emerged. And did Holly emerge! Some 17500 votes to Lefty's 3600.

Of course we want to know what Holly looked like before and NPR's Tom Goldman's report on the competition includes a side-by-side of her before and now. Goldman also discusses this year's delay in the salmon run. As you know this was a dry year in Alaska and the salmon run was late. Bears, including Holly, are still fishing.

Here is the link to the Brooks Falls brown bear cams. It is a great site and viewer comments are definitely worth a scan. You will find that there are some very dedicated observers who know who is who. I'm not one but keep informed through them.

You can meet both Lefty, #775 and Holly,#435 in these short films by ranger Mike Fitz. And here are some quick facts about brown bears.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

2019 Nobel Prize Chemistry

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
History of Science
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

The Nobel Foundation announced that John B. Goodenough (UTexas-Austin, USA), M. Stanley Whittingham (Binghamton University, State University of New York, USA), and Akira Yoshino (Ashai Kasei Corporation, Tokyo, Japan) and Meijo University (Nagoya, Japan)) have been awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for the development of lithium-ion batteries." In other words they created a new world, one that is rechargeable.

According to the press release "the result (of their work) was a lightweight, hardwearing battery that could be charged hundreds of times before its performance deteriorated. The advantage of lithium-ion batteries is that they are not based upon chemical reactions that break down the electrodes, but upon lithium ions flowing back and forth between the anode and cathode.

"Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionised our lives since they first entered the market in 1991. They have laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society, and are of the greatest benefit to humankind."

In an article by Nicola Davis and Hannah Devlin in the British publication,The Guardian, "Professor Mark Miodownik, a materials expert at University College, London," put the significance of this word this way, that "'it was right that lithium-ion batteries were celebrated. “They are one of the most influential pieces of materials science that influence the modern life of everyone on the planet.'”
“'It is remarkable too that although 30 years old, they have not been eclipsed by a better battery technology even now, which makes you realise what a remarkable discovery they are.'”
I recommend this article for many reasons, not the least of which that you will learn that Goodenough slept through the telephone call and how he was told. He is also the oldest (97) Nobel recipient. 
The announcement page includes videos of the prize announcement and an interview about the award, the press release, and illustrations.