Saturday, January 16, 2021

Top Photographs of 2020 All in One Place

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art and Environment, Nature, Wildlife, Society, Earth Science, Cosmos

Ed Hessler

New Attas--devoted to lifestyle, science, technology, transport--occasionally publishes some superb photographs. I occasionally check but more often see a reference to the magazine and then take a look,

This collection of best photographs of 2020 is a gallery of stunning photographs of the world around  us--humans, wildlife, nature, society, culture, cosmos, 44 images, each one likely to evoke and exclamation or two.
h/t WEIT

Friday, January 15, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler 

Good morning, it is Friday, January 15 2021. 

Converted to hours 15 days is 360; to percent of year 4.11%. Sunrise is at 7:47am, sunset is at 4:57pm, and there are 9h 10m, 39m of sunlight.

On this day in 1929 was born Martin Luther King Jr. (born Michael King, Jr).

Two quotations by Dr. King on education from the Morehouse College Newspaper, The Maroon Tiger, 1947:  

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and and to think critically.  Intelligence plus character--that is the true goal of education.

If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, 'brethren!' Be careful, teachers!

Today's poem is by Dudley Randall.


Thursday, January 14, 2021

How the Coronavirus Spreads: Infra Red Footage


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

The Washington Post series (free) on the pandemic posted has an essay on how the coronavirus spreads. 

It includes a video (6m 12s)--using "a military-grade infrared camera capable of detecting exhaled breath. Numerous experts — epidemiologists, virologists and engineers — supported the notion of using exhalation as a conservative proxy to show potential transmission risk in various settings.

Even with this high tech camera, experts interviewed for the story note that "the footage underrepresents the potential risk of exposure from airborne particles. These particles may spread farther or linger longer than the visible exhalation plume, which dissipates quickly to a level of concentration the camera can no longer detect." (my emphasis).

Again: masking is a good idea even when it is inconvenient and it is for me now that winter is here and my nose tends to plug up and drip. Ugh! 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Researchers from Seven Different Nations Describe Their Pandemic Experience

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Culture, Society

Ed Hessler

In a series of letters to the scientific journal Nature, government researchers who helped guide the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Costa Rica, Ghana,Lithuania and Taiwan write about their experiences. 
The responses point out how differently nations responded depending on where they started in terms of institutions, health care systems, barriers, level of preparedness (the development of a plan), staffing, money, the role of evidence-based decision making, concepts of government, leadership, international relationships and so on They may be seen here which also includes information about the researchers whom I've named only. (About a 10 minute read). Below are a few highlights from each entry.

--Belgium (Emmanuel Andre). A health care system that had been constructed over centuries had been dismantled, severing the tie between prevention and curative care. The nation was unprepared, starting with no protective equipment and an insufficient number of trained health care workers from bottom to top. Management of the pandemic was severely hampered by a complex institutional system and politics. "But epidemiological risk-taking ultimately led to prolonged lockdown and extra damage to an economy that requires stability and consumer confidence. Next year must be different."

--Bolivia (Mohammed A. Mostajo-Radji). "Every international agency we spoke to predicted that Bolivia would be hit harder by COVID than most nations. It has one of the worst health-care systems in the world, with several regions refusing to share information with the central government. ... So on 17 March, we implemented one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. This gave us time to take stock of the health-care system." COVID-19 also became highly polticized and slowed by protestors, thefts, and ageism). Often cabinet were officials reluctant/refused to take advice from younger advisors. "Still, Bolivia has one of the lowest infection rates in the Americas."

--Canada (Mona Nemer). "(S)cience guided decision-making in real time like I have never seen before. The contrast with some other parts of the Americas has been striking. It has been gratifying to witness public appreciation of, and government interest in, science. This has provided welcome encouragement in such stressful and uncertain times. The sheer objectivity of science can go a long way in a crisis, especially when response is hampered by inaccessibility to data, reagents and personal protective equipment. To take on future existential threats, nations need to strengthen their science advisory systems locally and globally, and build public trust in research."

--Costa Rica  (Eugenia Corrales-Aguilar). "When the pandemic began, politicians and journalists in Costa Rica started talking to me because I am a virologist and had worked with bats and coronavirus. I thought that maybe we would be able to control this virus with the same public-health measures that we used for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003. We were naive. One of the things that’s been really different this time has been the response of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States. We’d always looked to it for guidance on everything to do with infectious disease — until now. The lack of unpoliticized, evidence-based information from the CDC has been a challenge throughout this outbreak. ... There’s so much nonsense and disinformation. I think vaccine communication — reaching people who do not want to understand that vaccines are game-changers — will take up much of my time for next year."

--Ghana (Gordon Awandare). "In Ghana, the pandemic has not been severe, and deaths have been very low compared with those in other parts of the world. Our group was among the first to sequence SARS-CoV-2 in Africa. We achieved this because we are building capacity for next-generation sequencing for other research purposes, including malaria-parasite genomics. ... In responding to pandemics, leadership has to be decisive. For example, masks should have been mandated early on. And lockdowns would have worked better had they been targeted, imposed quickly and enforced strictly." Looking ahead, "African governments need to build scientific capacity sustainably rather than resorting to firefighting only when a pandemic hits. We should be preparing for the next pandemic as soon as this one ends."

--Lithunia (Ligita Jancoriene). "In the hospital, the first challenge was redeploying medical staff to work with people with COVID-19, and setting up new units to treat them. Everyone had to leave their comfort zone, and it was not easy. Some staff refused; others volunteered. ... As we face future waves, we need to strengthen resources for health-care workers on the front lines. Clear guidelines must be prepared on how to manage COVID-19 infection in a regional hospital or nursing home, rather than every patient being referred as quickly as possible to a larger centre. Early on, health authorities focused on university hospitals equipped with personal protective gear and other specialized equipment. Now, there are simply too many patients, and each facility must be prepared to diagnose and treat those who are infected."

--Taiwan (Chien-jen Chen). "Almost everyone in Taiwan complied with guidelines and regulations for epidemic control. Only around 1,000 of around 400,000 people isolated or quarantined at home violated the restriction. The rest sacrificed 14 days of freedom to let 23 million people live, work and go to school normally. We have been COVID-free now since 13 April. Key elements of Taiwan’s success include prudent action, rapid response (we took action on 31 December) and early deployment of control measures, together with transparency and public trust with solidarity. We did not need to implement city lockdowns or mass screening. Instead, we applied information technology and artificial intelligence to carry out precision disaster prevention and mitigation."

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Bringing Out the Best in Gardens

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Wildlife, Nature, Society, Sustainability

Ed Hessler

Guardian reporter Phoebe Weston asked some readers to describe what they have been doing to help wildlife in their gardens in 2020.  Weston writes "Gardens are important habitats for small mammals, songbirds and insects and gardening in a wildlife-friendly way can make a massive difference in counteracting biodiversity loss. As always, the response was amazing, with readers from the UK, Australia, the US and Mexico sharing their innovations. Here are the best of them."

The reader responses are short and endlessly fascinating, e.g., a free service to cut holes in fences so that hedgehogs can travel more freely, "one thing I have done is...nothing! (read on)", and pocket meadows. Each story is accompanied by a photograph.

I loved these stories.

h/t Molly

Monday, January 11, 2021

A Doctor Finds in the Covid-19 Era Judging Patients' Decisions Comes Easier Than It Should

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Science and Society
Ed Hessler

When patients who are suspected/likely to be COVID-19 spreaders the motivation to spend time with a family s/he hasn't seen in months often clouds their judgement. "Love--not selfishness--(blinds their ability" to recognize that "they could become a threat to  their health and the health of others." Emergency physician Jay Baruch (Alpert Medical School Program in Clinical Arts and Humanities, Brown University) recounts a patient who has made him think differently about such patients.

In this essay from STAT, Baruch writes that he is "learning that it's laziness to judge their behavior, to assume they're selfish or unwilling to sacrifice personal comforts for the greater good." Telling such patients  it's ridiculously dangerous for (them) to get on (a plane is something "they already know.. Educating (them) about COVID-19 requires more than knowledge about the virus and protective measures against it. Scientific evidence isn't enough."

Baruch continues, "The coronavirus, for all its lethality and social destruction, isn't the only big problem in many of my patient's lives. It's one of many. Patients make decisions for reasons that aren't' immediately clear to outsiders." Decisions are often made "in the context of a life and the body.."  

In the thick, heat, uncertainty, intensity, exhausting days and the steady onslaught of treating COVID-19 patients, Baruch looks ahead as he explores the current territory. He writes "I'm trying to withhold judgment as hard as it may be, and understand what motivates these actions. Because when COVID-19 is finally behind us...parsing out the questions of 'why' with a little more sensitivity and clarity will be necessary for building a healthier society."
Baruch did his undergraduate in English (Union College, Schenectady, NY) and in one of his bios at Brown University, writes "I'm passionate about the humanities in particular as a lens for thinking critically." In this essay this is demonstrated. One of the ways humanities can contribute to our thinking is by consideration of context.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Death of Nobel Physics Awardee (1988) Jack Steinberger (Muon Neutrinos)

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, History of Science,Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Jack Steinberger is a Nobel awardee of whom I'd never heard (shared the Nobel for discovering muon neutrinos with Leon Lederman and Melvin Schwartz, 1988). He died recently at age 99. He was an experimental physicist.

The obituary published in Nature (22 December 2020) provides information about his rich life, his important contributions and a little bit about neutrinos (millions of which are passing through Earth and you and me right now without us knowing it).

I was struck by his attitude toward prizes in general. "Uninterested in prizes, he often reiterated his belief that 'the pretension that some of us are better than others [is not] a good thing'. He felt he been dealt lucky cards in his life, and expressed his deep gratitude to the Chicago family who gave him opportunities as a child. In his words: 'You have only one life: whatever crops up, crops up.'” (my emphasis)

The novelist, poet, art and literary critic John Updike wrote a poem about the ghost-like properties of neutrinos which has been widely published, including this entry in Symmetry in 2011. The poem is unusual because it is about a physics phenomenon. Below the poem is a line-by-line explanation but remember quite a bit has been learned about neutrinos since. At the time he wrote it (1960) the muon neutrino had not been found.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Google Doodle on the Death of Sudan


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Nature, Extinction, Wildlife

Ed Hessler

Google Doodle puts it spotlight on Sudan, believed to be the last northern white rhino born in the wild and now dead. C/Net provides some details.

CNN has photos by Ami Vitale and a story by Kyle Almont.

And here is a YouTube Video (3m 17s).


Friday, January 8, 2021

Friday Poem(s)

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment, History of Science

Good morning from St. Paul on the 8th day of 2021--192 hours of it representing 2.19% of the year.

Sunrise is at 7:50 am and sunset at 4:49 pm giving us 8h 59m 15s of sunlight (or light depending on the cloud cover.We are covered with a lid of gray, fog, mist, haze, even light snow earlier.

Quote: To contribute usefully to the advance of science, one must sometimes not disdain from understanding simple verification.--Leon Foucault (The Life and Science of Leon Foucault, William Tobin, 2003)

Today is celebrated Earth's Rotation Day.

This has become a Leon Foucault day and so this poem by Ella Wilcox Wheeler (1850 - 1919). She left us with a memorable line: Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep and you weep alone. Her poems? not so memorable. The Wiki entry explains.

My intent was to feature a different poem poem by David Budbill.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Pandemic: It's Future

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Science and Society

Ed Hessler

It is not possible to look ahead and say exactly what will happen with the current pandemic. While there will be twists, turns,and unexpected events, STAT writer Andrew Joseph takes a reasoned look ahead, considering five key key markers and their projected target dates.  
"If 2020 was defined," Joseph writes, "by the explosion of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, 2021 could be about its dwindling. But how many people will fall ill, and die, as that happens is dependent on our leaders, individuals, vaccine makers, and public campaigns to encourage people to get the Govid-19 shots developed with unprecedented speed." 

The dates which are reasonable based on what is known and informed by careful trackers of the pandemic such as Joseph are found below. The essay contains contains more details and explanations. I include a few notes.

--Jan. 20 — Inauguration of Joe Biden. He won't be able to snap his fingers and put the country on a new path immediately, but there could be a more forceful federal campaign to rally the country to slow transmission.,,, "Biden has been modeling the precautionary behavior experts say can put a drag on spread, and has urged Americans to wear masks. ... Restoring credibility and independence (of federal agencies charged with societal health issues) will take time...."

--Late January — 400,000 deaths It stands at 300,000 in mid-December but deaths are mounting by the thousands per day. This is going to be a period of great dissonance as more people are vaccinated and deaths keep increasing. This "shows how deep of a hole the country is in, and it will take months for enough people to get immunized to noticeably reduce the number" of new cases.

--End of June — Status update on vaccinations. Vaccines only work if people take them, enough people. We will know about whether the campaign to be vaccinated is being effective.

--July 23 — The Olympics begin in Japan. A global divide on the number of people who have been vaccinated could exist. "Counties (could) still be competing for vials, not just medals." There are many questions about the games themselves in terms of ensuring safety but the bigger issue is vaccine availability for the world.

--November and December — The holidays​. "But if all goes to plan, the holidays--at least in the U.S.--should be a time to celebrate making it through, and perhaps to consider all that was lost.Still, we won't be free of the ghost of Covid past. The effects...will be felt for years to come." There is much to be learned, e.g., long-term vaccination protection, effects, frequency of booster shots and whether there will be virus mutations that allow "it to evade the protection afforded by the vaccines."

​Let's hope that the light at the end of this already long pandemic tunnel shines brighter and brighter!​