Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is by Ranier Maria Rilke.

According to a well known and often repeated story, it was Auguste Rodin who told Rilke to go to the Jardin des Plantes  in Paris where he was to choose one animal where he was to watch, study, note its various movements and moods until he knew the animal as well as he could and then, only then, write about it. Rilke chose a panther. The result is this poem.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Summer Solstice 2017

STEM
Environmental & Science Education
Miscellaneous
Hessler

Summer 2017 starts today, Tuesday June 20 at 11:24 pm Central Standard Time.

Here is a lot of information about it.

I link to a classic song about summertime when the livin' is easy. Here is another, about a favorite a favorite as I can think of.

And these words by a stunning poet.

What's next? Autumn equinox, that's what.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Prairies

Nature
Sustainability
Hessler

My friend Molly sent me this link.

What an interesting question Cindy Crosby asks on Tuesdays in the Tallgrass.

Chris Helzer has written about restoration issues in his wonderful blog, The Prairie Ecologist, on prairies. He noted noted in a 2011 entry (February 8) that the goal is not replication. I think there are too many variables at work including chance events. He raised some broad questions to help him think about restoration in comparison to a remnant prairie (one untouched by us).  I include them below.

"Does the restored prairie increase the population size of species formerly constrained by the small remnant prairie?  Does the combination of the restored and remnant prairies provide suitable habitat for species that don’t occur in prairies the size of the remnant alone?  Does the restored prairie add to the overall resilience or ecological function of the remnant prairie?  Any questions about similarities or differences in the abundance of individual plant species need to be framed within the context of these kinds of broader questions – and tied to the specific objectives for the restoration project. Comparisons outside of that context are relatively meaningless."

Emily Dickinson provided an answer to Crosby's question in one of her koan-like poems. Dickinson as you'll see is a minimalist.

Poem # 1755

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

Like Molly I'm an erratic visitor (only very much more so) to this lovely blog than she is. 

Thanks Molly for the kick in the britches.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Silence, please

Environmental & Science Education
Sustainability

Edward Hessler

What country would think to make a commodity of silence...make it a reason to visit?

Finland.

And you may learn a little more about how they arrived at this idea in this short post on The Heretical GG.

The Finish Tourist Board's campaign "Silence, Please" has gone "mysteriously" missing so I offer this instead.

Silence. What an interesting idea.

Over at Nautilus, Daniel A. Gross has a great article on the science of brains in silence, how and why researchers began to think about how silence was once regarded as the control in experiments.  Silence, it turns out, may play some role in neurogenesis (growth of new functioning brain cells) although the results are preliminary.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is about a side of maths often overlooked in problems students are asked to solve.

Yehuda Amichai (1924 - 2000) remains Israel's most celebrated poet. James Woods, The New Yorker wrote this essay about him and his poems.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Biodiversity

Biodiversity
Miscellaneous
EH

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has a gallery of images (18) to celebrate Father's Day in two worlds, human and birdies.

And here is a link to their live cams.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Hidden Female Faces in Science

History of Science
Nature of Science
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

In "The quest to reveal science's hidden female faces," Nature magazine's Dalmeet Singh Chawia, writes about Hilda Bastian, who upon noticing the difficulty of finding photographs of women scientists a few years ago set a task for herself: locating copyright-free photographs of African American women scientists.

These will be added to their respective Wikipedia pages.

Chawia's article includes some lovely photographs as well as links to articles with some pictures.

Bravo and thanks for Hilda Bastian's effort!


Friday, June 9, 2017

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
EH

June 2017 is a special centennial month.

Gwendolyn Brooks would have 100 years old. She was born June 7, 1917 Topeka KS. She died on the south side of Chicago, IL December 3, 2000.

Ms. Brooks is one of my favorite poets, very favorites. Today's poem is a short one she wrote about another poet, Robert Frost. He, too, is a favorite of mine.

It has occurred to me that there are too many poets I like to declare an absolute favorite. This may be viewed as laziness on my part but there are a passel of very fine poets.

Harriett Blog will be writing about her this month and here is the first entry about this gifted and hard-working poet. There will be a total of 8 contributors.

Happy Birthday Gwendolyn Brooks and thank you for your many presents to us. It is a treat to re-open them again and again.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Field Work

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Edward Hessler


Field Naturalists and Ecologists

In a beautifully written textbook on ecology, one that ​placed ecological concepts in a historical context — hard to believe it was first published some 40 years ago​, the late Paul Colinvaux commented on a distinction between being out in the field studying plants and animals as a naturalist and being out in the field as an ecologist.

"It is common English usage to talk of larks; of singing like a lark, being happy as a lark, or larking about; an this usage comes from poetic musings about the habits of the North European skylark, Alauda arvensis. In the early summer skylarks trill beautifully, high in the sky over meadows and wheat fields. They start from the ground with a swiftly rising, fluttering flight, singing the while, and climbing up and up until they almost vanish against the blue, then they stop singing and plummet down to earth before repeating the whole performance. You may lie on your back in the sun for hours lulled by this pleasant serenade. Many poets have done so, and for many centuries. Some came to know the birds well, to sense on what days the larks sang, to know where to find larks, to see their nests and eggs and, in short, to be good field naturalists. And yet, for centuries there was no attempt to look at the lark's beautiful performance with the eye of reason, to realize that here was something odd that required explanation, and to ask the question: 'Why does the skylark behave in this fetching but peculiar manner?' When that question is asked, the field study of the skylark becomes ecology. But reflect on the myriads who have watched skylarks without asking that questions; naturalists all, but ecologists none."


Problem Posing

Colinvaux's comment on the difference between ecologist and naturalist leads me to recommend a blog, Nature Puzzles: Of Forests, Fields, Ponds and Geology. Here, a keen observer of the natural world, Bob Bystrom, describes an occurrence in the natural world that challenge us to consider the mostly "W" questions. What? Where? When? How? and Why?

These puzzles can stimulate us to create our own explanations as well as consider how we might investigate the puzzle to provide evidence — a tentative explanation, for the phenomenon.


Problem Solving by 8th Grade Ecologists

One of Bystrom's posts reminded me of an assignment two teachers gave to their 8th students. It was a study about correlations between biological and physical variables in the environment. Their intent was to provide an experience that was close to the way scientist's work as well as to shift instruction from a teacher- to a student-centered course.

The studies from which I've extracted information had a larger educational research purpose than I discuss. It was to better understand the learning of students in their classrooms. The citations are provided below

The unit I focus on was ten weeks in length (late March to beginning of June). The class met three times a week but there were interruptions because of school assemblies and long week-ends/field trips scheduled by other teachers of other subjects.

During these ten weeks students classified the school's 50-acre campus and studied the ecological relationships within a small area which they referred to as an ecozone. Resources made available to students included equipment quite likely to be found in a general science classroom, field guides and a resource file with articles on methodological suggestions and general background information.

The intent was to have students develop a basic understanding of the complexity of biological systems and how they change, the interrelationships between the biotic/abiotic parts of an ecosystem, to formulate and investigate their own research problems, and to analyze and report on their findings to the teachers and to their peers. In addition, there was an emphasis on quantifying the work, e.g., tables, graphs, averages.

During a typical 60-minute period, each student team would discuss their focus question with the teacher, sign-out equipment, collect data, sign-in equipment and upon return to discuss what they had done with the teacher(s). While in the field, the teacher visited each group to discuss data recording/analysis, ask questions. The student's questions, data, background notes and new terms, results and claims were recorded in a field notebook.

Ample feedback was given throughout in both the classroom and when outdoors. It is important to note that these activities occurred over time, e.g., data gathering regarding a question might be given two full periods and so on. Periods were scheduled for student teams to share their findings with others. Four formal field reports were required.

At the end of each field investigation, the analysis and interpretation of the data let students to generate explanations, hypotheses and new questions. From these, the students selected a focus question for their next field experiment.

Here is an example. Two students noticed that moisture levels were less at the top of the slope and higher at the bottom. They also found an area that was particularly moist not at the bottom of the slope. They noted it had more ground cover and they thought that evaporated water might condense on leaves and stems later falling back to the ground. The students speculated about other causes such as soil, exposure to wind, etc. The students hypothesized a dependence of moisture level on ground cover, soil composition, and evaporation rates.

From this beginning these kinds of focus questions followed:

—Is there a relation on our slope between soil moisture and the air temprature?
—What relation is there between soil porosity, texture, compounds, and color in our area and the soil moisture?
—What is the relation between percent soil moisture and organic content in three different parts of our area?

What is visible as one reads the studies is the development of a generative research program that becomes more and more focused. The studies varied from group-to-group, e.g., investigation of growth (over time, as a function of location, effect of soil and weather variables), plant life cycles, living conditions, growth patterns, etcetera. There was an emphasis throughout on the role of persuasion in science, e.g., convincing arguments supported by evidence such as maps, lists, tables, totals, means, graphs and when possible, equations.

How is this kind of learning assessed? A problem students were posed at the end of the unit as part of the overall assessment provides an idea.

You are in a forest ecozone with square boundaries which has a cut grass field along one edge. Discuss the methodology you would follow to determine the relationship between soil moisture, number of species of insects, insect population density, and average dandelion height as they might possibly be affected by nearness to the field. Use diagrams if that will help. Make sure that all sampling is done correctly and that all equipment and techniques are properly named and explained. Demonstrate HOW you would illustrate numeric relationships you find (e.g., insect density & nearness to field).

The work of the students show a way into the problem found in Bystrom's blog. However, because it was limited to a relatively short period of time no conclusions were (or could be) reached. A sentence from a discussion with two students, one of whom argued for a favorite trend line and another who preferred multiple hypotheses (three trend lines), summarizes the complexity of what first appears as a simple field situation. "And from this amount of data, you really can't conclude about what's going on."

Data! Many times in science more data are is needed, more than one first thinks necessary. And collecting takes time as well as an ambitious research program.


Thanks to:

Roth, W-M & Roychoudhury. (1993). The development of science process skills in authentic contexts. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 30(2), 127-152.

Roth, W-M & Bowen, G. M. (1994) Mathematization of experience in a grade 8 open-inquiry environment: An introduction to the representational practices of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 31(3), 293-318.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Gorilla Doctors.

Biodiversity
Sustainability
Edward Hessler


I don't have television so miss many things that are well known to almost everyone.  This may be one of them. However, I don't mind the trade-offs I've made.

So, full disclosure, it is quite likely that I'm posting something you've seen. It is a 60 Minutes report on being a veterinarian in the jungle with some very special and important patients: gorillas.

I keep hoping that such well-paid, widely traveled, well-educated reporters with more resources and help than most of will ever know would ask more interesting questions and make fewer statements of the obvious. "How would you rate the quality of your work as an organization?" "Are you a good shot, Eddie?" (This one has a nagging edge. "Did it hurt?" "Is there a pressure to move as fast as you can?" "There was a sense of urgency." So it goes.

The focus of the story is on a gorilla with an infected and deep wound on her wrist, the result of an encounter with a snare.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Finnish Schools

Schooling
Edward Hessler

Michael Moore takes a trip to Finland to learn about their schools.

Take 3 minutes and 23 seconds to view this clip from a longer documentary.

Friday, June 2, 2017

CO2EXIT

Climate Change
STEM
Edward Hessler

Reactions from more than a handful of international scientists to President Trump's CO2EXIT have been collected in Nature by Jeff Tollefson & Quirin Schliermeier.

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is by Rebecca Lindenberg.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Is One Rectangle More Beautiful Than All the Others?

Mathematics Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Golden ratio, via Pixabay.

BBC Radio 4 and The Open University produced an animation about a ratio that results in what became a fascinating irrational number. It has attracted mathematicians since Kepler for its putative manifestations in architecture and the natural world.

The animation is here and is less than two minutes. It focuses only on this quality of some rectangles but touches on a few others.

Some examples in which this pattern is inferred is the design of the Parthenon, the spiral of the Nautilus shell, its use by Renaissance artists such as Botticelli, Da Vinci and Michelangelo, the spirals seen in nature such as the flower head of a sunflower, pine cones, pineapples, etc.

For criticism if whether this mathematical pattern is common in the designed and natural world see here.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Imagine You Are Above Mars

STEM
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

The surface of Mars [Wikimedia]

This film is a fiction, a creation of photographer Jan Frojdman who chose "some locations (on Mars) and processed the images into panning video clips."

Frojdman writes "The film is not scientific. As a space enthusiast I have just tried to visualize the planet my way."

The result is stunning and provocative.  It is also an example of human scientific and technological abilities.

When I finished viewing it, I thought of Dorothy's comment, "There's no place like home."

Earth! what a sweet planet we live on.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Collisions in Low Earth Orbit: The Kessler Effect

Pollution
STEM
Edward Hessler

Have you ever heard of the Kessler effect, also known as collisional cascading?  I hadn't.

It is a density effect. When the number of objects in low earth orbit (LEO) becomes high enough  collisions would result in a  cascade of collisions. This is known as an unstable debris environment. The hypothesis was first proposed by NASA scientist, Donald J. Kessler in 1978.

The estimate is that there are some 700,000 objects larger than 1 cm and 170 million larger than 1 mm residing in Earth orbit. It is crowded out there.

Space debris [Wikimedia

The topic is an active area of research and was the subject of a recent conference. The film, Space Debris: A Journey to Earth was produced for the 7th European Conference on Space Debris, 18-21 April 2017. LEO looks very messy.

Warning. The volume overwhelms the narration at times.

The International Space Station has been in orbit for more than 15 years. There have been four times when crew members were ordered to take emergency shelter in the space capsule attached to the space station.

Here is a photograph of a window chip caused by a collision. It was taken by British astronaut Tim Peake when he was a crew member on the International Space Station.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Adventure Stewardship Alliance: Three Rivers Expedition

Water & Watersheds
Guest Blogger: Paul Twedt

Photo credit: Grant Armour

Since 2015, local Minnesotan Paul Twedt has helped to found groups that adventure ethically. As co-founder of Packing It Out, a national group focused on removing litter from America's hiking trails, the group has packed out over 1,800 lbs of trash while thru-hiking over 5,000 miles, including the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail corridors.

For 2017, Paul decided it was time to bring these stewardship efforts to his home state of Minnesota and to the local rivers. With help from another river-loving Minnesotan, Michael Anderson, they have developed the Adventure Stewardship Alliance. The mission of this Minnesota-based alliance is to inspire stewardship of wild places, cultural connections, and a sense of place through storytelling and stewardship-based adventures. They accomplish this mission by packing out litter from wild places and community-building through experiences with nature, natural history, and telling the stories of the rivers they are paddling.

Their Three Rivers Expedition will be the pilot trip for Adventure Stewardship Alliance and will be a 1,200 mile canoe trip spanning the length of the Namekagon/St. Croix river system, the Minnesota river, and 620+ miles of the upper Mississippi river. "Basically just the Minnesota section of that great river," says ASA founder Paul Twedt. Along the way they will be cleaning up litter and sharing naturalist teachings, nature observations, and river stories on the ASA social media channels and website (find those through the ASA website). Their website also includes a trip progress page where they are documenting and sharing the amount of litter removed and unique and notable observations.

Launching June 13th, the Three Rivers Expedition will begin at Namekagon Lake, the source of the Namekagon river, paddling 235 miles to the St. Croix confluence and on down the river to its Mississippi river confluence near Hastings, MN. Upon finishing the St. Croix, the crew will shuttle to Big Stone Lake, the source of the Minnesota river, and paddle 330 miles to the Mississippi river confluence at Pike Island in Fort Snelling State Park. Come September, the team will embark upon the Mississippi river, beginning at Lake Itasca and paddling through Winona, MN. This litter-cleansing crew will also be hosting an event as they paddle through the Twin Cities on October 14th, so be on the lookout for more info in the coming months as they get details planned out.

In line with their community-building goals the ASA team has developed local partnerships with groups addressing issues in our Twin Cities community. The canoes for the trip, dubbed "vessels of light" by ASA founder Michael Anderson, are built by local youth brought together through Urban Boat Builders in St. Paul to develop job skills and become engaged steward-citizens. Food for the journey is supplemented by Sisters Camelot, a local organization aiming to improve access to organic foods and reducing food waste in the local grocery supply system.

Follow along with this journey of stewardship, community-building and intentional living by signing up for email updates at Adventure Stewardship Alliance and connect with them on social media to get the day to day experiences from the rivers while you are at it.

Cheers and hopefully we'll see you on the river!

Stay tuned for updates from the crew on this blog, Sustainable Commons, from each leg of the Three Rivers Expedition.

Paul Twedt
Founder of Adventure Stewardship Alliance and Co-founder of Packing It Out

Paul Twedt
Photo credit: Grant Armour
Michael Anderson
Photo credit: Grant Armour

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

This Friday's poem is by Chase Twichell.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The purpose of life

STEM
Environmental & Science Education.
Edward Hessler

Purpose.

We ask about purpose a lot.

It interests us and we sprinkle our conversations with it liberally.

Think about life.

What are its purposes? Sometimes we get even bolder and become very specific and limit it to one purpose.

Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll and Minute Physics producer Michael Reich propose A (just one and not "the") purpose for life.
Sean Carroll [Wikimedia]

As you might guess, it takes more than a minute, 4 minutes and 22 seconds to be exact. After all it is a big topic. So, let's call it Less than 5MinutePhysics.

It is the last video in a series by Carroll and Reich and is based on Sean Carroll's book, The Big Picture.

You will encounter two ideas in that book that may be new, one is naturalism and the other is poetic naturalism. I'm a naturalist and I find poetic naturalism a very compatible world view.

Here is what Sean Carroll has to say about both of them.

"Naturalism is a philosophy according to which there is only one world — the natural world, which exhibits unbroken patterns (the laws of nature), and which we can learn about through hypothesis testing and observation. In particular, there is no supernatural world — no gods, no spirits, no transcendent meanings.

"I like to talk about a particular approach to naturalism, which can be thought of as Poetic. By that I mean to emphasize that, while there is only one world, there are many ways of talking about the world. “Ways of talking” shouldn’t be underestimated; they can otherwise be labeled “theories” or “models” or “vocabularies” or “stories,” and if a particular way of talking turns out to be sufficiently accurate and useful, the elements in its corresponding vocabulary deserve to be called real.

"The poet Muriel Rukeyser once wrote, “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” That is absolutely correct. There is more to the world than what happens; there are the ways we make sense of it by telling its story. The vocabulary we use is not handed to us from outside; it’s ultimately a matter of our choice."

Two reviews of the book, one favorable, one not.

Monday, May 22, 2017

In the News: Health Issues

Health
Medicine
Environmental and Science Ecucation
Edward Hessler

[Wikimedia]
Do you ever wonder what to make of the daily press and news reports on health and medical "breakthroughs" and headspining headlines with their way too often gushy recommendations and overwrought concerns? My immediate reaction is suspicion but I don't always have the time or take the time to investigate to find out what was really said in the research or press releases (which have their own problems).

Prostate cancer screening—the famous PSA—comes immediately to mind but it is only one from a very long list of reports and press releases.  Just exactly was the recommendation of the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) in the most recent statement on PSA screening? Was it a reversal of the 2012 against broad-based PSA screening or...?


Or what about the recently widely reported link between diet soda, stroke and dementia?

I recommend a resource I both trust, rely on and admire for understanding reports on drugs and devices, vitamins and nutritional health, diagnostic and screening tests, dietary recommendations, surgical procedures, psychotherapy and mental health interventions.

HealthNewsReview is edited by a crackerjack health reporter, Gary Schwitzer who is an adjunct associate professor in the UM School of Public Health which houses the website. Reports are reviewed using several well-explained criteria and then given a star-rating for accuracy.  How the star-rating is developed is explained.

I include a full description of the ten review criteria here.

And here are three pieces from HNR on prostate cancer screening, the relationship suggested between diet soda, stroke and dementia and the health effects of coffee.

Regular HCN contributor, Alan Cassels, a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria just recently wrote a review of Choosing Wisely's efforts to reduce unnecessary medical care. Susan Perry wrote a celebratory piece about Choosing Wisely for MinnPost.

The HCN site is rich, useful and worth checking-out.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Wislawa Szymborska wrote today's poem. It is about an experiment in informal physics.

What Graduate School in Theoretical Physics Can be Like

History of Science
STEM
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler.

A blog I read faithfully is written by mathematical physicist, Peter Woit (Columbia University). I don't read it because I understand much of the content. I don't. It is heavy duty physics most of the time and what I understand is often fleeting but I enjoy Woit's exposition and responses as well as his eagle eye for interesting stuff to read and other links to talks, blog posts, papers, etc.

Woit has been a long-time and I think thoughtful critic of what is called string theory. Woit has both friends and bitter enemies and was once referred to as a terrorist which seems way too extreme to me but the language of war is one that comes naturally it seems but used way too often.

I discovered Woit several years ago upon reading an essay in the American Scientist. Woit was very critical of not only string theory but of an NSF requirement that grants allocate some funds to public outreach, especially education for teachers. Woit thought, as I do, that this doesn't make sense for many of the more esoteric disciplines. I'm all for professional development just not this kind. So, I started looking for his name for hoped for thoughtful criticism, the kind that makes you think and question what you think you know. 

The title of Woit's blog, Not Even Wrong, is attributed to the brilliant and often acerbic theoretician, Wolfgang Pauli, a Nobel prize awardee. It refers to an argument that fails at some deep level. Pauli was a master of very deep physical thinking. Much of the progress seen in quantum mechanics in the first part of the last century is due in some part to his informal discussion with others. He had an incredible talent for sharing his ideas with others and reviewing papers (harshly but well) before their publication.

Have you ever wondered about what graduate school in theoretical physics is really like?  This week Woit included two links, the first to an essay by Bob Henderson who went to the University of Rochester for his Ph.D. after he quit a job in electrical engineering. The title of Henderson's touching and often heart-rending essay--a short memoir--is What Does Any of This Have to Do With Physics? Woit thinks the piece might better have been titled "What Graduate School in Physics is Really Like?"

After graduate school Henderson left to work on Wall Street as a quant. Ultimately he quit, hopped on his motorcycle and drove west. On the way he stopped at the University of Rochester to talk with his former advisor about what went wrong, about why he had quit theoretical physics.  Henderson's essay is about the difficulty of finding a doable problem, how easy it is to get sidetracked and the difficulty of backtracking from false leads.  

Woit includes this powerful quote from the essay and while it is Henderson writing about his advisor it applies to him. Writers talk of the terror of facing a blank page, but it's no different for theorists...trying to choose which path to take. There are an infinite number to choose from, and most go nowhere or back from where you came. The clock is always ticking and you spend so much time in the dark that it can make you not only question your path, but your own self-worth. It can make you feel stupid.

Henderson's essay might have pleased Aristotle for it is about the examined life and while his last debrief with his advisor must have been painful and difficult, it helped him complete this epicycle in his career. One thing he learned is that those who stay in theoretical physics don't mind wandering in the dark and really, really want to know, no matter the stony path forward. Henderson is now a journalist and free-lance writer.

Woit links to another and similar essay by a string cosmologist, Kate Marvel, who after finishing her Ph.D. became a climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University's Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics. Her essay is titled The Parallel Universes of a Woman Scientist.


If you read one or both essays, please do yourself a favor and read the comments. I am going to link you to Woit for Henderson's essay where you can read Woit's comments as well as responses which enrich the essays.

The magazine in which both essays are from, Nautilus combines science and the humanities in its stories. The articles are beautifully illustrated, too, a bonus. And while I'm at it, Woit was the subject of an essay written by no other than Bob Henderson. It, too, is a great read.

h/t Peter Woit, Not Even Wrong


Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Charge of the 300

Sustainability
Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Edward Hessler

John Abraham is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul who not only has a deep interest in global warming and its impacts but the chops to write and comment sensibly.

Abraham contributes periodically to a column for the British newspaper, The Guardian. The column is wonderfully titled, "Climate Consensus--the 97%."

Recently Abraham delved into the backgrounds of some of those "300 scientists telling Trump to burn climate."

It turns out, you won't be surprised, that there is one thing about them. They are missing a pre-requisite: necessary and sufficient knowledge of climate change. They write and bloviate without expertise.

Here it is.

Professor Abraham was one of three recipients of the National Center for Science Education Friend of the Planet Award in 2016. The other two are Katherine Hayhoe, Texas Tech University and Dana Nuccitelli, who works for a private environmental firm in California.  They received the award for their contributions to The Guardian column and Skeptical Science, a blog that examines the science and arguments of global warming skeptics.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Schrodinger's Cat

STEM
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

One the most well-known, explored and puzzling thought experiments (Gedankenexperiment) in physics was conceived by Nobelist Erwin Schrodinger.

The purpose was to provide a way of thinking about a very famous paper in physics published by Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen in 1935. Neither the paper or the thought experiment is intuitive! To put it another way this moggie has had many lives.

I've mentioned my deep regard and admiration for the work of Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder. She has had a long interest in music and has posted some of her songs occasionally. Recently she collaborated with two musicians--Apostolos Vasilidis and Timo Albo to produce a second music video.

Hossenfelder wrote the lyrics, sings and later explains this puzzle. Vasilidis and Albo wrote the music, play and also sing.

This video received production support from FQXi. Here is information about the Foundational Questions Institute.

What a difference  there is between the world of the big (us, for example) and the world of the small (the quantum world).

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Never Alone

Culture
Sustainability
Culture
by Edward Hessler


So what do you do when you see your culture disappearing in front of your eyes? Talk about and notice it or try something more active to see whether it works?

The Inupiat people, native to what is now known as Alaska never had a written language until quite recently.  Their culture was passed down orally, generation to generation to generation.

An Inupiat family, 1929 [Wikimedia]

Young Inupiat have drifted from an oral tradition, attracted by the modern world and its demands, e.g., school. As you will learn in the video linked below, transition from a traditional way of life to a modern way of life has also become a profound challenge.

Some members of the tribe made a decision to try an experiment in a different way of transmitting their culture through the development of a video game.  They worked with a New York game development company, E-Line. The game, Never Alone is based on an old Inupiat tale ("Kunuuksaayuka"). In this story a child, Nuna and her pet arctic fox embark on a challenging wilderness trek, encountering obstacles to solve, in search of the source of the fierce winters their village has endured.

The E-Line developers traveled to Alaska in January when it is both cold and dark, a test of their commitment to the project. This short video from the New Yorker tells the story of the development of this beautifully produced game. One of the demands of the project was that this be a community-based and collaborative development project. And it was

The video is based on a story about this project by Simon Parker (November 2014) which you can read via a link in the description that accompanies the video.

For more information about the Inupiat, the National Park Service's Inupiat Heritage Center was designed to tell their story. In addition, an article in Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine describes Inupiat subsistence hunting activities.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Being Nosey about the Nose

Biological Evolution
STEM
Science & Environmental Education

I've mentioned as well as made use of material posted by University of Minnesota-Morris blogger PZ Myers. I hope always with attribution. The blog is Pharyngula which refers to a stage in embryonic development.

Myers is among my favorite 'splainers of things science and I especially look forward to posts on recent research reports as well as reports on a new class he is teaching this semester (Ecological Development) .He carefully walks us through the details. Occasionally he comments on reporting about science. Whew or Phew! It is not easy to report about science if you are not careful, ask questions and stick to the evidence presented in the original paper. And then there is the problem of the headline preceding the article which twist the science.

Myers did a recent post on our noses titled--are you ready?--Having fun with the nasal cycle. This may be the furthest thing from your thinking about what it means to have fun. You may know, I didn't, that "we don't breathe in equally through both nostrils, there is an alternating rhythm" one that we can detect with just a little attention.

And Professor Myers provides instructions on how one can track this rhythm.  He tried it with his wife while they were traveling. It is not scientific although Myers points out that there is an instrumental method and links readers to it. It relies only on paying attention every 30 minutes on which side of your nose is doing the heavy breathing.  Dr. Myers notes that colds interfere with the cycle. See the link above, please, for full details.

By the way, you may remember hearing/learning about one or two, maybe all, development stages: blastula, gastrula, neurula which are followed by the less familiar pharngula stage.  Professor Myers published a post describing them and events characterizing them.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Goldman Environmental Prize

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

The Goldman Environmental Prize honors the achievements (and what achievements they are) of grassroots activists (unlike me, a desk bound fake) from each continent around the world.

Here is a gallery of this year's prize winners.

Here is information about the award.

Here are profiles of this years honorees.

What a remarkable group and it is very sweet to share the planet with them.

The lives of environmental activists often end in violent deaths. These are people who have spoken, acted and organized against mineral exploitation, mining, logging, agribusiness, hydroelectric dams, etc. So far, 2015 has been the deadliest year. Just a few days ago, Kuki Gallman, an Italian-born, Kenyan national was murdered.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is by Anya Silver.

She teaches, as does her husband, at Mercer University, Georgia. Scroll down to find her (and him if you are interested).

The Stethoscope

Medicine
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

The use of the stethoscope is at the crossroads, even past it according to some.  See this Washington Post article on its use and how doctors line up on its use versus, say apps or other technology.

The article has a link to MurmurLab which is for listening practice.  Unfortunately, it is not available to the general public but the information sheet about CARD, the Cardiac Ausculatory Recording Data Base at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Helen B. Taussig Children's Heart Center introduces readers to this aspect of the work of the heart center. 

In addition the Washington Post essay points our the MurmurQuiz which is designed to for students to learn by listening to actual cases. Again this quiz is not currently available to the public but has a sign-up for notification when it becomes available for listening by the general public.

However, the Post essay does have two active links to the sounds of a normal heartbeat and two anomalies.

I was reminded of a comment by Dr. Anthony Verghese, Stanford University School of Medicine who is dedicated to putting life back into the routine physical.  About the stethoscope, he is known for asking "What's the most important part of the stethoscope?"  His medical students often stare in silence then moan when Dr. Verghese answers "The part between the earpieces."  This article includes this quote and also provides a lovely profile of him and his clinical approach to clinical medicine.

Dr. Verghese promotes the culture and enculturation of bedside medical practice.  At  StanfordMedicine25 Dr. Verghese describes what he means by these practices. There are 25 lessons on routine bedside practices at the highest standards of practice.  These are standard techniques that every doctor should known and practice at the highest level possible.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Republicans Who Care About Climate Change

Climate Change
Sustainable Energy & Transportation
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

I recently read an essay by Rebecca J. Romsdahl, a professor of Environmental Science & Policy at the University of North Dakota.

It was about how red state rural America is acting on climate change, without using the phrase climate change. She and her colleagues surveyed 200 local governments in 11 Great Plains states to find out what they are doing to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. They found that many reframe the issue in order to move forward and become more sustainable..

One response. We frame the initiatives as energy savings (= $ savings), as smart growth/good planning, and as common sense resource management. Climate change is only explicitly referenced in our Climate Protection Plan adopted in 2009. Most initiatives fall under the "sustainability" umbrella term.

Dr. Romsdahl reported on the results of this study in a short essay in The Conversation. It is a revealing read and important research..


The essay made me think about conservatives, some of whom were once climate change deniers but who now have accepted the hard evidence for human-caused climate change. Here are thumbnail sketches of two of them and one of a larger group that may surprise you.

Robert Inglis

I heard former U. S. Congressman Robert Inglis speak at a University of Minnesota Kuehnast Lecture a couple of years ago. Inglis noted that he once represented one of the reddest of the red districts in the United States (he served 12 years, not consecutively). He finally lost his 4th District South Carolina seat for several reasons, one of which was his directness in answering a question by a conservative Christian radio host. "Yes or no: Do you believe in human causation on climate change?  It was an outdoor event and he was roundly and loudly booed when he said "Yes."  His seat is currently held by Trey Gowdy.

So, how did he get there? One of the influences on accepting the science of climate change was in 2004 when he faced a new opposing constituency: a son, four daughters and his wife who accepted the evidence for climate change.  His son told him, "Dad, I will vote for you, but you are going to clean up your act on the environment."  Another influence was the evidence he was presented while he was a member of the House science committee. In this respect he is different from a considerable number of conservatives. Inglis has three roots: conservatism, Christian values and an abiding evidence-based world view.

There are three energy principles to which he holds: no subsidies (don't pick winners), honest cost accounting (e.g., the inclusion of health costs in calculations), and a genuine free enterprise.

PBS has a long interview with Inglis in which he recounts his history and amplifies his prescriptions for Republicans.  Englis founded repulicEN, the Energy and Enterprise Initiative which is housed at George Mason University. Local weather forecaster Paul Douglas who minces no words about his conservative politics, deeply held Christian beliefs and that climate change is real is a Minnesota member.

Jerry Taylor

Mr. Taylor is president of the Niskanen Center where he works to turn climate skeptics into climate realists.

His background does not hint that he would now be doing this kind of work. Taylor served as staff director for the energy and environment task force at ALEC, a nonprofit organization of conservative state legislators and private sector representatives. This Wiki entry describes the work of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  Lerner also served as a vice-president at the Cato Institute, a leading conservative/libertarian thinktank.

In a recent interview with Sharon Lerner who covers health and environment for The Intercept,  asked about Taylor's "conversion." It wasn't instantaneous but was deeply influenced  by a queston Joe Romm, a highly regarded blogger on climate change, asked after the two of them did a program. In that program Taylor repeated a claim that the predictions about temperature increases once made in testimony by NASA scientist James Hansen had proven wrong. It was Hansen who in 1988 gave congressional testimony that raised climate change to a general awareness.

After the program Romm asked Taylor whether he had ever read Hansen's predictions. He said that Hansen's predictions were quite accurate. Rather than blowing this short exchange off, Taylor followed up, reread the testimony and found that Romm was correct. Taylor then asked other climate skeptics who had made the same argument and found that not only were they making that argument but they had been fully aware that they knew that they were being misleading. This led him to more reading about the science.

But it wasn't the science alone that convinced him he was wrong. Taylor was both a climate skeptic and an economic skeptic, i.e., even if climate change was true, the nation couldn't afford the costs to do anything about it. Eventually, he found that the economic case crumbled.

Taylor thinks that "talking to Republican...elites...about science" calmly and dispassionately is powerful in helping them to see through the nonsense. He also makes a conservative case for climate change, similar to Inglis's arguments. They are found in blog comments found at this Niskanen Center profile of Mr. Taylor.

I was interested to learn that his brother, James Taylor works for the Heartland Institute and that their dominance in climate denial has occurred under his tenure.  Joe Taylor notes that they no longer "spend a lot of Thanksgivings together."

Sharon Lerner's interview fills in the details which I've only outlined.

Climate Solutions Caucus

This bipartisan congressional caucus was formed in 2016 by Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Carlos Cueblo (R-FL).

The caucus has a novel membership structure. Members board this ark in pairs: one Republican and one Democrat so if you are a Republican who wants to join you must bring a Democrat and if you are a Democrat you must bring a Republican.

The website of the caucus includes a statement on purpose from documents filed with the Committee on House Administration: "to serve as an organization to educate members on economically-viable options to reduce climate risk and protect our nation's economy, security, infrastructure, agriculture, water supply and public safety."

A current list of members is found on the caucus website (link directly above). I was surprised by a few of the members which merely reflects my biases. I was glad to be shown wrong...again.

Others

I haven't covered the territory. There are many conservatives who accept mainstream science. I just wanted to highlight a few..

Kate Sheppard notes in a recent piece in The Huffington Post that "there are plenty of conservatives arguing for conservative responses to the threat of climate change". She cites several examples.

The Republican mayor of Carmel, IN, James Brainerd made lowering emissions a priority "because it saves his city money and makes it a nicer place to live."

Former Secretaries of State James A. Baker III and George Schultz, with former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson are members of the Climate Leadership Council which consists of Republicans. They recently proposed a carbon tax as "'an insurance policy' against the 'mounting evidence of climate change.'"

The motto of RStreet, a nonprofit, public policy, research organization, "Free Markets. Real Solutions" quickly summarizes their orientation to energy issues.  Ms. Sheppart notes that they partner with "small goverment conservatives and environmentalists on shared priorities.

ConservAmerica ("Conservation is Conservative" is an organization of conservative Republicans, and Independents dedicated to creating, finding and supporting conservative studies for today's environmental energy and conservation challenges."

Please go to Sheppard's column for some of the details. It is a quick read.

At the beginning of her article, Sheppard mentions neoconservative writer Bret Stephens, a recent editorial page hire of the New York Times who downplays the quality and claims of global climate science. He is known for dissing science. You may know his work, even that he is writing about climate for the NYT. In an alert (aka as a push notification) about his debut, the NYT, according to Susan Matthews of Slate wrote that "reasonable people can be skeptical about the degrees of climate change." His first column elicited this response from climate change scientists.

One of the signers, is John Abraham, a professor of engineering at the University of St. Thomas.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Climate Change: Flyers from NCSE

Climate Change
Environmental and Science Education
STEM
Edward Hessler

Recently, MnSTA president Michele Koomen sent an alert to the MnSTA membership about a Heartland Institute unsolicited mailing on global climate change. She also announced MnSTA's plans to develop a position statement on global climate change.

The National Center for Science Education has published three counter-Heartland flyers. One explains why using these materials would be a mistake; the second provides the top 5 reasons the Heartland materials don't belong in the classroom; the third is about the Heartland claims against the 97% consensus.

They can be downloaded here.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Meet the Kids Who Are Suing the Adminstration About Climate Change

Climate Change
Environmental & Science Education
Sustainability

A short video by an incredible group of young people.

And here is a short article about them.

In closing, Be the Rain by Neil Young.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

A Friday poem by poet, journalist and civil servant,  C. P. Cavafy


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Galapagos Islands: The Charles Darwin Research Center & 4 Conservancy Projects

by Steven Beardsley

The Charles Darwin Research Center
In December I had the opportunity to visit the Galapagos Islands. In Santa Cruz I got to visit the famous Darwin Center that is completely funded through donations from people around the world. The following are about 4 different projects conducted by the center alone, aimed at fostering environmental education as well as conservation efforts on the island.

Restoring Mangrove Finch Population


Information on the Magrove Finch Recovery Project
On the Galapagos Islands the first thing you notice are the glut of finches that are in the cities and airports. Unlike pigeons, these finches are magnificent and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Many probably remember that these finches were what inspired Darwin’s theory of adaptation as each finch had a different shaped beak that allowed them to only eat certain things. While I was at the station I learned about a project to restore the Mangrove Finch population. The project focuses on protecting the finches from other birds and invasive species that try to eat the finches’ eggs.

The Galapagos Verde 2050 Project with Information on Groasis

Galapagos Verde 2050


As the name suggests, this project aims to restore the degraded ecosystems of the Galapagos to benefit both the animals and people living here. The project does this “through the use of the Groasis Technology” (Galapagos Verde 2050). I looked up what the project meant by “Groasis Technology,” which apparently means technology that helps plants survive in arid environments where there is little rainfall. Check out this site with a video and info graphic to learn more.

Vegetation present on the Islands

Restoring “Los Gemelos”


“Los Gemelos” translates directly to “The Twins,” but refers to an area in Santa Cruz where two magma chambers were formed from volcanic activity. This particular area is important because it is home to a forested area dominated by a specific species of tree called giant daisy-tree or Scalesia pedunculata. As one can imagine, this species of trees is endangered by invasive species such as blackberry plants. According to the “Restoring Los Gemelos” project, the focus is to "restore the 100 hectares of remaining Scalesia” (Restoring Los Gemelos).

With Galapagos Turtles at the Breeding Center on Santa Cruz Island

Galapagos Turtle Restoration Initiative


The final project that learned about that is common throughout the islands is the Galapagos Turtle Restoration Initiative. I will talk more about the Galapagos turtles and sad history of their exploitation in another post, but in general there are at least one turtle breeding center on each of the populated islands: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Floreana, and Isabella. Santa Cruz with the Charles Darwin Research Center has two breeding centers. Long term goals of this project include: “Restoring tortoise populations to historical numbers, including those considered 'extinct in the wild,' through a combination of in situ management, breeding and rearing tortoises where appropriate, and repopulation of Santa Fe Island, where the endemic tortoise species is extinct, through the use of an analog (closely-related) species" (Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative).


Standing with a bust of Charles Darwin

In addition to these conservancy projects, the center provides educational videos and exhibits on the history of Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle,the volcanic formation of the islands, and various examples of skeletal structures of the animals. The station also has a library that I, unfortunately, did not get to visit because it only opened on Monday and Wednesday at certain hours.

Additional Resources on Conservancy Projects on the Islands:
Galapagos Verde 2050
Galapagos Tortoise Restoration

Steven Beardsley is a graduate of Hamline University. He worked for the Center for Global Environmental Education throughout his four years. Steven is now teaching English in Ecuador and periodically posting about his travels while there.

National Parks from Space

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

In celebration of National Park Week April 15 to April 23, 2017, National Geographic posted some photographs of several national parks--the icons, I suppose--from space.

Breathtakingly beautiful.

You can, if you, want compare and contrast landforms and landscapes.

For those parks you've visited you can see them from a much different perspective and appreciate them differently.  For those you haven't visited you can simply be glad that the parks are there.


The Washington Post published a few if these and included the accompanying National Geographic stories.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Hamline's composting pilot is now underway!

CGEE Student Voice
Waste Diversion
Campus Sustainability
by Jenni Abere


After a year of planning and several near-starts, we officially started our organics composting pilot on the second floor of Anderson Center, during Earth Week.

Hamline head of Dining Services, Ed Kreitzman, posing with the new bins.
The pilot is sort of a hodgepodge, using the same bins and simply covered up the old signs with new signs. If it goes well, composting will be a permanent part of Hamline's waste diversion and we may get new bins to fully integrate it.

Dining Services and Catering switched their inventory over to all compostable items: cups, bowls, plates, straws, utensils ... These items are used at the Piper Grill in the evening hours, as well as to supplement the washable dishes in the dining hall.

I've spent some time standing by the bins and helping people with the new change -- and observing how people react to it. Most people are very excited to see this. Some people are confused, but it's easy to learn. It actually requires less sorting than our old system since basically everything is compostable now.

There doesn't appear to be any contamination in the composting bins, which is great. There's no sorting process for composting and plastic contamination is a big problem for soil quality. However, much of what ends up in the recycling and trash bins should be composted. People are still confused about napkins, since they are used to throwing them in the trash for so long. The compostable "plastic" greenware also confuses people and has ended up in recycling bins.

I'm a little worried that if there are any problems, we'll stop collecting compost. But I think that people are already picking up on it, and that it will be a success. We're hoping to demonstrate that this change will actually save us money, since there is a tax on trash and not on composting. If everybody pays attention to the change, and starts off on the right foot, composting will be a part of Hamline for years to come.

Squirrel-dom

Behavior
Biodiversity
Edward Hessler

So, what's it like to be a squirrel? 

While we really can't know one of the first steps is to follow their steps for a few minutes. I marvel at their climbing and traversing skills. 

NPR has a feature today on their GoPro worldview. So, click and be in awe of their abilities. 

The NPR piece by Adam Frank is really a double-feature--a film and an informed, interesting philosophical discussion about being something other than your self, a something that is conscious.



Monday, April 24, 2017

Post Earth Day Musing

Earth Day
Sustainability
Edward Hessler

This year was the celebration, maybe marking is the better term, of Earth Day.  
 
Number 47.

It takes a moggie to provide some perspective, even a drawing of one or in this case two, commenting, in their inimitable ZEN way on the event.
 
Cheers.

About Alfred Wegener: Continental Drift

History of Science
Geology
Edward Hessler

Sweet Fern Productions does it again with this short animated film on Alfred Wegener. I think it is paper and string made possible by a compelling vision and immense talent. 
Wegener was a meteorologist who noticed some things about the shapes of continents and suggested a solution to one of Pangea's puzzles: continental drift known by different names today. Wegener is a story, a real story in the history of science.

The principals of Sweet Fern Productions are Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck. Lichtman was once a regular on NPR's Science Friday. They are drop dead talented.
There are not many historical novels about science that do what Clare Dudman accomplishes in "One Day The Ice Will Reveal All Its Dead."   It is as it said, a "page turner" with each page beautifully written while sticking to the science.